War Then

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But the most deplorable effect of all is that diminution of attachment and reverence which steals into the hearts of the people, towards a political system which betrays so many marks of infirmity, and disappoints so many of their flattering hopes. No government, any more than an individual, will long be respected without being truly respectable; nor be truly respectable, without possessing a certain portion of order and stability.

James Madison, Federalist 62

Harry Reid carried through on his threat yesterday to invoke the so-called nuclear option and take away the right of filibuster in regard to federal appointments except for the Supreme Court.  The vote was 52-48 with three Democrats voting in opposition along with all Republicans.  In effect the vote kills the filibuster since the majority may get rid of it completely at any time the majority wishes.  That this throws out some 225 years of Senate tradition meant less than nothing to Reid and his colleagues, desperate to turn attention away from the disaster called ObamaCare and eager to implement Obama’s scheme to pack the federal appellate courts, especially the DC Circuit, with judges who will uphold the actions of this administration.

The Majority in the Senate always hates the filibuster and the Minority always loves it.  There have been many threats by majorities to take away the filibuster, but until yesterday such threats were never carried out.  Why?  Majorities in the past always realized that one day they would be in the minority, fear of retaliation by the minority in obstructing  the work of the Senate and also a realization that the filibuster normally forced the majority and the minority to work together to some extent, unlike the House.  Such reasons held no weight with the Democrats yesterday, apparently the senators with Ds after their names, with three exceptions, lacking any concern with what the morrow will bring.

What the morrow is almost certain to bring is an ever intensifying ratcheting up of partisan warfare.  To a certain extent that is to be regretted, but the Democrats as a party, at least since the time of LBJ and his Daisy nuke commercial, long ago decided that winning is more important than comity with their political adversaries.  The Republicans yesterday had a dramatic demonstration that the Democrats in the Senate, almost all of them, do not view them as colleagues to be reasoned with, but foes to be defeated by any means necessary.  Yesterday was a sad milestone on the downward track of this country to ever increasing partisan strife, but the Republicans are fools if they do not accept the terms of political warfare announced by their adversaries and rid themselves of the illusion of hope for bi-partisanship, which currently is nothing but a delusion.


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  1. “lacking any concern with what the morrow will bring”

    Exactly. It’s opportunism. Today’s power is more important than tomorrow’s anything. If you have 99% of what you want, and you can gain the rest by havoc, then let slip the dogs of war.

  2. Didn’t these godless liberal progressive Democrats oppose getting rid of filibusters back in 2005, including the then Senator Manasseh which is now King? Didn’t they one and all deride President Bush for asking for an up or down vote on his nominees?

    The only thing Democrats understand is what they understod in 1865 – defeat horrible, bitter and bloody. God, may it not happen, but they will not rest till they bring it on their heads and that of the nation.

  3. I heard that the GOP’s Mitch McConnell has already stated, I believe, that if the GOP gets back the Senate, they will reinstate the filibuster; the Democrats have no fear of tomorrow because they have no need to fear of the GOP.

  4. That sounds just like Mitch McConnell. He needs to be primaried out of a job.

    As for Harry Reid…he is a bitter, cranky man who will stop at nothing to get his own way, and the spineless GOP gives him nothing to fear.

  5. The filibuster is a bad institution and architectural to Congress’ inability to accomplish much of anything. It should be eliminated completely.

    As for McConnell, the man’s net worth after 45 years in the public sector makes it a reasonable inference that he is a major crook. That is the reason to unload him, not because he lost a particular dogfight with Harry Reid.

  6. Considering that things tend to go from bad to worse when the Congress finally gets around to “working” and “doing something” and “accomplishing,” grid lock looks very, very good. Wish they were still deadlocked on the first Obamacare vote.

  7. “…that if the GOP gets back the Senate, they will reinstate the filibuster”

    I think that’s the right thing to do. You have to play fair, even when (especially when) the other guy is cheating. Because Republicans don’t have a natural base. People aren’t born Republican. Ethnic groups aren’t Republican. The party has to earn each convert, and you do that by being smarter, more effective, more compassionate, and more decent across the board. If you’re lucky you get masses of people joining you, like in 1980 and 1994, but most of the time it’s one by one, against the advice of their professors, grandparents, and local paper.

  8. That sounds just like Mitch McConnell. He needs to be primaried out of a job.

    He needs to be put out of a job period. If his primary opponent can’t do it, then his Democrat opponent will have to do.

    And frankly, that’s not a difficult leap to make. After all, he just announced he intends to let the Democrats keep running things. At least as long as there are forty of them.

