Policy And Procedure

So here’s the problem: as Paul Krugman recently noted in his weekly newsletter, Will Rogers oft-quoted line — “I am not a member of any organized political party;  I am a Democrat” —is still accurate.

Today’s Republican Party has morphed into an ideological monolith, mainly constructed around racism and a visceral rejection of the “other.”  That has led to a Democratic Party that encompasses, and must appeal to, pretty much everyone else–from the sane centrists fleeing what has become of the GOP to the moderate left to America’s version of the far left.  In order to win elections with such a coalition, Democrats have to satisfy multiple constituencies. (As Krugman also observed, there’s a positive side to this reality–“this makes it harder to sell your soul, because it’s not clear who you’re supposed to sell it to.”)

The monolithic nature of the current GOP has helped it hold power despite the fact that we have literally mountains of research attesting to the fact that the party’s priorities are widely–sometimes wildly–unpopular. But (as a political scientist friend of mine recently explained over coffee) we fail to appreciate the extent to which Republican electoral successes are also a consequence of the filibuster.

Bear with me.

Even moderately honest observers realize that GOP legislators routinely put partisan advantage over the common good of the country. What we fail to appreciate is that most Democratic lawmakers–not all, certainly, but most–truly do try to put country first. (Granted, that doesn’t mean that the policies they pursue are necessarily correct, or that their motives are always pure.) Part of putting country first is protecting Americans from some truly awful policies that Republicans want to impose.

Democrats defending the filibuster point to precisely that function. They argue that in an inevitable future, when Republicans gain control of the Senate, Democrats will need the filibuster to keep the GOP from enacting damaging policies. As my friend pointed out, that impulse–to protect the country from policies that are broadly harmful and unpopular–actually helps the GOP.

He provided two illuminating examples.

In Indiana, when the Republican Governor and legislature passed a bill that would have allowed merchants to discriminate against LGBTQ customers, the blowback was intense, and the effort ultimately failed. The law was “clarified” to avoid its obvious goal. The very public nature of the response also “educated” a lot of people who don’t follow politics–and in the more urban parts of the state, at least, did the GOP no favors.

The more recent example is the Texas anti-choice vigilante law. For a number of years, pro-choice voters have relied upon the courts to protect their right to reproductive freedom, leaving them free to vote on the basis of other issues. It remains to be seen how much the outrage over the Supreme Court’s refusal to step in will motivate voters, but at this point, it looks like Texas Republicans have handed the Democrats a powerful issue.

My friend’s point is simple: let the GOP enact their pet policies, many if not most of which research tells us are very unpopular. Don’t use the filibuster to protect the party from the consequences of its own venality. Yes, the country will initially suffer the results –but the likely negative reaction will, once again, “educate” voters, clarifying the importance of  registering their disapproval with their votes. 

Obviously, there are other structural elements of our electoral system protecting an unpopular GOP from losses it would otherwise incur–as enumerated in this story in Vox.        Gerrymandering and the Electoral College are huge hurdles, as is the growing tendency to view political party affiliation as part of one’s tribal identity, and to vote on that basis rather than on reaction to policy. But the less-recognized use of the filibuster as a mechanism to keep Republicans from enacting a toxic agenda is counterproductive.

Also, since it is a rule made by the Senate, it ought to be easier to eliminate. Someone needs to “educate” Manchin and Sinema.


  1. Well, the Justice Department has stepped in regarding the Texas anti-abortion legislation, so we’ll see where that goes.

    I’m afraid I have to disagree with Krugman’s assessment of “there’s a positive side to this reality–“this makes it harder to sell your soul because it’s not clear who you’re supposed to sell it to.”

    Paul can certainly read a campaign finance report; he could start with Joe Manchin’s multimillionaire wealth accumulated from the coal industry to ascertain where he sold his soul.

    I could go down the line, but Pharma, Insurance, and Finance own the Democratic Party. Toss in the Defense Industry and Energy as well.

