The dangers of demanding consistency
My colleague George Will is not very impressed with the concern over Senate rules. "Such talk occurs only when the left's agenda is stalled," he writes. "Do you remember mournful editorials and somber seminars about 'dysfunctional' government when liberals defeated George W. Bush's Social Security reforms?"
Actually, I sort of do. "If Senate rules, exploited by an anti-constitutional minority, are allowed to trump the Constitution's text and two centuries of practice," wrote one conservative commentator in 2003, "the Senate's power to consent to judicial nominations will have become a Senate right to require a supermajority vote for confirmation. By thus nullifying the president's power to shape the judiciary, the Democratic Party will wield a presidential power without having won a presidential election."
That commentator, of course, was George Will. As he says, "both parties have been situational ethicists regarding filibusters," and that's to be expected. If we insist on consistency in Washington, no one will ever be able to do anything, of any sort. The point here is not that both parties have flipped on the filibuster, but that both parties have been able to make a very strong argument that the filibuster and other sundry rules of Senate obstructionism are posing a larger problem than they did in the past. And both parties are right about that. The minority must protect its interests while it's out of power, but that shouldn't stop us from thinking hard about a bipartisan pact to set rules to govern the Senate six or eight years from today, when no one knows who will hold power.
Finally, Will accuses liberals who are not sufficiently respectful of the Senate's undemocratic nature of believing the Founders either "dolts or knaves." This is nonsense. The Founders were trying to entice large states and small states alike into an uncertain union. They solved it as best they could. And as part of their solution, they decided that the Senate should be appointed, not elected.
But just as we have reversed that judgment in recent years without sacrificing our respect for the Founders, so too do we have the ability and the responsibility to think hard about the problems that face the nation and ensure our government is equipped to handle them in he future. That's what the Founders did with the messy compromise that constructed the Senate, and it will be what we do with ours.
Graph credit: By Norm Ornstein/The American
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