The Right Coast

May 25, 2005
Bainbridge on the Filibuster
By Mike Rappaport

Stephen Bainbridge has responded to my comments and those of other bloggers. See here. While many people have taken issue with his claims, let me just add my two cents. He basically has two arguments. First, in response to my questioning why he thinks "President Hillary Clinton, with a Democrat Senate, won't use the nuclear option when Republicans filibuster," Bainbridge writes that the Republicans should trust the Democrats more. Sorry. This issue is too important for the Democrats to trust that they will show restraint, especially given their largely unprecedented decision to use the filibuster. Moreover, only 7 Democrats signed on to the agreement and the agreement seems to apply only to the current Congress. So they can eliminate the filibuster in the future without violating the agreement.

Second, Bainbridge argues that he favors the filibuster as a matter of principle, not as a means of benefitting conservative nominees. I am in favor of following principle also, but it does not necessarily make sense to follow principle when the other side doesn't. When the Confederacy started hanging black soldiers during the Civil War, instead of treating them as prisoners of war, Abraham Lincoln abandoned the principle of treating a few Southern soldiers as POWs, hanging them in response. The Confederacy changed its tune quickly. Principle is fine, but reciprocity is fairer and can often help to sustain principle. If the Democrats are going to use the filibuster in an excessive way, then the Republicans should use the nuclear option -- or at least threaten it to get an acceptable deal, such as one that applies in 2009 when neither party knows who will be the President. A deal that applies only when the Republicans have the Presidency and the Senate, and says nothing about the future, is, well, a bad deal.