    Krugman sold out his soul a long time ago too, so there is no point in him pointing fingers, or he’ll lose his ability to share his sold-out opinion on the New York Times opinion pages. 😉

    When you have an oligarchy run by wolves, many sheep get nervous, so many sell their fellow sheep to gain status and protection. In today’s world, these are called sycophants. Our entire political class is sycophants of the oligarchs because their main mode of daily operation is funding their campaign and raising money for the party. As a result, the wolves know they have the advantage and exchange checks for preferable legislation.

    We just pumped in $23 trillion into the country of Afghanistan over twenty years, and the nation is poorer today than it was when we invaded. So where did all the money go?

    We have serious problems, but neither of the political parties nor the press will address the root cause because they’ve sold out to the wolves causing the problem.

    Trust me, the truth-tellers, the ones who get gut honest with the problems and conditions, do not have jobs in corporate America, nor can they operate on social media. All honest truth-tellers are heading to Substack for a reason. They are using VPNs and encryption. Many are using blockchain like Bitcoin. They are bootstrapping because they can’t get hired at any press outlet, and some of them are being dismembered, tortured, and jailed.

    You won’t find them on TV anywhere. They’ve been de-platformed, so to speak.

    The wolves are above the law, and they rule the political realm. As a result, they have access to unfettered, deregulated capitalism, which is exactly what the Founders were scared of. If you look at the Republican Party, it’s just worse because the wolves who own the GOP don’t want the Federal Government interference because they believe the free market is the solution to what society wants. They want to secede from the union via a constitutional convention.

    Tis all for now…

  2. I’m not sure that those who don’t want to learn can be taught. Surely Manchin knows that, if the Republicans take back the Senate with less than a super majority, McConnell will eliminate the filibuster. That is what he has done every time he has faced the possibility of a filibuster standing in the way of his objective. The filibuster is just a part of the Senate rules, needing only a majority to change or suspend. It should also be obvious to every American, including Manchin, that civil rights enumerated in the Constitution are far more important than Senate procedure.

  3. The Republican juggernaut to destroy democracy is on the move. Even if we were to eliminate the filibuster; would we have 50 votes to pass anything? Doubtful; it’s actually more than educating Manchin and Sinema. Even if we get really mad or angry will it do any good? We exercised our voting rights  overwhelmingly against them in what may be the last fair election; but it barely counted the last time (i.e. 44,000 electoral vote win). If we passed good voting rights legislation; would it be upheld? (e.g. SCOTUS?) If we elect the right people; will it count or be overruled? (e.g. GOP override laws?) Does the rule of law and the Constitution still have meaning? (e.g. abortion & SCOTUS?) Will there even be a democracy in 2023 following a likely loss of Congressional control by Dems? Seems the scribbles are on the wall.

    See the blog post by P.M. Carpenter, “I’m beginning to understand how it feels to live in a majority-oppressed nation” at: https://tinyurl.com/7t7abmpc.

  4. I have stated countless time, here and on other venues, that the Republican party is succeeding because they stand together; their foundation is built on racism, hate and violence. Their different elected officials and support groups don’t agree on how to succeed in the process to carry out these beliefs but they support one another for agreeing to sow racism, hate and violence to reach their goals.

    The Democrats agree on acceptance of other races and ethnic background and seeking peaceful means to accomplish their goals of saving democracy, Rule of Law and upholding the Constitution. But…they refuse to accept any way but their individual ways and how much it should cost to accomplish those goals while running in place…or marching in reverse. President Biden is trying to lead a bunch of unruly children all wanting their way or no way. While they continue squabbling and infighting the Republicans remain united and are filling their campaign chests with millions and making headway in the House and Senate and preparing to retake this government in the 2022 election which will put Trump back in the White House in 2024.

