Though seemingly forgotten by most TV talking heads, it was only three years ago, when the Republicans had control of both the White House and Congress "" and "filibuster"- was a dirty word.
It was usually coupled with "obstructionist"- amid demands that any of George W. Bush's proposals deserved "an up-or-down vote."-
Yet now, with the Democrats holding the White House and Congress, the Republicans and the Washington press corps have come to view the filibuster fondly, as a valued American tradition, a time-honored part of a healthy legislative process.
Today, it's seen as a good thing that Democrats must muster 60 votes in the Senate to pass almost anything.
When the TV pundits talk about Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan squeaking through the Senate, they're actually referring to a vote that might fall in the range of 60 or more yes votes to perhaps 38 no's, a three-touchdown "squeaker."-
The only thing close about the vote is whether the package can overcome a Republican filibuster and get 60 votes for "cloture."- To reach this super-majority, Democrats have been forced to accept a higher percentage of tax cuts, even if leading economists consider tax cuts one of the least effective ways of stimulating the moribund economy.
Yet, this anti-democratic fact about the GOP strategy "" that it seeks to frustrate the will of the American majority, which rejected the Republicans and their policies in the last two U.S. elections "" is rarely mentioned in the news.
Nor is the fact that Republicans railed against even a hint of a filibuster when the Democrats were in the minority just a few years ago.
Back then, when the Republicans controlled everything, the big story was how a threatened Democratic filibuster against, say, one of Bush's right-wing judicial nominations would be met by the Republican "nuclear option"- "" using a majority-vote on a rule change to eliminate the filibuster permanently.
For instance, in 2006, when Bush wanted to put Samuel Alito on the U.S. Supreme Court, the move amounted to a direct threat to the Republic. Alito was a staunch believer in the imperial presidency, a promoter of a "unitary executive"- who would wield unlimited powers at a time of war "" and the "war on terror"- promised to be an endless war.
If confirmed, Alito would join three other justices "" John Roberts, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas "" who shared his extreme views, and possibly another, Anthony Kennedy, who was considered only slightly more moderate.
In effect, the Alito nomination raised the specter of five right-wing justices effectively gutting the U.S. Constitution and its checks and balances in favor of Bush's personal rule.
The Republic in the Balance
With the future of the American Republic in the balance and Bush short of 60 votes in favor of Alito, a filibuster could have stopped this radical nomination in its tracks and could have forced Bush to select a less extreme nominee.
Many in the Democratic "base"- urged Senate Democrats to use the filibuster at this critical moment "" a time when Bush was viewing himself as a new-age monarch and his political aides were fantasizing about a "permanent Republican majority,"- transforming the United States into a virtual one-party state with the Democrats kept around as a cosmetic appendage.