The Filibuster: Should America Try Democracy?

America has been preaching democracy all over the world for more than two centuries.  Isn't it time we tried it here at home - end the filibuster & let the chips (and the voters) fall where they may?

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Rolling Stone is reporting that President Biden has told Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that he’s prepared to begin lobbying so-called “moderate” Democratic senators to end or reform the filibuster this week. This is a very, very good thing.

Ending the filibuster could be what puts the final nail in the Republicans’ coffin. When all Americans finally see their insane proclamations actually put into action, they’ll never govern again.

The biggest freak-out argument a minority of senate Democrats are using against ending the filibuster in the Senate is, basically, “When Republicans get control of the Senate they’ll do all sorts of terrible things and we won’t be able to stop them!”

It’s a cynical skepticism about democracy inconsistent with our nation’s proclaimed ideals and a totally unjustified fear.  And it’s actually helping Republicans because the filibuster is why nobody is taking their pitches to their base seriously.

Republicans have two “agendas”: the one they talk about and the one they do. 

What they do is push through rightwing judges and tax cuts for rich people and giant corporations.  And they’re already doing both, as they’ve drilled holes in the filibuster so they can get both done.  It only takes 50 votes to put crank judges on the Supreme Court and other federal benches, or to pass tax cuts like Trump’s in 2017. 

These are the things that the billionaires and polluting industries who fund the GOP actually care about, and they’ve got those two issues under control.

But what they talk about to their base voters are altogether different things. 

They say they want to outlaw all abortions, privatize Social Security and Medicare, criminalize gay marriage and gender nonconformity, require “Christian” prayer in schools, do away with the minimum wage, expand fossil fuel use, outlaw gun laws, and end all child and low-income food and medical support.

Democrats, on the other hand, say they want to leave abortion decisions to women, protect LGBTQ+ people, strengthen Social Security and Medicare, separate religion from government, raise the minimum wage, get us off our fossil fuel addiction, put into place common-sense gun laws, and end poverty in the richest country in the world.

Those are pretty clear contrasts, and the fundamental idea of democracy is that the people get to see different policy agendas and experiments put into place and then choose what they like and what they don’t by voting for or against parties and politicians.

The filibuster — by preventing both Democrats and Republicans from doing the things they say they want to do — has totally blurred those lines.  Because only the base voters of either party are listening to the rhetoric from the parties while the filibuster blocks any actual implementation, the majority of Americans think “both parties are the same” or are just hopelessly confused.

If we really believe in democracy, we’d want whichever party has majority support to be able to put their policies into action and let the voters see how they work and then say what they like or don’t like.  Instead, we have mush because everything that goes to the senate from either party dies and Americans rarely experience the consequences of their votes.

Ending the filibuster would (while noting that Democrats in the Senate already represent 41 million more Americans that Republicans) let America see how each party’s policies actually play out.

And, of course, there’s still the counterweight, the check-and-balance, of the House of Representatives and the presidential veto.

Look at what’s happening with abortion in Texas right now, as an example of how democracy should work. 

The GOP had been very, very happy for the past 50 years to give lip service to ending abortion and got the benefit of anti-abortion voters staying with them while abortion-rights voters never took them seriously, leaving the pro-choice vote far less engaged. 

Now that things have gotten real for Texas voters, the next election — democracy — will tell us what voters think about it.  And today’s headlines give a clue:

On the other hand, look at the states where Democrats have put into place many of the policies they’d like to take national.  

  • Oregon has had all-mail-in elections for over 20 years and has one of the highest voter participation rates in the nation without a whiff of scandal

  • Colorado and Washington State were the first to legalize marijuana in 2012 and the trend of legalizing this less-toxic-than-alcohol intoxicant is now going national

  • Multiple Blue states now have minimum wages over $12 with a corresponding increase in economic vitality and prosperity

  • California has led the nation for years in clean-air and green energy policies with overwhelming citizen support; those policies are being adopted across the country

  • Multiple Blue states have gun control and gun safety laws that make their streets and citizens safer (Rhode Island, with the nation’s 2nd strictest laws, has a gun death rate of 3.28 per 100,000 people while Mississippi with almost no gun control has 22.81 gun deaths per 100,000 citizens)

  • Blue states, which have all expanded Medicaid while 12 Red states refuse to, are markedly healthier and their citizens live longer

In every case, when Democrats implement the policies they advocate the results are positive and voters reward them.  And Democratic politicians don’t need voter suppression laws or massive voter purges to stay in power.

America has been preaching democracy all over the world for more than two centuries.  It’s time we tried it here at home: end the filibuster and let the chips (and the voters) fall where they may.

Isn’t that the American Way, after all?

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