    Rules in the Senate are as useless with the slim Democratic majority, only Vice President Kamala Harris can save them, and Mitch McConnell still runs the Senate by ignoring all rules as he has been doing since his takeover during President Obama’s administration. Barack Obama’s book, “The Audacity Of Hope” was that the two parties could sit together at the bargaining table to find solutions to our problems. Little did he know it would be his own party who cannot sit together to save themselves, the party or this country.

  5. I’m torn here. Clearly, the filibuster currently obstructs Biden’s agenda. But, it feels like eliminating it is only quick fix, and the possibility of eventually turning voters against regressive, malicious GOP policies that could be enacted is anything but guaranteed. And there’s certainly no guarantee of keeping those voters. Democrats need to do more.

    My version of “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line” is, Democrats mobilize, Republicans organize. We can elect Obama twice and at the same time lose a majority of state legislative chambers and both houses of Congress. And it’s no accident, nor the result of fickle Democratic voters, that the GOP came to control so much of state-level government. It was a well-executed strategy (Karl Rove is an asshole, but give him credit where it’s due. I think that’s also a reason Democrats don’t seem to have a very deep bench when it comes to candidates who can seriously challenge Republicans). Democrats will have to learn what Republicans already know how to do and leave the Will Rogers observations behind, or we’re screwed, filibuster or no.

  6. Todd @ 8:02 am is right, especially concerning Manchin and coal. Manchin’s daughter, Heather Bresch, was also hip deep in EpiPen Price Inflation Scandal.

    Manchin last week urged Democrats to take a “strategic pause” in consideration of the party’s $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, the centerpiece of the Biden agenda. A key component of the bill would lower drug prices by allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies. That market power would save the government and patients billions over the next decade, but perhaps even more importantly, it would give the government greater insight into how pharmaceutical executives set prices. The change could reveal the type of collusion that keeps those rates high, exposing companies to risk of regulation or prosecution.


    If someone wants to preserve the filibuster fine. Set new rules that Senator Filibuster must stand or sit and keep talking no breaks and you cannot pass the filibuster on to another Senator. If Senator Filibuster stops talking the filibuster is over.

  7. We spent 2.3 million propping up a corrupt government in Afghanistan. And now the Taliban are in control again. And how much have we spent in Iraq? Yes, the MIT wastes a lot of money which could have been spent on our infrastructure etc.

    The question for democrats is how can we create a mobilized, united party to counter the monolith of the Republican party when there is so much diversity ? This creates a lot of conflict within the democratic party because it’s hard to create cohesion with so much diversity. Because of our diversity, we are the party of innovative ideas, not the GOP. The GOP holds onto its old ideas and policies which have been proven to be ineffective. They do not create a healthy economy. They are locked into a free market ideology that has made health care costs disastrous for many of Americans. Of course, our consumptive habits don’t create a sustainable economy either.

    If the democratic party is to succeed then progressives like Ocasio-Cortez need to learn to collaborate with moderates like Sen. Manchin, to compromise. They need to stand in line with each other. And if democrats are going to stand in line, we will need powerful leaders who inspire everyone within the democratic party to stand united in the midst of our diversity.

    We need to start this unified effort in the local and state governments.

  8. The current form of the filibuster hurts Democrats and helps Republicans. It is perfect for the Republicans. With one quiet no fuss vote and issue goes away, and they get little or no press and they have defended the party platform even if they have hurt the country as a whole, but who cares because it it was just the Democrat failure to pass anything meaningful.

    There is no skin in the game for opposing party. They just have to stand as a monolithic block and keep swatting down any progress. It get no press, not even a 10 minute blip on CNN or any of the other cable news channels that broadcast live from the Senate. They don’t have to be near Washington, they just need to make sure 10 Senators are at hand to vote against something.

    We need to go back to the pre 1970’s rules for filibuster. 24 hours of talking would make people notice that work stopped. Having to be in or near the chamber to block or uphold a vote would mean ALL of them would have to continue to be committed to blocking something.

