In response to one of my recent posts, a colleague drafted a rather lengthy and well-developed response. Again, nothing that he mentions is factually novel, but his ideas are worth contemplating, and–I felt–worthy of a separate posting rather than being relegated to the comments section.
Yes, the American system is riddled with veto points. What’s more is that because of deference to states, the American political process is almost incapacitated. The most astonishing—and arguably the least constitutional—veto point is the Senate filibuster. Nowhere in the constitution can the exercise of the filibuster be found. What’s more is that it used to take 2/3 vote, not today’s 3/5 vote needed for cloture. Interesting how rules can be changed.
Whatever the number needed, it’s odd that a country that likes to herald itself as the world’s greatest Democracy, and sometimes the best country God ever created ( see Sean Hannity), allows for a small number of Senators to have the final say on matters of great policy importance.
To complain about the filibuster is fruitless because it is merely a symptom of the American sickness of political ineptness. This ineptitude stems from the beginnings of the American republic and its deference to states. After it was determined that the Articles of Confederation were worthless and unable to guide the new American Republic, the Constitutional Convention was convened to instill something better.
A great deal of debate went into how to best represent the American people in the legislative branch. The smaller states, like Georgia and Delaware, wanted every state to have just one vote, or an equal number of votes in the legislature. Conversely the larger states, like New York and Virginia, wanted the representation based on population. What was agreed to became known as the “Connecticut Compromise” or the “Great Compromise.”
The delegates from Connecticut—a small state—devised what is now the American legislative branch with a lower house of proportional representation and an upper house of equal representation. This plan would have favored the lower house to enact policy and allow for larger states to have a greater influence on policy. If not for obscure parliamentarian rules like the filibuster, this intent might have become reality. Instead, the opposite has happened. Representatives tend to vote based on the needs and/or wishes of their districts, not their states. Senators must get re-elected state-wide so they are more likely to vote in congruence to their entire state’s needs and wishes. Fair enough, but if you’re a liberal in Austin or a conservative in Boston you probably feel a little underrepresented in United States Senate.
With the elevation of the Senate’s importance and obscure rules like the filibuster, this comes off as unfair at best and anti-democratic at worst. So let’s move beyond complaining about the filibuster and move on to complaining about the political system that allows for a “less than democratic” body to persist in the “the greatest country God ever created.”
– Gregory J. Boyer