Another round with Nice Guy Eddie over the filibuster. Eddie got things rolling here, I replied, then he came back to it in his "comments" section. Here's my next installment:
years ago, I used to argue for doing away with the Senate entirely. I
haven't given that matter much thought in more recent years but I'd
probably still lean in that direction. It seems a lot bigger subject
than the one on the table though and, honestly, not really relevant to
the more narrow question of the filibuster. Feels like a bit of a
dodge, Eddie. But it's out there, so I'll offer up a few words on the
matter of the Senate's existence. Not to argue for its abolition--not
just now, anyway--but to make the case for why it's kept around.
Senate was created in imitation of the House of Lords, to allow
societies' overdogs to act as a check on the more democratic House.
Senators were appointed by the state legislatures. That scheme failed miserably, democracy
eventually moved forward and we started directly electing them. An element of the
original rationale for the Senate does, however, remain: it was a place
where states would have equal representation, so the bigger, more
populous ones wouldn't be able to dictate everything that happens in
government. It isn't, in itself, democratic--it's a compromise that
allows democracy to go forward and it's one you can understand because
you've already made the argument about the alleged danger of allowing a
state of affairs wherein 6-10% of the population could theoretically
elect sufficient senators to "enact whatever they want to." Checks and
One of the first and most basic rules of pragmatism is
"never let the perfect become the enemy of the good." In refusing to
accept the argument that eliminating the filibuster would make things
"better" solely on the grounds that it leaves the non-democratic Senate
in place, you're violating that rule. Things like getting rid of the
Senate and adopting these micro-districts about which you write may be
great ideas but they involve massive, radical, controversial change in
the basic structure of government. I'm a big one for radical change
but if we're going to be pragmatists, those sorts of changes would
require multiple constitutional amendments and major, comprehensive
changes in the laws of every state in the U.S., while getting rid of the
filibuster is a simple matter of changing an internal Senate rule
that's arguably unconstitutional anyway. It's true that, in the Senate,
"when you’re talking 5-10% either way, you’re about half an order of
magnitude LESS than the 50% that a liberal democracy calls for to pass
legislation" but what you seemed to forget for a moment there is a)
that the Senate can't pass legislation on its own--it requires the much
more democratic House. And b) that with the filibuster in place, that
democratic body can't pass anything.
And I'll go ahead and throw in c) the fact that the math has never
worked out that way. 6-10% of the population may theoretically be able
to combine and "enact whatever they want" but in practice, they never
have. In practice, the senators of 48.7% of the population (in the first
2 years of Obama) were able to block everything the senators
representing 74.9% of the population tried to do. No pragmatism-based or democracy-based way to defend that.
'To defend the filibuster is to defend its abuse,' is no more profound
that me saying 'to do away with the filibuster is to defend the abuse of
those who can now act unopposed.'"
...except they don't get to
act "unopposed" if the filibuster is removed. They still have to deal
with the more democratic House and with the president. This is the
democratic process; the filibuster is the negation of that process. If
you have any respect for that process, the two are not
equal. They're not even close to it. I have no doubt at all that you
understand this (and that you do respect the process), but that
understanding left you when you wrote things like "if the Senate IS
undemocratic ON THE WHOLE, BY DESIGN, then one more or one less
undemocratic practice within that structure is, IMHO, immaterial." The
fact that the existence of the practice completely neutralizes the
democratic process pretty much removes any
pragmatic grounds for dismissing it as "immaterial." You say the
filibuster should be kept around to "protect the rights of the
minority" but it neither protects a valid right of the minority nor has
it ever done so. It's just a backdoor way for the losers of an election to continue to rule, and in a democracy, that's not a "right."
a defense of the filibuster equal, as I asserted earlier, a defense of
its abuse? It absolutely does unless one's idea for reform can prevent
the sort of abuse we've seen and here, I'm a bit disappointed you
didn't go into your idea of filibuster reform. It's true that I probably
would be unmoved by it, but I'm certainly willing to listen.
Perhaps we'll continue.
I suspect your proposed micro-districts would prove quite unworkable
but I've been an advocate of proportional representation for years.
There are several ways to do it. Most are preferable to the way things
are currently done.
 And when, as we've seen in recent years,
literally everything the senators representing 74.9% of the population
try to do is blocked by the senators of 48.7% of the population, the
points about the Senate end of the process being theoretically
undemocratic don't really hold a lot of water. Obviously, that relates
to the recent actual situation
in the Senate and doesn't negate the criticisms arising from different
theoretical situations but it's another point a pragmatist probably