Monday, January 31, 2011

QOTD: Alexander Hamilton speaks out

Quote of the Day:
As all good Constitution-reciting Republicans know, filibusters are all about protecting minority rights, encouraging compromise, facilitating careful deliberation, etc., etc. The filibuster may not be in the Constitution’s text, but it is consistent with the essential vision of the Framers.

Alexander Hamilton’s reply (in The Federalist No. 22): What a load of anti-federalist bull!

In practice, Hamilton charged, the “real operation” of the filibuster
is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of the government, and to substitute the pleasure, caprice, or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent, or corrupt junto, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority.

Technically, I grant you, Hamilton was not attacking the filibuster per se. (That particular atrocity wouldn’t come into existence for another half-century.) Nor was he talking specifically about the Obama Administration, though he might as well have been.

What he was attacking was the premise that would one day underlie the McConnell-era filibuster—the notion that a legislature should routinely require supermajority approval for any action to be taken. For one thing,
To give a minority a negative upon the majority (which is always the case where more than a majority is requisite to a decision), is, in its tendency, to subject the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser.

That’s bad enough in itself, but it becomes positively dangerous in times of serious trouble:
In those emergencies of a nation, in which the goodness or badness, the weakness or strength of its government, is of the greatest importance, there is commonly a necessity for action. The public business must, in some way or other, go forward. If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority, respecting the best mode of conducting it, the majority, in order that something may be done, must conform to the views of the minority; and thus the sense of the smaller number will overrule that of the greater, and give a tone to the national proceedings. Hence, tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good. And yet, in such a system, it is even happy when such compromises can take place: for upon some occasions things will not admit of accommodation; and then the measures of government must be injuriously suspended, or fatally defeated. It is often, by the impracticability of obtaining the concurrence of the necessary number of votes, kept in a state of inaction. Its situation must always savor of weakness, sometimes border upon anarchy.

Emphasis mine, though I imagine it would be Hamilton’s if he had known how grotesquely his “conservative” heirs have disfigured the meaning of the Constitution he helped formulate and get ratified. - Hendrik Hertzberg

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