Majority Rights

Senate rules require sixty votes to end a filibuster. With threats of filibusters, Republican senators have been blocking virtually all legislation in Washington, insisting that the majority of Americans have to live by the way that the forty percent minority are willing to allow.

In the past, the filibuster was rarely used. The big exception was its use as a major weapon of the segregated South in the 1950s and 1960s until after the murder of President Kennedy when President Johnson got the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 through the Senate. It has never before been used as a guarantee of minority government, so that sixty senators could not go about the normal business of governing because forty senators could hold everyone hostage on everything from the routine to the critical. These Republican senators would sooner see the nation in crisis than that a Democrat should get any credit. There is nothing patriotic about that.

There was a time when people behaved that way – when South Carolinians decided that decades of northern compromises weren’t enough and they demanded that they be allowed to win everything all the time. Lincoln’s election was just too much – because they had lost. And they fired on Fort Sumpter.

Sore losers don’t believe in democracy. They don’t believe that the ballot box is supposed to settle anything. Their way or the highway. Sorry, I have zero respect for that kind of behavior.

There’s nothing in the Constitution that provides for that. We do have a government of checks and balances. But the Senate is the balance, not a mere forty percent of it. And the damage is not just in the bills that are stalled in the Senate. It’s also the way that bills have been reconstructed to survive what has become a minority veto of forty percent over sixty percent.

These Republicans have decided to bring the rest of the country to its knees so that they can protect the very policies that Democrats were elected to replace, to protect those who have all the money they can use, so that they can have even more, so that after all the damage done to America by the Republican version of no-holds barred capitalism, the perpetrators can take their ill-gotten gains off to tax havens and leave the rest of us holding the bag.

Holding the bag because the piper will have to be paid and the rest of us will pay it. We’ll pay it by cutting Social Security. We’ll pay it by living in an economy with fewer and fewer jobs. We’ll pay it when bridges come down and separate us from the jobs we thought we had. We’ll pay in it medical bills as our public health system deteriorates and disease becomes more rampant. We’ll pay it to financial high-rollers who will find more and more ways to take our money from us. We’ll pay it as refugees in our own country because we couldn’t deal with global warming.

When Republicans were in office, Democrats accepted the notion that Republicans were entitled to confirmation of most of their nominees. When Democrats objected to putting ideologues on the bench, Republicans talked of a nuclear option and got Roberts and Alito on the Supreme Court, probably for decades.

It’s time for a more constructive nuclear option – let Harry Reid and his colleagues in the Senate meet hardball with hardball. Democrats keep trying to govern while Republicans are making war on America and American democracy. It’s time to fight back.

This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, March 9, 2010.

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