Commentary Magazine


Who’s the Hypocrite? The Times Filibuster Flip-flops

This morning the New York Times editorial page weighs in again on the question of Senate filibusters. Times editors are, as you might expect, appalled by the prospect that the Republican minority may try to use the arcane rules of the Senate to block some of President Obama’s liberal court nominees. More than that, they accuse the Republicans of being hypocrites because only a few years ago when they were in the majority, they deplored Democratic judicial filibusters.

That’s true, as far as it goes. Some Republicans have changed their tune about filibusters now that they are the ones in the minority. But they are not the only hypocrites here and maybe not even the biggest ones.

That honor would go to the Times‘ editorial page itself. You see, the one element of the filibuster flip-flops story that the editorial fails to mention is the newspaper’s own changing position. Back on Jan. 1, 1995, the Times editorialized on the question, and in a piece titled “Time to Retire the Filibuster” wrote that the tactic should be eliminated since it was the “tool of the sore loser.” But ten years later when a Democrat was no longer president, the Times changed its mind.

On March 6, 2005, when a Democratic minority tried to thwart the judicial nominees of a Republican president with a Republican majority in the Senate, the paper was all for a filibuster. It even chided Republicans who were trying to eliminate the tactic by saying it wasn’t very conservative of them to try and destroy this time-honored practice.

This editorial titled “Senate on the Brink” was followed by another on March 29, 2005, called “Walking in the Opposition’s Shoes,” in which they admitted their position on filibusters had changed. Their answer to the chorus of critics who called them out on this point: So what?

At least that last piece was honest enough to acknowledge that their editorial page’s positions had shifted with the fortunes of the Democratic Party. But today’s piece, in which they again flipped on filibusters, was all bile and no perspective. As far as the Times‘ editorial page is concerned the only hypocrites on the issue are the ones who disagree with them. The only thing that is consistent about the paper’s stands in 1995, 2005, and now again in 2009 is that they think filibusters should only be employed by Democrats against Republicans. Never underestimate their editorial page’s ability to try and cloak pure partisanship with the veneer of principle, even when the principles change along with the party in power in Washington.