A few years back, when Republicans were threatening to junk the judicial filibuster in the Senate, I thought that was a bad idea. So did Harold Meyerson.
Writing in the American Prospect after the Republicans cleaned up in the 2002 off-year elections, Meyerson predicted that the nation would “suffer” under united Republican rule. He worried about “all the right-wing judicial appointments that will be ratified, for the Supreme Court on down, now that the Republicans control the Senate” and about the “lack of scrutiny” that the Bush administration could expect “now that the Democrats control no committees.”
“Only the filibuster,” he warned, “now stands between the nation and the unchecked rule of the most right-wing xenophobic and belligerent administration in the nation’s history.” (Apparently, he’d never heard of the Wilson administration; or maybe the fact that its xenophobic belligerence was progressive makes it okay.)
Nor was that just a throw-away line. He had earlier celebrated the late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone for his threat to filibuster a bankruptcy bill. “We need to be standing up for the ordinary citizens, not the banks,” he quoted Wellstone saying. And the only way for that to happen was simple: filibuster.
The filibuster, of course, is a mechanism that those men of the people in the Senate can use to slow down legislation. They can keep debate on a bill going until such time that a supermajority of 60 Senators decides to end it.
The filibuster is valuable because it frustrates political momentum. It allows the minority to put the brakes on controversial legislation and forces us all to step back, take a deep breath, and really think it through.
But now that his party is back in power, Meyerson doesn’t want to hear it. In his column yesterday in the Washington Post, he praised the House of Representatives for passing Pelosicare and damned the Senate as “Dithering Heights” for its refusal to ram the bill through tomorrow.
“A catastrophic change has overtaken the Senate in recent years,” he wrote. Because of the filibuster, “the Senate has become a body that shuns debate, avoids legislative give-and-take, proceeds glacially and produces next to nothing.”
Why just “earlier this month” — that is, November — “Senate Republicans blocked consideration of an extension of unemployment insurance.” And when they “finally let it come to a vote” — all of several days later, by his account — “the measure passed 98 to 0.”
Pardon me for failing to see the problem there.
Meyerson offered a potted history of the New Deal and the Great Society and asked why the Senate has so far failed to pass the sweeping changes that President Barack Obama is calling for. He warned, “With each passing day, the Senate becomes more of a mockery of the principle of majority rule — democracy’s most fundamental precept.”
And he said to those Senate “ditherers” Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, and Bill Nelson that they should either endorse the notion that “elections shouldn’t have consequences” or “let the debate begin.”
Meyerson has it arse backward on this one, and — what’s worse — he knows it. The “ditherers” are making sure that we have an actual debate about healthcare. They’re not willing to let an arrogant and emboldened majority trample the basic rights and considerations that are due a political minority and they won’t endorse change for the sake of partisan expediency.
In so doing, they are upholding the bedrock assumption that undergirds majority rule: that the majority should behave wisely. Meyerson is now pretending not to know anything about that.