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Walter Mondale on the filibuster

A member of Sen. Tom Udall's staff sent along video of Walter Mondale's testimony at this morning's Rules Committee hearing on the filibuster. Mondale's experience attempting to reform the filibuster plays heavily into my interview with Udall, but it's well worth hearing Mondale explain it himself.


By Ezra Klein  |  May 19, 2010; 1:03 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Comments

I think Mondale is great. However, I'm extremely disappointed in his characterization of the filibuster as anything other than a terrible historical mistake. Likewise, I don't share his view of the Senate as an institution that holds us together. Maybe it holds us in a straight-jacket.

Posted by: bcbulger | May 19, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

During this hearing, some people argue that modifying or eliminating the filibuster would make the Senate just like the House of Representatives. This is ridiculous. Senators are elected in different number and a different manner than are Representatives.

However, I do agree that the adoption of sane Senate rules does make the lack of necessity for the Senate's existence more clear.

Posted by: bcbulger | May 19, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

The Founders would have been aghast at our presumption that super majorities are necessary for any bill to pass. They had that problem under the Articles of Confederation, which required 9 states--almost a 75% majority--to get anything done. That's why they were adamantly against anything like that under the Constitution. Madison in Federalist 58:
"It has been said that more than a majority ought to have been required for a quorum; and in particular cases, if not in all, more than a majority of a quorum for a decision. That some advantages might have resulted from such a precaution, cannot be denied. It might have been an additional shield to some particular interests, and another obstacle generally to hasty and partial measures. But these considerations are outweighed by the inconveniences in the opposite scale. In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority. Were the defensive privilege limited to particular cases, an interested minority might take advantage of it to screen themselves from equitable sacrifices to the general weal, or, in particular emergencies, to extort unreasonable indulgences."
Hamilton in Federalist 22:
"The necessity of unanimity in public bodies, or of something approaching towards it, has been founded upon a supposition that it would contribute to security. But its real operation is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of the government, and to substitute the pleasure, caprice, or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent, or corrupt junto, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority. In those emergencies of a nation, in which the goodness or badness, the weakness or strength of its government, is of the greatest importance, there is commonly a necessity for action. The public business must, in some way or other, go forward. If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority, respecting the best mode of conducting it, the majority, in order that something may be done, must conform to the views of the minority; and thus the sense of the smaller number will overrule that of the greater, and give a tone to the national proceedings. Hence, tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good. And yet, in such a system, it is even happy when such compromises can take place: for upon some occasions things will not admit of accommodation; and then the measures of government must be injuriously suspended, or fatally defeated. It is often, by the impracticability of obtaining the concurrence of the necessary number of votes, kept in a state of inaction. Its situation must always savor of weakness, sometimes border upon anarchy."

Posted by: bfiedleri | May 19, 2010 8:41 PM | Report abuse

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