So today the #SchumerShutDown is inevitable. What explains the transformation of our soundly established republic into a heartless, tyrannical democracy? Why do both houses of Congress answer to whiny, squeaky wheeled protesters instead of to voters that elected both houses of Congress and a president to build a wall? To end DACA? To curtail chain immigration and revive our once wholesome merit based immigration system? Why is Congress so noncommittal to rebuilding our military, strengthening our economy, reigning in profligate spending, and reducing the intrusive role of government in our private lives? The answer? Invariably? "We don't have sixty votes."
As a government shutdown, just hours away, draws closer Democrats blame Republicans and Republicans blame Democrats. The House blames the Senate while the Senate looks askance at the House. Meanwhile many voters blame everyone in Washington because, "They just can't get along." Maybe it's not a matter of who is to blame. But what is to blame. Maybe we should take a long, hard look at one of the longest time honored rules of the Senate, the filibuster.
Most everything points to the Senate's filibuster as a villain of villains. The House conceives legislation. The Senate aborts. The House dutifully sends its thirteen appropriations bills that make up yearly budgets to Majority Leader Reid or McConnell. It makes no difference which party controls. The Senate ducks its mandated responsibility to vote appropriations bills out of committee. So much promise and hope has died in the Senate over the past eight or nine years. Even after Republicans took both houses approximately midway. Even after a Republican president was elected. The House continues to send bills to the Senate, knowing its legislative accomplishments will never see light of day in the Senate.
The International Movie Data Base lists ninety-one movies with the Faustian theme of "making a pact with the Devil." Notable titles, in no particular order are: The Devil and Daniel Webster; Oh, God! You Devil; Bedazzled; Faust; and Rosemary's Baby. Requirements for placement on the list are quite rigid:
"...a character needs to make a deal with some sort of demonic figure, realize that such a deal was a terrible mistake, and finally attempt to escape the repercussions of the bargain."
A few movies didn't make the cut, The Picture of Dorian Grey failed to qualify because no specific devil or demon-like character was portrayed. A few other entries were not included because all went well from beginning to end after the deal was sealed.
Long ago members of our US Senate made just such a pact with the Devil when they adopted use of the filibuster. The flawed agreement was made long before any of us were born, quite close to the founding of our country in the early 1800's. Succeeding generations of senators ceremoniously and reverentially protect their predecessors' bad idea, maintaining personal, defiant ownership of it to this present day.
The filibuster negatively impacts all of us. Elections fail to produce promised results. Majorities are prevented from acting like majorities. And most important, as mentioned above, appropriations and budgets are not considered or passed, haven't been since 2007. In other words, the Senate today because of the filibuster controls the very purse strings the Constitution reserved almost exclusively to the House. Through its pact with the Devil the Senate acts alone as Congress, The Peoples' House, effectively persona non grata, is shamelessly unwelcome in the most significant machination our government produces, the budget. For we should note: Without a budget there can be no Power of the Purse.
"We don't have sixty votes," The mantra explains so many failed campaign promises. Though both houses use the excuse, only the Senate can do something about its intrinsic abuse of America's citizens. Before we go on, neither Democrats nor Republicans are the Devil. For this discussion the Devil is not a person or institution at all. It is simply opportunism in the face of doing the right thing. Meaning Filibuster: The Movie will never be ranked on IMDB's list of Faustian flicks. Which is a real travesty. Because the Devil really is in the details of why the Senate neutered itself way back, so long ago.
It's the filibuster that stymied a plan by our founders to more quickly end slavery in the United States. The founders, constitutionally we must add, did not regard the vote a right. The vote in their eyes was a privilege granted citizens deemed agreeable, useful for good government. Women were, constitutionally we must add, denied the vote until the women's suffrage movement achieved its well fought victory. Article I, Section 2 included the valuation of a slave's vote (regardless of color or race) as three-fifths of a freeman's vote. This purposely was to give northern states an electoral advantage over southern states for as long as the South continued to keep slaves. But for the filibuster, slavery probably lasted longer than it should have. For southern senators took advantage of the filibuster as early as the 1840's to protect their slave dependent economies.
Which brings us finally, finally to the question, "What is a filibuster?" Senators have long prided themselves qualified by their exaltedness of high office to talk, speechify for as long as they want. When they talk endlessly for the purpose of preventing a vote on legislation they oppose, they are filibustering. Or as a Dane might put it, the given senator has engaged in piracy. Picture a senator filibustering, leaving his ship of state disabled, drifting aimlessly on an open sea without benefit of oar, sail, nor rudder. Eventually a solution was instituted, a rule of cloture. At first cloture was reached, a filibuster was ended by a yea vote of three-fourths of the Senate. Later the threshold was lowered to two-thirds of the Senate, which occurred during Woodrow Wilson's presidency.
What we hear from most of the media and politicians is "The sixty vote (two-thirds) rule is insurmountable." "Maybe we need to get rid of it." Whereas the real culprit is the filibuster itself. Before the filibuster a vote could be "called for" with a simple majority vote (fifty-one votes) in the Senate, just like in the House. Before the filibuster a sweeping election, when one party gained majorities in both houses, plus the presidency, nearly guaranteed quick, bountiful reforms and fulfilled campaign promises. In other words: We were a republic before the institution of the filibuster.
Our country was envisioned, formed, crafted to be governed as a republic. Republics empower elected officials to act in the interests of individuals that voted for them. Democracies operate differently. Elected officials in a democracy vote the will of what is perceived to be the majority view of the country. Meaning in a democracy our vote counts only when we agree with the perceived majority.
In our present democracy the perceived majority opinion is invented through polling and other devices, then published by the media. Meaning media primarily informs our politicians how they must vote. This vicious cycle of Congress listening to the media while the media reports Congress has listened to voters pleases mobs inclined to vote several times in a single election, but is anathema to voters who believe their vote is a sacred duty. In America, of all places, the power of the majority opinion is flourishing at the expense of individual liberty. Democracy is being applauded because its majority opinion has been declared the common good.
Yes. We were a republic before the filibuster. We can be a republic again. What have we been since the implementation of the filibuster? Mostly a democracy. We can be a republic again. Democracies possess a very short shelf life before they become a tyranny. A political party in a democracy, once it has enacted new laws, imposed voting regulations favorable to its reelection, and gerrymandered districts can perpetuate its policies and impositions on liberty almost indefinitely.
Yes. We were a republic before the filibuster. We can be a republic again.
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About The Pundit
This retired window washer now provides instruction on the benefits and perils of time travel through focusing an allegorical lens on the present.