As Democrats clamor to end the Senate filibuster, they insist that the filibuster is an ancient relic that nobody needs, that serves nobody’s agenda and that improves nobody’s life. These political somebodies are right—but not in the sense they imagine. When our Founding Fathers set up the Senate, it was precisely the needs, the agenda and the lives of millions of political nobodies that they meant to protect.
Through the filibuster, Americans enjoy the unique freedom not to be politically active while remaining largely safe in their lives, liberty and property. The political nobodies are liberated to focus on improving their own lives and the lives of those around them.
That’s not how the political somebodies see things. They think they know how everything should work and what everyone should do. If they aren’t on TV telling you what to do, they are shouting in megaphones, demanding other political somebodies do this or that for some greater cause. Politics is their passion, and they want politics to be your passion. The filibuster blocks them from imposing their agenda and using your life for policy experiments every time they have a majority in the Senate.
The U.S. has far more political nobodies than somebodies. Maybe the nobodies don’t vote in every election or know the names of their elected officials, but they do know what is important to them. Their passion isn’t politics, it is their families, businesses, religion, careers, sports, arts, education and other personal pursuits. They do all the good and worthy things outside the political world. Yet their freedom to live as they want would fade without the silent sentry of the Senate filibuster.
The Senate’s cloture rule requires a supermajority of 60 members to end debate on most topics and move to a vote. That is no accident. It is a purposeful design to require broad consensus on important new legislative proposals.
No simple majority in Congress may shut down the press, deny trial by jury, take property without compensation, or violate other constitutional rights. Any tinkering with these rights would require a supermajority in both houses. Similarly, the filibuster imposes a similar supermajority constraint on the Senate’s ability to enact important changes.
What happens if the filibuster ends? Legislating, now slow and tedious, would become fast, furious and radical. Partisan laws would flood across our landscape, from the left and the right, making extreme lurches the norm. As
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema
(D., Ariz.) has said, our nation could begin “ricocheting widely” every two years. Stability in the rule of law and business climate would vanish.
When the quality of our lives depends on our mastery of politics, all the political nobodies will have no choice but to become political somebodies.
With more people directly involved in politics, friction could arise such that two parties wouldn’t be enough. A simple-majority parliamentary government might evolve, spawning numerous parties and necessitating unstable coalition governments. If England, a less diverse country with fewer people, needs 11 political parties in its House of Commons, how many parties would the U.S. need?
Government with fractured parties would make compromise more difficult. Our current political system makes finding the lowest common political denominator possible. Coalition government would make it more complicated.
Eliminating the Senate filibuster would end the freedom of America’s political innocents. The lives that political nobodies spend playing, praying, fishing, tailgating, reading, hunting, gardening, studying and caring for their children would be spent rallying, canvassing, picketing, lobbying, protesting, texting, posting, parading and, above all, shouting.
Lost too would be America’s creativity. Could a nation consumed in politics still produce miraculous inventions, cures and other achievements by millions of political nobodies?
All this sacrifice would be made on the false premise that the Senate can never act because it can never agree. But the filibuster doesn’t block legislation where a consensus exists, as evidenced by the existence of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and a minimum wage, all of which were passed when the cloture vote requirement was two-thirds, as compared with today’s three-fifths.
The movement to end the filibuster is less about a Senate that doesn’t work than it is about a socialist agenda that doesn’t sell.
The Senate filibuster is equally cruel but fair to Democrats and Republicans alike, blocking any flood of partisan legislation. It is why past Democratic and Republican House speakers, who agreed on little else, could concur that the Senate, not the opposition party, is the true enemy. The filibuster allows Americans to live free from constant political risk. With the filibuster, nobody in America needs to be good at politics to enjoy a good life.
Mr. Solon is a partner with U.S. Policy Metrics and a former assistant to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. Mr. Greene is president of 104 Consulting and a former outreach director for Speaker
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