Battlepanda: The dark side of filibusters


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The dark side of filibusters

Lately, I have gotten very comfortable with the idea that the filibuster is the last bulwark of reason in a time of right-wing tyranny. That we must fight tooth and nail to uphold this noble institution from Tom DeLay and Bill Frist. That the filibuster is a time-honored check-and-balance handed down from our Founding Fathers to protect us from mob rule. Just like in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

Well, it took just one post from Nathan Newman's Labor blog to set me straight -- the "nuclear option" just might be the best thing to happen to liberal politics. In the long term.
Without the threat of the filibuster, we would have passed national health care in 1994 -- and a host of other progressive bills.
The opposition of the anti-union Right to Work Committee is instructive. Repeatedly since the 1960s, major labor law reform has had majority support in both houses of Congress and a President willing to sign a bill to protect labor rights, yet opponents were able to block the bill from being passed into law.

Eliminating the filibuster -- and ending it for judicial nominations will lead quickly to its end in other areas -- would of course open things up to worse rightwing laws that liberals could have blocked.

But the reality is that conservatives have thrived in a political environment where they can block any positive use of government. By frustrating progressive policy, it feeds the argument that ineffective government does not deserve the taxes working families paid. That was the explicit argument of conservatives who blocked health care reform in 1994; they knew that national health care would be so popular that it would lock in support for positive government action for decades more.

The reverse doesn't work for liberals. Blocking conservative action through filibusters has short-term gains, but it feeds the long-term cynicism of voters that government cannot accomplish anything. Which just feeds the meta-argument of conservatives of the dysfunctionality of government and the superiority of leaving decisions to the marketplace.

Damn. That's a reality check and a half. Yet another reminder that both the right and the left shifts their political rhetorics like a beat-up weathervane depending on the prevailing winds. Yes, in the short run losing the filibuster will be very, very painful for Democrats, as it is their only lever of power at a time when Republicans dominate both house and senate in addition to holding the executive branch. But what's good for the goose will ultimately be good for the gander, and I certainly don't see the Republicans being in power forever. I think in the long run they have more to gain from being obstructionist than we do.

Update: Yglesias provides a longer Nathan Newman, while Mark Schmitt begs to differ. Meanwhile, Kevin Drum wishes to remind us that the real issue here is not senate rules but Republican hypocrisy. Read his article from the Washingon Post if you are at all confuse as I was about blue slip rules and such.)