The Huge Freudian Slip That Tells All

Stockholm Syndrome comes to Talking Points Memo.

Josh Marshall is up with a piece today about how filibuster reform “isn’t all-or-nothing” — a fact that some of us were saying a while ago.  He notes — as I did here — that the real culprit is the so-called “silent filibuster” that allows the obstructionists to filibuster and not pay any price for it.  But then he unleashes what seems to me to be this whopper:

Given what’s happened over the last four years, it’s probably a bit rich to expect Dems to make a good faith effort to reform or limit the use of the filibuster. Indeed, it’s probably unrealistic to expect the minority ever to do so. And frankly I don’t even think abolishing it outright is even a good idea. It probably makes sense to have some brakes on simple majority votes on the Senate. But some brakes, not absolute brakes, which is what the Republicans have brought it to now.

(Emphasis seriously added).  Now, the passage is a little unclear, but do you catch the problem?  Marshall seems to be assuming that the Senate Democrats are a minority when in fact they are not!  In the 112th Congress, they will hold a 53-47 edge.  Harry Reid will be the Majority Leader.  But Democratic impotence has become so common, Democratic inability to get it way so typical, that a Democratic majority is assumed to be a minority!

After Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, I think it was the Village Voice that led with a headline something like: “Republicans seize Senate majority, 41-59.”  It was funny.  It was also telling.

It’s time to end this nonsense: get rid of filibusters for executive appointments, and end the silent filibuster.  The Dems will chew up time filibustering Medicare cuts, and the Republicans will chew up time ensuring tax cuts for billionaires. I’ll take that.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

14 thoughts on “The Huge Freudian Slip That Tells All”

  1. Yeah, he's a little ahead of himself, Democrats won't be the Senate minority for another two years.

  2. The following comment is based on my belief in the "The Emerging Republican Majority."

    (With apologies to Judis and Teixeira for the egg in their beards and catsup on their ties.)

    Looky: The time to get rid of the filibuster was two years ago.

    For Odin's sake, the Dems would have to be either insane (or secret enablers of republicans) to do it now.

    No one has any idea where this Tea bag (billionaire populism) thing is going…

    No one has any idea if Fox News has topped off or if there is dangerous social tipping point 5 million more Fox viewers away…

    Heil Murdoch!

    The last thing I want is a Republican majority in both houses in 2012 and President Hucksterbee calling the potshots to make the rich even richer. With the current filibuster rules in place the Dems might be able derail for a few years the emerging republican tyranny. Perhaps. But clearly, every year matters for the free progress of science as opposed to republican state-enforced Lysenkoism that is eager to slouch off the Ark and onto the stage. Maybe someone will figure out how to do cold fusion and capture carbon at the same time… or something.

    Slim chance I know….

    But it is about all humanity has left as we tumble forward….

    Which is all to say:

    Keep the silly filibuster and pray to Zeus the Dems have enough porous cartilage in their spines to use it….

  3. Sad to say but Brett is probably right. And koreyel is probably wrong to say that the Democrats would be making a mistake to get rid of the filibuster now. Let’s face reality: If there’s a Republican majority in both houses and (my guess) President Palin, then they will be calling the shots—filibuster or no. If the Democrats lacked the balls to ignore the Villagers’ handwringing when they were in the majority, I seriously doubt they will suddenly become an effective opposition party. The Republicans and the Villagers have spent the last twenty years creating a neutered, docile Democratic Party. The Democrats would be much better off just getting rid of the filibuster. It's a powerful weapon which they are incapable of wielding. Only the Republicans (and sometimes Nancy Pelosi) have the balls to use the filibuster and other procedural hardball to get what they want.

  4. In reply to Brett, koreyel and Mitch: Why do you believe that the Republicans won't end the filibuster 10 seconds after they (inevitably?) come into the majority? Would it really make no sense for the Dems to beat 'em to the punch and get _some_ use out of simple majority votes for a couple of years?

  5. I don't think the Republicans will end the filibuster even when they are in the majority because the current system is uniquely advantageous to them because the Democrats will be too timid to make effective use of it when they are in opposition. The current situation proves my point. The Bush era tax cuts will expire unless a deal is reached. If there isn't a deal the rich will lose their tax break and the Democrats will reintroduce the unemployment extension and a new bill temporarily lowering taxes for the middle-class. This would force potentially venerable Republicans to take a hard vote which might not be popular back home. But instead of threatening a filibuster or placing a "secret hold" to, at a minimum gain tremendous leverage, the Democrats in the Senate remained silent while Obama negotiated and even now seemed to timid to threaten a filibuster.

