Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A key reason why 50 Democratic senators and the V.P. should permanently eliminate the filibuster

One of the strongest arguments why eliminating the filibuster would do far more good than bad, and why 50 Democratic senators (that's all that's needed, plus the V.P.) should eliminate the filibuster through rulings from the chair, and then strike down from the chair all Republican tactics to shut down the senate (all do-able, see Kevin Drum's Mother Jones post, "Filibuster Wanking", Thomas Geoghegan's current article in the Nation, "The Case for Busting the Filibuster", and the 2006 book "Filibuster" by Columbia political science professor Gregory Wawro and Harvard government professor Eric Schlickler, page 272 for example) is this:

The great good the Democrats would do with the filibuster eliminated – things like universal healthcare, or perhaps someday Medicare for all, free four years of college (we've been stuck at free education only up to high school for over 100 years, while the amount of education necessary to be a highly productive nation has skyrocketed in that time), and much more – once enacted, and people saw the truth of how good they were, as opposed to the Republican propaganda, would be permanent. The Republicans would never dare get rid of them, and if they did, it would be very temporary; next election, the Republicans would be decimated, and the programs would be restored easily.

A good example is Medicare (universal single-payer health insurance, like in Canada and France, for our seniors). The Republicans, led by Ronald Reagan, fought it tooth and nail in 1965, claiming it would lead to socialism, or worse. Today they would not dare even mention repealing it, because once it was actually passed, people saw how much better it really made their lives, and loved it.

By contrast, the things the Republicans would push through with 51 votes would usually be bad, or horrible, to the vast majority, and so once people actually experienced them, and saw firsthand how the lies about them were really false, like how they, in fact, only helped the rich, they would not last. The public would vote for change, and they would be repealed, AND the Republicans would be revealed. People would see firsthand that lies like trickle down were false, a devastating fairy tale, eventually. For some things they would see very quickly, for others over more time. And, the repeal of harmful Republican policies would be much easier without the filibuster because it would only take 51 votes (or 50 plus the Vice President to break the tie).

So, this is an extremely strong reason why Democrats should support elimination of the filibuster. Basically, or largely, what they would do would be permanent, like Medicare, unemployment insurance, free public schooling, etc., but the harm the Republicans would do would only be temporary, often quite temporary.

People would relatively quickly see the great harm to everyone except perhaps the rich (and even for them, the extra few thousand square feet of mansion would help them and their families far less than they would be hurt by the decreased public health, safety, medical and scientific investment, and thus advancement, having to walk over homeless people, or live behind walls, etc., etc.)

Thus, the argument that some Democrats make that we should keep the filibuster because it prevents the Republicans from doing great harm, like say eliminating Social Security or Medicare, is more than countered. Republicans would not dare eliminate such popular programs, and even if they did, the very next election they would be decimated at the ballet box (and tremendously weakened and revealed for generations), and the elimination would be quickly reversed. By contrast, the good Democrats would do, like universal healthcare, or perhaps eventually even Medicare for all, would essentially be permanent.

Why do you think the United States has suffered as the only advanced country in the world without universal health care for so long? One answer is the filibuster. Without it we probably would have had universal health care long ago. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post wrote today, "There's a lesson in that, and it's not that we need to oppose 'government-run health-care experiments.'". In the comments I replied:
One of the biggest problems with the filibuster is that it makes it far harder to learn by experimenting, to see first hand if the claims against a program or idea were false (or grossly, ridiculously false). It really hurts the U.S. when other advanced countries are far freer than us to experiment and learn, with their completely Democratic legislatures as opposed to our Senate, where Wyoming gets the same votes as California with about 70 times the citizens, and where with the filibuster on top of that, senators representing only about 10% of the citizens can stop a bill favored by senators representing about 90%.
There are, of course, other important reasons to eliminate the filibuster, a key one being the undemocraticness I mentioned above. The Senate's undemocraticness may be in the original constitution, but so was slavery, so was women not having the right to vote, and senators being appointed by state legislatures rather than being elected. Should we have not changed those things because they were in the original constitution? The founding fathers were extremely intelligent. They knew that the constitution and the original government were not perfect; that's why they designed them so that they could be improved, so they were living, not ossified. The founding fathers also had the character to admit flaws in their country, and to realize that it was patriotic to do so, so those flaws could be fixed. Not being willing to admit flaws and problems with your country, and trying to intimidate those who do, is the opposite of patriotism. It hurts your country and holds it back.

Finally, of course, let us not forget global warming. Do we really want to take the monumental risk of planetary devastation from waiting 30, 50, 100 years until luck, skill, and circumstances are just right that we can get strong anti- global warming legislation past a Republican filibuster?

Update: With regard to the power of learning by doing, the power of actually trying things to see first hand if the claims are true, and if the counter claims, or scare tactics, are false (and the Republicans come up with some outrageous whoppers that unfortunately often work), please see this important post at the Charter Cities blog of acclaimed economist, and likely future Nobel Prize winner, Paul Romer.