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April 04, 2005

Hoping for a Mushroom Cloud

Eliminating the filibuster of Democrats against judicial nominations has been deemed the "nuclear option" by GOP leaders. Hear's hoping for an atomic meltdown.

There is something inherently repellant about progressives rising to the defense of the filibuster, the tool of racists and segregationists for a century. But even at the pragmatic level, the short-term fear of bad GOP judicial nominations ignores the longer-term losses progressives have suffered from the existence of the filibuster. Which some conservative groups opposing the end of the filibuster understand:

In a setback for supporters of the change, a coalition of conservative groups, including the anti-union National Right to Work Committee, the Gun Owners of America and the anti-abortion National Pro-Life Alliance, has recently broken ranks. All argue that changing the rules to prevent filibustering nominees would lead to the elimination of legislative filibusters, which conservatives have relied on to protect gun rights and abortion restrictions.

"Please do not tamper with freedom-loving Americans' Senate filibuster tool, which has served them well many times in the past," Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, wrote in an open letter to Dr. Frist.

Without the threat of the filibuster, we would have passed national health care in 1994 -- and a host of other progressive bills.

The opposition of the anti-union Right to Work Committee is instructive. Repeatedly since the 1960s, major labor law reform has had majority support in both houses of Congress and a President willing to sign a bill to protect labor rights, yet opponents were able to block the bill from being passed into law.

Eliminating the filibuster -- and ending it for judicial nominations will lead quickly to its end in other areas -- would of course open things up to worse rightwing laws that liberals could have blocked.

But the reality is that conservatives have thrived in a political environment where they can block any positive use of government. By frustrating progressive policy, it feeds the argument that ineffective government does not deserve the taxes working families paid. That was the explicit argument of conservatives who blocked health care reform in 1994; they knew that national health care would be so popular that it would lock in support for positive government action for decades more.

The reverse doesn't work for liberals. Blocking conservative action through filibusters has short-term gains, but it feeds the long-term cynicism of voters that government cannot accomplish anything. Which just feeds the meta-argument of conservatives of the dysfunctionality of government and the superiority of leaving decisions to the marketplace.

So here's hoping for the GOP to hit the button.

See the followup post Against the Filibuster (Again)

See also:

  • In Defense of Senator Cornyn
  • Why is the Left Defending the Courts?
  • Supreme Court: Mob Rule Central

    Posted by Nathan at April 4, 2005 08:51 AM