I have been meaning to write about the filibuster business. For those who don’t follow party politics, the Senate has just changed the rules to (essentially) allow a majority vote on confirming nominations (except Supreme Court nominations). It was a (mostly) party-line vote, with all the votes in favor of the rule change coming from My Party. The formal change in rules followed a change in norms of behavior; the Other Party chose to block every nominee put forward for the District Court, and indicated they would continue to do so as long as they could. My Party didn’t really have a good choice in the matter: they could acquiesce to a Minority Party veto not just on some nominees but on all of them, or they could eliminate that power altogether. Or, I suppose, they could have done something very clever, but nobody was clever enough to figure out a clever thing that the whole caucus could agree on.
I am a bit sad about this. Left Blogovia is for the most part chortling with glee, and I understand that. On the whole, though, it seems to me that this is another incremental measure that decreases the power of individual Senators and increases the power of Parties. And, hey, I’m a supporter of Parties. Political Parties are awesome! OK, maybe not awesome, but the benefits to a democracy far outweigh the disadvantages. I am in fact bewildered by how unpopular the concept of Political Parties are, but that presumably has something to do with how unpopular the actual Parties are, and I do understand that. Still and all: Your Humble Blogger supports Political Parties.
And yet, there ought to be room—in the Senate, for crying out loud!—for individual initiative, individual prioritization, individual deals. The filibuster and the hold, which worked by threat of filibuster, allowed a Senator or a small group of Senators to demand action on a particular thing in order to make business happen. Essentially, the Majority Party has to pay off a trouble-making Senator…which of course means paying off that Senator’s constituents, that is, getting the will of (a group of) the people done in the government.
Sadly, the whole thing reminds me of a little kid who won’t play properly with his toolkit, but instead saws notches in the table legs and whacks people in the shins with the hammer. Eventually, you have to take the tools away.
And, alas, I can’t even blame the Senators of the Other Party for acting like rotten kids. It became clear at some point that for any Representative of the Other Party to vote with My Party even on a procedural matter would be a betrayal of the trust entrusted to him by his constituents. Those voters didn’t want a hospital or a bypass or a federal courthouse, they didn’t want oversight over some particular regulatory matter, they didn’t want an Air Force Base or a contract for helicopter parts. They wanted some sort of ideological purity—not on any sort of Conservative ideology that I understand, but on the idea of standing athwart history yelling Stop. Not as the principle for a beleaguered magazine looking for readers, you understand, but as the principle for a legislative Party… And if these Senators have been elected to yell Stop, and anything else is going to be viewed—correctly, in my opinion—as breaking the most fundamental of campaign promises, and (perhaps just as important) if all the other Senators of that Party, all the opinion leaders, the radio hosts and state party chairmen and bloggers, all the potential primary candidates and PACs and think tanks, the whole Party and all its overlapping interest groups and organizations all are going to vilify a Senator for breaking faith with the wishes of the constituency… well, if you believe in democracy, you know, you have to have some respect for the way democracy has compelled those Senators to act in such an obviously crazy and counter-productive manner.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,