Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Filibuster For Me But Not For Thee

I've already gotten used to seeing various pro-"universal health care" pundits arguing that we should get rid of the Senate filibuster because it causes "paralysis" and makes America "ungovernable".

Here's one typical example from New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, "America Is Not Yet Lost" (2/7/2010).

However, there's also a new argument being advanced by Ben Eidelsen at Slate, "Why the filibuster is OK for Democrats but not for Republicans" (2/8/2010).

Basically, Eidelsen argues that when Democrats use the filibuster it's for the benefit of the majority of Americans, whereas when Republicans do so it's to thwart the majority.

Leaving aside the issue of whether it would be tenable to allow only one political party to use certain parliamentary tactics but not the other, I want to point out that thwarting the majority (in a controlled fashion) is precisely the idea.

In other words, it's a feature, not a bug.

Our founders did not intend America to be a majority-rule pure democracy. Instead, it was intended to be a constitutionally-limited republic, based on the principle of individual rights.

(I fully acknowledge that this principle has not always been consistently respected and/or adhered to during our history. Government-sanctioned violations of individual rights such as slavery represent some of America's most shameful actions.)

The filibuster helps insure that major legislation doesn't pass without some semblance of a broad consensus. Of course, a "consensus" on any issue does not guarantee that it will be correct. But in a rational (or at least semi-rational) political culture, this constraint will help weed out some of the worst ideas.

Hence to the extent that checks-and-balances like the filibuster slow down ill-considered legislation and help protect our individual rights, then I'm glad for this so-called "paralysis".