Johnathan Chait over at The New Republic offers an analysis of the health care debate with an interesting slant. From the article:
I still think there’s a pretty good chance at passing significant health care reform. But if health care reform fails, liberals need to understand who to blame and how to fix it. They need to start knocking off Democrats like Conrad and Joe Lieberman, who seem to be trying to kill health care reform, even if this temporarily costs the Democrats some seats. They need to commit the party to reconstituting the rules of the Senate along majoritarian lines–yes, even if this helps Republicans pass their agenda when they’re in charge. If health care reform can’t pass now, then a filibuster-proof Democratic majority isn’t worth having. At that point you have to consider blowing up the party and waiting a decade or two to rebuild a new one that’s able to address the country’s actual needs. [ed. note. -> emphasis mine]
One of the problems we have right now (and by “we”, I mean the American political process) is that the system is gummed up to prevent wide majorities from actually running with an agenda. One would think that I would generally be a fan of this sort of thing (as I claim a moderate position), but in fact, I think of it as an overall bad thing. You see, when you increase barriers to change, you’re actually making it harder for either party to do anything, and it takes extraordinary circumstances (like everyone getting behind a war) to get a full slate of consistent policy proposals to pass. This leads to some pretty wildly oscillating policy implementations.
To sum up my political position in the briefest possibly way, I think that top-down solutions are good for some sorts of problems, and bottom-up solutions are good for other sorts of problems. I think top-down frameworks for bottom-up solutions (a hybrid model) are not a bad way to go, very generally, for federal-level implementations. Generally, my problem with the political parties can be expressed as “Democrats are often focused on top-down solutions when bottom-up ones (or a hybrid model) makes more sense from a design standpoint due to implementation details, and Republicans are often focused on bottom-up solutions when their bottom-up solutions show serious consequences at edge cases and really don’t scale well.”
What I *do* know, however, is that our political process makes it unnecessarily difficult to make a concerted effort to implement any sort of design whatsoever. It’s one thing to have the Executive be a check on the Legislative (via veto) and the Judicial (via judicial appointment), the Legislative be a check on the Executive (via appropriations) and the Judicial (via the lawmaking powers), and the Judicial be a check on both. It’s not even necessarily a bad idea to have the Legislative branch have some degree of checks on itself (via the two-house system)… but there is something seriously wrong when the Legislative checks and balances are out of whack. Turning “filibuster” into a formality and changing the Senate to “automatic supermajority required, by default” was a bad idea, and continues to be.
[edited to add]:
If some group wants to filibuster, that’s perfectly fine. MAKE THEM DO IT. Make them stand up in front of the cameras for hours on end, and talk. And talk. And talk. The entire point of having a political process like a filibuster isn’t just to help the minority block majority bullying… yes, it’s a definite function, but it comes at a political cost. You have to get up there and start talking, and the the voting public gets to watch you and what you say. Back in the early days of the republic, this was less of a major issue as the voting representatives weren’t as decoupled from their constituencies as they were in the early- to late-1900s. In our now-connected world, this has consequences that the pre-Internet age world lacked. The whole concept of cloture came about because there was little or no political consequence to using a filibuster. Newsflash to the political parties, that’s changed. If nothing else, CSPAN clips of Michelle Bachmann taking her unscripted turn at filibuster would at least fulfill my digital entertainment quota for the next decade.