Readers debate whether we should all learn to stop worrying and love the "nuclear option."

By Salon Staff
Published May 21, 2005 8:00AM (EDT)

[Read "Dump the Filibuster!" by Farhad Manjoo.]

The filibuster is "anti-democratic"? Well, at its most basic level, democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what's for dinner. The founders of the nation and the leaders of the Senate recognized well the problems of a "pure democracy" in which the thin rule of a majority might be used to impose a tyranny upon the minority. The Senate is the last defense against a tyranny of the majority.

Mr. Manjoo thinks Democrats would be well served to abandon the firewall of the filibuster? Perhaps Mr. Manjoo might take a few moments to reflect on the fact that appointments to the federal bench are for life and that several of the nominees now being opposed via the filibuster are of the "Constitution in Exile" crowd who apparently feel unconstrained by precedent and who want to invalidate everything from occupational safety standards and the minimum wage to the 40-hour workweek.

Wake up, Mr. Manjoo. This is no game. He notes that Norm Ornstein of the AEI calls the filibuster a conservative tool. That's fine. Mr. Manjoo would do well to note Mr. Ornstein's larger point, which is that the nuclear option represents a Senate without rules that is subject to the whim of the majority, no matter how thin, at any time. With Bush and the radical right seeking to cement their power not only electorally but with lifetime "Constitution in Exile" lifetime appointees to the federal bench, is that really a system we want to live with? I know I don't.

-- Alan Atwood

Farhad Manjoo's article makes a lot of sense, but only provided one can reasonably expect eventual control of the Senate and the executive branch by the Democratic Party.

What the "nuclear option" is really about is the Republican Party's ability to control all three branches of the federal government. To one who has been listening to the Christian right, the possibility that just two Bush appointees on the Supreme Court would create a fascist oligarchy is not far-fetched.

The possibility of winning elections in 2012 or 2014 or 2016 does not mean much, if you think it's possible that sham elections could be allowed by the Supreme Court!

-- Edwin Stanfield

Farhad Manjoo's piece shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the way democracy is supposed to work.

He criticizes the Senate for being the least democratic institution, but forgets that (in theory, anyway) the proportional representation in the House was the compromise to counteract the Senate -- and I think that the residents of Wyoming are happy to know that their interests get the same weight in at least one branch of government as the interests of California.

But also: Yes, the filibuster is problematic and maybe not the ideal tool for ensuring democratic votes, but what's the alternative? The "nuclear option" would be an appalling addition to the Senate -- not the least because it's unconstitutional -- and it seems the only way for the Democrat minority to stop it is via the filibuster, especially when faced with a majority Republican Senate that is basically doing whatever it wants to. This is a situation where the filibuster is valuable, because it at least blocks some of the more repugnant Republican legislation. How else can the minority fight back at this point?

-- Erin O'Brien

Farhad Manjoo is 100 percent right. Let the right-wing idiots detonate this measure. Ultimately, the Democrats will win back their major place at the table. Hopefully by that time they won't be the cower-to-the-corporate-lobbyist party that they are now. And at least the president we elect won't be stymied in his choice of appointments by the reactionary, absolutist jihadists who have led the Republicans for the past 25 years.

-- Jonathan Field

Sadly, it's not likely that the Democrats would be able to get "truly liberal" Supreme Court nominees approved with the 52-48 split Farhad Manjoo posits in the future. The GOP has a degree of party discipline that the Democrats rarely achieve; remember the attempts at healthcare reform in 1994? A Democratic senator can become a media hero by siding with the GOP to squash a liberal appointment. Do you really want to trust a plan that rests on the good faith and party discipline of Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson?

In fact, the only times that truly liberal justices get to the court are when the Democrats have substantial majorities (e.g. Douglas, Marshall) or when they're nominated essentially by accidental blindness to their ideology (e.g., Warren, Brennan). Even the remaining "liberals" of the past 15 years are either actually moderates compared to those that came before (e.g., Breyer and to a lesser extent Ginsburg) or changed their slant after joining the court (e.g., Blackmun, Stevens, Souter), perhaps largely in response to the excesses of their reactionary colleagues.

No, losing the "nuclear option" fight has no upside, unless the appointment of some new "Attila the Justice" drives Anthony Kennedy screaming leftward. In a principled world, it might -- but all the Democrats' tit-for-tat filibuster abuse would do is undercut any ethical argument against the GOP doing their worst once they got the gavel back the next time.

The truly radical (and better) solution would be to eliminate the filibuster by eliminating the Senate itself. That's something the Left should be able to get behind. But that's long-term; this week and next we have other fish to fry.

-- Greg Diamond

Farhad Manjoo says, "however slim the chances are of Democrats' winning 51 Senate seats, they're a lot better than the possibility of their winning 60 seats."

By that logic, I have a lot better chance to spontaneously fly 20 feet upward out of my chair, than 20,000 feet. But I'm not buying a parachute.

Suggestion: The Republicans would not have taken this step if they weren't pretty darn sure that they would never be out of power again. Why would they think that? Perhaps because of the black box voting process, as reported on several occasions in Salon.

After all, we don't know what goes on in those boxes -- but we do know that the presidents of the companies that make and run them are fervent right-wing Republicans.

Could it be Karl Rove knows something that we don't? It would certainly be unprecedented for him to hand a loaded weapon to his political victims, after all.

-- Peter Maranci

Salon Staff

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