ORIGINAL INTENT

Posted in Rants on November 25th, 2013 by Ed

For people who like to portray themselves as Constitutional scholars and the modern executors of the Founders' intellectual estate, Republicans sure play fast and loose with the sacred text when it suits their needs.

Here is the briefest possible explanation for why the Senate changed the filibuster rule we all remember learning about in junior high civics class. Chances are most people who know what it is recognize it because the name sounds vaguely hilarious.

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Yes, with three years remaining in Obama's second term the Senate Republicans have already nearly tripled the previous record for filibusters against the party in control of the White House. Worse, they have abandoned even the thinnest pretext of principle behind their use of the filibuster to block presidential appointments. They no longer bother mounting long, windy, insincere speeches about how the president's appointees are just Too Liberal and Activist Judges. No, for the past few years their approach has been essentially, "We're going to block all of these because we don't like you."

Typical Republican approach: break government, declare that government is broken, campaign against government. Repeat as long as rubes will buy it.

That a rule change was necessary is beyond obvious at this point. Yes, at some point in the future it will be used against Senate Democrats when they find themselves in the minority; that is something they will have to live with. This made sense in both the long and the short term. I'm sick to death of hearing about how the Senate is thinking about changing the rules. They've been talking about it for a decade. Shut up and do it already. It was starting to feel like Duke Nukem II, for christ's sake.

Now that it's over and done with, I do have a few lingering issues for our Constitution worshiping brethren on the right. They're very big on upholding the intent of the Founders, right? Right? Of course they are. Just ask them.

First, the word "filibuster" appears nowhere in the Constitution. It's a simple Senate rule. It is to the Senate what the phrase "under God" is to the Pledge of Allegiance – inserted after the fact but misrepresented as part of the original intent. Anyone who brings up the Constitution as a reason why the rule cannot be changed is the purest breed of dolt (Art. I, Sec. 5: "Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings…")

Second, does not the Constitution give the Senate the duty to ensure the operation of the government by facilitating the presidents' appointment of judges, ambassadors, and other officials? Sure, we could quarrel over the meaning of "advice and consent" here, but for people who claim to rely on the intent of the Founders it is abundantly, sparklingly crystal clear that the authors of the document had zero intention of the Senate minority using rules to prevent the body from approving appointees for partisan political reasons. Find some archival evidence that Madison said, "Well if you don't like the president, it's cool to abdicate the constitutional responsibilities of the Senate." I'll wait.

Third, it strikes me as hilarious that some Republicans appear to believe the party will score political points with this issue. The very idea that Americans even know what Senate rules are, let alone care that they have been changed, is laughable. As someone who studies public opinion, I've had this conversation a few times with folks who study Congress – you can't poll people on things like Senate rules and congressional procedure because people have zero idea what any of those things are. I'd assume, thanks to Hollywood, that the filibuster is somewhat more recognizable, but in an electorate in which 1/3 of eligible voters don't know which party controls Congress it's highly doubtful that the GOP will be able to build on…what, pro-filibuster sentiment? Do they think that is a thing that exists?

The simple reality of our system is that at some point you have to stop fighting election results. At some point the minority party has to accept that they lost and that they will have to do some things they don't like because the other party is in control. Except that now the GOP can't accept that and can't stop fighting, ever, because the Tea Party is looming over them like a cloud – a crazy, illiterate cloud – ready to primary challenge any member who fails to refuse absolutely to perform any part of his/her responsibilities that abets Obama in any way. In that light, we could argue that eliminating the filibuster did Senate Republicans a favor, as they no longer have to go through the futile kabuki theater of mounting a filibuster against every single act the Senate undertakes. That must be tiring, after all.