    This would not eliminate the filibuster, it just would mean that you just have to be really committed to maintaining it. And yes the Republicans would occasionally get the opportunity to be the “dog that caught the car”, and people would notice. At the same time, you could block really terrible stuff long enough for the 24 news cycle to notice how awful it was and put public pressure on politicians to change their positions.

    The current form of the filibuster is evil, but sometime there is a need to slow down the grinding wheels of government.

    At the same time, with the current right wing echo chamber, it may be dangerous to allow Republicans to “hurt the country”. The propaganda machine is so strong that the very people hurt by these policies, don’t seem to posses the critical thinking skills to know why they are being hurt, and that could just enlist more people to vote against their own self interest.

    No solution is perfect, but when 50 Senators that represent just 26% of the population can break the entire government, there is a big preblem.

  9. While the tension in the country can be home to many labels one of them is one of the broadest definitions of the issue and it’s also one of the world’s oldest; government of the privileged vs government of the people.

    Republicans are of a single mind because they consider power to be their right. Democrats are diverse in their beliefs because people are. Trump found easy company among the tyrants of the world because they were of like mind: they deserve power over others.

    We like to think of now as a repeat of the Civil War, but both now and then were repeats of the Revolutionary War when the idea that there is nobody deserving of power was originally raised and tested. It was radical then and is now because the entire history of civilization supported government by the privileged. The idea that we the people could choose who to govern and over what issues was truly revolutionary in those times and in these.

    Democrats chose the hardest road to take over the mountains, Republicans the Interstate Highway.

    Like the country’s founders, we have to choose to take that hardest route and fight to show the world it can be successful or we drop back into the “ordinary” column.

    That is what makes these United States “exceptional” if we win.

  10. JoAnn’s comment, in particular, brings to mind this idea of Karl Popper:
    “Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance,” he wrote. “If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”
    Not getting angry enough to seriously fight back at the GQP will wind up giving/handing them the country.
    I have been a fan of ending the filibuster, and now with the Biden initiated Acts that could end gerrymandering, there seems to be a better chance that the country could actually get back to a “One man, one vote” system, which would, hopefully, end the GQP’s false advantage.
    But, yes, we need to be able to work together, Robin suggests, or the beauty of our diversity will be our undoing.

  11. “In Indiana, when the Republican Governor and legislature passed a bill that would have allowed merchants to discriminate against LGBTQ customers, the blowback was intense, and the effort ultimately failed. The law was “clarified” to avoid its obvious goal. The very public nature of the response also “educated” a lot of people who don’t follow politics–and in the more urban parts of the state, at least, did the GOP no favors.”.

    Okay, I have to challenge this. You’re talking about Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Indiana’s RFRA did not give merchants the right to discriminate against LGBTQ customers. Whether a business can discriminate against an LGBTQ customer is based entirely on whether the jurisdiction has a civil rights law protecting LGBTQ customers. In 52 years of RFRA court decisions, there has never been a case (and 30 states now have RFRAs laws, 10 more have RFRAs by court decision and there is also a federal RFRA) which has overridden a civil rights law. It has never happened.

    Shortly after the passage of Indiana’s RFRA, I was at a legal seminar in which the law was discussed. All four panelists said the same thing – Indiana’s RFRA doesn’t allow discrimination…that it all depends on whether there is a civil rights law that provides that protection. The panelists were all lawyers, activists working in the area. One was from the ACLU of Indiana. I think it was Jane Henegar, but I’m not 100% sure.

    People forget that the uproar about Indiana RFRA didn’t begin really until RFRA was on the cusp of being signed into law. The the narrative kept growing and growing that Indiana’s RFRA allowed LGBTQ discrimination. The misinformation was so pervasive and repeated so often and consistently in the media that many people on the left simply jumped on the bandwagon, even though many knew better. This included the ACLU of Indiana which switched reversed positions saying Indiana’s RFRA did allow LGBTQ discrimination and needed to be “fixed.”

