Jewish World Review Nov. 26, 2013/ 23 Kislev, 5774
The end of the filibuster: Another American institution abandoned
By Paul Greenberg
It was a sad day --
The filibuster has long protected both the minority's right to extend debate in the
Let's not confuse the filibuster with some great principle. It was only a great tactic, and, like any tactic, could be used for good or ill. But it was an accepted part of the
Maybe it was only a matter of time before those bent on getting their own way would hack their way through the once thick cover of rights and privileges in the
This time not even
The filibuster was not an end in itself, but the means to an end. That end could be a just one or the opposite of justice. Overturning old precedents only establishes new ones, and now power has replaced deliberation as the governing principle of the body where once debate was unlimited -- and so was the hope of its leading to reason.
Now only a simple majority, simple in more ways than one, has replaced a complex, time-woven rule in a single day, wiping out a whole body of parliamentary procedure and its long history of uses and abuses. The filibuster had been employed for causes both noble and not noble at all in its long and tortuous history. Now it has disappeared in a blinding flash. No wonder they called ending the filibuster The Nuclear Option, for it destroys everything in its indiscriminate range. And rage.
It seems a Republican minority in the current
The stage has now been set for other storied institutions of American politics to follow the filibuster into oblivion. Why not? A president who can change the law after it has passed (see the ever fluid terms of Obamacare) had no problem with changing the nature of the
Yes, the storied tradition of the filibuster had its dark -- even evil -- side, as when it was routinely used by the Fulbrights and Eastlands of the
Many a scholarly defense of the filibuster has been delivered over the years, including this one by a long-time aide to various Democratic senators.
"The right in the
One of the most prescient defenses of the filibuster over the years came from an eloquent young senator from
"While I have not been here too long," the freshman senator began, "I have noticed that partisan debate is sharp, and dissent is not always well received. Honest differences of opinion and principled compromise often seem to be the victim of a determination to score points against one's opponents. But the American people sent us here to be their voice. They understand that those voices can at times become loud and argumentative, but they also hope we can disagree without being disagreeable. At the end of the day, they expect both parties to work together to get the people's business done. What they do not expect is for one party, be it Republican or Democrat, to change the rules in the middle of the game so they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet.
"The American people want less partisanship in this town, but everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster, if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock will only get worse."
That was the view of a promising new member of the
That was a two-edged sword Democrats employed Thursday. And they may find out soon enough just how sharp it is.
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