Yesterday, Democratic senator Kyrsten Sinema stood next to Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and said -- "To those who say that we must make a choice between the filibuster and 'X,' I say, this is a false choice. The reality is that when you have a system that is not working effectively . . . the way to fix that is to fix your behavior, not to eliminate the rules or change the rules, but to change the behavior."
I don't believe that Krysten Sinema is stupid or obtuse. Or even conservative. I think she's a bright, accomplished person who is moderate to slightly liberal. I also think absolutely believes what she is saying. And I think she is monumentally wrong about how she has chosen to see and analyze the world of politics and the filibuster.
She has also talked about how it's important for democracy to have an outlet for the voice of the minority, and not let the tyranny of the majority rule Congress. The thing is, she has it totally backwards. In a democracy, majority rules. That's the very point. Under a tyrannical system, the minority can lead the way.
Furthermore, if she thinks that government can't work if there isn't a filibuster -- there is not filibuster rule in the House of Representatives! And it works fine without out, and has for the past 230 years or so. And more to the point, 36 states in the country do not have filibuster rules in their state government. Perhaps it would be great if some did these days, but the point is that they don't and never have.
Moreover, there are protections built into the government against the "tyranny of the majority" should such a thing occur. It's the presidential veto. Which the Congress can override with a two-thirds vote. And even there, there is more protections, where the Supreme Court can rule a law unconstitutional.
And for all that, yes, some draconian laws could pass. But that's how democracies work. And if the public doesn't like what's passed, they can vote their representatives out.
And going further, she herself says that the best way to address problems is "not to eliminate or change rules." Except...the filibuster rule itself is a change in the rules. There was no filibuster rule written in the Constitution or the original Senate rules. They "changed rules" to create the filibuster. The first filibuster wasn't even until 1837, half a century after the country was founded. Moreover, the Senate kept changing the filibuster rule. The rule today isn't what it original was, or was changed to over the years. Today, a senator can just say he or she is filibustering, and that's it. The majority now needs 60 votes to end the filibuster. Before this, a person who wanted to filibuster a bill had to actually...well, filibuster. You had to stand and keep talking without stopping. And the moment you did, the filibuster was over. And all the country could see that it was you who was filibustering and keeping the government from moving on.
So, to talk about how we shouldn't change the rules misses the very reality of how the filibuster came to be. And came to develop into the problem it is.
But her level of interpreting politics today and the filibuster is even deeper than all that. Which is pretty incredibly deep.
That's because her talking about a system not "working effectively" and talking about "changing behavior" totally loses sight of the reality that this is not about the system not working effectively, but not working. And it's not about behavior, but cold, calculated political decisions to block the majority. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell does not have a "behavioral" problem. His problem is that he said, quite clearly and bluntly, "One hundred percent of my focus is standing up to this administration."
To repeat -- that's "One hundred percent of my focus." That doesn't leave much wiggle room for changing his political actions, and leaves zero room for changing his "behavior." Because it's not about behavior. And "One hundred percent" blocking of your opponent -- again, "One hundred percent" -- is government not working.
Personally, as I've written here before, my preference is not to get rid of the filibuster, but changing it. And (and this is important) changing it to how it was before this latest change where you only had to say privately that you filibustering. I'm for returning the filibuster to what it actually was, which was why it was hardly ever used, but when it was, it was for really important issues, not just to "stand up to the administration" one hundred percent of the time. I'm also in favor (as I wrote in that article) of adding some additional tweaks which put the burden on those filibustering, not on the majority. But even without these added rules, the basic changes would be fine for me, simply returning the filibuster to what it was.
It made a filibuster difficult. But a filibuster should be difficult. It shouldn't stop government from working. And it shouldn't let the minority rule, because that's not democracy. But it should give the minority a voice and a chance to address bills it wants to stop, and to see if it can win the day over the majority. And if it can't, then the majority wins -- and democracy moves on. As it's supposed to.
Kyrsten Sinema -- and Joe Manchin -- and not stupid and obtuse. They are just devastatingly wrong and putting democracy at risk. Which is the very opposite of what they apparently believe they want to do.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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