We may or may not have a real nuclear war pending in the Mideast (though the odds have gone up), but we have a figurative one in the U.S. Senate.

It’s an odd war, however, because the backers of the side that got nuked are surprisingly upbeat about it. And some partisans of the party that dropped the bomb are displaying gloomy faces.

As National Review Online writer Kevin Williamson says, we have a “might-makes-right” administration, and the partial repeal of the 60-vote filibuster requirement by Senate Democrats is just one more step along that path.

Democrats maintained the filibuster for legislation and Supreme Court nominees, but now require only a simple majority (50 plus the vice president) for administration posts and lower-court judges.

Some on the left are celebrating the end of a Republican “blockade” of three of President Barack Obama’s liberal judicial nominees, who are to be installed, as Williamson says, “to look the other way when his agenda is put to the legal test.”

But two can, and have, played this game. It was the Democrats’ obstruction of 10 Republican judicial nominees in 2005 that spurred Republicans to threaten the same “nuclear option” until the “Gang of 14” reached a bipartisan compromise.

Last Friday’s move was probably inevitable, given the fractious political culture in Washington, but it left liberal Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wearing his smiley face upside down.

As he wrote, “this change ends a tradition dating to the earliest days of the republic,” and has created “a situation in which the minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is expected to use the minority’s remaining powers to gum up the works, and to get revenge when Republicans regain the majority.”

He concluded, “If it was possible to make things even worse in Washington, (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid just did it.”

One could say the filibuster is such an important check on unwise actions that the GOP should restore it the next time it gains control of the Senate. But lawmakers are human, too (though that sometimes seems difficult to prove), and the upside for Republicans to end it completely when they can may be too great to ignore.

Commentator Henry Olsen says, “Since the nationwide direct election of senators started in 1913, the Republican Party has never held 60 seats in the Senate following an election.” So, the filibuster’s demise “means it’s now possible for conservatives to pass their agenda.”

That could include more original-intent-respecting Supreme Court justices.

Peter Spillakos, writing on the First Things blogsite, says, “The contemporary politics of Supreme Court nominations is asymmetrical. Democratic nominees sail through (but a) Republican Supreme Court nomination has (since Robert Bork) been a dramatic event. Prior to today, a Republican president had to win the public relations battle over his Supreme Court nomination very decisively in order to hold together virtually the entire Republican Senate caucus and intimidate enough vulnerable-feeling Democrats to vote for the Republican nominee.”

But, he adds, “Reid and friends just made it so that the next Republican president has to win over the 50th most conservative senator to get a nominee confirmed instead of the 60th most conservative senator.”

For another thing, it can mean the end of Obamacare — and perhaps much more. As Cornell law professor William A. Jacobson noted on the Legal Insurrection blog, the end of the filibuster also means the end of the “liberal ratchet effect.”

That’s the prevailing political assumption — backstopped by the filibuster — that government self-aggrandizement is irreversible. Even when liberal “progress” is restrained by occasional conservative majorities, it can be resumed when the left regains control.

But now, Jacobson says, “The inexorable march no longer is inexorable. Decades of negative and destructive policies can be reversed with a bare majority. Obamacare can be repealed with a bare majority. True conservative judges will not be banished due to a filibuster threat.”

Certainly, there are dangers: “The absence of a filibuster could accelerate the destructive policies. That fear is justified, particularly as to the judiciary. But face it, we were headed there anyway unless drastic action was taken. That drastic action took place. … By Democrats.”

“Now,” Jacobson concludes, “at least we have a chance to achieve previously unimaginable progress in a single presidential term if we also have bare majorities in Congress and a president with the willpower. It will take only one such term. The ratchet has been broken. And opportunity created, even if dependent upon future electoral success.”

And there’s the rub. Without the filibuster, what one party passes, another can repeal. So to maintain majorities, campaigns may focus more on the success or failure of party programs, and less on charismatic but flawed personalities.

On Obamacare, say, rather than on Obama.

Hmm. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad after all.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at [email protected]

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.