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Getting Rid of the Filibuster is Imperative

There is almost always some nuance to things, but sometimes searching for nuance obscures what is most crucial. And this is one of those times, so I will get right to that, and skip some of the detail and the history, because, to channel the Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime,” “We ain’t got time for that now.”

We, which means all people who care about American democracy, need to pass H.R. 1. We also need to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, but let’s focus on H.R. 1. That legislation was immediately designed to combat the Republicans’ all-out assault on voting rights. We all know about that, how state legislature after state legislature has passed, or is in the process of passing, hundreds of bills designed to do two things: Make it harder for Democrats to vote; and allow Republican run-states to toss out their votes. In combination, this would allow Republicans to win virtually every election.

That is what is at stake. Republicans ran a program of pretending that Biden didn’t win, and that any evidence to the contrary, is either fake, or a result of immense fraud by the Democrats. This, even though their own election officials conceded that the entire election was one of the most free and fair in our history.

But Republicans are not focusing on the optics, and certainly not on the truth. They simply want to win all the elections, however they can. They could not win them in 2020 (although they did pick up House seats, somehow; but logic is alien to them), so they are going to make damn sure that they win them in 2022 and all future elections.

They will do this by constructing a wall of impediments which mostly affect Democrats in large cities, where their vote is largely concentrated. Cutting the time to send in absentee ballots. Eliminating drop boxes. Instituting rigid programs of voter signature certification–which they control. Making sure that people, particularly minorities, who vote in large cities, have to wait in line for many hours, and that no one can give them water. Putting election boards in the hands of the Republican controlled state legislatures, so that in at least one state, they can actually throw out the results of any election, and hand it to the Republicans.

Make, no mistake, they want a dictatorship, no matter what Orwellian term they would call it. And H.R. 1, while not solving all of this, goes a long way, in that it allows for same-day registration, and expands voting access, while providing federal oversight of how states conduct the voting process. The reason for this bill, is to combat the Republicans’ efforts to destroy the concept of free and fair elections, which once done, will become a self-perpetuating process. If they keep winning, you can’t get rid of them by voting them out because they control the voting process. This is how they do it in totalitarian states, where they usually hold fake and fixed elections just for show.

So as far as I am concerned, this bill must pass, or we could well lose our democracy. It has already passed the House. But now it would need to pass the Senate . And in the Senate, lying in wait like the Kraken of mythology, is the filibuster. Under current Senate rules, all a senator has to do is to hold up his hand, and the non-talking filibuster is in place, and the other party must garner 60 Senate votes for cloture, to bring the bill to the floor .

Is there any other way to stop the Republicans other than H.R. 1? If the courts overturned the suppressive voting laws. But Republicans have set this up for years. Some lower courts would allow them, some would not. To get past the ones that allow them, we would have to go to the Supreme Court. The Republicans will send up the overturned ones. The Supreme Court, packed not only with Far Right people, but those who have spent a career in trying to limit voting rights, will write some abstruse opinion, with a lot of vague language, but the essence of which will give the states wide latitude in their voting laws, and even more importantly, not throw out any but perhaps a very little part of any of them. Pete Williams will jump on TV saying, “Overall, this is a big win for Republicans, because the major part of the laws stand.” And that will be that. It was set up that way. So H.R. 1 seems by far to be our best chance, except of course for the filibuster.

I have always thought that the filibuster rule was absurd. Surely it was never contemplated by the Founders or any other reasonable person interested in representative democracy, that for a bill to be considered, much less passed in the Senate, it would need the support of 60 senators.. A bill needs 51 votes to pass, or 50+1, if the VP breaks a tie. Why does it need 60 to even get a vote? It is ludicrous. Many believe that the institution of the filibuster was set up as a tool of racists trying to block votes they did not want. It has been used for other purposes as well, but it is a ridiculous rule, which as carried out in this era, has essentially turned the Senate into a sludge pit where nothing moves.

But it’s there, and Republicans will certainly use it to block H.R. 1. This not only defeats it, but allows Republicans to avoid having to take a vote for or against it, an additional plus for them.

So we lose; H.R. 1 cannot get through; oh, well, goodbye to democracy? Not necessarily, we can possibly get rid of the filibuster. But–we need 50+1 votes to do that. And we have two Democratic senators, Manchin and Sinema, who say that they are categorically opposed to getting rid of the filibuster.

I cannot tell if this is mostly due to cowardice, or stupidity. I do not like to insult Democratic senators, but this is absurd. I was trying to think of a good metaphor for this, and the mind boggles. How about: You are standing outside in your front yard, and you see your neighbor putting the finishing touches on a long-range missile launcher which would destroy the entire city. You actually could run over there and tackle him, and stop it. But you decide that this would violate his property rights, for you to run onto his property. So you say, “I value property rights! And I do not want to do anything which might damage or get rid of such rights! So I will not run onto your property to stop you from launching those missiles!”

Well, that is a little far-fetched. But is not the principle the same? Manchin and Sinema value the maintaining of the Filibuster Rule, over saving the democracy. Or is it just that they are too obtuse and stubborn to see what will happen if H.R. 1 is defeated through filibuster, and the Republicans’ dreadful assault on voting rights is successful? I could think of some kind of New Yorker cartoon, with blackshirts roaming around shooting and arresting people in a ravaged capitol building, and Sinema and Manchin, clothes tattered, proudly holding up a sign saying, “We saved the filibuster!”

Am I being overdramatic? I don’t think so. This is a seminal moment for our country. We seem to have one after another, because Republicans, like gangsters or Nazis, will stop at nothing to get what they want, so one defeat doesn’t repel them, they just keep coming. We managed to win the 2020 election, so they will rig the voting system, as in Jim Crow South, or really in any totalitarian state. And they bludgeon their bills through. And they use their weaponry, which includes the trusty filibuster, designed to give a Senate minority the power to stop all legislation they don’t want, or anything which would give the federal government the right to supersede undemocratic state laws.

This is the ballgame. Pass H.R. 1 in the Senate. It is unquestionably necessary to get rid of the filibuster to do so. I wish it were gone, never to return, but they could bring it back later, if there were an immense demand for it. But not here, not when the rights of Americans to be able to cast ballots, not have them rejected because some partisan board does not quite think that they made their “S” the same way as twenty years ago; and to be able to mail them in, put them in drop boxes, stand in line for less than ten hours, are at stake.

I really do not know what Manchin and Sinema are about, and who backs them. I do know that if they do not eliminate the filibuster for H.R. 1 they will be sitting in the minority wing of the Senate, with Mitch McConnell in charge. And in a final irony, he will almost certainly get rid of the filibuster. so that Democrats cannot block any Republican bills. But at least Sinema and Manchin would not be the ones getting rid of it, is that the idea? Profiles in lack of courage or stupidity, I don’t know which. It amounts to the same thing, I guess. Totalitarians count on either or both of those to attain their goals.