Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


According to the distinguished Senator from West Virginia, the Senate rule requiring 60 votes to invoke cloture is the only barrier standing between us and tyranny of the majority:

For the temporary gain of a hand-full of “out of the mainstream” judges, some in the Senate are ready to callously incinerate each Senator’s right of extended debate. Note that I said each Senator. For the damage will devastate not just the minority party. It will cripple the ability of each member to do what each was sent here to do – – represent the people of his or her state. Without the filibuster or the threat of extended debate, there exists no leverage with which to bargain for the offering of an amendment. All force to effect compromise between the two political parties is lost. Demands for hearings can languish. The President can simply rule, almost by Executive Order if his party controls both houses of Congress, and Majority Rule reins supreme. In such a world, the Minority is crushed; the power of dissenting views diminished; and freedom of speech attenuated. The uniquely American concept of the independent individual, asserting his or her own views, proclaiming personal dignity through the courage of free speech will, forever, have been blighted. And the American spirit, that stubborn, feisty, contrarian, and glorious urge to loudly disagree, and proclaim, despite all opposition, what is honest and true, will be sorely manacled.

But, of course, that’s not the most over-the-top portion of his
speech; this is:

But witness how men with motives and a majority can manipulate law to cruel and unjust ends. Historian Alan Bullock writes that Hitler’s dictatorship rested on the constitutional foundation of a single law, the Enabling Law. Hitler needed a two-thirds vote to pass that law, and he cajoled his opposition in the Reichstag to support it. Bullock writes that “Hitler was prepared to promise anything to get his bill through, with the appearances of legality preserved intact.” And he succeeded.

Hitler’s originality lay in his realization that effective revolutions, in modern conditions, are carried out with, and not against, the power of the State: the correct order of events was first to secure access to that power and then begin his revolution. Hitler never abandoned the cloak of legality; he recognized the enormous psychological value of having the law on his side. Instead, he turned the law inside out and made illegality legal.

And that is what the nuclear option seeks to do to Rule XXII of the Standing Rules of the Senate.

This is so outrageous in so many ways that it’s hard to know where to begin. Well, here’s a place, borrowing from the spirit of Byrd’s remarks: one step away from moderate, constitutional government is demonizing your opponents, which makes it difficult to engage in regular legislative give-and-take, and makes every election a potential regime crisis. Since the election of 2000, Democrats seem to have hurled themselves headlong down this path.

And then there’s this: the American system of government is intended to make it difficult for oppressive majorities to form (see Federalist #10), which is not the same thing as to make it easy for intense minorities to obstruct. Yes, there are parchment barriers behind which minorities may shelter, barriers that are of sufficient importance to be "constitutionalized," but the "right" of Senators to speak without ceasing is not one of them. The distinguished Senator from West Virginia needs a sense of proportion.

Discussions - 12 Comments

Byrd is a vehement partisan in the garb of a statesman. I hope no one listens, but who knows.

I fail to see why anyone should give a damn what this Klan member thinks about anything. Actually allowing nominees to receive a floor vote is akin to the work of Hitler? Sure Bob, whatever you say.

Why we can’t get rid of this senile windbag is beyond me. I can barely watch him on TV let alone listen to him.

Call me a purist, but I believe that this moronic old man serves a purpose in a free country. This is an illustration of why they lost, why they will continue to lose, and why free speach is we can all have the fun of riducling a senile old horse like Byrd...a has-been clan member with old ideas and tired old speaches. Can anyone, ANY-ONE, point to relavent policy speaches this old coot has been in front of in say, the last 20 years...10 years...5 minutes? He is the face of a losing party with losing ideas. I say give that man a microphone. He does more for the republicans than a hundred policy speaches any senator can deliver. While the crowd cheers him on, the country looks at that side of the isle like an old woman dressing like a hot teenager just coming out of the ladies room with toilet paper stuck to her heel. It’s laughable. Enjoy it.

I believe Sen. Byrd has become the W.C. Fields of the Democratic Party, not just in appearance (the only thing missing is the straw boater), but in temperament (cranky, eccentric).

Republicans have been demonizing democrats for years; after bush politicized 9/11 and turned it into a gop political opportunity, the democrats have every reason to attack back. Get used to it, we’re not going away - and by the way, thanks to the neocons for giving progressives a strong new agenda.

Greetings from Wild Wonderful West Virginia. As the only newspaper columnist in the state willing to take on Byrd,lemme tell you, it ain’t easy being right.

Tomorrow’s column will be post at 10:30 a.m. It may be of interest

thanks to the neocons for giving progressives a strong new agenda.

And what "strong new agenda" might that be? The "say-no-to-whatever-Bush-wants" agenda? Seems to me that one’s been around awhile. And that the results of the 2002 and 2004 elections suggest that it ain’t particularly strong, either.

Seriously. How much crack are you smoking? Having a Klan member accuse others of racism is neither "strong" nor "new." It is an agenda though. 1-for-3 ain’t bad.

They should amend Rule XXII to say "Robert Byrd is an inconsequential bigot and is therefore not entitled to unlimited debate."

The good people of West "by damn" Virginia deserve better than this ex-Klan buffoon.

At least Sen. Helms of NC was able to retire with grace and honor. Before anyone starts throwing out Helm’s racist past consider this. Helm’s had several black Americans on his staff. Now, out of curiousity how many does Byrd have on his?

Helms supported debt relief for African nations with the assist of U2’s Bono (talk about an "odd couple"). Strange behavior for a racist, eh?

Well, the Anti-Defamation League has finally weighed in and, in my opinion, hits the nail right on the head:

It is hideous, outrageous and offensive for Senator Byrd to suggest that the Republican Party’s tactics could in any way resemble those of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. The Senator shows a profound lack of understanding as to who Hitler was and what he and his regime represented.

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