    You have to play fair, even when (especially when) the other guy is cheating.

    Since all’s far in love, war and politics, you play by the rules your opponent agrees to play by, or you don’t play at all.

  9. Does no one read Carl Schmitt any more?

    Schmitt argues that every realm of human endeavour is structured by an irreducible duality. Morality is concerned with good and evil, aesthetics with the beautiful and the ugly, and economics with the profitable and the unprofitable. In politics, the core distinction is between friend and enemy. That is what makes politics different from everything else.

    The political comes into being when groups are placed in a relation of enmity, where each comes to perceive the other as an irreconcilable adversary to be fought and, if possible, defeated. “Every religious, moral, economic, ethical, or other antithesis transforms itself into a political one if it is sufficiently strong to group human beings effectively, according to friends and enemy.”

    Of course, he denies the possibility of neutral rules that can mediate between conflicting positions; for Schmitt there is no such neutrality, since any rule – even an ostensibly fair one – merely represents the victory of one political faction over another and the stabilised result of past conflicts.

  10. Because the Senate was viewed Art since the Founding as being different from the House. The House was where ephemeral majorities had the power to ram legislation through. The Senate was where compromises had to be worked out if legislation was to make its way through Congress. Now we have two Houses. I disagree with Pinky however that it should now be reinstated. It is impossible to have any rules in a game if only one side is intent on following them. It should be assumed by Republicans now that short of a Constitutional amendment the filibuster is dead.

  11. I don’t think the GOP should reinstate the filibuster, at least not immediately, and here’s why: in the past (for over 200 years!), both parties were willing to put up with it because they knew that, eventually, they would loose the Senate, and backstabbing by the majority was likely to be punished by backstabbing when the minority party became the majority–a kind of “mutually assured destruction.” (This is actually stated in the above article, though much more eloquently there.) There needs to be partisanship, strong partisanship, to keep everyone in line.

    We don’t have that. We have a GOP that cries loud (maybe), but eventually seeks compromise, or caves altogether. The Dems know what they want and the leadership is rather patient…until they decide to strike, and then the GOP is so weak they can do nothing to stop it. A packed DC court will give the administration what it (and its fellow socialist fellows) wants, and that is to interpret Constitutional limitations on its power out of the way.

  12. Because the Senate was viewed Art since the Founding as being different from the House.

    That is an explanation or an apologia for a particular convention (which emerged in the 1830s, IIRC). That is not an explanation as to why it should be considered ‘unfair’ for the Senate (which is already apportioned so as to give extra weight to states with small populations) to require only majorities and not super-majorities to pass consequential legislation.

    And we do not have ‘two Houses’. The electoral constituencies are different in nature and dimensions, the terms of office are different, and the apportionment is different.

    Personally, I would be content for the Senate to be chosen by caucuses of the House, rather like a colonial governor’s council, and to concern itself with composing administrative rules and holding inquiries. One chamber tasked with composing statutory legislation, composing budgets, and ratifying treaties will do.

  13. (for over 200 years!), both parties were willing to put up with it because they knew that

    It emerged by accident during the second party system. It was not a foundational practice. Also, the Senate met in camera until around 1796 and (IIRC) the congressional committee system developed only in stages over the 1st ten Congresses.

  14. “That is an explanation or an apologia for a particular convention (which emerged in the 1830s, IIRC).”

    Untrue Art. The Founding Fathers intended the Senate to be a much more deliberative body from the House. The “filibuster” was modeled, although that term was not used initially, after the practice in some colonial and state legislative chambers. Initially “filibusters” could be conducted in both chambers, although rules changes in the House swiftly eliminated the practice there.

    “And we do not have ‘two Houses’”

    We do now Art in that majority rules is the applicable phrase in both of our Houses now. You can bet that the majority in the Senate will attempt to eliminate any features of the Senate that impede the swift passage of anything now that the majority wishes.

  15. I am fairly sure there were some inadvertant rule changes around about 1830 which provided for filibusters.

    Also, you are forgetting two amendments to convention which appeared during the 1970s. One was the advent of the ‘Cadillac filibuster’, which consisted of members of Congress tracking proceedings and saying ‘no’ at appropriate times. Prior to that, a member of the Senate had to stand on his feet and read from the phone book for as long as the filibuster continued. One of the longer ones on record lasted about 26 hours. The other was the ‘hold’ on nominees. This emerged for convenience in the 1950s so that members of the Senate would not have to track floor proceedings so carefully and for two decades holds generally lasted only a few days. It turned malignant during the 1970s and by 2009 we had the absurd business of a single Senator from Alabama placing anonymous holds on dozens of nominees.

