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The filibuster rule is the least of Democrats' problems

The Senate race in Massachusetts, in which Republican Scott Brown could win Ted Kennedy's former seat, reflects a direct repudiation of Democratic governance.

January 19, 2010|Jonah Goldberg

As of this writing, Bay State voters appear poised to do the unthinkable: elect a Republican to fill the Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy for nearly half a century. Even more amazing is that the Republican in question, Scott Brown, turned his campaign into a referendum on healthcare reform, the keystone of the Obama agenda and the North Star of Kennedy's career.

Even if Brown loses today, that it was even close should shake Democrats to their core. They outnumber Republicans 3 to 1 in a state Barack Obama won by 26 points. Massachusetts hasn't sent a Republican to the Senate since 1972, when Edward Brooke (the first popularly elected black senator) was reelected, and haven't sent even a nominal conservative since velociraptors roamed Beacon Hill. All this on the heels of stunning GOP gubernatorial wins in New Jersey and Virginia last fall.

It's impossible to imagine a more direct, and democratic, repudiation of Democratic governance.

Will Democrats get the message? Doubtful. It seems the only way the Democratic leadership can catch a clue is if it is hammered into their pates with a ball-peen hammer.

Over the weekend, Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York told the Wall Street Journal that if Brown wins, Democrats will race to cram the healthcare bill through while fending off Brown. "We're going to have to finish this bill and then stall the swearing-in as long as possible," Weiner said. "That's our strategy, a hurry-up-and-stall strategy."

Perhaps even more telling, Democrats are obsessively blaming their problems on the Senate's filibuster rule. Under the filibuster, it takes 60 senators to get controversial things done. As a result, many of the preferred policies of the left -- the "public option," soak-the-rich taxes, etc. -- had to be pulled out of the bill in order to win support from moderates like Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). That's how the Senate is supposed to work. It was designed to cool the passions of the more democratic House.

Nonetheless, it seems every prominent liberal pundit has come out in favor of interring this "undemocratic" impediment to unobstructed Democratic rule. They hated the filibuster before many of them even knew who Scott Brown was, but now that this alleged bumpkin from the sticks looks like he will crash his truck into healthcare reform as the "41st senator," they are becoming positively unglued.

New York Times columnist Gail Collins offered her own, aptly titled, "special rant" against the filibuster last week, bemoaning how a handful of red states can hold up the Democrats' entitlement to enact their agenda unimpeded. She points out that it would only take the senators from the 20 least populated states, representing "10.2% of the country," plus one to hold up legislation. But so what? The GOP doesn't solely represent the smallest states -- hello, Texas? -- or represent a mere 10.2% of the nation.

Regardless, the real problem with Collins' argument, and others like it, is a deep contempt for America's political system joined with an abiding sense of entitlement. "People, think about what we went through to elect a new president -- a year and a half of campaigning, three dozen debates, $1.6 billion in donations. Then the voters sent a clear, unmistakable message. Which can be totally ignored because of a parliamentary rule that allows the representatives of slightly more than 10% of the population to call the shots.

"Why isn't 90% of the country marching on the Capitol with teapots and funny hats, waving signs about the filibuster?"

What an odd way to bemoan the lack of majority rule: mocking the majority of Americans for not agreeing with you! Indeed, it seems lost on the anti-filibuster chorus that it wouldn't be so hard to have their way if what they wanted to do was actually popular (a new Democracy Corps poll finds that only one-third of respondents support Obamacare).

Now, I don't support raw majority rule or government by polling. We all agree that unelected judges should be able to buck popular sentiment when the law or the Constitution requires it. Likewise, both the House and Senate have some anti-majoritarian rules precisely because our system was designed to defend against the tyranny of majorities just as much as the tyranny of minorities. The Senate was designed so it could dilute popular passions, a point Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer and other Democrats made ad nauseam just a few years ago when the GOP ran things.

As Massachusetts Senate candidate Martha Coakley is learning, the Democrats are unpopular now because they're rightly perceived as arrogant, ideological and fixated on an agenda not supported by the people. Blaming their problems on the filibuster will make them worse.

jgoldberg@latimescolumnists.com

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