I would not run from the bomb

21 11 2013

Nuke ’em, Harry! Nuke ’em!

I’m referring to the change in Senate rules in which presidential nominees and sub-Supreme Court federal court nominees could be confirmed with a majority vote, i.e., could no longer be filibustered, but it sounds so much more fun to say “NUUUUUKE THEMMMM!”

Even Jonathan Bernstein, who is generally a fan of (kinda) the filibuster, agrees that the Republicans aggressive use of the filibuster has gone out of whack. His tolerance of the filibuster is based in his wariness of majoritarianism, and his belief in the necessity of keeping the minority in the game.

These are important considerations, and I appreciate Bernstein’s tempered historical approach to Senate history. Given that power shifts from Democrats to Republicans and back again with some regularity, not treating the losing party as, well, losers, makes sense: they need to keep a hand in governance.

If that losing party holds no interest in governance, however, and refuses to take any responsibility for the actions of the US government as a whole, then, Bernstein concedes, nuking the minority’s ability to stifle action makes more sense than deferring to it.

I come at this from a different direction, from the necessity of accountability rather than deference. Even when the Republicans were in control of the Senate I supported filibuster reform: if the electorate voted for Republicans, then they (we) ought to deal with the consequences of those elections. If we don’t like those consequences, we should vote differently.

There are problems with this position, of course: this is a policy-first approach, and most people don’t care about policy. As such, my whole notion of weakening or removing the brakes on majority action  might not lead to any greater accountability: if you don’t connect policy to party, then passage of a hated/loved policy won’t necessarily lead to lessened/greater attachment to party.

Still, it’s possible that among the reasons for weak linkage between policy and party attachment (esp. in terms of voting) is that Congressmembers have been able to shrug off responsibility for policy (in)action amidst the thicket of Senate rules. Maybe if we Americans could no longer count on a minority to stifle the majority we would actually have to come to terms with the consequences of our votes.

Maybe not. Maybe Bernstein’s caution is correct. But maybe the best way to figure this out is to  NUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUKE the Senate filibuster rule.

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