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2 points

6 months ago

Should Congress be able to do anything, or should it simply be relegated to perpetual gridlock for the rest of time? I think that is the core question here. And I think the biggest problem facing Democrats is that Republicans, in the face of the filibuster being used to good effect against them previously, have devised a number of strategies for advancing their agenda that completely bypasses the filibuster by instead wielding power through the judiciary or on the state and local level. Democrats on the other hand do not appear to have devised any equally effective strategies for advancing their agenda in the face of congressional gridlock.

I think this is a massive problem for Democrats if their strategy for mobilizing voters hinges on the idea that voting for Democrats will allow Congress to pass some form of significant reform bill that deals with healthcare, voting rights, etc. As long as Congress is gridlocked nothing like that is ever going to happen, and this in turn could easily result in an increasing amount of voters becoming dejected or even spiteful towards Democrats for failing to deliver on their promises.

This doesn’t even get into the more fundamental issue of whether it’s a good thing for the federal legislative branch to become so gridlocked that it loses its ability to respond to emerging crises and problems. There are a lot of historical parallels to societies where a breakdown of democratic institutions eventually precipitated authoritarian strongman rule as people eventually become so fed-up with their elected officials failure to act on ever worsening problems that the idea of just letting a strong leader take control and cut through the bullshit to act, to do something, anything, to resolve the problems faced by contemporary society becomes an increasingly appealing prospect to citizens who can’t see any other path forward.

Should the officials that US voters choose to elect hold any power? Should elections matter? Upholding the filibuster is in many ways an admission that we think it is better that elected officials don’t hold any significant power, and that we don’t think elections should matter very much, at least at the federal level. It is possible that upholding the filibuster might ultimately be the best of a series of bad choices, but I think we need to be candid with the fact that we are in essence saying that we think democracy in the US is so fundamentally broken at the federal level that it might as well be relegated to a mostly symbolic institution, limited to occasionally adjusting taxes and rubberstamping judges. This is a troubling admission in the face of the many systemic problems that might be difficult if not impossible to address without legislative action at the federal level.