Obama Shouldn’t Hate the Filibuster

It will be fascinating to see how attached to the filibuster and other dilatory tactics the GOP will be after next week’s elections.

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President Obama hates the filibuster, as he explained in his Wednesday night appearance on the Daily Show. Of course, that was after Senator Obama defended the filibuster in 2005.

Then we have the Republicans, who--while in the same position in 2005, when the GOP controlled the White House, the House, and the Senate--dangled the idea of imposing the “nuclear option” to get rid of the filibuster for judicial nominees. Then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist called it the “constitutional option,” noting--as Obama did Wednesday night--that nothing in the U.S. Constitution allows for the Senate rule that permits a minority of the Senate to hold up legislation backed by a majority of the chamber and the American public. Now, GOP senators routinely hold up even non-controversial nominees with filibuster threats, resulting in a perpetually stalemated Senate and increasingly angry electorate.

“There are a couple of things that have changed in our politics that are gonna have to be fixed,” Obama told Jon Stewart. “One is the way the filibuster operates. As I said, that’s just not in the Constitution.”

Contrast that to what then-Senator Obama said on the Senate floor in 2005:

What [the American people] don’t expect is for one party, be it Republican or Democrat, to change the rules in the middle of the game so they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet.

Majorities are understandably frustrated with the filibuster, which is by definition undemocratic. But we do not live in a pure democracy; we live in a republic, with representative government. The very nature of the Senate is undemocratic, with little Delaware getting as many votes in the Senate as California and Texas. Protecting minorities from majority oppression is an important American value, one that is central to the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The problem is not the filibuster itself--it’s the way it has been abused so egregiously that we now have a minority arguably oppressing the majority.

Filibustering on matters of principle is laudable. Holding up legislation or nominees (including one who just won a Nobel Prize for economics, but is still deemed not qualified by at least one GOP senator holding up his nomination to the Fed) just to frustrate the agenda of the sitting president is just being a sore loser. Elections do have consequences. It will be fascinating to see how attached to the filibuster and other dilatory tactics the GOP will be after next week’s elections.