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Both Parties Are Always Equally to Blame


Whatever the facts are.

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  • How much are journalists’ careers dependant on maintaining this fallacy and ignoring evidence to the contrary?

  • scanner

    This page has an even better version than Jamelle’s graph, because it color codes which party was in the minority.

    The short version is that Republicans crank up ever higher levels of cloture motions and Democrats accept it as the new status quo. Rinse, repeat.

    • Well…shouldn’t Democrats accept it as the new status quo? The alternative is…what? Unilateral disarmament?

      • Davis

        The alternative is get rid of the goddam thing. That would take only 51 votes. The Senate is already undemocratic enough .

        • Well, there certainly aren’t 51 votes in favor of getting rid of the filibuster at this point so, again, what’s the alternative?

          • Craigo

            Get 51 votes.

            • “We are the underpants gnomes…”

              • Craigo

                That’s Goldbergesque wit.

                The Senate majority leader has come out in favor of reform. There is a strong minority, at least, of the Democratic caucus in favor as well. And if the Republicans take or tie in the Senate this year, as seems likely, a lot of votes on their side will open up (and as has been explained ad nauseum, filibuster reform is a long-term good no matter who controls the Senate at the moment).

                There is a definite path to killing the filibuster, and quoting cartoons isn’t it.

                • Yes, that is the sum total of everything I’ve ever said in these comment sections about ending the filibuster. Certainly it is not so witty or insightful as promoting “get 51 votes” as a legislative strategy. Can’t deny that.

                • Craigo

                  If you don’t want simple answers, ask better questions.

                  Well, there certainly aren’t 51 votes in favor of getting rid of the filibuster at this point so, again, what’s the alternative?

                  This is not only begging the question, but it provides its own answers.

                • DocAmazing

                  The Senate majority leader has come out in favor of reform.

                  He’s also been quoted as refusing to address the matter until 2014. I think IB’s got the most logical take on this one. Harry Reid doing something decisive and useful is something I’ll need to see.

                • Craigo

                  He’s also been quoted as refusing to address the matter until 2014.

                  His views are “evolving” then? That’s a door he can’t shut now.

            • A goal is not a plan.

          • Matt Stevens

            Well, there certainly aren’t 51 votes in favor of getting rid of the filibuster at this point so, again, what’s the alternative?

            Uh … for 51 Democrats to vote in favor?

            Sure, no one’s going to abolish the filibuster anytime soon. That point is well taken. Nothing wrong with blaming much of the Democratic caucus for this state of affairs.

            • Well, this is easy enough I guess, but it doesn’t really work as a retroactive critique. As I’ve noted before, as of the beginning of the 111th Congress, eliminating the filibuster was on the radar of exactly no one among the ranks of the political/media elite. That’s changing now, as evil sellout neoliberals like Ezra and Yglesias get larger media profiles, but Democrats also obviously don’t have the votes now.

              I continue to think that the quickest route to abolishing the filibuster is for a Democratic minority to frustrate a reactionary majority to the point of goading them to get rid of the practice, with the newer, anti-filibuster Democrats giving them an assist.

  • R Johnston

    These kinds of graphs actually significantly understate the problem, as the combination of the normalization of filibuster abuse and Democratic spinelessness mean that Democrats quite often don’t even bother taking votes or debating legislation if they can’t reach 60 votes. Democrats have fully bought into the framing that 56-44 is losing a vote, not abusing the filibuster, and they shit their collective pants at the thought of losing any more votes than they have to. If the Democrats, instead of buying the ridiculous media framing and shitting themselves about losing votes, had done business as it normally used to be done and then hammered Republicans about filibuster abuse and obstruction then you’d have seen significantly more cloture votes in the 110th and 112th Congresses and probably five times as many cloture votes or more in the 111th when Democrats controlled all three branches.

    Of course if the Democrats had the spine to frame filibuster abuse as abuse and then hammer the Republicans about abusing the filibuster they’d have the spine to reform or do away with the filibuster as well.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      I don’t buy the spine meme. Only a minority of the Democratic Caucus wants to get rid of the filibuster, so it’s not a question of political incompetence or spinelessness. Nor is it some sort of long con (the Manta1976 view below), IMO. It’s a question of priorities. The filibuster and related Senate rules and practices (e.g. the “hold”) give individual Senators enormous power that they otherwise wouldn’t have. Such power is clearly more important to Democrats than a more democratic Senate that would be more likely to pass progressive legislation.

      • Manta1976

        For how long have liberals been complaining that Dem congressmen are “spineless”, “cowards”, or unable to understand politics? Do you remember the “Lucy and the ball” metaphor used again and again to describe what is happening?

        Incontinentia explanation at least makes sense (I am not convinced, but it is a plausible explanation); continuing to proclaim the spineless or incompetence claptrap is self-delusion at best.

      • Meh, I think this is missing the forest for the trees, and it’s really more of a generational thing. If you actually dice up the Democratic caucus on the issue, you find that, by and large, it’s longer serving members who have been around since the filibuster really was a rarely used extraordinary tactical tool that are reluctant to change the chamber’s rules. There’s maybe a bit of self interest to that, as a lot of those longer serving members have devoted a lot of time to mastering the rules and would be hesitant to changes, but it also tracks pretty much any cultural change, in which younger people are almost always quicker to embrace changes than their older counterparts.

        In other words, as the Chris Dodds, Pat Leahys, Barbara Mikulskis, etc. move out and are replaced by fresh blood (or even just members of the House) this dynamic will likely change on its own, as the new members are much more likely to favor rul reform than those who have been in the Senate since the 80’s or earlier.

    • Please to be citing evidence that a) the public cares about this and b) the media could be counted on to accurately frame this. Because, you know, the whole point of this damn post is that the media “reports” this through the frame of “both parties are to blame,” which rather complicates your narrative.

