It almost always sucks when an unintended consequence punches far above its weight and delivers a knockout blow. That’s the filibuster. This bizarre tactic gives one person — one US Senator — the ability to stop what the majority wants in its tracks. In the 1960’s, Southern Democrats (now known as Republicans — as Heather Cox Richardson writes in her excellent “To Make Men Free: A History Of The Republican Party” our two parties, the Democrats and Republicans have, in essence, switched names since the Republican Party’s founding in the 1850’s) used the filibuster to block passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Back then, filibusterers were made to actually filibuster. The Senate’s Racist Coalition had to filibuster for 75 hours straight including a 14-hour and 13 minute address by Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia (before Byrd had his “come to Jesus” moment and repented his racist ways). The filibuster failed when the Senate invoked cloture for only the second time since 1927. The filibuster is antithetical to democratic governance — that’s why it’s the tool-of-choice of racists.
The filibuster has to go. Screw its giving the minority a voice against a hostile majority. That bullshit celebration of the “rugged individual” standing heroically against the forces of evil is actually a lone racist stemming the tide of equality. Or a handful of racists as with the Southern Democrats. It’s the few holding sway over the many. In America, that always means rich, Christian white men having power far beyond what they’re entitled to. That the filibuster still exists is a quirk of American politics and history. It arises from an accommodation made in 1806 to Aaron Burr — then the Vice President — before he left office. It was never intended to be used for ordinary business; (this is from Wikipedia: “a small number of super-majority requirements were explicitly included in [the Constitution], including conviction on impeachment charges (2/3 of Senate), expelling a member of Congress (2/3 of the chamber in question), overriding presidential vetoes (2/3 of both Houses), ratifying treaties (2/3 of Senate) and proposing constitutional amendments (2/3 of both Houses) — see the Wikipedia article “Filibuster In The US Senate” for footnotes and sources).
By 1846, the Senate tired of even casual abuse of the filibuster “rules” such as they were. This “addition by subtraction” was regularly bringing the Senate and its business to a dead stop while one Senator dead set on having HIS way, got up on his little pegs and spewed until either he got his way or 2/3 of the Senate (finally!) told him to shut the hell up already. Not the point of the exercise.
In the 1970’s, the Senate — trying to have it both ways — voted to keep the filibuster alive but make it more “practical” to apply: just what WAS NOT needed. Now, instead of having to actually get up in the Senate and speak for as long as they possibly could, Senators could now “threaten” to filibuster — and get all the benefits of a filibuster’s obstruction without having to any of the heavy lifting of actually filibustering. How white guy of them!
The fear is that destruction of the filibuster will make most every Senatorial decision a simple majority proposition. That proposition scares conservatives more than it does Progressives.
Let’s remind ourselves — the Senate, like the Electoral College, is, by nature and design unfair. The EC stands between each American voter and the president they vote for. We only pretend to vote for president; the Electoral College is the actual mechanism that picks a POTUS. And make no mistake — the EC exists solely to soothe the furrowed brows of slavers. There has always been dynamic tension in America between the populated, diverse cities — Blue America — and the unpopulated, white-ruled rural parts — Red America. On a map, all that red ink represents real estate way more than it does any people who might live on it.
Imagine a presidential campaign where voters in Ohio or Florida didn’t have the potential to literally decide a presidential contest for the whole country. Think of the undue but very real political weight this gives voters in one state over another — almost always rural over urban. Candidates chase “undecided voters” in specific states because their eye’s on the EC. That’s why they’ll go to diners in Iowa and listen to farmers like they were sages. Hey, they might indeed be very bright people with smart things to say. But how they vote should have far less impact on my life than it does just as how I vote should have less impact on theirs.
That the farmer’s vote matters more than mine at present — that’s a problem. The Senate’s design exacerbates it. Again, by design, rural voters get hyper-represented while urban voters get hypo-represented. Wyoming’s 445,000 voters get two US Senators. Same goes for California’s 45 MILLION voters. Each Wyomingite has a far better chance of getting their Senator on the phone — and doing what THEY need than any Californian does (unless they’re super rich). So, a sheep rancher in Wyoming stands a better shot at seeing his needs legislated than a Black single mom in Los Angeles who’s struggling to pay her bills. Such is equality in a system designed to deliver the opposite.
Fixing the Senate is a Big Job that will take a super majority of Democrats to accomplish. Don’t pooh-pooh the possibility. In “normal times”, the coming off year election in 2022 (and why the hell is anyone thinking about THAT already?) would advantage the party OUT OF power because the party IN POWER screwed up. But — cue the “Breaking News” banner — these aren’t “normal times”. The first job the Democrats now controlling the reins of power must accomplish is to undo as much of the damage Trump did as possible. That’s not the Democrats being political. That’s the Democrats GOVERNING.
Our news media — drunk off their asses on the “Both Sides Do It” kool aid — have convinced themselves and half of America that anything anyone does is motivated first by politics. This isn’t just cynical, it’s flat out wrong. They now think that both sides behave the same way and for the exact same reasons. Oy. Just… oy. Before the Democrats can even think about putting forward their “socialist wet dreams”, they FIRST have to solve the pandemic. Do that, they can solve the economy. In between all of that, the Democrats have to deal with the fact that the GOP just sponsored a coup d’etat against the rest of us.
And, on top of THAT, the Democrats have to deal with the fact that the entire Republican Party either participated in multiple acts of treason or stood by while treason and traitors threatened America. Countries that allow traitors to walk free will not be countries for very much longer. The traitors will see to it.
Right now, Mitch McConnell — our Treason Turtle MINORITY LEADER — is attempting to keep the filibuster alive both to protect racism but also to protect the traitors in his party. The fact that racists, bigots and seditionists would benefit — well, to Mitch, that’s all just icing. Odds are, if Mitch McConnell is FOR something? That something is rotten. Or Mitch is doing it for rotten reasons.
Repeat: the filibuster has to go. The people defending it have to disabused of their bullshit excuses (history, fairness, the tyranny of the majority) and made to fess up: they are standing in the majority’s way mostly because they’re racist — and keeping racism alive in America is more important to them than almost anything.