The dead filibuster and Alexander Hamilton

Well, any meaningful filibuster reform is now officially dead.  Details (and great conclusion) from Ezra:

But this process kicked offbecause Democrats were furious at Republican abuse of the filibuster. It’s ended with Democrats and Republicans agreeing that the filibuster is here to stay. And the reason is both simple and depressing: Democrats want to be able to use the filibuster, too. Both parties are more committed to being able to obstruct than they are to being able to govern. That fundamental preference, as much as any particular rule, is why the Senate is dysfunctional.

This reminded me of something I meant to post a while ago and never did.  Not only does the filibuster clearly have nothing to do with the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton actually wrote against the idea of super-majority requirements except for where they are explicitly called for in the Constitution.  Via the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg:

That’s bad enough in itself, but it becomes positively dangerous in times of serious trouble:

In those emergencies of a nation, in which the goodness or badness, the weakness or strength of its government, is of the greatest importance, there is commonly a necessity for action. The public business must, in some way or other, go forward. If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority, respecting the best mode of conducting it, the majority, in order that something may be done, must conform to the views of the minority; and thus the sense of the smaller number will overrule that of the greater, and give a tone to the national proceedings. Hence, tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good. And yet, in such a system, it is even happy when such compromises can take place: for upon some occasions things will not admit of accommodation; and then the measures of government must be injuriously suspended, or fatally defeated. It is often, by the impracticability of obtaining the concurrence of the necessary number of votes, kept in a state of inaction. Its situation must always savor of weakness, sometimes border upon anarchy.

Emphasis mine, though I imagine it would be Hamilton’s if he had known how grotesquely his “conservative” heirs have disfigured the meaning of the Constitution he helped formulate and get ratified.

Ditto on that emphasis.  Other than the sometime arcane language, Hamilton could have easily been writing about the modern usage of the filibuster.  As a Democrat, I’m actually fairly confident that the Republicans enacting their agenda unobstructed would lead to large Democratic electoral victories.  I’m willing to make that trade in allowing the Democrats to actually accomplish their goals while in the majority, which I think history suggests would not be repudiated by the public.  Plus, I’ve clearly got Alexander Hamilton on my side.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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