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Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.


Frist's Insane Plan to End the Fillibuster  | e-mail post

Senate Majority leader Bill Frist talked of trying to change the 60 vote cloture requirement on ending senate filibusters to a 51-vote simple majority back in 2003, and now it's on the table again. Combined with the Specter brouhaha, this is getting tiresome, and actually working to alienate me from my Republican tendencies. I hope it stops soon.

Personally, I am weary of the fetish-like obsession many Republicans have with the pro-life issue in the courts. There is much more to the bench that a periodic decision related to the issue of abortion, and there is certainly much more to the furtherance of core traditional Republican ideals than the pro-choice/pro-life divide. Honestly, how ironic that the 4th Circuit's Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson is considered one of the most conservative potential nominees for the Supreme Court, yet may be too "squishy" on the Roe v Wade question for some religiously-motivated Republicans, according to the WSJ. (This was the same potential criticism of Alberto Gonzales as well.)

Setting aside the issue of religious conservativism and the courts, I have a much more general objection to the idea of radically altering the senate rules on the filibuster, and would oppose the change even if it were in furtherance of a political aim I held dear. Senate Republicans would do well to respect the founders of this nation and the fact that the foundation of the Senate itself with its two members per state is to provide some measure of protection to the minority, something obscured by the "tyranny of the minority" rhetoric Bill Frist spouts off.

Senate Republicans would do well to remember that while they may feel their political stock is riding high, the electorate is a fickle thing and political change can come at any time. If the filibuster rules were to change, a mere six seats separate them from domination and emasculation; it would only take five seats if a Democrat is in the White House. Certainly the Republicans have made use of the filibuster, even in the relatively recent past past:
Be aware that I am certainly not saying that I would have liked to have seen any of these things go through (although I think the Surgeon General filibuster was petty). I am only saying that the filibuster has worked to benefit each party, and a change in the rules would result in a dramatic potential change in the sharing of power.

And, not to beat up the Republican Senate (although as one who tends to vote Republican I feel I am entitled to honestly criticize the party), but they should appreciate that the Democrats have done more to confirm Bush's nominees than the Republicans did for Clinton. With something like 49 vacancies in the federal bench today, that is far better than the 67 or so vacancies the Republican majority allowed to accumulate during Clinton's second term.

People should also remember that Frist was opposed to ending the attempted filibusters of 9th Circuit Clinton nominees like Richard Paez and Marsha Berzon. A move to end the filibuster rules by Frist reeks of hypocrisy as well as being a bad idea.

So if Republicans in the Senate want to accuse Democrats of obstructionism maybe they should remember the old yarn that you reap what you sow. And in the case of changing the filibuster to a simple majority Republicans might find four, six or eight years from now that paybacks, as they say, are a bitch.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  |  | Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Comments:
I'm not with you here, not at all. The Senate Filibuster Rule is a piece of dreck, misused by all sides. I want it gone; there is very little value in the "minority protection" aspect of the filibuster that exceeds the "two votes per state" issue.
 
Well, certainly reasonable people can differ as to the value of the filibuster. I would simply say that its use or misuse by all sides has had moderating tendencies in both directions, and if one believes that the government that governs best governs least, then the role of the filibuster would seem to act as a brake on the government.

I simply think that such a change has practical implications that it would be shortsighted of Frist to ignore.
 
While I agree there is more to 'the bench' than the abortion issue, it is an issue that is absolutely fundamental. If you (by which I mean 'anyone') defines life as beginning at Conception, then abortion really does equal murder. I think that there would be little complaining if the litmus test was whether or not a judge agreed with killing 2 year olds who had become a burden on their mothers.
 
Tom, your analysis of the issue is exactly why I have a problem with the political debate about the issue: if one defines life as begining at conception, then abortion would be equivalent to muder. However, the definition of when life starts is hardly an agreed upon fact-in-the-world. That is one of the things that bothers me on the abortion debate: in the end, it all boils down to an open question.

Unlike policy questions like "does regulation reduce economic growth" or "do low taxes stimulate economic activity" or even "is it worth many deaths today to sow the seeds of democracy in the Muslim Crescent?" the issue of abortion doesn't even come down to a probability assessment, it comes down to a belief. And it is not clear to me that there is an objectively correct answer on this, unless arguably one wants to accept viability as the standard. (Which I think is probably a consensus belief, and hence why most people can get on board with a partial-birth abortion ban.)

Possibly most troubling to me, philosophically, is that it seems most abortion opponents tend to not have an opposition to the death penalty, and I at least think Catholics get it right in saying that the "life" issue needs to be a seamless garment; it is not morally acceptable to cherry-pick the issue. And as soon as one says "well, the death penalty is OK because..." they are accepting that life is not an absolute trump, that there are competing interests, which entirely opens up the abortion debate.

By and large, it seems most people are opposed to abortion, as a practical matter. However, criminalizing abortion won't put an end to abortions.

I recognize that I seem to be in the minority among Republicans on this issue, however I think that has much to do with the party's alienation of many individuals on this specific issue. The fact that many of the strongest national names in the party are pro-choice I think speaks well for the future of the party in this regard.

This is one of those emotional issues that I rarely bring up, so I am hoping that this doesn't stir up a huge debate on the subject, because, as I've said, I don't think it amenable to reasoned debate, it is akin to a Jew and a Christian debating whether or not Jesus was the son of God (actually there is more opportunity for factual discussion of that issue).
 
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