The Filibuster Isn’t Going Away, It’s Just Changing Parties


Danny Vinik says that with Democrats soon to be the minority party in the Senate, Harry Reid will employ the filibuster just as much as Mitch McConnell ever did:

Reid has a history of supporting the filibuster when in the minority and criticizing it when in the majority. There’s no reason to expect that to change with McConnell as majority leader.

And that’s a good thing. If Republicans are going to reap the political benefits of indiscriminate filibustering, then Democrats should do so as well. The advantage of filibustering is that it allows a party to block progress without taking all of the blame for it, for the simple reason that most of the public—and, surprisingly, most of the media—don’t realize that filibusters are basically thwarting majority rule. Presidential vetoes, on the other hand, are easy for the public and media to understand and easy to appropriate blame. If Democrats relinquished the tool now, they’d give up a chance to make the same sort of gains. It’d be the equivalent of unilateral disarmament.

Agreed. In fact, it never even occurred to me that Democrats might use the filibuster any less than Republicans have over the past six years. The GOP has taught a master class in the virtues of obstruction, and there’s no reason to think that Democrats haven’t learned the lesson well. The only question is whether Reid will be able to hold his caucus together as well as McConnell held together his.

Actually, I take that back. That’s not the only question. Here’s the one I’m really curious about: will the media treat Democratic filibusters the same way they treated Republican filibusters? To put this more bluntly, will they treat Dem filibusters as routine yawners barely worth mentioning? Or, alternatively, will they treat them not as expressions of sincere dissent against an agenda they loathe, but as nakedly cynical ploys employed by vengeful and bitter Democrats for no purpose other than exacting retribution against Mitch McConnell? Just asking.

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