The Corner

Re: Nr On Filibusters

I’m happy to take that bait, Jonah.

NR’s earlier position was based on two things: an interpretation of the Constitution that I think was wrong (and I say that acknowledging, again, that it was the same wrong position I held at the time), and an assessment of the politics that was always debatable at best (i.e., that the politics of the filibuster were bad for the Democrats–recall that we have had very spirited Corner debates on this subject.)

NR’s new position seems to be Constitution-neutral. It neither rejects nor revisits the legal position taken back in December, although it does assert that the Constitution does not require filibusters (in response to an absurd claim that it does, made by some Democrats). The new position, instead, is singularly politics-dependent.

In that light, I think it’s appropriate. First, politics are always fluid. Leaving aside that I disagreed, and still disagree, with NR’s assessment of the politics of filibusters for the Dems (I think it is good politics for them in the greater scheme of things), the politics has unquestionably changed for the GOP. The Republicans are now more invested in the issue than they were before. If they fail, the failure will be more costly.

I don’t think it betrays principle to alter one’s position when conditions on the ground have changed. You frame the issue in the kind of negative light that is the hallmark of a skillful polemicist (“Is NR’s argument that ending the filibuster would be bad but now that GOP prestige is on the line it’s necessary?”). In fact, though, if the question was always one of political calculation, prestige is an unavoidable component of politics. So, changing one’s position because of an actual change in risk to prestige is not politically unprincipled–and it’s entirely rational.

Of course, if I am correct that filibusters violate the Constitution, we’d be obligated to oppose filibusters regardless of the politics. I don’t understand NR to have altered its stand on that, though.


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