senate comity, the filibuster, and star trek: a taste of armageddon [View all]
i really love the word "comity" in the context of the senate. it's the one truly bipartisan value all senators agree on -- the notion that whatever rotten things politicians say about each other, whatever political disagreements, innocents may be imprisoned, children may starve, the just may suffer, and death may rain from above, but still, senators will play squash together amicably.
as a bonus, the word, when spoken, often sounds quite like "comedy".
"senate comity" is usually trotted out as the reason not to "go nuclear" and end, or even slightly modify, the filibuster. the idea is that changing the senate rules will so enrage the republicans that they might stop playing squash with us.
so the consumer financial protection bureau can be kneecapped by filibuster, huge portions of the judiciary can remain vacant by filibuster, reasonable legislation and appointments can be delayed -- but we do nothing about it so a few senators can continue to play squash together. real people can suffer, entire sections of law may remain unenforced, case after case is stalled, but a few senators continue to play squash together, so i guess all is well.
about 45 years ago, there was an episode of star trek (the old series) called "a taste of armageddon", wherein our beloved crew visit a planet enveloped in a kind of virtual war. the computer simulates the war and determines the daily casualties, and each side executes the victims that the computer has determined the other side would have killed. the idea was to remove all the inconvenience of war, so that buildings aren't destroyed, and life is quite normal, at least up until you or someone you love is expunged.
eventually, captain kirk, in blatant defiance of the famous non-interference prime directive, destroys the computer. evidently, while this computer has had no downtime in centuries, they nevertheless have no backup system, and are forced to either negotiate for peace or fight war the old-fashioned way.
the filibuster seems to have become the senate's version of a taste of Armageddon. they can wage political war with real casualties but without the ugliness, the noise, the destructiveness, and the messiness of actual political war. no one has to stand for hours, no one really has to pay a political price, in some cases no one even need reveal their name. in creating such a system, the senate falls victim to a fate similar to the planets in the star trek episode -- mired in endless war with heavy casualties yet no compelling drive to sue for peace.
the time has come to squash the machine. the anonymous and paper filibusters have proven far too damaging to be allowed to continue. senators simply cannot play enough squash to justify leaving hundreds of posts vacant, often for years.
if the filibuster is deemed worthy of another chance, then those choosing to wield that weapon must be made to put their political necks on the line. it doesn't need to be specifically a standing filibuster (i don't think making the senate more like an episode of "survivor" is necessarily an improvement) but it does need to be something politically difficult to initiate and maintain. i can be flexible on the particulars but not on the principle.
and if comity is a casualty, so be it. the loss of a few senate squash matches is a small price to pay for getting a more functional government.