I wanted the Democrats to win each Senate race. They did quite well overall in the states where we know the results. We still don’t know the results for Alaska, Minnesota and Georgia. Georgia may be determined fastest because there is a run-off election on December 2.
The media shows its lack of understanding of the US Senate with its obsessive focus on the question of whether the Democrats will have 60 votes counting the two Independents who caucus with the Democrats. The media assumption is that 60 Senate seats lead to a filibuster proof Senate. Most of the media neither knows nor understands the way the Senate now works. Sixty Senate Democrats does not guarantee votes on major issues.
Senate Democrats rarely are unanimous, even though on most issues a substantial number vote together. They are mostly joined by the two Independents (Sanders of VT and Lieberman of CT). The consistent exception has been the Iraq war where Lieberman filibustered with the Republicans and blocked the Senate from voting on the merits of the issue numerous times.
Senate conservatives and reactionaries have mainly used the filibuster to block progressive change. Their use of the filibuster literally prevents an issue from being brought to a vote. Historically, its most notorious use prevented civil rights progress on basic issues such as anti-lynching, protection of voting rights, and outlawing racial discrimination. Its occassional use by liberals (rarely successful) does not justify it. The filibuster stands as the weapon of those determined to block necessary change with their fierce determination to prevent issues from being decided. It protects the status quo and privilege.
As the Republican party presidential election base narrows to southern and border states, southern, border, and small state Senators may resort to the filibuster as they did in the Bush years. In the 110th Congress (the one coming to an end), Republicans resorted to the filibuster 94 times, thereby setting a new and dubious record.
The way to overcome filibusters is to recognize that liberals and Democratic and Republican moderates have to negotiate workable compromises to isolate the Republicans who say no to everything constructive. That is likely to be more possible in an Obama Administration that will stand for pragmatic problem-solving changes, in contrast to the Bush record of blocking solutions to pressing public problems.
On issues such as energy and health care, negotiations will have to occur both among Democrats and between Democrats and Republicans to get that desired result.
I want Begich, Franken, and Martin to win respectively in Alaska, Minnesota, and Georgia. They will add progressive voices to the Senate. The need to bring the small band of Democratic and Republican moderates along to join the liberals, and thwart the likely filibustering opposition of the Senate Republican leadership, continues.
The ability to negotiate successfully is at the heart of moving the progressive and Obama agenda through the Senate minefield.
This post originally appeared on Experience Advocacy on November 17, 2008.