The Filibuster and Democracy
When you talk about potentially eliminating the filibuster, liberals have a tendency to quickly bring up the specter of Social Security privatization. That is to say, they have a tendency to quickly bring up an instance in which the filibuster worked, or appeared to work, for them.
But this is a really bad argument. Privatization was not a popular policy that was effectively killed when Republicans couldn't get a couple of Democrats to vote for cloture. It never came up for a vote at all. It never even got out of a committee. It was very unpopular, and wouldn't have gotten 50 votes. It died because the majority opposed it. That's democracy.
Imagine, however, a filibuster-less world. In this world, Republicans managed to persuade every member of their party to vote for an unpopular bill. Well, what happens? Presumably, Democrats run against them in the next election and, as happened in real life, take back Congress. And then they repeal the bill. Or President Obama does it two years later, when he enters office atop a promise to overturn President Bush's veto of the very popular Social Security Privatization Repeal Act of 2007. That too is democracy.
But change the hypothetical a bit. Imagine that Social Security privatization was extremely popular but that Democrats managed to filibuster it to death in a last-ditch demonstration of party unity. That, in a way, is the argument for the filibuster. It could have prevented something bad from happening even if the bad thing had the votes. But that's not a good argument either. After all, if the country wants to privatize Social Security, and it decides to vote for politicians running atop that platform, it should be able to privatize Social Security.
The problem with the filibuster isn't so much that it enables bad outcomes so much as it makes a mockery of the democratic process. The question of the filibuster is not a partisan question and it's not a question of outcomes. The claim for the filibuster is a claim for the preservation of the status quo -- whether that status quo is liberal or conservative -- against the preferences of the majority. Eliminating the filibuster is not a Democratic or a Republican goal. It's a majoritarian goal.
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