Thursday, June 27, 2013

How to filibuster

I've written about 17 posts with the label "filibuster," none very favorable to the tactic, which has slowed work in the U.S. Senate to a crawl the last few years. In general, filibusters are anti-democratic, because they thwart the principle of majority rule. They are unfair because they prevent the majority party from taking the responsibility of governing, while letting the minority party off the hook for obstructionism. And they waste a lot of time.

So why was I, and a lot of other people sympathetic to her position, thrilled to watch Texas State Senator Wendy Davis stand up for approximately 12 hours to prevent a strict anti-abortion bill from taking effect? Because Wendy Davis conducted her filibuster the old-fashioned way, keeping the spotlight squarely on the obstructionist minority, and performing physical feats of almost superhuman stamina. Not for her (and evidently not permitted in Texas) the quiet, sneaky filibusters of the kind favored by Mitch McConnell and the Republican minority in the Senate, that subjects any bill they wish to a 60 vote threshold simply to bring it to the floor for a vote.

A proper filibuster is conducted out in the open, so everyone can see exactly who is responsible for holding up the legislature's work. Not the kind where the minority can prevent bill after bill from coming up for a vote, and blame the majority party for not being able to get anything done. A proper filibuster allows everyone sympathetic to the views of the filibusterer to view their champion as a hero, rather than being mystified at the way the body's arcane rules seem to prevent anything from happening. A proper filibuster should be a rare and dramatic event, not something that takes place in the shadows. A proper filibuster should require a strong bladder and suitable shoes.

This is why the Senators who are seeking to reform the filibuster rules in the Senate are not suggesting that we eliminate the filibuster. Instead they want to bring it in the open, to force those employing this tactic to take responsibility for it, and to make it a relatively rare event. That way the legislature can get on with business, but pause every once in a while for a dramatic moment that can allow the public to honor the passionate views of the minority.

If Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans want to continue their filibustering ways, why shouldn't they be required to show they at least have the same size balls as Wendy Davis?

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