Opinion pages have less and less room for arguments that begin with facts. Opinions, however factually incorrect, prevail over even the most empirical of facts. I suppose these opinions pass for “discourse” or “debate”…or maybe “free speech.” I don’t know. But sometimes wrong is wrong. And among the worst of the worst contributing to this mess is little talk show hit man Jason Lewis.
In his opinion column last Sunday, Jason complains about the United States Senate rule change removing the 60 vote supermajority requirement to end a filibuster. He doesn’t have to like the change and we can argue whether or not it was a good strategy, but he argues from statements of false facts to build credibility.
First of all, Lewis all but directly credits the Founding Fathers with creating the rule in the first place. Jason’s typically loose and sloppy style gives him wiggle room if he wants to back out, I suppose — what is “so much a part of the founders’ wisdom” that he says supports the rule, for example? — but he does this to imply that the 60 vote rule is a Constitutional issue.
As a matter of fact, the filibuster rule was established in the 20th century, the United States Constitution in the 18th century. The founding fathers had nothing to do with it.
Moreover, the 60 vote rule began with rule changes in 1975. Previously the rule required two-thirds of senators be present to vote to end a filibuster. It is worth repeating: The previous rule required senators to actually be present and voting, not merely threatening the filibuster, to filibuster. As a result, filibusters were mostly limited to serious policy and constitutional issues. That had changed in recent history. The facts bear this out. The number of filibusters in just the Obama administration exceeds the number of all previous filibusters.
So, in the end, the 60 vote rule — one of relatively short tenure in our political history — appears to have been seriously flawed, if the record of recent years is any measure.
Of course that flaw was not obvious until today when we have a radical minority holding policy and progress hostage to narrow political objectives. But Lewis will hold his ideas and his party blameless, to do otherwise would confront opinion with fact and who can stand for that?
And Jason Lewis loves to quote the founding fathers in his diatribes. I have no doubt that he reads the Founding Fathers and and political history. I’m sure he buries himself in the stuff. The problem is he has no grasp of context and certainly no respect for accuracy.
Lewis points out, for example, that Madison was wary of simple majorities. Ok. One wouldn’t argue with that. In fact, the Constitution should protect the rights of minorities. No argument here. But is a tyranny of a minority any better? (And since when were conservatives interested in the rights of a minority? Oh yeah…when they became one!)
The problem we face today isn’t so much that we have a simple majority running roughshod over a minority, it is quite the opposite. And it is happening over issues that don’t rise to the level of Supreme Court appointments, impeachments, Constitutional amendments, treaties, vetoes, and the like. These filibusters are about damn near everything! It has become a tool of obstruction where the means is the ends. It is not about finding a better way of getting things accomplished. The level of obstruction today has no precedent in history. None. Lewis can get off on his Federalist Papers all he wants, but that doesn’t change the political facts of today.
Of course it might indeed prove that the rule change eliminating the 60 vote majority to end a filibuster turns out to be a poor choice — I’m inclined to think it will come back and bite someday — but can one really argue that the 60 vote rule was working?
Real reform is needed, that’s the bottom line. The Senate should create a rule that requires the party to do more than threaten a filibuster. Require that the senators actually be present to vote as the rule required prior to 1975. Would senators of either party agree to that?
As things are now, filibusters — when they really do happen — occur in mostly empty chambers, generally as a final desperate measure. It’s pathetic. Nothing gets done! And that suits today’s Republican Party just fine. They don’t want anything to get done. Period.
Obviously something had to change. And change it did.
The real change, however, should put some muscle back in the filibuster again. A pragmatic working filibuster rule is one that requires active participation in the legislative process. As things are today we allow dysfunction to govern our legislative process. If you want the filibuster, make the minority stand behind it…literally.
And Jason…good lord, Jason…get your nose out of the books and start paying attention!
- Filibuster busted, Reid pushes through long-blocked nominations (dailykos.com)
- DEMOCRATS USE SENATE NUCLEAR OPTION and political radiation spreads (News and blog reaction roundup) (themoderatevoice.com)
- The Founding Fathers Didn’t Filibuster (boomantribune.com)
- Doug Kendall: The Vote That Will Change America (huffingtonpost.com)