    James Madison and his contemporaries were liberally educated in a manner which is quite rare today, but I cannot help but notice they have in the minds of many starboard exponents been turned into the equivalent of Isaac Asimov’s Hari Seldon. We cannot make incremental amendments to practice because it would not comport with the reasoning elaborated upon in The Federalist. That not denies historical experience, contemporary experience, and the experience of other countries (who seem not to exist in the minds of our tricorne hats). Henry Paulson was asked to explain his course of action in 2008 and offered this, “Congress does nothing unless there’s a crisis”. That should trouble us. The catch-all continuing resolutions should trouble us. The holds on nominees should trouble us. The lobbyist driven legislation that hardly anyone has read should trouble us. The fact that individual members of the Senate might be limited to 22 minutes a piece of gassing (tradable to others) should not trouble us.

  16. The first recorded use of what we would call a filibuster in the Senate was recorded by Senator William Maclay in September 1789 when he penned in his diary that the “design of the Virginians…was to talk away the time, so that we could not get the bill passed.”

    The rule of unlimited debate lasted until 1917 when the cloture rule was written. That rule required two-thirds vote, later changed to three-fifths, to break a filibuster.

  17. I am somewhat ambivalent about the filibuster, but when you throw the 17th Amendment into the mix, it’s clear that the Senate is no longer operating as intended and we do indeed have, for all intents and purposes, two Houses.

  18. I cannot figure what you could mean by ‘two Houses’ given the differences between the chambers. Nor can I figure what you could mean about attributing that situation to the 17th Amendment, given that that amendment was ratified nearly a century ago (unless you maintain we have had ‘two houses’ since 1919).

  19. I think understand what Paul Zummo means by the 17th Amendment. The Senate was originally meant to represent a “super-majority” of the people whether urban or rural. That probably happened when senators were chosen by the state legislatures but much less so since they began to be chosen by the voters at large. Jefferson worried that when we became dominated by city dwellers, we would become less free. He was right and we are. Too much democracy is inimical to the continuation of a free republic. I am sometimes chastened for having some sympathy for southern rights but it is the better spirits thereof which attract me, not the worse. I think the passing of one hundred fifty years has witnessed a reversal of the spirits dominating the North and the South to the point where city and country are arrayed one against the other. The Seventeenth Amendment has made matters the worse. The included link seems to portray the reversal in mind. http://www.youtube.com/embed/9RABZq5IoaQ?feature=player_embedded
    Donald, there is a topic just waiting to be probed by your penetrating mind. Oh yes, the subject was the filibuster. Be patient. Take the Senate. Fight fire with fire. Hoist them with their own petard.

  20. Now I am not understanding either one of you.

    My own wager is that you return the election of the Senate to the state legislatures, you get Senators with a different skill set. As of now you get people adept at raising gobs of cash and running publicity campaigns. The apotheosis of such types is the current President, who seems to have no other skill. So, perhaps we benefit. In returning it to election by the state legislatures, you get people who build relationships with small time pols. The apotheosis of that type is….Alphonse d’Amato. I remember the entire Democratic establishment willing to throw the 1986 election because d’Amato had done so many favors for them (“I got the one-penny-in-five reserved for mass transit”); and somehow he managed to avoid an indictment for acting as an enforcer for Joseph Margiotta’s shakedown schemes. Margiotta and others went to prison while d’Amato was strutting around the Senate floor and screwing tramps who will lie down for the famous no matter what.

  21. “Too much democracy is inimical to the continuation of a free republic.”

    If you ever want to stir up the herds, just give ’em that observation. I also believe universal suffrage for every Federal post is poison, but I can’t conjure an equitable demographic truncation.

  22. Don’t forget the reason why the 17th Amendment was passed in the first place — due to a series of scandals involving Senators who blatantly bought their seats via outright bribery or arm-twisting in addition to the usual political horse trading involved in most important legislative votes.

    Also, it was because of the 17th Amendment that Lincoln did NOT win the Illinois Senate seat he was campaigning for during the Lincoln-Douglas debates — Democrats managed to keep control of the state legislature during that election and thereby reelected Douglas even though the Republican party actually received more popular votes.

  23. “Don’t forget the reason why the 17th Amendment was passed in the first place — due to a series of scandals involving Senators who blatantly bought their seats via outright bribery or arm-twisting”. More evidence that “Bad Cases Make Bad Laws”.

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