The filibuster and today’s polarized politics

David French of National Review Online ponders the possibilities of a political world with no Senate filibuster. He doesn’t like what he sees.

If we think American electoral politics are fraught now, with more apocalyptic rhetoric filling the air each day, just imagine if each new election brought with it the realistic possibility of a truly fundamental swing in national policy. Single-payer might be passed in one presidential term and upended in the next. Gun-control regimes could swing wildly from president to president. And, critically, each swing would be accompanied by a convulsive, toxic political debate that deepened and intensified American polarization. …

… [T]he golden rule of modern American partisanship is do unto the other worse than they did unto you. Imagine, years down the road, sweeping California-style gun control passed after a particularly heinous mass murder, a law that would render millions of Americans criminals in an instant. It would trigger extraordinary resistance in red states and likely galvanize efforts at nullification.

Conversely, imagine Democrats’ panic at the fragility of their social-justice initiatives. The instant a new Republican president and Senate was sworn in, protests would paralyze the capital as the new legislature worked quickly to repeal everything from health-care legislation to new climate-change laws.

Moreover, let’s not forget that if the filibuster dies, it will die at a moment when our political culture remains in thrall to an endless cycle of Twitter-driven overreaction and outrage. The pressure for decisive legislative action in response to traumatic events will remain overwhelming. Ending the filibuster would mean that change would suddenly became not just possible but mandatory — and, given the extent of ideological polarization, dramatic, too.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...