There’s some understandable dissing of the Merkley/Udall “speaking filibuster” reform idea out there. Critics of this measure say, “if the number of votes necessary to overcome a filibuster remains at 60, who cares if they have to talk?”
This kind of misses the point.
Let me be clear – the Senate will not, tomorrow, reduce the votes needed for cloture to 50. Period.
The problem with these critics (all of whom I respect, by the way), is that they suffer from politicoitis, a minor ailment that makes the patient forget that most of America doesn’t give a damn about Beltway maneuvering.
Ask Americans outside political circles what they think of the “filibuster” and they will say:
- Get away from me?
- Like in that Jimmy Stewart movie…It’s A Wonderful Life?
Yeah…kinda. What they do understand, if they have any direct understanding is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. You know how we know this? There is still support out there for the filibuster based on the Mitch McConnell defense that the filibuster is about “protecting the rights of political minorities.”
This claim reeks of B.S. but it resonates because average Americans see the filibuster as this:
But Americans also hate Senators they see as playing politics when they should be voting. Congress is at near all-time lows in opinion polls because they cannot produce enough “action” for Americans.
Replace the vague “filibuster” with Senators reading metaphorical “phonebooks” (query: what would replace phonebooks in the modern era?) and the political cause becomes tangible to the average American. The filibuster is no longer an abstract – it’s a real Senator forcing America to wait while he or she blathers.
Filibusters become fodder for media coverage and attack ads. If the filibuster rings in nobility the Senators will be redeemed at the ballot box. If filibusters fail to rally support they become embarrassments and – importantly for their constituents – wastes of tax dollars.
Maybe after enough of these the American public – Red and Blue – will demand a bipartisan conclusion to these episodes. Maybe then you can get 60 votes to kill the filibuster.
But not before.
And that’s why we need speaking filibusters.