90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Politics

The last time the filibuster was used responsibly: Actor Jimmy Stewart in a scene from the 1939 film, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." (Columbia/AP)

You can only blame so much on Ted Cruz.

Doubtless he’s the most patronizing, smarmy, self-promoter ever to get elected to the U.S. Senate, an institution rife with competition for that dubious distinction. But at the end of the day, he’s just one guy. Even if you add in Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, that still only makes three — out of 100.

Call me crazy but didn’t we just have an election? It was a big election about big issues and it cost a fortune — in fact, more money than has ever been spent on any election in the history of the United States. The point of all that money, and the debates, and all those 30-second spots, was to settle a bunch of nagging national questions about who we are, what we want, and how we should pay for it.

I mean really, is preserving the filibuster more important than making even a little progress?

You may recall that the guy who was elected president won by five million votes — not exactly a squeaker. His electoral vote victory margin was even more impressive: 332 to 206. The Senate Democratic Caucus controls 55 percent of the seats in the Senate — a solid majority. The Democrats also gained seats in the House, giving the president firm control of two-thirds of America’s lawmaking apparatus to advance what has become America’s lawmaking agenda.

Speaking of that agenda, is anybody unclear about it? By now, all of us can practically recite the president’s litany of campaign pledges from memory: fair taxes for a balanced budget; health care and higher education for all; stronger consumer protection; and an end to the wars in the Middle East. Everyone, that is, except for the 53 Democratic senators elected to implement them.

Instead, their first official act was to (essentially) leave the filibuster rule intact — which amounts to the political equivalent of knowingly placing a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists. As a direct result of that choice, voters since have had to sit by helplessly and watch everything from routine cabinet and judicial appointments to sensible gun safety legislation get incinerated in a mushroom cloud of the Democratic Party’s own making. I mean really, is preserving the filibuster more important than making even a little progress?

The last time the filibuster was used for a good cause was in 1939 — in Hollywood. In Frank Capra’s Academy Award-winning “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” Jimmy Stewart plays Jefferson Smith, a noble, idealistic, independent — and, yes, fictional — senator forced to use the filibuster to focus public attention on the secret dirty dealings of some big money bad guys in his district.

Today, in the real world, the big money bad guys are firmly in charge. And they have only one goal in mind — preserve the worst of the status quo at all costs.

Lose the election? Just use the filibuster to prevent the winner from picking a cabinet, or filling empty seats in the court system. Don’t have a 51-vote majority? Just use the filibuster to move the goalposts to require 60 votes in order to pass anything at anytime. The message to voters? Elections don’t matter. Your vote doesn’t count.

Stop everything. Force a national conversation on why, in the “world’s greatest deliberative body,” a simple majority isn’t enough to get anything done?

At long last the president has asserted his firm belief that it doesn’t have to be this way. With his latest three nominations to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, he has challenged the Senate’s Democratic majority to fight for majority rule.

And by fight, I mean stand up on the floor and use the filibuster to change the filibuster. Bring that shameful institution to a screeching halt. Stop everything. Force a national conversation on why, in the “world’s greatest deliberative body,” a simple majority isn’t enough to get anything done?

If sensible, popular, national legislation can’t muster 51 votes in the U.S. Senate, I can live with that. I wouldn’t be happy about it. But I’d accept it. What’s unacceptable is when a bill earns a majority of votes and still doesn’t pass. Any senator who can live with that outcome doesn’t deserve to be there.

Related:

Tags: Barack Obama, Election 2012, Guns

The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • dust truck

    Or you can make them actually ATTEND their filibuster. only Rand Paul had the tenacity to do that.

    • Richard M. Mathews

      Yes, we need a talking filibuster. Right now you don’t need to even show up to filibuster. Oddly, not showing up for a cloture vote counts as supporting the filibuster. Supposedly not being there indicates you want to keep debating. That is ridiculous.

      Reid fumbled in January. He talked about reform, then accepted a Republican deal that actually gave nothing. We need him to really take action and let serious filibuster reform come to a vote. Sign here to put pressure on Reid:

      http://tinyurl.com/avoidNV

    • Paul Jacobs

      No, the time for talking filibusters as solution has come and gone. It is time to end them forever. And Rand Paul is a pathetic neoconservative corruption of what his father stood for. His stunt did nothing to show that the talking kind are any better.

  • isarose

    I just re-read the Constitution, and I can’t find a provision for Congress being required to vote by majority. I always assumed it was in there. How can we call ourselves a democracy if majority rule does not prevail?

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      where did you see anything about us being a democracy in there? when did we start calling ourselves a democracy? i would hate if we were subject to the tyranny of the masses

  • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

    this guy just realized his vote does not count. what took him so long? it sounds like he is a democrat I wonder why he was not fighting against the filibuster when the republicans were in the majority.

    i was a little confused by the statement about “sensible gun safety legislation” i dont recall any being offered recently.

    • townie1952

      Maybe because the Democratic minority respected the vote of the electorate and did not obstruct ALL legislation proposed by the majority party. Republican ought give it a try, it will improve their approval ratings

      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        yeah, they did vote for the patriot act. way to go

      • vbscript2

        Yeah, they did try to obstruct most of it. They made exceptions for starting wars and restricting personal freedoms, but most of the Republican Senators are making the same exceptions now.

  • Kathy

    Don’t worry, the filibuster is going to disappear. As soon as the Republicans have a 51 vote majority, the filibuster will be eliminated within nano-seconds.

    • vbscript2

      Because that’s exactly what they did when they controlled the Senate for a decate before 2007, right? Oh, wait, no, it isn’t.

  • Paul Jacobs

    If they did this, I would believe they had some remote intention of doing their jobs. And everything the senate has done in my lifetime seems crafted to prevent that impression at any cost, similarly to how democrats have worked tirelessly to ensure they will always be able to say that they did what the republicans said would make them happy.

    Good luck.

  • Vandermeer

    I vote for a talking filibuster with a twitter feed underneath the blabbing senators.

  • plaintext

    Strom Thurmond (D-SC) has the dubious distinction of being the longest fillibusterer on record. He spent 54 days of Senate business trying to defeat the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Disgraceful and ultimately unsuccessful.

    I just wish they’d use the fillibuster to kill the inane courtesy bills like National Rutabega Day or whatever. But those things get passed unanimously. Go figure.

TOP