As if the Fauci email revelations were not enough to raise concerns, a Washington Post opinion column this week declared in its title that “Our democracy is in grave danger” and that only Democrats could save it. The column defeats itself with its own argument — and in so doing, underscores genuine concerns for the future of the nation.
The piece, drawing on a statement written and signed by more than 100 “scholars of democracy” asserts, in summation, “Our democracy’s long-term viability might depend on whether Democrats reform or kill the filibuster to pass sweeping voting rights protections.”
First, the scholars should be reminded that, while we often speak casually of democracy, we really aren’t a democracy, proper, but a republic. The democratic process, which our republic relies upon, is certainly essential, but it isn’t the whole assembled form. The distinction matters.
Our Founding Fathers were exceptionally careful in constructing the United States as a republic. After all, they recognized the dangers of democracies, which often proved unstable, violent, and threatening to individual, natural rights.
This was because simple majorities of citizens could easily make bad decisions for their country and for their fellow citizens. During the Peloponnesian War, Athenians stumbled through years of military strategy and missed opportunities because they were too often concerned with the political aspects of the generals and admirals they voted to lead their hoplites and triremes into battle, rather than the actual military strategies being considered.
That is not to discount the vitally important elements of democracy, such as legitimacy and self-determination. But broad democracy — such as the French Revolution or the autonomous zones in Portland – can quickly lead to mob-action and brutality. After all, a democratically-selected course of wrongful action is still wrong.
And indeed, anyone who had observed, let alone studied human nature — from Aristotle to Edmund Burke at the time of the founding – understood that human beings were not only capable of great good, but great wrongs. The American founders carefully applied such practical wisdom to the republic they created, one which required democratic participation but which was also able to withstand lesser moments.
That included the actual process of government, itself. A selective and separated system for decision-making across branches of government was intended to help ensure that rash decisions were few and far between; and that such rash decisions could be corrected within the same system as quickly and orderly as possible.
A huge and core component of that decision-making process for the U.S. Senate is the filibuster — the chance to talk a bad bill into oblivion, or at least delay it. The filibuster has been vital to the history of our republic, but now, because it again stands in the way of things Democrats want to do, many on the left are ready to send it out into oblivion, itself.
Those so-called “scholars of democracy” ought to know their efforts to undo the filibuster will instead help to undo the very thing they declare is in danger. (Maybe they do?) The filibuster is, in part, a safeguard against one-party rule and legislation of purely political intent.
Merely the idea of filibuster means that legislators are going to more carefully consider their work and how those of an opposing political persuasion may perceive it. Likewise, the impact and importance of filibustering means it should not be used for any ordinary disagreement.
And remember that the filibuster itself has been reformed over time, with restrictions and limits emplaced on its use. And even when a senator uses the filibuster, it is no guarantee the legislation at hand will fail.
Likewise, it might be considered that it isn’t the filibuster process that’s really the problem for those Democrats, but the legislation they’re trying to pass which is the issue. That the Democrats are looking to overhaul elections with a series of federal mandates rather than bipartisan reform is strange — as is the bizarre twist that, after declaring Election 2020 the most secure in history, Democrats are suddenly concerned about the democratic process.
Republicans in some states think safeguards like proof of identity are an important voter protection to have. That would make it harder for ineligible voters to cast ballots. How could some Democrats be opposed to something like that?
If those certain Democrats were truly interested in reforming and protecting the democratic process, why would they be so concerned about the filibuster — unless they know what they’re proposing really isn’t right? Even some Democrats, like Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, recognize this, and have refused to join in.
So the 100 “scholars of democracy” might as well be looking into a mirror. The threat is their very prescription.
Expectedly, it’s important to remember one other thing when it comes to those particular Democrats and their disdain for the filibuster in advancing their policies. In 2020, Democrats used the filibuster over 320 times. Republicans used it once.
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Joe Vigliotti, a contributor to The Flip Side and a Taneytown city councilman, writes from Taneytown. His column appears every other Friday. Email him through his website at www.jvigliotti.com.