Insight. Antics.

Who’s Afraid Of A Filibuster?

In Politics on September 21, 2009 at 9:34 pm

Cots in Senate - Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

It’s been a week since the Baucus health care bill was introduced and insta-panned. It’s since been downplayed to the role of additional building block and is being revised. The lead headline in The New York Times the morning after the plan was introduced read: “Democrats in Senate Reach for 60 Votes on Health Care Overhaul.” The implication here is that Democrats need those votes to get the legislation passed, because without them, Republicans will resort to a filibuster.

Who cares?

It’s confounding. Why are the Democrats so terrified of a filibuster?

The filibuster is a gift.

Grow a backbone. Call them out. For their political goals, the Democrats should force the GOP to back up its threats and filibuster.

As a friend so brusquely put it: “There is nothing I would rather see than the GOP filibustering health care for poor people. That is a Democratic attack ad for the next 50 years.” Democrats: that’s the win-win you face.

This filibuster is precisely what the Democrats need to reinvigorate themselves and attempt to demonstrate that they are looking out for the not-so-special interests. Otherwise, they’re going to look more and more like bought-out corporatists each day.

Besides, it would be the greatest spectacle in years! Would it not be more impressive than America’s Got Talent to see these old folks read the rules of blackjack, the Bible, BusinessWeek, and recipes for Bundt cake without their bladders bursting? (Sans Flomax.) I bet some Americans would even leave it on CNN in the background at bedtime. When interviewed they might say, “It’s like white [man] noise. It helps me to fall asleep.”

BlackjackSenate Republicans would look like ninnies, cretins, and misanthropes. Tired ones. Imagine “Waterloo Jim” DeMint reading how to properly lure a marlin in Field & Stream while simultaneously denying millions of Americans the opportunity to have adequate, humane health care?

Even if the Democrats can’t hold ranks with all the Blue Dogs, they can force the Republicans to stand against the 45,000 Americans who die each year because they don’t have health insurance. Track how public opinion moves when that happens.

Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington - Associated PressLest you think filibuster is some hallowed term from antiquity, it came about in the 1850s and derives its origin from the Dutch vrijbuiter, which meant “freebooter,” another word for pirate. As in pirating or hijacking the debate.

According to the Senate website, “Filibusters were particularly useful to Southern senators who sought to block civil rights legislation, including anti-lynching legislation, until cloture was invoked after a fifty-seven day filibuster against the Civil Right Act of 1964.” What a rich history to be associated with!

(For some thought-provoking reading on the argument for removing the filibuster from the Senate, read these two pieces in The Washington Post and Mother Jones.)

For their part, if the Republicans feel strongly enough that the final bill is unsupportable (and they will), then they should be willing to follow their bravado and posturing through to its logical conclusion. Making the opposition party defend its stance with obstructionist tactics that shut down a branch of government will test whether their objections truly have merit.  They are going to have to make a pretty darn good case for why they are doing it. I’m not sure they can.

And, if the Republicans win a message war during a filibuster, then the Democrats deserve to lose.

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