Friday, November 22, 2013

Filibuster Busters

As of yesterday, an overweening lust to filibust has finally been busted in the Senate, restoring some trust that majority rule can at last be reinstated as the norm in the highly strained democratic process. Though both parties have used the filibuster when in the Senate minority, the tradition has been severely abused in recent years, with filibusters becoming the norm rather than the exception.

According to Harry Reid, "In the history of the Republic, there have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominations. Half of them have occurred during the Obama Administration – during the last four and a half years."

Bringing an end to most filibusters can be seen as a rare imposition of consequence--you abuse it, you lose it--in a governing body badly in need of consequence for bad actors. The ubiquitous columnist David Brooks, at his usual spot on PBS's The News Hour, said that instead of consequence for bad actors, we should "try to get people to behave better." Columnists, of course, suffer no consequence for being wrong, nor do elected representatives, who successfully hide behind the "both sides are to blame" posture of the news media. There is no motivation to "behave better" when anyone who does so gets lumped into the "both sides are to blame" category regardless. The supposed public watchdogs, seeking to appear evenhanded, end up turning a blind eye to any imbalance in behavior.

Statistics like Reid's "168 filibusters" can be manipulated, but the news media, rather than hiding behind the false fairness of "both sides are to blame", needs to come up with some way to measure abuse, so that bad actors can be identified early on. Otherwise, as on a playground, the lack of early intervention leads to the need for more extreme action. 

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