I thought when Senate Democrats so easily eliminated the filibuster for executive appointees that was going to be the final nail in the coffin of the filibuster myth, but I was mistaken. The myth that the filibuster is some insurmountable hurdle, instead of something which can easily be dealt with, lives on in Kevin Drum’s defense of President Obama’s first year. From Drum:
As for Obama, could he have done more? I suppose he probably could have, but it’s a close call. Even with his earnest efforts at bipartisanship at the beginning of his presidency, he only barely passed any stimulus at all. If instead he’d issued thundering populist manifestos, even Susan Collins would have turned against him and the stimulus bill would have been not too small, but completely dead. Ditto for virtually everything else Obama managed to pass by one or two votes during his first 18 months. If that had happened, the economy would have done even worse, and if you somehow think this means the public would have become more sympathetic to the party in the White House, then your knowledge of American politics is at about the kindergarten level. Democrats would have lost even more seats in 2010 than they did.
Imagine it is 2009. Obama’s popularity is still sky high and a huge number of Democrats in Congress owe their seats to his big coattails. Picture him going to Congressional Democrats saying he needs them to pass something, say a $1 trillion stimulus or a health care law. He says the economy and his entire presidency depends on it, but the Senate Republicans are actively trying to sabotage him so he needs Congressional Democrats to do it without them.
Do we really think Senate Democrats would have responded, “tough luck Obama we think letting Republicans filibuster things is the most important thing ever?” Or do we think they would have found a way to do it by changing the filibuster or using reconciliation, just like Republicans did a few years early to pass Bush’s tax cuts?
I can’t guarantee Senate Democrats would have responded correctly, but this is a legitimate strategy that could have produced a dramatically different result. As we recently saw when pushed Democrats are willing and able to change the Senate rules.
Contrary to Drum’s claim there was nothing approved by only one or two votes in 2009, because Democrats simply preferred having over 60 votes for everything. Obama chose to live under this artificial constraint but he could have tried to fight to get rid of it to greatly expand his options.
Drum’s argument only works if you take the filibuster myth as fact. I can almost guarantee in the future once the filibuster is fully eliminated people will look back in disbelief at how pathetic it was that Obama let his first term to be crippled by something so stupid and easily dealt with.