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Common Sense Prevails

Senate Democrats were right to overturn out-moded flilbuster rules.

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A thought — actually a whoop of joy on our part — concerning the action of a Senate majority the week before last in taking the overdue step of scrapping antique rules regarding the filibuster — at least, in the case of

presidential appointments. The Republican minority's habit of obstructing such appointments via the filibuster and, in effect, holding them for ransom has in recent years made a mockery of fair play and, in case after delayed case, brought the most routine workings of the executive branch into jeopardy.

This, after all, is the issue — not whether this side or that side is right about such-and-such a matter, but whether government can be allowed to function at its most essential and basic levels.

We have not yet reached the point of futility that the English Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell did in 1653 when he addressed the infamously inactive Rump Parliament with these words: "You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. ... Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!" That Cromwell, who took power after the beheading of King Charles I, was already something of a dictator and afterward became more of one is germane. When parliamentary government becomes incapable of reaching action based on compromise, it has lost its rationale for being.

And compromise, which requires that disagreements be somehow transformed into a consensus that all principals and parties can live by, is surely the very point of the constitutional democracy that our country's founders had in mind. The filibuster — a valuable tool if used sparingly — is destructive of democratic ends if, as has happened in recent years, it is invoked on virtually all occasions merely to frustrate the will of the majority.

So we congratulate the Senate majority for taking this first measured action to restrict abuse of the device of the filibuster. It left in place the filibuster option for debates on policy (as against personnel) matters, and this, too, we approve of, for now.

But it is important to remember that the filibuster is not embedded in the Constitution. This procedure, whereby a minority of 41 members of the Senate's 100 members can indefinitely block cloture of debate, is purely situational, a creature of Senate procedural rules only. It can be, and should be, subject to amendment. Common sense, as well as the Constitution itself, tells us so.

•A tip of the hat here to Memphis' Alan Lightman, who seven years ago launched an initiative in Cambodia to widen the liberties of girls and women in that country, the poorest in Southeast Asia and the victim of Pol Pot's savagery only a generation ago. As related by Rabbi Micah Greenstein of Temple Israel to the Memphis Rotary Club this week, the inaugural event of "Memphis Cambodia," a continuing program which locates this effort in the history of female empowerment, takes place Saturday at the Paradiso Theater. We recommend it.

Our Weekly Editorial Cartoon by Jeff Danziger

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