When bees decide where to build a hive, they send roughly 100 “scouts” into a potential location so they can search for, and evaluate, just the right tree, overhang or crevasse to build around.
According to Cornell entomologist Tom Seeley, when a scout finds a good build site, they dance to communicate their enthusiasm for the location. Several bees compete and the rest of the scouts take sides. The better the spot, the harder they dance. When the scouts make a decision, the losing side turns toward the job of building.
The U.S. Senate has a less functional process for resolving differences.
The Atlantic reported last year that in 2009, more filibusters were filed than from 1950 to 1969. That includes the Civil Rights act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, which, at the time, were two of the most controversial laws of in the country and were filibustered by Senator Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) until he collapsed on the Senate floor.
Numbers may be staggering enough, but the biggest problem with the current filibuster is that you don’t have to speak until you collapse anymore. Senators don’t stand up and argue their position for hours and hours until the majority gives up or reconsiders a bill.
The modern filibuster is more like a trip to a teacher’s office hours. The minority leader simply steps into the majority leader’s office and declares his party’s intention to filibuster and you’re filibustered, buster! No debate, no vote. No wonder the Senate hasn’t passed a budget in years.
Senior Democrats who remember the Bush years agree with current Republicans that the filibuster is an important tool for the minority to protect itself against domination by the majority. But the filibuster was never meant to foment the overthrow of the majority. Filibuster is meant to ensure vigorous debate.
“I feel like talking filibuster is what enables your colleagues and the American public to know whether you’re interposing some reason for delay or you’re just interested in delay for delay’s sake,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said in an interview with The Hill.
More troubling than an unprecedented amount of filibustering is the precedent that replaces the old standards for stopping debate. Since Obama took office, and the filibustering madness started, 35 freshman Senators have taken office and they’ll start their careers knowing nothing but partisan obstruction.
We don’t need to ban the filibuster or prevent filibustering on certain procedural votes as some have proposed in the past. But Senators should be required to carry out filibusters they conduct. If a member of the upper chamber has a problem with a bill, they should stand up in front of the country and state their case — as long as it takes.
If enough people agree with a filibustering senator, they can vote to sustain a filibuster. They can even participate. But we should take a lesson from bees and make them dance.