Please forgive this horrible pun. I couldn’t help myself.
Kyrsten Sinema, Senator from Arizona, has with her colleague Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has torpedoed the Democratic agenda, from the Build Back Better infrastructure plan to the far more urgent legislation concerning voting rights. Her rationale for refusing to change the filibuster is that doing so would “worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country” and foreclose the possibility of government by bipartisan consensus.
I suspect that Sinema’s argument for retaining the filibuster, which raises the threshold for debating legislation to 60% of the 100-member Senate, is disingenuous, sweet rhetorical perfume covering up a political scent that is far less pleasant. (Excuse the pun, once again.)
First, it is evident that Sinema’s appeal to the small-r republican value of free debate among representative citizens to deliberate about bills and arrive at a consensus, or at least a modus vivendi, hides an ulterior motive. For the capital-R Republicans have, for decades, run roughshod over this value, and intentionally so. Senator McConnell of Kentucky announced, in 2008, that the only goal of Republicans in Congress would be to ensure that Barack Obama would be a one-term president. Thus he committed his party not to bipartisan governance — the whole idea of the Legislative branch — but to its undoing. On this score, he was only continuing the strategies of Newt Gingrich — a truly wicked political operator if there ever was one — to ditch liberal democratic and republican ideals in favor of defeating one’s political foes decisively, paving the way for permanent Republican rule. To miss or deny this obvious fact about the state of the nation circa 2022, as Senator Sinema seems to, one would have to be either unconscious, self-deceptive, or dishonest. Take your pick.
Second, the United States of America is, putatively at least, a liberal republican democracy. All three elements of this political label are necessary. Liberalism commits a polity to the rule of law, the separation of powers, and a schedule of rights to curb the tyranny of the majority. Republicanism demands the equality of citizens (or isonomia politikē as Herodotus and Thucydides described the system of the Athenian city-state)…