In Politics, Hypocrisy Rules

NPR’s On the Media yesterday included a segment about the filibuster (Is 60 the Magic Number?). It echoed the views I expressed last November, when I suggested we should just get rid of the filibuster altogether. But it added a further twist. Here’s the deal:

• In the 1960s, the filibuster (or the threat of one) prevented just 8% of major legislation from becoming law. In the 80’s, it jumped to 27%. After the 2006 election, after Democrats took control of the Senate and Republican’s became the minority, it went up to 70%. In 2009, it reached almost 100%!

• In other words, this idea that “you need 60 votes” to get anything passed in the Senate is a relatively new phenomenon, (mis-)used especially by Republicans.

• The irony here is that back in 2005, the Republican majority protested Democratic filibusters of judicial nominees, arguing that Democrats were obstructionist and that “straight up-or-down votes” should be allowed to come to the floor. Amazingly, the Republicans carried the day; Democrats surrendered their weapon, agreeing to avoid filibusters of judicial nominees, except in the most “extraordinary circumstances.”

• Yet today, as the On the Media segment points out, there is virtually no media coverage declaring that the Republicans are being even more obstructionist — and hypocritical to boot. The filibuster situation is reported as if the 60 vote requirement was written into the Constitution or “handed down by Moses” — rather than being a recent development of the last few decades, and greatly exaggerated by Republicans in the last few years.

• How is it that the Republican’s get away with this — opposing the filibuster successfully back in 2005 and yet using the filibuster with great success in 2009?

This gets to what I said in my previous post: Republicans are better than Democrats at framing the issue. Or, as James Fallows noted in the On The Media segment: “The Republicans are simply better at positioning this for the press than the Democrats have proven to be.” You think?

Still, I remain a bit mystified as to how all the major news organizations, from the New York Times on down, have been so easily duped.

If I ruled the world, I would want every politician to take a hypocrisy test before deciding on a position. That is, a Republican might ask him- or herself: “If I am about to be critical of the Democrats for doing X in a current situation, would I be just as critical of the Republicans for doing the exact same thing if the situation were reversed?” If the answer is “no,” then the Republican is being a hypocrite. At this point, they must either shut up or be immediately removed from office. Same for the Democrats. Imagine how refreshing politics would be if my fantasy ever became reality!

In the real world, Republicans appear proud of their hypocrisy. They have no shame in what they are doing. They laugh at how easy it is to dupe the public and get the media to play along. Democrats don’t seem to do this as much. But perhaps that’s only because they haven’t figured out how to be as successful at it.

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