That Was Then, This Is Now: The Filibuster

Several years ago, we had fun at the expense of our home-town newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, for its flip-flops on the filibuster. In 1993, with a Democratic President and Democratic majorities in Congress, the Strib denounced the Republicans’ use of the filibuster in intemperate terms:

Down the drain goes President Clinton’s economic stimulus package, washed away in the putrid flood of verbiage known as a filibuster. Call it a power game. Call it politics as usual. Call it reprehensible.

Of course, once Republicans took control of Congress and the shoe was on the other foot, the Strib’s tune changed. Now, the filibuster was a bulwark of democracy, and the paper editorialized, with equal virulence but without acknowledging its change of position, against efforts to change the Senate’s rules.

The deputy editor of the Strib’s editorial page tried to engage with us, first by denying any contradiction in the paper’s positions, and then, when that claim proved hopeless, by admitting that the Strib had “inadvertently” reversed its position on the filibuster and owed its readers an explanation. The explanation, however, never came.

Why this walk down memory lane? Because the New York Times has just done something similar. Patterico has the details. Note that the Times, unlike the Star Tribune, was at least honest enough to admit that it had reversed its position for partisan reasons:

On March 29, 2005, the NY Times ran an editorial defending the filibuster, and lamenting its own editorial short-sightedness during the Clinton years:

The Senate, of all places, should be sensitive to the fact that this large and diverse country has never believed in government by an unrestrained majority rule. Its composition is a repudiation of the very idea that the largest number of votes always wins out. *** While the filibuster has not traditionally been used to stop judicial confirmations, it seems to us this is a matter in which it’s most important that a large minority of senators has a limited right of veto. …

A decade ago, this page expressed support for tactics that would have gone even further than the “nuclear option” in eliminating the power of the filibuster. At the time, we had vivid memories of the difficulty that Senate Republicans had given much of Bill Clinton’s early agenda. But we were still wrong. To see the filibuster fully, it’s obviously a good idea to have to live on both sides of it. We hope acknowledging our own error may remind some wavering Republican senators that someday they, too, will be on the other side and in need of all the protections the Senate rules can provide.

Fat chance! Today the Times ran two op-eds denouncing the “segregationist’s tool,” the filibuster. This is an excerpt from Jean Edward Smith’s “Filibusters: The Senate’s Self-Inflicted Wound”:

In the entire 19th century, including the struggle against slavery, fewer than two dozen filibusters were mounted. In F.D.R.’s time, the device was employed exclusively by Southerners to block passage of federal anti-lynching legislation. … The number more than doubled under Lyndon Johnson, but the primary issue continued to be civil rights. Except for exhibitionists, buffoons and white southerners determined to salvage racial segregation, the filibuster was considered off limits.

I guess that tells us all we need to know about today’s Republicans. Of course, nothing similar will be said when the Democrats are again in the minority in the Senate.

David R. RePass offered a more measured condemnation of the once-championed filibuster:

It is up to Mr. Reid. He can do away with the supermajority requirement for virtually all significant measures and return majority rule to the Senate.

So the Times, like the Star Tribune, is in favor of the filibuster when the Democrats are in the minority in the Senate, but opposed to it when the Republicans are in the minority. That’s an easily understandable position. It would be nice if these papers, and hundreds of others like them, would come out and say–just one time before they sink beneath the waters of Chapter 11–that they are shills for the Democratic Party, and their editorials are paraphrases of faxes they get from the Democratic National Committee. Would that really be so painful? After all, it’s not as though they’re fooling anyone.

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