Wednesday, May 12, 2021


Sixty years ago, U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, Maine Republican, took a bold stand for American values. In a speech dubbed the “Call to Conscience,” Chase Smith called out the anti-freedom McCarthyist witch hunts and urged members of her own party to uphold the Constitution. Her actions were not without risk, but history judges her stand as the right one.

Today, two U.S. Senators are similarly standing up against their own party to protect America’s values — except this time, it’s two Democrats: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) and Sen. Joe Manchin (West Virginia). By defending the Senate filibuster, despite intense pressure from their colleagues and far-left activists, Ms. Sinema and Mr. Manchin are standing on the right side of history.

As a conservative, I don’t generally agree with most of Ms. Sinema and Mr. Manchin’s policy positions. However, I have to give credit where it’s due, because this issue transcends partisan politics. It goes to the fabric of the American system of governance.

In the past, elected officials of both parties believed in compromise, debate, and input from both sides no matter who was in power. However spirited certain debates might become, public servants always defended our Constitutional systems. Yet today, activist liberals and left-wing insiders are calling for the elimination of the filibuster so they can pass their agenda on party-line votes.

This isn’t how our government was meant to operate. Our Founding Fathers disagreed fervently on major issues, yet even in the midst of turmoil and war, they managed to find compromise and build our country into what it is today. They crafted a system preventing a “tyranny of the majority” by ensuring that both minority parties and smaller states could have input into important decisions. The filibuster keeps that accountability system in check.

Many opponents of the filibuster claim that it impedes Congress from quickly enacting legislation, and the thing is, that’s exactly right! If Congress could pass any legislation on a simple majority vote, both parties would be tempted to ram through as many partisan items as they could. Every time control of Congress flipped parties (as it does every few years) then you’d see a significant swing in that direction. The Senate should be the ‘cooling saucer’, not an older, white version of the U.S. House as a current U.S. Senator remarked to me recently.

Instead of torching long-standing institutions, lawmakers of both parties should work together. Compromise shouldn’t be a four-letter word. As Sen. Manchin said in his recent guest column, “Generations of senators who came before us put their heads down and their pride aside to solve the complex issues facing our country. We must do the same.” Ms. Sinema for her part, similarly said that senators should “change their behavior” to get things done, rather than change our institutions. 

These statements echo those of Sen. Margaret Chase Smith in 1951: “I think that it is high time for the United States Senate and its members to do some real soul searching and to weigh our consciences as to the manner in which we are performing our duty to the people of America.” 

Within these statements lie the problem in Washington, and the solution. Gridlock exists because our representatives allow it to, not because of the filibuster. And gridlock can end if they choose to work together. Ending the filibuster will only entrench both sides in their respective tents, and compromise will go extinct. I’m glad Sen. Sinema and Sen. Manchin recognize this, and I hope they, like Chase Smith, don’t back down.

• Matt Mackowiak is president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group. He’s a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney reelection campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators.

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