Accountability and the Filibuster

With calls for packing the Supreme Court and federal courts in response to the nomination of a horrible conservative judge for the Supreme Court, along with blowing up the filibuster (long overdue) the inevitable pleas for returning to ‘bipartisanship’ have started.

This is, of course, silly. Parties disagree on things, and voters choose between* parties. Instead, it seems what some want is cooperation between Democrats and Republicans–which is exactly how we got into this mess. What ‘bipartisanship’ means is that voting doesn’t really matter. After all, if legislation is simply a constant compromise between two parties, then why vote? That would essentially be a system where a bunch of powerful people maintain the status quo despite the desires of the people they purport to govern.

Well, akshually…

Anyway, that’s not what the left, construed somewhat broadly, should be shooting for. We want a political system that features accountability:

Bipartisanship is the problem, not the solution. The problem is that, if a party wins overwhelmingly, like the Democrats did in 2008, they still can’t govern without placating a minority in the Senate. In an ideologically divided era–and people disagree about stuff!–what this means is voters, who elected politicians to do things (for better or for worse) don’t experience the consequences of those elections. Voters become frustrated as their party is unable to do anything, leading to a loss of “credibility.” At the same time, there’s no feedback mechanism for voters: voters can engage in the electoral equivalent of the zipless fuck. That is, voters aren’t responsible for the consequences of their votes:

A final point: too often, conservatives rely on Democrats to save them from themselves. You can vote for Republicans because Democrats will block Republican stupidity. Until, of course, there aren’t enough Democrats to do anything about it.

You wanted conservative values in government? Well, now these bozos are going to get it good and hard. Maybe the time to consider this is when you vote.

Of course, the side that’s about to lose the filibuster doesn’t want it to go away. In the long run, it will be a good thing, in that more democratic accountability for officials and voters is necessary–and is what really provides supposed ‘credibility.’

We can tell the worm is turning on this issue because even Young Ezra gets it (boldface mine):

Democracy works because it disciplines politicians and parties: It forces them to hew closer to what the voters want, and punishes them when they diverge too far. But that disciplining function dissolves when the pathway to minoritarian rule strengthens. That’s broadly understood. What’s less understood is that it also dissolves when the mechanisms of governance weaken, when government begins routinely failing to deliver voters the change that has been promised.

It’s very difficult right now for Americans to see why it is that they go to the polls and — maybe — the people they vote for get elected, but then not much seems to change,” says Suzanne Mettler, co-author of Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy. “They don’t follow the fact that, well, there weren’t 60 votes for cloture in order to bring something to the floor in the Senate.”

The Senate sits at the center of both these currents of dysfunction, and its toxic role in American politics, and American life, has been protected by the thick shroud of mythos and tradition that surrounds it. It is why American citizens in DC and Puerto Rico remain disenfranchised. It is why reforms to make democracy more responsive, to protect it from the flood of cash and the perversions of gerrymandering and voter suppression, have no chance of passage. It is why, even on the occasions when one party holds both chambers of Congress and the White House, so little gets done.

“One of the worst things about the filibuster is it allows senators to say they support something without ever having to stand behind a vote,” says Stasha Rhodes, director of the 51 for 51 campaign, which advocates for a DC statehood vote free from the filibuster. “It’s one thing to say you support DC statehood and another to say you support bypassing the filibuster to see it actually happens. It is one thing to talk about the need to reduce gun violence in America. It’s another to say you’re going to remove the hurdles that stand in that bill’s way. The difference between removing the filibuster and not is the difference between theory and action.”

If Democrats want to actually govern–and that remains to be seen–they need to kill the filibuster, and then make good policy. The good news is that the Democratic caucus in the Senate seems to be getting this: I’m old enough to remember when a guy by the name of Ed Markey opposed the filibuster

*Given the two-party system, among isn’t the correct preposition.

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