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What does the filibuster teach our children?

After learning that the principles of majority rule and democracy are the grandest and noblest of all political ideas, that the sacrifices of the Revolutionary War were required to establish them for our nation, that they were a reaction against thousands of years of despotic history, that they were subsequently adopted by many other nations, that they were enshrined in our Constitution by the courageous and brilliant Founders; students then learn that 41 Senators representing just 11% of the nation's population can block action on anything, even if it's favored by the other 89%.


What lesson does this teach our children and others around the world yearning for democracy? It sends the message that it is acceptable (even right and just, if you listen to filibuster apologists) for minority factions to thwart the majority, that being in the majority does not mean that you deserve to prevail, that a minority has the right to block the will of the majority.

The filibuster sends a profoundly subversive and anti-democratic message; one that undermines democracy, trust in our form of government, and the rule of law. It's also a dangerous message as extremists and despots of all stripes take heart from the message that it's the right of a minority to thwart the majority and to impose unwanted outcomes on it.

An essential characteristic of democracy is majority rule. Within the limits of individual rights and authorities set out in a constitution, the will of the majority prevails in a democracy. It is the right of the majority to pass its policies and legislation. If the electorate later changes its mind, it is the right of subsequent majorities to change those policies and laws.

Much is written of the rights of the minority, but what of the rights of the majority? The rules of the Senate blatantly violate both the rights of the majority and the principles of democracy.

In a democracy, the right of the minority is this: the right to be heard in order to try to persuade others to your view. If you are still in the minority after making your case, then you lose the day. The majority wins. And if the minority has had its say, then it is the responsibility of the minority to go along with the majority. That's how a democracy works. You don't hear any of today's filibuster apologists talking about the responsibilities of the minority, do you?  

The Founders would be appalled to see how the Senate has twisted the minority right to be heard into the right to permanently block any action a minority faction doesn't like.

The filibuster is an obscenity in the soul of our democracy.

The Constitution gives each house of Congress the power to make its own rules, but the Senate rules allowing filibusters are an irresponsible abuse of that power, and it is strangling our democracy, our government, our society, and our economy.

Think about what that teaches the children.

You can read more quiet outrage about the filibuster in The Senate: a crime against democracy.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (5+ / 0-)

    The filibuster is a crime against democracy.

    by schuylkill on Sun Dec 23, 2012 at 07:10:05 AM PST

  •  My guess is that the filibuster doesn't (0+ / 0-)

    enter the consciousness of our children until they are in high school government class. At that level of education they are certainly able to read in the Constitution that the Senate can make its own rules and that the filibuster has a long and colorful history. The filibuster is one example of how minority rights are protected. It might even lead the students to understand that the Constitution and Bill of Rights were written, in part, to protect the minority from the will of the majority. Those would be good lessons.  

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Sun Dec 23, 2012 at 07:38:47 AM PST

    •  The rights of the majority are limited (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Scientician, Calamity Jean, splashy

      The rights of the majority are limited, of course, as spelled out in the Constitution. The majority cannot do whatever it wants, but within the limits spelled out in the Constitution it should be able to pass legislation without needing a super-majority. Super-majority requirements are already spelled out in the Constitution for some kinds of actions.

      Now we have this space where a bill has the support of a majority but not the 60 votes needed to cut off debate, so it cannot move forward.

      I don't see the logic or benefit of requiring a super-majority to pass regular business, but I see tremendous harm from the current situation. The Senate cannot act on many bills or Constitutionally required issues (such as nominations and treaties).

      The filibuster is a crime against democracy.

      by schuylkill on Sun Dec 23, 2012 at 07:50:01 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  hmm (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      "The filibuster is one example of how minority rights are protected."

      You mean, if your "minority" is the kind that can elect 41 US Senators?  There's only 1 minority that can regularly do that:  Conservatives.

      It's a scam, it protects only one group, and that group is highly privileged the least in need of protection.

      Great lesson.  Minority protection for the rich and powerful, fuck you to everyone else.

      •  Scientician - you are placing too much (0+ / 0-)

        emphasis on the last few years. In the history of the filibuster it has been used by both Democrats and Republicans when they were in the minority.

        If the Dems don't like the current filibuster rules they can, and I think they will, change the rules at the start of the 113th Congress. I do think the changes will be modest because the Dems know that at the beginning of the 114th Congress they could be in the minority in the Senate.

        "let's talk about that"

        by VClib on Sun Dec 23, 2012 at 10:41:55 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Democrats today and yesterday. (0+ / 0-)

          Using terms 'democrat' or 'republican ' in a US historical context requires stipulating that the parties essentially switched places over the 20th century. In other words, all the Dixiecrat filibusters count in the Republican column because in todays politics that is where those men would be.

  •  Filibuster fits like a glove (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The rule by unyielding minority fits in well with many Rightist ideals and values. This posits a minority of 'moral' and ;right-thinking' representing Real Americans should rule. It fits with the foundational value of Different Rule for Different Status people. They really think  they are better than us morally. No matter how many scandals. Accusing a conservative of hypocrisy is like accusing a liberal of tolerance

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