Thanks to incessant whining from the likes of Tom Harkin, the wonderful, arcane procedural mechanism unique to the Senate appears to be in the crosshairs of yet another group of political extremists.
Remember 2005? Senate Democrats (a minority party until 2006) threatened to filibuster the roughly dozen of President Bush's 140-plus judicial nominees who they believed were too far to the right. Senate Republicans -- including Majority Leader Bill Frist and Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch -- threw a collective temper tantrum, accusing the Democrats of obstruction and political gamesmanship. Frist, et al. then threatened to change the Senate rules to effectively do away with the filibuster.
But for the "Gang of 14," led by this site's hero, John McCain, the filibuster would be resigned to the history books. Instead, McCain, Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson, Lindsay Graham, Robert "Sheets" Byrd and 7 others struck a compromise -- the 7 Republicans would vote against the GOP's proposed rule change doing away with the filibuster, while the 7 Democrats would vote to invoke cloture on three of the eleven Bush appointees. Rumor has it that part of the agreement was that the rogue Democrats would also vote to invoke cloture on President Bush's yet-to-be-determined appointee to the Supreme Court. This compromise, ergo, led to the confirmation of Justice Samuel A. Alito.
To anyone who would listen, I said at the time that Republicans were making a grave mistake -- assuming that someday, perhaps even in 2009, the GOP would be faced with a Democratic Senate and a Democrat in the White House.
That day is here, and I'd ask you conservatives who stomped your feet and called McCain a traitor -- where would your party be without the filibuster today?
This was just one in a litany of instances, too numerous to count, where the Limbaugh/Hannity wing of the GOP missed the point entirely in the name of blind adherence to the party line.
In the House of Representatives, the filibuster was used until 1842, at which time a permanent rule limited the duration of debate. In 1806, the Senate codified its rules such that the potential for a filibuster was introduced. At that time, the Senate rules contained no alternative mechanism for terminating debate, so the filibuster was occasionally used to block up-or-down votes. The first Senate filibuster took place in 1837, and in 1841, none other than the famed Sen. Henry Clay threatened his Senate colleagues with a filibuster. However, Sen. William King announced that Clay "may make his arrangements at his boarding house for the winter," and Clay eventually backed down.
A rule providing for cloture -- ending a filibuster -- was not enacted until 1917, at the urging of President Wilson. In fact, from 1917 through 1975, invoking cloture required a two-thirds vote. In 1975, the Democratic-controlled Senate revised the cloture rule such that only three in five senators could vote to limit debate.
The bottom line is this: The filibuster is as American an institution as the Senate itself. Our republic -- miraculously, liberal Democrats and ultra-conservative Republicans would argue -- has survived more than two centuries of the filibuster. While the filibuster is not in the text of the Constitution, its legislative history demonstrates that its principle is equally as old.
Read the Federalist Papers. Read the text of the actual Constitution. The American system is one of divided government -- federalism, three branches of government, a bicameral federal legislature and yes, the 200-year-old filibuster -- putting a premium on the rights of the political minority. It seems that the only criticism of the filibuster comes from partisan hacks like Tom Harkin and Sean Hannity who are frustrated by their allies' inability to slam through their narrow, unpopular agendas.
Don't like the filibuster? I've got an idea.
Move to Iran.