Fear Keeps the Filibuster Alive


Barney Frank says the only structural reform he cares about is getting rid of the filibuster in the Senate. Ed Kilgore comments:

I’m among those who really get upset when people sort of internalize the recent routine use of the filibuster by Republicans to create a de facto 60-vote requirement for doing business in the Senate, as though it came down from Mount Sinai on stone tablets. It didn’t. It’s a revolutionary development in the empowerment of congressional minorities, of special utility to those who wish to obstruct progress. And it has a huge ripple effect on what happens in the House (as Frank indicates), the White House, and the country. We should never get used to it until it’s modified or gone.

Agreed. And yet, in a way, it seems to me that Ed is wrong: we have to internalize the recent routine use of the filibuster first in order to have any chance of getting rid of it. As long as the public continues to hear about “filibusters,” they’ll continue to think that this is just Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, something that happens now and again when the minority party opposes a bill especially strongly. It’s only when everyone starts to realize that the Senate is a 60-vote body — not a place where filibusters take place periodically, but a 60-vote body — that we might finally get some public pushback on this.

Or maybe not. The sad truth is that no matter what we call it, filibusters will probably retain strong support pretty much forever. In general, fear of what your opponents could do in a majoritarian Congress seems to be a much stronger motivation than passion for what your own party could do. That’s more true of conservatives than liberals, but it’s true of a lot of liberals too. When you sit down and start to think about what, say, Paul Ryan might be able to do in a filibuster-less Senate, it makes your blood run cold. Suddenly 60 votes doesn’t sound so bad, even if it does mean there’s stuff of our own that will never see the light of day either.

Fear is stronger than hope. Every once in a great while that reverses, but not often and not for long. Most of the time, fear is stronger than hope.

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