Ironically: In Defense of the Filibuster

Unfortunately, not a satire

I have been a long-term critic of the “filibuster”, an antidemocratic legislative concept requiring supermajority approval for legislation and other functions assigned by the United States Constitution to either the House of Representatives or the Senate, although it has long been abandoned in the House and heavily diluted since the Obama presidency in the Senate.  But an open mind can be a dangerous thing, at least to long held and calcified perceptions.  And as the saying goes, “the proof lies in the pudding”.

My change of opinion, cautiously, is based on an analysis of the consequences of the destruction of judicial neutrality orchestrated by former president Barak Obama in order to mold the federal judiciary in his egoistic image, something he accomplished, at least temporarily.  The so called “nuclear option” to accomplish the foregoing was invoked in November of 2013 when the Senate Democratic majority led by Harry Reid used the procedure to eliminate the de facto 60-vote rule for judicial nominations (other than with respect to nominations to the Supreme Court) which permitted the Obama administration to pack the judiciary with judges willing to follow his lead and that of his Democratic Party on a large number of issues of interest to them.  As was foreseeable to any objective observer, when the Democratic Party lost control of the Senate, in April of 2017 the nuclear option was invoked again, this time by a Senate Republican majority led by Mitch McConnell to also eliminate the 60-vote rule for Supreme Court nominations, permitting Republicans to balance Democratic control over the federal district and circuit courts through a strong majority on the Supreme Court comprised of justices favorably disposed to Republican priorities.  The result during the Democratic Party’s Biden administration has been a totally politicized federal judiciary with proposals to make it even more politicized by increasing the size of the Supreme Court’s membership to counter its current GOP majority, and packing it with blatantly pro Democratic Party jurists.

As a result of the foregoing, every branch of the federal government is now riddled with political operatives with little interest other than in the accumulation and preservation of power and in sowing related financial benefits for their wealthy patrons, unfortunately, primarily by ever increasing military and intelligence expenditures justified by clandestine operations at home and abroad, bringing the world ever closer to nuclear annihilation, for fun and profit.  And that seems true regardless of which major political party controls the government because the electorate has little real choice in for whom or for what it votes, candidates being preselected and preapproved by an informal alliance among powerful interests which have riddled the federal bureaucracy and the judiciary with moles loyal to them (what some call the “Deep State”).

While the foregoing has been true in the United States for many decades, perhaps even centuries, it became utterly obvious when the Deep State briefly lost control during 2016.  That year, both left and right wing branches of the electorate, disgusted with omnipresent political corruption and ineptitude and the threat of perpetual war, simultaneous revolted.  The Democratic Party’s calcified establishment was attacked from within by populists who rejected attempts to found a Clinton dynasty, while the Republican Party’s similarly calcified establishment was attacked from within by populists who rejected attempts to further the already established Bush dynasty.  While, with the tacit betrayal of left wing populists by their erstwhile leader, Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Party crushed its populist wing, traditional Deep State Republicans led by the Bush brothers, John McCain, Mitt Romney and others lost control over their nomination process and saw political chameleon Donald Trump (a former Democrat, a former independent, a former follower of renegade politician Ross Perot and a best friend of Democratic Party leaders Bill and Hillary Clinton) somehow capture their presidential nomination, and then proceed, against all odds, to trounce the Deep State’s great white hope, Hillary Clinton, in the electoral college. 

Because Mr. Trump opposed the bipartisan traditionalist state of permanent belligerence and sought to dismantle NATO (which he deemed anachronistic after the end of the Cold war), to reduce defense spending and to close foreign military bases, the Deep State was forced out of its comfortable, money-lined closets to engage in a four year guerilla war against Mr. Trump, aided by all of its minions, including many in Mr. Trump’s administration and the GOP, as well as in the politicized judiciary and federal bureaucracy.  Mr. Obama had planned well for such a contingency.  The counter Trump insurgency became blatant in the controlled corporate media as well as in the monopolistic social media platforms (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Google, Instagram, etc.) which, by curtailing participation by Mr. Trump and his defenders, manipulating and engaging in censorship, distorted the free flow of information many hoped the Internet would guarantee.  Such manipulation of information as well as related manipulation of the electoral process in state’s controlled by Democratic Party governors assured Mr. Trump’s political defeat in the 2020 presidential elections, as well as Democratic control over all branches of government (with the possible exception of the Supreme Court).

The efforts were so successful, at least temporarily, that inept Deep State favorite and renowned plagiarist Joseph Biden, was successfully nominated by the Democratic Party, again quashing its populist wing (with the collaboration of its leaders) and then, in a controversial election with loud assertions of electoral fraud, managed to install Mr. Biden as president.  Objectors were promptly attacked as traitors (unlike those who objected to the results of the 2016 election) and fiercely prosecuted by a vengeful Department of “Justice”, political imprisonment no longer viewed unfavorably by the United States bureaucracy or the docile corporate media.

That democracy is a mere illusion in the United States is obvious, but then, even fully fledged real democracy is no guarantor of good governance, or of justice or of equity.  Just ask the followers of classical Greek philosopher Socrates, whose principal admirer, Plato, developed the antidemocratic philosophies which place the state over all, insisting that only the good of the state promoted the good of its subjects.  A philosophy very much in line with that of the Deep State and its minions, although its results undermine that platonic premise.

Good governance while not reliant on democracy, is dependent on its acceptance by a majority, both of the citizenry, and of society’s political and economic leaders, and that cannot exist in a society as polarized as the United States has become since Barak Obama’s 2013 brainstorm to limit the filibuster.  The filibuster forced consensus by giving the political minority in a two party dictatorship a veto over the selection of members of the federal executive and judicial branches, and that resulted in a sense of comity, a scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours realization that, at least between the two major parties, made it unlikely that power by one or the other would be perpetual.  The United States had experimented with one party government in its youth, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the Federalist Party was overwhelmed by Jefferson’s Democratic Republicans (the ancestor of today’s Democratic Party) but it quickly broke up into factions from which eventually emerged first the Whigs, and then the GOP (largely based on antipathy to the dominant political figure of that epoch, the Trump-like populist, Andrew Jackson).

So, I am forced to acknowledge two things:

  • First, that the experiment in democracy has proven a failure, not just in the United States but everywhere.  Indeed, the truth is that it has not really been seriously attempted since the communist Jerusalem Community formed by the apostles of Yeshua of Nazareth following his crucifixion, an experiment dashed when Saul of Tarsus found it more productive to coopt that Jewish sect than to destroy it, and became Paul.  The verisimilitude of democracy seems omnipresent, useful as an illusion to permit the citizenry to blow off steam, just as it does with sports fandom and other forms of popular entertainment, but govern. 
  • Second, that government has always been a forum for elites, regardless of its form, whether monarchy, empire, theocracy or republic. 

Those are “just the facts”, as fictional detective Joe Friday used to demand in the ancient television program Dragnet.

The unpleasantly pragmatic conclusion? 

That in a two party dictatorship, government through consensus is the only option for minimizing destructive polarization and thus, that for now, only if the consensual concept of filibuster is reinstated and amplified are we ever likely to reintroduce civility and a modicum of efficacy to our government.  More’s the pity.

Of course, a real solution would involve transition from a two party political system to a multi-party system such as is present in most of the world, with legislative seats allocated based on the percentage of the popular vote attained (instead of single member, first past the post systems), but that would imply a more effective verisimilitude of democracy depriving political elites of total control and thus, anathema.

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2023; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  However, he is also fascinated by mythology, religion, physics, astronomy and mathematics, especially with matters related to quanta and cosmogony.  He can be contacted at and much of his writing is available through his blog at

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