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Aug 1 / Jonathan

Sandy Levinson on Matthew Yglesias on the filibuster

“The challenge of our time is figuring out if effective government is possible given the social, political, cultural, and economic realities we live under. The answer may well be no.”

Then what?

Matthew Yglesias on the filibuster

Matthew Yglesias has a fine post on the threat posed by the filibuster to the functioning of our political order. He concludes by suggesting, altogether plausibly, that if the Republicans were in fact to recapture all three branches of government in the 2012 election, then the first thing they would do would be to abolish the filibuster and thus deprive Democrats of the ability to torpedo whatever legislative programs they might have. It would, of course, serve Democratic Party interests to prevent a Republican government from achieving anything, especially with regard to the economy, that might win them votes. It will be typical Democratic blindness if they protect the filibuster while they in fact “control” the Senate only to see it eliminated once disciplined Republicans take over the Senate and can rely on a Republican President of the Senate (i.e., VP), to rule that the Senate is not a continuing body.

Each party has a vested interest in the destruction of a government headed by the other. This is exactly why James Madison hated parties. He wrongly believed that the Constitution would work to mitigate the ravages of “faction,” but he was wrong, not only because of the rise of political parties (by 1796 or, most certainly, by 1800), but also because of the displacement of the elites Madison had such faith in by “the people” who cared only about their own interests. Gordon Wood’s brilliant new Oxford history spells this out. I certainly don’t advocate returning to a Federalist elite politics, nor do I think they were simply devoted servants of “the public interest.” The challenge of our time is figuring out if effective government is possible given the social, political, cultural, and economic realities we live under. The answer may well be no. We simply have to hope for the best, but this may be the equivalent of hunkering down in New Orleans before Katrina and hoping against hope (or praying) that it will veer away at the last minute.

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