Get PJ Media on your Apple

The Filibuster and Post-Modern Democrats

Hypocrisy about the nuclear option comes easily to today's Democrats.

John Rosenberg


December 4, 2013 - 12:00 am
Page 1 of 2  Next ->   View as Single Page

If hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, then calling Harry Reid, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden hypocrites for abandoning their previous “principled” defense of Senate filibusters is an insult to hypocrites. Hypocrites, after all, recognize the power of principles and try to squirm out of the vice of violating them, but today’s post-modern Democrats feel no shame in making contradictory “principled” arguments because they no longer pay any tribute whatsoever to the virtue of neutral, non-partisan principle.

These Democrats are practicing the philosophy of post-modernism preached by liberal theorists for nearly a generation. For example, Stanley Fish, one of the most influential of these theorists, discovered that to defend racial preferences, it was necessary to reject the widely held principle that everyone should be treated by the state without regard to race, and that in order to do that, it was necessary to discredit the very idea of principle itself, which he proceeded to attempt:

  • In The Trouble With Principle (Harvard, 1999), Fish wrote that “[t]he passion I display when debunking the normative claims of neutral principle ideologues is unrelated to the passion I might display” the next day, when “I might turn around … and use the same rhetoric in the service of a cause I believed in. Nor would there be anything inconsistent or hypocritical about such behavior. The grounding consideration in both instances . . . would be my convictions and commitments; the means used to advance them would be secondary, and it would be no part of my morality to be consistent in my handling of those means.” (p. 8)
  • In There’s No Such Thing As Free Speech: And It’s a Good Thing, Too (Oxford, 1993), Fish wrote in the same vein that “‘Free Speech’ is just the name we give to verbal behavior that serves the substantive agendas we wish to advance…. [S]o long as so-called free speech principles have been fashioned by your enemy . . . , contest their relevance to the issue at hand; but if you manage to refashion them in line with your purposes, urge them with a vengeance.” (pp. 102, 114)

Whether or not the Democrats and their acolytes in the mainstream media have actually read Fish, there can be no doubt that their filibuster reversal perfectly followed the Fish-y post-modern script. Consider, for example, E.J. Dionne, the liberal Washington Post columnist, who argued in March 2005 column, “Will Republicans Go Nuclear?,” that the effort to restrict the filibuster then being considered by Senate Republicans “is a historic fight over the structure of U.S. government that could affect almost every issue in the public realm” and “a blatant effort to twist the rules and … ignore the traditions of the Senate.”

Now that it is the Democrats who have gone nuclear, however, Dionne is marching to the tune of a different drummer, admitting in a November 24 column that he “might take back the ‘traditions of the Senate” line, which he attempts to trivialize as merely “a rhetorical attempt to call conservatism’s bluff,” but then comes the justification for his inconsistency that smells exactly like rotten Fish: “But what animated my argument then is the same concern I have now: This era’s conservatives will use any means at their disposal to win control of the courts.” Ignore my actual arguments, Dionne implicitly tells readers, my only principle (“what animate[s] my argument”) is that liberals are right and conservatives are wrong. The rest is mere rhetorical fluff.

Thus Ezra Klein, the Washington Post’s occasionally thoughtful but currently disappointed Obamacare cheerleader, is demonstrably silly when he writes that “if and when Republicans recapture the White House and decide to do away with the filibuster altogether, Democrats won’t have much of an argument when they try to stop them.”

Of course they will! Perhaps Klein has forgotten that Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Joe Biden, etc., not only supported the filibuster before they found it convenient to oppose it –  flip-flops, after all, are not rare in politics, on either side of the aisle — but argued as a matter of high principle that the fate of the republic, protecting the vision of the Founders, the integrity of the Senate, the independence of the judiciary all depended on preserving the filibuster against the power-mad aggression of zealous partisans who would callously discard it. Their argument was not for a mere policy preference; it pretended to be highly principled.

A few examples:

Barack Obama, 2005

[The American people] don’t expect … one party —be it Republican or Democrat — to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet…. [E]veryone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster — if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate — then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse….

I believe some of my colleagues propose this rules change because they can get away with it rather than because they know it’s good for our democracy…. [I]f the right of free and open debate is taken away from the minority party and the millions of Americans who asked us to be their voice, I fear that the already partisan atmosphere of Washington will be poisoned to the point where no one will be able to agree on anything. That doesn’t serve anyone’s best interests, and it certainly isn’t what the patriots who founded this democracy had in mind.

Comments are closed.

