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Rules change to suit game

I wish I understood sports better, because I'm pretty sure there's a lesson about the U.S. Senate in there somewhere.

In sports, games evolve over time, finding the right balance of challenge and success for both players and spectators. There is enough hardship to make it interesting, but enough expectation of scoring to inspire effort.

That's right, the Gazette sports staff confirms. Major League Baseball, for example, lowered the pitcher's mound in the 1960s. Pitchers had become so adept at drilling balls down on the hitter that the best players in the country couldn't hit .300.

In basketball, the hand check has been outlawed. Purist golfers sniff at the anchored putter.

In each case, rules preserve what is valued in the game -- winning certainly, but for the right reason and in the correct way. When players or techniques evolve to a point that the balance of difficulty and success is upset, everyone examines and adjusts the rules to restore that balance, like kids on a playground, renegotiating the distance of their makeshift contests. They're looking for something difficult enough, but still attainable.

All of that comes to mind watching the U.S. Senate this week vote to change the filibuster rules. Now, instead of requiring 60 votes to end a filibuster on executive-branch and judicial nominations (except for Supreme Court nominees), senators may cut off a filibuster delay with a simple majority, or 51 votes.

It's a significant course correction. For years, Senate Republicans have dallied and delayed on something as important as confirming judges and other appointments for courts around the country (to an even greater degree than Democrats formerly did). Having failed to convince a majority of Americans to give them the White House, Republicans seem to think it is OK, or even their duty, to simply plant their feet and obstruct anyone else from conducting the people's business.

In baseball, there are rules that require the hitter to enter the batter's box and the pitcher to throw the ball. They cannot just stand there and refuse to play.

In effect, that has been what Senate Republicans have done. Except in government, the stakes are a lot higher than just tedium.

No doubt in some future term, the boot will be on the other leg. Democrats, opposed to some Republican nominee, will have cause to momentarily regret the rule change. But the fair sportsman or woman will shrug it off and acknowledge that our system is that majority rules.

On The Washington Post's "Wonkblog" this week, writers Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas describe an earlier rule change made to protect people from the tyranny of a minority.

In the 1960s, the House Rules Committee could block legislation whenever it wanted. As that committee was led by devout segregationist Howard Smith, a Virginia Democrat, House Rules was the place civil rights legislation was sent to die.

But President John F. Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and House Speaker Sam Rayburn decided to change the process. They enlarged the Rules Committee, which then let legislation come to the full House, leading to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

This week's change in Senate rules could be as important to the country, Klein and Soltas conclude. The change doesn't clearly favor one party in particular. "Rather, it favors majorities over minorities."Miller, the Gazette's editorial page editor, can be reached at dawn@wvgazette.com.


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