  • Manta1976

    Do you know the routine “good cop, bad cop, and a sucker”?
    The Democrats are the good cops, that would really really like to pass progressive legislation, but are blocked by the Republican bad cop.

    Who is the sucker is left as an exercise (hint: if you use the word “spineless”, it is likely to be you)l

    • R Johnston

      I’m sure you’re trying to say something, but you don’t appear to be succeeding in doing so.

    • joe from Lowell

      Both parties are to blame! It both parties’ fault!

  • Manta1976

    I am saying that the 2 parties are not equivalent at all: one actually cares about advancing its program, the other only pretends to: thus, one party does what it takes to block legislation it opposes (without breaking the laws), the other uses the republican’s obstructionism as a pretext.

    • Malaclypse

      Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of Republicans, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.

      • Manta1976

        If Democrats did not like republican “nihilism”, they could have got rid of or weakened the filibuster: see Harry Reids: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0512/76189.html#ixzz1uWPy8fD6
        (Notice how angry and shocked he is!)

        BTW, I don’t think at all it’s due “ethos”: it is corruption.

        • Malaclypse

          That was, indeed, central to my point.

  • c u n d gulag

    CNN Newsperson covering the Senate, speaking in front of a camera-crew on the steps of the Capital Building:

    “At a press conference today, Senate Republican Spokesperson, Phil O’Buster blames Democrats for the lack of bipartisanship.

    He said, ‘Democrats used every trick in the book when they were in the minorty. And now, we’re just returning breast for tat.’
    That’s what he said, Wolf…

    This is CNN Senater correspondent,” Maura DeSame, reporting from the steps of the Capital Building. And now, back to you, Wolf.”

    “Thank you Maura. A fine report. And be sure to catch Maura DeSame’s new novel coming out next week, co-written by Senate Spokesman Phil O’Buster.
    It’s about an intrepid TV reporter investigating corruption and lies in Congress, helped along by her secret source, a spokesperson for one of the parties.
    In the novel, one party tries to hijack the political process as it tries to cover-up a scandal that involves the President, a Liberal billionaire, the parties former President, and a call-girl ring run by his former First lady.

    I’m looking forward to that book. I hear it’s got some real good political writing, and some racy scenes. What about you, Jack? (Jack mutters something). Stay tuned for the ‘Cafferty Files,’ where Jack will preview Maura DeSame’s great new book, where it’s hard to tell fact from fiction.”

    The Senate’s Phil O’Buster.
    And Maura DeSame from the MSM.

    And we wonder why our government doesn’t work?

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    It’s an interesting question, however, whether the difference between the two parties on this is a matter of principle or simply of party discipline/ideological unity. Would the Democrats filibuster as much as the GOP if they could have when they were in the minority? There’s no question in my mind that they couldn’t have. But I’m not sure if this entirely accounts for the difference.

    • I don’t know if there’s a really good case study for this, however, since Republicans haven’t had that sort of full control over the legislative process that Democrats did in 2009-10 in the era of increased filibuster use. The Democrats did force things like the Bush tax cuts into the reconciliation process, however, and did successfully block Bush’s social security plan with a united front in the Senate.

      • Eric

        They never even brought Bush’s Social Security plan up for a vote in the House, much less the Senate. Was there ever any legislative language published for it?

        That’s not to say that Dems holding strong in the Senate and utilizing the threat of a filibuster didn’t have a lot to do with blocking it, but Bush was able to get a lot of stuff through with the same set of obstacles.

        • Well, like I said, we’re working with a limited sample here, and IB’s question was whether Senate Dems would be able to maintain a unified minority. Bush’s plan never came up to a vote, so I’m not saying it would have passed otherwise, but at the same time, as far as I know no one in the Democratic caucus made an effort to forge a “bipartisan” plan for privatizing Social Security, and everyone pretty much stayed on message that privatization was out of the question.

          (I do think it’s an open question as to what would happen if, say, one or two Democrats had broken ranks to negotiate with the GOP, but that’s an unknowable counter-factual that’s not really worth speculating about in retrospect)

          • Scott Lemieux

            Jesus, not this again. The filibuster had nothing to do with defeating SS, which never had the support of the House either. (Brien, some of you may remember, at least has an extensive history as a filibuster apologist, but like all other can never cite its use for significant non-reactionary purposes.)

            • Eh? I didn’t say it did. This is IB’s question:

              “It’s an interesting question, however, whether the difference between the two parties on this is a matter of principle or simply of party discipline/ideological unity.”

              And I noted that, at least in that instance, the Democrats held the caucus together in opposition. I certainly didn’t say that a plan would have passed, otherwise (merely that it’s impossible to say what would have happened in a world where, say, 5-6 conservative Senate Democrats jumped ship to support the GOP) nor was that a defense of the filibuster.

              • Incontinentia Buttocks

                Wait a minute! I never brought up Bush’s SS privatization plan as an example of anything related to the filibuster. You did.

                • Right, as one instance where the Democrats were able to maintain a filibuster. That’s all.

                • djw

                  as one instance where the Democrats were able to maintain a filibuster.


                • Unless I misread IB, the initial question was “can the Democrats even maintain a united enough front to be an opposition party?” I pointed out a few things they remained reasonably unified in opposition to.

                • djw

                  Right, but they didn’t “maintain a filibuster”.

                • Touche.

  • Joe

    On Veep, filibuster reform is her issue. I guess there’s always that.

  • David M. Nieporent

    Well, one of the “facts” is that apparently neither you nor the American Prospect writer understands the difference between a cloture vote and a filibuster.

    • Are you serious? Is this serious? Am I in crazy town? Where am I? Seriouspants? Crazytown? Who are you? What is this?

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