As this election season nears its climax, campaigns of every stripe are staking out their positions on the host of challenges facing our country. But over the next few weeks, one of the most important structural problems facing our nation’s ability to govern itself will likely go unmentioned by the presidential candidates, unasked about in any of the debates, and all but ignored by the press. But make no mistake, the notion that anything will really change for the better in Washington next year is the very definition of crazy if we continue to allow our legislative process to be hijacked by the lazy tyranny of filibusters.
Honestly, it’s hard to imagine a concept more anti-democratic than the filibuster. Its history speaks of its capacity for evil and abuse—from its early etymological origins describing efforts to expand slavery to its later, more common definition as procedural ploy in the Senate used by segregation supporters to obstruct Civil Rights legislation. By allowing a single elected official to essentially flout the collective will of two branches of government barring a supermajority objection, filibusters are tailor made for obstructionism and preserving the status quo. Even more inexplicable, this odious tactic that haunts the hall of Congress appears nowhere in the Constitution—it is a creature born of bureaucratic banality.
Until recently, however, filibusters were considered but an occasional novelty, a kind of personality quirk of the Senate, because they were relatively rare. But the days of actually filibustering a bill—with cots in the Senate chambers and impassioned idealists nobly reading things like railroad schedules and the Holy Bible into the Congressional record—have been replaced with relaxed rules that allow for all-too-easy objections. And, as might be expected, some lobbyists now specialize in filibuster consultation.
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