Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Filibusters and Minority Rule

Although the academic in me despises the inaccuracy of the term “minority rule” for descriptions of veto powers that minorities can exercise, the politician in me loves the rhetoric used against clearly anti-democratic procedures.

National Review Online, that bastion of non-partisan historical analysis, brings us a glowing description of how the House of Representatives did away with its own versions of filibusters. I find this amusing in many ways, from contrast to their William Safire born defenses of the filibuster as the tool of the educated in the Senate when Democrats and moderate majorities held sway, to its constant praise of Republicans in the 19th century and denigration of Democrats. Of course mapping the party’s positions in different cultures is very hard, but if anything back then the Democrats were the conservative party and the Republicans the liberal one. Thusly, their contrast of the idealistic and educated Republican from Maine with the menacing and stubborn knife-displaying Democrat from Texas is especially ironic.

The filibuster, and other minority-protection measures of the Senate, is the simplest example of why I distrust the “protections” our Constitution provides. One would expect the Democrats of now to know that liberal causes have been shafted by the filibuster far more than conservative causes, and to embrace any “nuclear option”, even one limited to the current focus of judicial nominees.

But the NRO article does not limit its lessons or praise to those who overturn minority-road blocks on judicial nominees, and instead speaks the gospel of democratic majoritarianism in every legislative action. Good article comrades!


Some posts ago Dennis defended some of these rules as “democracy’s ability to make promises”. And as we see in the formation of the Iraqi government, the idea of promising minorities certain future concessions so they can reach a compromise at the present is rather important. But it is clear that by modern standards, the original compact was not done under democratic legitimacy (only native, white, property owning, males could vote; the ratification through state legislature is nothing like a referendum; and the writing and ratification of the 13th through 15th amendments is the most suspect thing ever), and the irrelevancy of perspectives from 216 years ago becomes all the more damning.


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