Monday, April 25, 2005

I'd be amused if Filibustering falls under Fair Use

Well Frist made his big speech on “Justice Sunday” about removing the filibuster, and it came to nothing. Now we wait and see whether Congress will really repeal the judicial filibuster or not. Yglesias makes a good point that this matters so little in terms of results, compared to the effect of Democrats retaliating by stopping all business ever, that Republicans are unlikely to do it. But after all this build up (especially if you include Schiavo as part of the build up), my own social theories think the ideologists can’t just calm down, and will insist that something is done. We’ll see.

Anyone at all interested by this totally needs to go out and read Robert Caro’s Master of the Senate, part of the mega-biography of Lyndon Johnson. A thousand pages on his 8 years in the Senate, has wondiferous stuff on these types of maneuvers, and what makes them work or not work. I expect the last volume, on Johnson’s presidency, to be a let down in comparison.

My own thoughts clearly are just wondering why more of the elite doesn’t oppose the filibuster. And there have been several grounds (to this democratic minimalist) for saying so. The inefficiency it pushes, the lack of democratic accountability, the horrible uses its been used for in the past (and never ones we later look back on and are grateful for), and the hope that one day their party will be in power. But I had to this one more, one which should be particularly important to those that enjoy politics as a fun game or interesting narrative or even a work of art, more than as people who will be affected by the results directly (ie, almost every blogger). Aesthetics.

The Senate was created to be the “deliberative body”, a small chamber of wise men (let’s be honest about our founders here), who would illuminate the issues of the day with their debate, leading to well thought technocratic results instead of ideological factionalism. Well that’s clearly out the window. But it is this ideal of debate that is the reason the Senate had unlimited time to talk. Not minority rights. The writer’s of the Constitution most assuredly did not believe that floor debate would simply be a way for someone to talk forever if they didn’t want a bill to pass.

The filibuster has become a mockery of this ideal, literally. What time was originally reserved for intelligent discussion, has devolved into reading phone books, or the encyclopedia entry on Wisconsin and cheese, or whatever amusing thing the Senator wants to read as they show how absurd they are in their hours of prattle (Jeebus, couldn’t you at least read The Peloponnesian War or something? Harry Potter is popular with the kids these days, and clearly that’s gotta fall under “fair use”).

I personally think that our system does poorly compared to a party-based parliament, but I understand those who want to continue this individual-based republican experiment. But the way the filibuster is, with one party voting to allow a member continue reading a recipe book in order to prevent a vote from happening, is the very disgusting knee-jerk party-ism that should worry people like that.


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