Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Filibuster as "Moral Issue?" 

At Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell is arguing that the GOP attack on Senate "obstructionists" is an opportunity to paint the ruling party as anti-Founding Fathers:
The current administration claims to be both conservative and strict constructionist; it’s neither. In fact, it’s trying to short-circuit the basic constitutional checks and balances of the US political system in order to ram through its agenda. The US apart, presidential democracies are extremely fragile, in large part because presidents tend to grab all power to themselves. This is exactly what the Bush administration is doing, both in its sweeping constitutional arguments about the extent of presidential privilege, and in its efforts to impose strict discipline on the Senate. This is something that shouldn’t only be worrying to lefties - it’s something that should be of deep concern both to serious conservatives, and to libertarians who are worth their salt.
I'm all for keeping Rule 22 intact, and I think the Senate's role of making radical policy shifts more difficult is well worth defending.

Of course, there's another values-based argument that Republicans will make: obstructing the political agenda of a party with a pretty good claim to an electoral mandate might be considered anti-democratic. And Democrats have a recent history of opposing supermajority rules for tax increases, so a sudden love of procedures and rules allowing a Senator or two to thwart the will of the majority could look a little disingenous.

But I think Farrell is on to something here: it's abundantly clear that the Founders intended the Senate to be an obstructionist institution. This page from the Senate's own website has a number of (real or apocryphal) quotes by Founding Fathers supporting this contention.

The question remains, though: how do Democrats turn this rhetorical raw material into effective communication? Who's the audience?

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