Sigh. I like Jonathan Bernstein a whole lot. He’s a very smart guy and I’ve learned so much from him. But sometimes, he is such an idiot. This week he wrote, Still Hoping to Save the Filibuster. His argument is that with lifetime appointments, there really should be some kind of legislative check against the majority. So he offers up some ideas for how we could maintain something along the lines of Filibuster Lite. One idea is that the majority would have to get unanimous agreement. He has other similar ideas.
The problem with all of them is the problem with the filibuster itself. And Bernstein himself has written repeatedly and at length that the problem was not the filibuster but the Republican Party. What would Bernstein’s proposal mean with a big tent party like the Democrats and a tiny tent party like the Republicans? When the Republicans were in control, the most extreme judges would be put on the bench for life. But when the Democrats were in control, the Blue Dogs would insist on “moderate” judges; no more Ruth Bader Ginsburgs. (And note: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is hardly an extremist.)
Martin Longman takes on all of Bernstein’s proposals, Don’t Revive the Filibuster. But even it doesn’t get at the most important aspect of all of this. Namely that the Republicans wanted to kill the filibuster and they would have killed it the first chance they got, regardless of whether the Senate came up with some kind of deal or not.
I understand the desire to keep minority rights strong in the Senate. But any efforts to do that depend upon everyone involved abiding by the historic Senate norms. And as I’ve shown, over the last 50 years, the Democrats have abided by the norms set by the Republicans who broke with those norms each and every time they were in the minority. So this game is played out.
There are two ways to deal with an adversary. One is to try to woo them and find common ground. That is usually the way to go. But when the adversary is a revolutionary group like the Republican Party, there really is no option but complete defeat. So it amazes me that Jonathan Bernstein can be so clear-headed about what has happened to the parties but then pine for some kind of comity that just won’t happen.
There is a conservative party and a liberal party in the United States. And those two parties are inside the Democratic Party. The Republican Party only makes sense in a parliamentary system, where minor extremist parties can thrive. But in our system, we need two reasonable—big tent—parties. There is no indication that the Republicans are capable of moving away from their extremist positions. And the biggest example of this is their approach to the filibuster. They are happy to see it go because they know the Democrats will not make any major changes to the government, and they look forward to one day having complete control of the government when they will try to radically change the nation. God help us if we citizens allow that to happen.