All Comments   (12)
All Comments   (12)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
Repressive Tolerance - Herbert Marcuse
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
my friend's mother-in-law makes $71/hr on the laptop. She has been without work for ten months but last month her income was $19065 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Get the facts...........
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
Back around 1980, give or take a couple years, I worked for a fellow who was a liberal environmental activist. One time when we were discussing the democratic process he told me, "If you can't win playing by the rules, change the rules." That's the Democratic mindset.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
From William James:

The true is the name of whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief, and good, too, for definite assignable reasons. (1907)

Any idea upon which we can ride ... Any idea that will carry us prosperously from any one part of our experience to any other part, linking things satisfactorily, working securely, saving labor; is true for just so much, true in so far forth, true instrumentally. (1907)

So. For example: If you like your plan you can keep it. Period.

Health insurance costs will go down 2500 a year. Cost no more than your cell phone bill!

Are these blatant lies? Noooooo. You just aren't sophisticated enough to see their essential truth. They are ideas that took us prosperously and securely from one part of our experience (life without Obamacare) to another, better part (life with Obamacare). Thus they aren't lies at all.... they are TRUE!

Machiavelli would LOVE these guys!!!
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
I believe reversing oneself like this is also known as pathological lying.

Obama and Clinton before him are both exceptional practitioners.

Safest assumption: everything they say is a lie.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
It is pragmatism, but of the post modern kind. That means there is no objectivity, no truth but just cultural values masquerading as truth. This is really relativism and the bottom line with relativism is power. Power to do whatever you want: all is permitted. So politicians don't worry about truth -- they worry about getting caught... and that's not even a problem if you are a smooth actor like Obama. Truth is out the window with our cultural addiction to fantasy and entertainment. "Fiction" is in. Post modernism practitioners believe everybody is hypocritical, but why feel bad about! Contradiction lies at the bottom of life, in it deepest parts. Why try to be like a Christian and suffer through life because of a strict moral code? Have fun! Yes, have no principles that limit you or your choices. Believe whatever you want and there is no afterlife to worry about punishment for wrong doing. You are FREE to create yourself in whatever fashion you desire. You are your own lump of clay to mold as you see fit.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
The culprit is pragmatism which has saturated our culture. William James and later John Dewey were its chief proponents. Mr. Rosenberg does not name pragmatism as the philosophical approach being used, but he is correct in stating that it is an attempt to fake reality. It is. Principles presuppose a reality that is observable and knowable and follows certain absolutes that must be acknowledged in order to understand reality. The sciences are based upon such principles of reality, and a moral government must be governed by such principles. Pragmatism states that there are no principles, and whatever works is good. It is short ranged, in the moment thinking--not unlike what any animal engages in. For a while we can lie and cheat reality and get away with it, but eventually, an individual and a society will eventually crumble without adhering to the truth. Witness the Soviet Union.

Our political leaders are mostly pragmatists. Allowing the rights of a committed individual to speak up in a deliberative body in order delay an action deemed wrong or corrupt has been a vestige of a body established to protect individual rights. But look what now happens to any individual who does this. Ted Cruz is deemed an extremist. Anyone adhering to principles is an extremist and bad to the pragmatists.

Good article Mr. Rosenberg. You should have cited the influence of pragmatism, though
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
The ends justify the means!
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
Post-modernists are well aware that 80% of the American public is either unaware or can't remember anything except the name of the Kardashian spawn. They don't consider for even a second the risk of being proven hypocrites, because it in't a risk.

Likewise, the Liar in Chief knows that the thousands of lies he has spewed out were trees falling in an empty forest.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
The modern ultra left democrat party gave up any principles it once had when they buried Truman.. since, it's been an ever increasingly mafia style party of lawless hacks for whom power is their only goal..

They don't even care their policies have hurt the very people who blindly vote for them.. not the slightest concern, since their fellow travelers in the news and entertainment media have worked tirelessly to ever deaden the publics attention span, dumb down education in basic civics..

The democrat party is nothing more than a third world socialist party empowering their cronies, while barely feeding their sheep,.. make no mistake, the democrat party is after a one party socialist state, they've made election fraud into a given in every election, try and block every attempt to maintain clean elections.. these are not the acts of principled people..

The minute the democrats think they've reached the tipping point, we'll have had our last election.

They don't have statesmen anymore, just demagogues.... God help the USA, if Obama hasn't beaten enough sense into the public by now with the most corrupt presidency in history..

47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well stated!

"God help the USA, if Obama hasn't beaten enough sense into the public by now with the most corrupt presidency in history.."

I fear that 60+ years of government brainwashing (public schools and the media) has caused irreversible damage to the public's ability to think for themselves, probably half are compliant to the 'government knows best so sit down, shut up and do as you're told.' mantra.

What we are now experiencing could be likened to being 'just a little pregnant', there is no going back.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
Our best hope is that the Millenials are so used to getting everything they want from Mom and Pop and never ever having anything bad being allowed to happen to them. I think and hope that when the Dem's policies, particularly O'care, impact them with real significant money coming out of their real live bank account , the howling will be deafening.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
View All

One Trackback to “The Filibuster and Post-Modern Democrats”