With filibuster reform up for debate, Tim Noah provides some very nice historical perspective:
The filibuster does not have a distinguished history. The term (from filibustero, Spanish for “pirate”) originally referred to the hijacking of legislative business when a member took advantage of unlimited debate on the floor of the House or Senate. The House, which has too many legislators to tolerate such indulgence, jettisoned the filibuster in the nineteenth century. But Southern senators used it to defend underappreciated regional customs like the lynching of uppity Negroes and the preservation of whites-only public schools, lunch counters, and water fountains.
What I especially love, though, is how he puts in an appropriate cost/benefit perspective:
A more exalted argument for the filibuster is that it diminishes polarization by forcing Democrats and Republicans to find common ground. “I’ve served with several hundred senators under every partisan configuration imaginable,” former Senator Chris Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut, said in a 2010 speech that argued for maintaining the filibuster. “And as odd as it may sound in the present political environment, … I cannot recall a single Senate colleague with whom I could not work.”
But the benefit accrued when both sides are able to reach agreement on some matters must be balanced against the harm when one side is able to block action on other, often more important matters. Big problems in the United States go unaddressed for decades because the Senate cannot act…
So let’s hope Reid and his fellow Democrats press a little harder this time. There isn’t much chance, alas, that the filibuster will be eliminated entirely. But eliminating the procedural, no-talking filibuster would be a good start. The majority leader has the votes to effect a rules change by simple majority. Now he just needs the resolve.
As if the Senate isn’t already undemocratic enough (way over-represents small, rural states), the filibuster compounds the problem. It needs to be put out to pasture.