will of the majority

Senate on a slippery path with filibuster change

The manufactured crisis last week that led to extraordinary, unprecedented change to the filibuster, prompted by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Democrats, is the first step down a road that undermines the nature of the chamber and will, almost certainly, lead to bigger changes.

The Senate was meant to be the more prestigious body of Congress and its members, given six-year terms, were selected to be responsive to state interests in Washington. Members of the House of Representatives, on the other hand, were meant to serve as the voices of the people, subject to re-election every two years.

Contrary to what President Obama said in his statement after the filibuster change, that “if you got a majority of folks who believe in something, then it should be able to pass,” the upper chamber was never meant to serve as a “voice of the people,” nor was meant to rubber stamp majoritarian views or interest.

It was meant, as James Madison once said, “to consist in its proceedings with more coolness, with more system and with more wisdom, than the popular branch.” Passing legislation and approving nominees based on consensus. The filibuster — which has existed as a concept since the chamber was created and in practice since 1837 — was a tool to achieve consensus.

But, over time, the Senate has become more and more like the House, beginning in 1913 with the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment, which mandated direct election of senators by voters in their respective states.

The Founding Fathers were concerned about a legislative branch that was too responsive to the whims of majority views, which could potentially be dangerous to essential liberty. In Federalist 10, Madison warned about the problem of faction.

We should shun majority rule

With all the uproar from Democrats and liberals over the filibuster and claims that Republicans are somehow subverting the will of the majority, David Harsanyi explains why the Founding Fathers created a republic and avoided democracy:

“[D]emocracy” isn’t only messy, it’s also immoral and unworkable. The Founding Fathers saw that coming as well. So we don’t live under a system of simple majority rule for a reason, as most readers already know.

The minority political party, luckily, has the ability to obstruct, nag and filibuster the majority’s agenda. Otherwise, those in absolute power would run wild — or, in other words, you would all be living that Super Bowl Audi commercial by now.

And if democracy is the mob — the “worship of jackals by jackasses,” as H.L. Mencken once cantankerously put it — who comprises it in our scenario? Depends how you look at it, I suppose.
[…]
Turns out, if we believe polls, that Americans changed their minds quickly and in large numbers. And history shows us that generally, unhampered one-party rule doesn’t work out for anyone.

Then again, today’s argument that the ruling party doesn’t have enough power is a reflection of a near-spiritual belief in the wonders of government, not democracy.

Harsanyi could not be more dead on.


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