All this perseverating over using the so-called “nuclear option” in the confirmation of Supreme Court Justices is pretty much a heaping pile of smoking bullshit and kind of a waste of time as far as all the media reporting goes. Therefore, I’m going to try to keep this brief in explaining why no one should be particularly disturbed by this event. The “supermajority” notion of “consent” is not and never has been in the Constitution. If you take the time to research the whole thing (and, yes, I did) you will discover that the entire issue of “filibuster” and “cloture” voting is part of a long story about the Senate basically living by some rules that pretty much were created to make it appear a bit different from the House of Representatives.
It all goes back to 1805 when the President of the Senate, the estimable Vice President of the United States, Aaron Burr (who, at the time was under indictment for the murder of the Broadway hit musical progenitor, Alexander Hamilton) noted that the Senate and House had the same rulebook and the Senate could distinguish itself by dropping the “motion to call a previous question” to a vote, thereby ending debate. (see the testimony of George Washington University political science professor & Brookings Institute Fellow Sarah Binder before the Senate Rules Committee, June 10, 2010 https://www.brookings.edu/testimonies/the-history-of-the-filibuster/) The “filibuster” (seemingly endless debate by the minority to keep a bill from reaching a vote) was the result but was not applied in the Senate until 1837. And, while the current Senate, in its inimitable “all hat & no cattle” style, would have us believe invoking the “nuclear option” will forever damage our Republic, it’s simply the Senate attempting to make itself seem more important than it is --- and essentially whining that it cannot continue a practice that the authors of the Constitution did not include and probably did not envision! In a 2014 Huffington Post article, Senator Tom Harkin (defending the Democratic Senate’s “nuclear” vote to do away with the Supermajority in all but Supreme Court nominations) noted:
Across the entire 19th century, there were only 23 filibusters. And from 1917, when the Senate first adopted rules to end a filibuster, until 1969, there were fewer than 50, less than one per year.
Senator Harkin also dispelled the notion that going “nuclear” would make the Senate no different than the House. In his words:
The Senate will continue to differ from the House in significant ways. Senators will continue to be elected very six years, rather than every two years as in the House of Representatives. Senators from the smallest states will continue to have the same power in the Senate as Senators from the largest states. And the Senate will continue to operate in most instances based on unanimous consent, unlike the House. In addition, the reforms enacted by the Senate pertain only to nominations, which are themselves solely the province of the Senate.
So, for my liberal and Democratic friends, relax. If a Democratic Senator’s argument for the “nuclear option” was acceptable in 2013/2014, why shouldn’t the Republican adoption of it in 2017 not be okay? And if that’s not convincing, consider James Madison’s view on the “supermajority” concept:
James Madison, the architect of the U.S. Constitution, worried about the tyranny of the majority over the minority, but he recognized that the opposite was also disconcerting. He wrote in the Federalist Papers that supermajorities could cause "the fundamental principle of free government" to be reversed. "It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority," he wrote. "... An interested minority might take advantage of it to screen themselves from equitable sacrifices to the general weal, or, in particular emergencies, to extort unreasonable indulgences." (bold & italics – mine)
Source: Nicholas Goldberg, March 22, 2009 - NY Times.
All this noise about the “nuclear option” distracts us from the real reason the Democrats have resorted to imposing this tactic in the first place --- the insidious and disgraceful action by Mitch McConnell and the Republicans withholding the Supreme Court seat from Merrick Garland. For any who are disturbed by allowing the “majority up and down vote” to run the Senate, consider how the Republicans, by using their “simple” majority in the Senate, kept an eminently qualified candidate from even getting a hearing. McConnell’s cockamamie excuse that we shouldn’t approve a Supreme Court Justice in an election year is as lame and bogus a claim as any ever foisted on the public. Yet it prevailed and now we have our first (and hopefully, only) Trump appointee to the high court.
Beyond that, of course, is the simple fact that we have a seriously divided nation that has passed the point of consensus, compromise and mediated governing (which are the reasons given for having “supermajority” votes). The party in power is, and will be for the foreseeable future, the party that rules. Between progressives, liberals, moderates, conservatives, the Tea Party, the alt-right, and identity politics there is little, if any, common ground these days. Fifty years ago, when I was a boy, there were “liberal Republicans” and a “conservative Democrats” (beyond the “Dixiecrats”). No more. And there is nothing on the horizon to lead us to believe that there is going to be some sea change in U.S. politics. With our Tweeter/Divider-in-Chief at the helm, McConnell leading the Senate and Ryan in the House, with Schumer and Pelosi tilting at their windmills, what’s on the horizon?
It may be time, as I have noted before, for citizens to become activists who propose programs, take actions, and implement strategies to move the country in directions that are both intelligent and humane, before we totally blow up the environment, fall prey to crazies like Kim Jong-un or Bashar el-Assad, and generally watch the world go to hell in a hand basket. Early in the 21st century we need to make some important decisions about our future and act on them. See you out there.