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The filibuster mess

People have been asking me why I've been so silent on the whole filibuster war. I guess one reason is that I feel I occupy some middle ground here. I oppose the Democrats' routine obstruction of judicial nominees, but I'm also not crazy about the idea of rewriting the Senate rules.

Second, I just don't feel very strongly about it. Let's face it, despite the passion on both sides, there are no lofty principles at stake here. It's partisan politics, plain and simple.

I hope we can at least agree that there are hypocrites on both sides. Yes, conservatives have historically loved filibusters, because they've historically been in the Senate minority. Liberals, on the other hand, have historically hated filibusters, at least as long as they were in the majority. Both sides have had great fun trotting out years-old quotes from the opposition, illustrating their hypocrisy.

Yes, that's all fun, but so what? We've determined that both major parties are hypocrites, and more concerned about political power than principle. Wow, that's groundbreaking. Where's our Pulitzer?

So what? Is anyone surprised? Of course not. So let's please, drop the sanctimony on both sides, okay?

I'm not about to maintain that the president has an absolute, unfettered right to appoint any judge he sees fit without question. But please, let's also not try to claim the tradition of the filibuster is some sacred American principle, on a par with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, enshrined for eternity by our founding fathers and paid for by blood at Valley Forge.

Slate's Timothy Noah sums it up perfectly, I think.

I never thought I'd see the day when preservation of the filibuster became a grass-roots liberal cause, but that day seems to have arrived. College students are staging mock filibusters at universities across the country. Once upon a time, student activists decried the immorality of the Vietnam War and U.S. investment in the apartheid regime in South Africa. Their protests helped change the world. Today student activists are defending a parliamentary rule that enabled southern bigots to block civil rights legislation for nearly a century! They're defending demosclerosis! They're defending the right of the minority to thwart the will of the majority! Oh sure, it all has something to do with bad judicial nominations, too. But the street theater isn't about bad judges. It's about Robert's Rules of Order.

Count me out.

Well said, Tim.


I actually believe there is something more sinister at work here. Democrats believe that people of color should be democrats, and they go out of their way to punish those who "cross over to the dark side". Brown, Estrada, Thomas are perfect examples.

The democrats have cleverly found a loophole in the Senate rules that allows them to filibuster nominees to the courts. If the republicans had found the loophole years ago, they would have used it. Instead, the found a loophole that allowed them to block judges in committee.

Employing the so called nuclear option is not unique to this situation. While I agree that doing away with the right to filibuster is overreaching; however, I have absolutely no doubt that democrats, once back in the majority, would immediately employ this option and that is irrespective of what the republicans do now. Additionally, Senator Byrd, the 89 year old Senate Methuselah says that, "The President is all wrong when he maintains that a nominee should have an up-or-down vote. The Constitution doesn't say that. The Constitution doesn't say that that nominee shall have any vote at all. There doesn't have to even be a vote."

Byrd himself famously circumvented Senate rules related to filibuster on
four different occasions.

No lofty ideals? What are you saying, man?! We need to protect our God-given right, as the Founding Fathers envisioned it, to read from telephone books!

My biggest gripe is that what now passes for a filibuster is a farce.

In the olden days, Huey Long made a filibuster an art form: reading from phone books, reading Southern cooking recipes, etc.

Now, it is merely announced and the other side says "darn it."

I have listened to a number of people say that the GOP ought to force the issue, i.e. actually making Dems stage a true filibuster. The fact that the GOP has been silent on this tells me that the namby-pambys on my side have no more stomach playing the game the way the old pros used to anymore than the Dems do.

Paging Jefferson Smith!

Yeah, that's what I'd like see instead of the "nuclear" option -- a real, honest-to-God old fashioned filibuster. Bring in the cots! Make those senators start earning those salaries!

But like you say, they've gotten too soft for that. Besides, what do you wanna bet that in today's climate, if the GOP leadership were to force an honest-to-God filibuster, *we* would get blamed for being obstructionists, and not the Democrats reciting fried chicken recipes.

This is a really good post. Your view is one shared by most people, it seems. That includes me.

For both sides, the filibuster is merely the hammer at hand with which they can bludgeon each other in anticipation of Chief Justice Rehnquist's eventual resignation. Neither side really believes the "constitutional" arguments they're advancing. (If they do, they're less intelligent than I hope they really are.) This is a political battle. Period.

It's frustrating that such a contest is absorbing so much time and energy.

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