    A “fix” to Indiana’s RFRA was passed. But you know what? “The Fix” not only didn’t actually do anything. Worse yet for liberals, while they were celebrating a fake victory for LGBTQ rights, conservatives in the legislature slipped into The Fix another provision to protect religious organizations from local ordinances.

    Here is what the fix did:

    Section 1 of “The Fix” simply says Indiana’s RFRA does not override any civil rights law, a statement that simply recognized 52 years of case law. No ground gained there.

    Section 2 of “The Fix” actually for the first time mandates that any current or future local human rights ordinances passed in Indiana carve out an exception for religious organizations. That is certainly not a victory for LGBTQ rights. This section is completely unattached to the RFRA, yet it is now the law because groups on the left wrongly said Indiana’s RFRA needed to be fixed.

    The left didn’t get duped by RFRA which was a fair and balanced law that many on the left used to support. But when it came to The Fix, the Indiana legislature pulled one over on the liberal activists who kept peddling misinformation regarding the RFRA. Now, thanks to The Fix, Indiana local civil rights laws for the first time has to make an exception for religious organizations.

    After The Fix passed, I met with an IU Law School-Indianapolis (not going to call it the McKinney Law School) constitutional law professor. He agreed that The Fix did not actually do anything regarding protecting LGBTQ rights and that the second part of The Fix actually provided more protection for religious organizations than existed before.

    As a side note, I also discussed with the constitutional law professor Jim Bopp’s extremely confusing lawsuit claiming The Fix discriminated against religious freedom. The professor, like me, couldn’t understand what Bopp was talking about and reiterated that The Fix didn’t really do anything to infringe on religious freedom.

    If LGBTQ activists truly want to advance rights they would be better off pushing for a state civil rights law which would protect them instead of engaging in a phony battle against Indiana’s RFRA.

  12. This theory is the epitome of ‘party politics’; it is exactly why Americans are sick unto death of political maneuvering for whatever advantage can be attained. Democrats were elected to GOVERN in ways that benefit the nation. This game-playing is an electoral version of ‘let them eat cake’: let the GOP do their worst and do not try to stop them from doing it. WHAT THE HELL? If this Democratic government doesn’t get off their rumps and GOVERN – they will deserve the defeats and damage to follow. The American people will no longer tolerate unkept pledges for helps they need.

  13. Rather than educate Manchin, Sinema and the like, Progressives need a good education in political strategy. They need to learn that you don’t always get everything you want, when you want it. You need to prioritize, focus and deal with the current reality. You need to compromise and be patient. Most importantly, you have to educate the public without being obnoxious and bring their support along with the decision-making.

    Two classic examples are HR1 (For the People Act) and the current $3.5T reconciliation “social” infrastructure package. Both are overly ambitious for the current political reality and cannot achieve widespread public or political acceptance. Insistence on their adoption scares voters, irritates voters, and provides rhetorical ammunition for political opponents.

    With less Progressive political stubbornness and more political finesse it is likely that a voting right bill incorporating elements of HR1, HR4 & the Electoral Count Act and the “Hard” infrastructure package could have been on Biden’s desk weeks ago by linking the two issues and by working with 10-19 potentially sane GOP Senators & Democratic Moderates. Biden & Democrats would have had a huge boost of accomplishments for success in the 2022 Midterms — leaving plenty of time to work on and educate the public on other voting rights & social infrastructure needs.

    Instead, we have no voting rights or infrastructure legislation and are left with weeks of delay, hateful relations between the parties and hurtful, negative, opposition rhetoric and likely nothing to show the voters ahead of the Midterm campaigns.

  14. Correction: 20 state legislatures, including Indiana, have adopted RFRAs. (I had wrongly said 30). Ten other states have adopted RFRA-type protections via court decisions. And there is a federal RFRA which passed Congress almost unanimously and was signed into law by President Clinton in the early 1990s.

