#125: Eliminating the Filibuster is Political Stupidity

The American system of government has worked for more than 240 years. It survived a Civil War, Segregation, Fascism, Communism, two World Wars, the Cold War, 9/11, and many other challenges that would have destroyed any other system. There is no other single country on the planet of comparable size and complexity that has lasted that long in recent history, sporting basically the same political system. Sure, the system has involved and improved over time – expanding citizenship and voting rights, ending slavery, ending segregation, etc. Such a realization should inspire a sense of respect, of humility, and of care for anyone wanting to change it.

A core aspect of the American system – one which I, personally as a German, have trouble understanding – is the two-party system, which is itself an outcome of the winner-takes-all voting system. Modern Germany, like most European countries, has a multi-party system, relying on coalition-building and a much more diverse representation of interest. Nevertheless, Germany has quite some reason for humility due to its history when it comes to teaching others a political lesson.

The two-party system can seem unnecessarily reductive, simplistic, combative, sometimes downright asinine. Sure, there are more parties in the US, but they have difficulty rising to the top due to the voting system. But what the system does is create clarity, and the parties themselves are ideologically more diverse within than European parties – at least they used to be.

The combative nature of the system is both compounded and counteracted by the principle of checks and balances. Every branch of government (Executive, Legislature, Judicature) is set out to control the others. Similarly, elections are phased throughout so that basically, every 2 years power gets redistributed. Furthermore, Federalism – through the States and the use of the Electoral College for voting for the President – creates further obstructions to a strong central rule. As a result, the only way the country moves forward is together. Every single hyper-partisan instinct won’t survive long.

This is the one winning principle of the United States: Nothing can happen until a broad bipartisan majority wills it so. This creates ultimate stability and longevity. Revolutionaries that want to change everything all at once are not happy with that, of course – but those believing that government should serve the people, and that the people need a system that does not suddenly careen into chaos, so that their lives are peaceful and predictable, while still allowing for injustices to be corrected, as they have since the beginning.

The Filibuster guarantees that the minority, the opposition, cannot be railroaded, cannot just be ignored. You may not agree with the opposition, you may hate them, but you need to work with them to create a compromise. That is, of course, annoying. But more importantly, after the next election, you may well end up in the minority position yourself. Which serious politician will want to give up this safeguard? Which idiot would support undermining their future importance?

Nobody wins forever, nobody loses forever. A system that requires constant compromise, that forces two sides to work together, is not a weak system, it is not unjust, it is not somewhat deficient. We may get where we want to get a bit slower, but eventually, we’ll get there together. But we all need to do the political work to convince the other side that whatever needs to be done will be done for everyone, and in everyone’s interest, rather than only in the interest of one side, no matter how right they think they are.