Finding hypocrisy wandering the halls of government is not unusual, but the degree of two-facedness that surrounds the recent Senate filibuster vote raises the bar on the Brazen Scale.
Determining that a cornerstone of American democracy no longer worked in their favor, the Democrats decided to hobble the filibuster. The majority party was having trouble getting President Obama’s judicial nominees approved because Republicans, the minority party, used the tactic to impede progress.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid deemed it necessary to deprive the minority of its morsel of influence and organized a successful effort against the filibuster, which is a delaying tactic that involves a senator speaking at length to prevent a bill or issue from being brought to a vote. Until last week, it could be forced to a conclusion by a three-fifths vote. Now, instead of needing 60 votes to end debate, the threshold is 51, which gives the majority party a free hand to approve any presidential nominee. Reid said the new rule won’t apply to Supreme Court candidates, however it’s likely the majority’s new strategy will trickle into other areas of governing. The Democrats have changed their minds before. They once held a different opinion on filibuster-busting — when they were the minority party.
When Republicans held the Senate and there were rumblings they might do what the Democrats have now done, Reid spoke in opposition.
Reid said, “The right to extend debate is never more important than when one party controls Congress and the White House. In these cases the filibuster serves as a check on power and preserves our limited government.”
Then-Senator Hillary Clinton said, “You’ve got majority rule and then you’ve got the Senate … where people can slow things down … where they have something called the filibuster. … It seems like it’s a little less than efficient; well, that’s right, it is and deliberately designed to be so.”
The Democrats’ noble concern for minority rights evaporated when they became the majority. They are recklessly changing the configuration that has, for centuries, been part of America’s political foundation.
The House and Senate were created to counter each other. In general, House members get frustrated by the Senate’s slow deliberation while Senators commonly believe House members succumb to the emotions of the moment. This is reflected in each chamber’s structure.
Every state, regardless of population, has two senators to ensure equality. House membership is determined by dividing the states into districts and calculating the number of representatives by population.
House members run for re-election every two years and have a smaller constituency, thus making them “closer” to the people and sensitive to their will. The Founders embraced this notion but feared it could lead to a narrow view of what constitutes good policy. The Senate was to be the bulwark against emotionally driven popular sentiment. Since only one-third of the Senate is up for re-election at any time, and given their six-year terms in office, the Senate would be the stable body that studied long-term consequences and rejected political impulses.
Through policies like “The Affordable Health Care Act,” and by changing century-old rules, the Democrats are disassembling the vision that brought America to the pinnacle of human achievement. Their action against the filibuster further disrupts Washington’s precarious equilibrium.
The idea of citizenship has eroded. Self-government, as envisioned by the Founders, requires virtuous citizens and a communal concept of the good. Government used to encourage that model. In 1940, the Supreme Court sustained a law obliging schoolchildren to salute the U.S. flag, even in the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who contested the law on religious grounds.
The Court ruled one of government’s key responsibilities is to instill young citizens with “the binding tie of cohesive sentiment” upon which freedom depends.
Several years later, the Court struck down the compulsory flag salute by ruling freedom didn’t depend upon nurturing virtue, but by placing such concerns beyond government’s reach. Teaching citizenship was no longer a government interest. Securing “the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” would be left to individual choice.
In the Senate, the notion of citizenship and the common good has been replaced by the desire to hold power. The filibuster vote indicates the majority’s disinterest in minority rights, its indifference to “the binding tie of cohesive sentiment” and a glaring disregard to the fact that it is impairing an institution that was designed to serve as a buttress against the selfish forces that are bringing about its breakdown.
Joseph Bell was communications director for former Congressman Rob Simmons, Conn.-2nd District.