    My point being that the filibuster is a weapon which Democrats are incapable of firing. It is not a threat to the Republicans or their agenda. Consequently, the have no reason to eliminate it and every reason to preserve it in the event that they are once again the minority party.

  6. To address jwg's second point: Yes, it would make perfect sense for the Democrats to get rid of the filibuster now (if they could), just as it would have made perfect sense at any time during the past three years. It would also take boldness and a commitment to the party's agenda. With the current filibuster rules, every senator is a potential king. Senators like Ben Nelson like being stroked by the press and bribed by the president. Even those Democrats who are too timid to actually make use of it are reluctant to cede some of their own power for the common good. As for the "boldness" part of the formula, that precludes them from abolishing or even reforming the filibuster because, almost by definition, the current crop of Senate Democrats are incapable of bold or decisive action.

  7. Jonathan, you're misrepresenting the piece. If you were to include the first paragraph:

    With the Democrats' Senate Majority now dramatically reduced and the seats up for grabs in 2012 looking good for the Republicans, now is a propitious time to revisit the question of reforming the filibuster since it's much less clear whose minority oxe would be gored. In a sense perhaps it makes no sense for the Dems to entertain reform, given how the Republicans dealt with things in 2006-2010 and given the fact that it's now much more likely for them to get gored. But for the sake of civics if nothing else, let's entertain the question. Because I think it's much less of an all or nothing exercise than most imagine.

    it would become obvious that he is positing a situation in which the Democrats are the minority. There was no slip here of any kind, simply playing out a scenario. You have become extremely quick with the trigger on this sort of thing. I understand that the current Democrats have made you upset. They've made me upset, too, though in a somewhat different mix than for you. But please, slow down long enough to actually read what people write.

  8. <i"In reply to Brett, koreyel and Mitch: Why do you believe that the Republicans won’t end the filibuster 10 seconds after they (inevitably?) come into the majority?"</i>

    Because Republicans are free from the delusion that their latest majority is going to be perpetual. They've been in the minority most of the time, they fully expect to be back in the minority. Even if they have no particular respect for the minority when they're not it, they're loath to make rules changes which will bite them when they're back in that position again.

    Perhaps it's because of that decades long period where Democrats held Congress in an iron grip, but Democrats tend, it seems to me, to regard Republican majorities as some kind of bizarre aberration, and to be shocked each time it happens. You keep expecting each majority Democrat Congress to last forever. OTOH, you got through this cycle of ascendancy without getting rid of the filibuster, so I'd say there's some faction in your leadership, anyway, who know they'll be in the minority occasionally, that the US isn't going to become a one party state any time soon.

    There's also the fact that the two parties have different goals. In large measure conservatives see their function as preventing bad things from being done, not seeing to it that good things get done. They're trying to minimize the potential downside risk, rather than maximize the potential upside. A tool for blocking legislation just fits their aims better.

  9. You're not doing yourself any credit, admitting to being so easily lost. Republicans may well be delusional, (Who isn't, about something?) but they do not simultaneously hold all possible delusions. The egotist is not prey to delusions of inadequacy, the depressive delusions of grandeur… Even the delusional are free from certain delusions. And Republicans are notably free from the delusion that they're going to stay in the majority forever. Just as Democrats seem routinely prey to it…

  10. Brett, Mitch, thanks for adding to your remarks. I don't have anything profound to add – I think it's hard to go wrong pointing to Dem timidity and Repub aggressiveness right now. I'd just keep silent, but don't want my original comment to look like a drive-by. Since I'm putting fingers to keys, though, I'll make a couple of unprofound notes.

    Brett, your view that Republicans don't imagine their majority as perpetual and that Democrats always see Republican majorities as aberrations is sort of striking in light of the clear expectation of the DeLay/Rove/Cheney crew that building a permanent Republican majority is job #1. (Does that make the last Republican majority an aberration?) Do you believe the current Republican leadership is sincere when they say that they've only been given a second chance?

    I gotta say that any Democratic hold on power during my political adulthood (which stretches back to "morning in America" and nearly to "California uber alles") has seemed very tenuous.

    Mitch, I get your point about Republicans having different motivations re: the filibuster, but I also recall when the Republicans were perfectly prepared to execute the "nuclear option" and used the threat very effectively to encourage Democratic timidity in the form of conservative Democratic Senators cutting a side deal on judicial appointments. So I have a hard time believing that the filibuster is going to last more than a few more years in any case – probably just until the next time Democrats grow a spine.

    In rereading your first comment, I see I was too quick to conclude you would be against killing the filibuster now.

    Dems seem to be in a lose-lose situation wrt the filibuster. But it sure would be nice to see some appointments get through the Senate.

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