  15. Thank you Paul for keeping it “real”.

    You’re a good dose of reality among these delusional shut-ins.

  16. J.P. , JoAnn, Robin – you got it spot on. And, in case you missed it, in addition to The Federalist Society, ALEC, Fox News, the GOP now has a (funded by multiple millionaires) group pouring money into the campaigns of conservative state judicial candidates. Meanwhile, the DEMS twaddle at all levels….

  17. RFRA in Indiana, both versions, brought out the information that only TEN areas of the state offered specific protection for LGBTQs. Indianapolis was NOT one of those areas. Ballard began receiving warning messages about loss of tourism and cancellation of annual national level events here; he quickly got protection passed and enacted to continue the money-making events.

  18. Sorry – but my pet peeve is back

    “..the sane centrists fleeing what has become of the GOP to the moderate left to America’s version of the far left.”

    I don’t see the word “conservative” and I don’t accept the Overton Window shift that this implies.

    Far left – The Weathermen (violent); Students for a Democratic Society (non-violent)
    “America’s version of the far left” today are politically weak (I still have friends who are real Socialist Party members)

    Far Right – The Proud Boys (violent); most of today’s GOP (non-violent, but not condemning violence)

    We kept redefining “left” until the Proud Boys became “moderates” and we wonder why Trump seemed acceptable.

    This depiction goes along with the widely used meme – “moderation is good; liberal is unreasonable”

    Joe Biden is a real moderate; Joe Manchin is a Conservative Democrat (and Liz Cheney isn’t a moderate either, despite the mainstream media’s labels; she is a real Conservative). AOC and Bernie, if you look at their policy proposals are more like FDR 2.0, and if you think about our history, more inclusion and a stronger safety net have been the direction of movement (however slow) for quite a while in this county. As for the rhetoric of AOC and Bernie – somewhere between sad and stupid, but that isn’t their policy positions.

    The other part of the meme – unreasonable progressives don’t compromise – oh wait, they did. Bernie and AOC supported the much reduced infrastructure package as a COMPROMISE, with the other side promising to pass the reconciliation package. It is Manchin and the “moderate” (CONSERVATIVE DEMOCRAT) that want to renege on the deal. Manchin and his ilk are the Democrats that are saying their way or the highway, not Bernie and AOC.

    Now, as for letting the Republicans filibuster away the Biden Agenda, which will happen? Voters blame GOP for blocking progress, banning abortion, and restricting voting, OR, voters blame Democrats for being a “do-nothing” party and decide to give the other side a try.

    Also, even if the GOP gets punished at the polls, new laws will allow the Chairman of the local GOP to declare the election “fraudulent”, triggering the rule that says that the legislature can override the vote and choose the victor.

    As was pointed out, Mitch will jigger any and all rules, including the filibuster, to meet his current needs.

  19. The filibuster serves Republicans. Their project is simply to stack the judiciary for the future decades. I think they believe this will help them hold on to their current advantages: electoral college, gerrymandering and voter suppression. Their propaganda project surrounds the idea that government is not to be trusted and will do nothing for you. Ultimately, they win when the government does nothing (even if they are the government at the time).

    So, Sheila, your friend is right: dump the filibuster, let government work again, make laws, implement policies, and let the public decide how they like those practices. THIS is the thing the GOP fears above all else.

  20. So, to the many, many Democrats persistently calling for an end to the filibuster, I ask, how is that going to happen? We must deal with the reality that exists at the time. Democrats do not have the votes to end the filibuster and as I have said previously above, if they could magically wish it away, they don’t have the votes to pass any of their major issues — HR1, soft/social infrastructure, climate change, etc., etc.

    If we are merely to sit back, bitch and moan and wish the filibuster away while ignoring reality, I think we may simply witness democracy’s parting and lament about how it all went down.

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