By William Haupt III [Tennessee Watchdog Journalist, Columnist, Author, and Citizen Legislator via The Center Square]
Photo Credit: Public Domain
“They say that women talk too much. If you have worked in Congress you know that the filibuster was invented by men.” – Clare Boothe Luce
When our founders penned our Constitution, they knew that “democracy was far more important than just counting noses.” Knowing the fragility of human nature, they predicted every inevitable compromise people would be willing to make for security at the cost of freedom. They knew our Constitution must be chartered to limit government to protect the people from being abused by it.
The uniqueness of this masterful declaration is having the ability to agree to disagree. If we chose to engage in combat, we have rules that allow us that prerogative. We have countless tools in our arsenal when we combat these legislative fisticuffs. One such piece of ammunition is the filibuster.
In 1805, Aaron Burr wrongly challenged a Senate rule that would have made prolonged debate on legislation impossible. This gave birth to the filibuster. Whether Burr changed history more by out-dueling Alexander Hamilton or unwittingly laying the groundwork for the Senate filibuster is still debated. But the filibuster has remained a valuable part of senatorial tradition for two centuries.
Since the Senate gives an equal voice to each state, the filibuster is a valued resource to assure that all states have the opportunity to deliberate equally. It empowers each state with the same political capital and it enables the minority party to remain engaged in legislation as long as they wish.
“The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on occasions.” – Thomas Jefferson
Frank Capra’s 1939 film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” exemplifies how one naive man, Jimmy Stewart, AKA Jefferson Smith, ends up in the Senate and fights corruption with the filibuster. This is a perfect visual, nonpartisan metaphor that shows how one man can hold Congress at bay until they make changes in corrupt legislation. The movie is ostentatiously devoid of political affiliations.
The Washington Press Club screened the film at Constitution Hall with a number of congressmen, senators, and Supreme Court justices in attendance. Frank Capra claimed that over a third of them walked out before the film ever ended. Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Alben Barkley, said the movie was “silly and stupid” and complained that it “made the Senate look like a bunch of crooks.”
Joseph Kennedy, U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, sent a cable to Capra claiming that “Mr. Smith ridiculed democracy and would do untold harm to America’s prestige in Europe.” He begged Capra to withdraw it from European distribution. But Capra aired it anyway.
“I was the enemy of the major studio. I believed in one man and one film. There are no rules in filmmaking.” – Frank Capra
Most people don’t know how filibusters are used today. Senators use procedural delays, or simply “silent filibusters,” expressing the intention to delay and debate legislation to the Senate majority leader. Fearing lack of support, he doesn’t bring the bill to the floor until there is bipartisan consent.
Senators of all stripes have always been sensitive to changing the filibuster rule. They are always aware the majority becoming the minority is one election away. That in itself is a sobering thought! All attempts to end the filibuster have traditionally led to outrage and consternation by the minority.
As soon as the final tally in Georgia’s special election awarded the Senate to Democrats, President Joe Biden declared war on the filibuster. He claimed it was “a relic of the Jim Crow era!” Yet Biden used it himself for years in the Senate. Al Sharpton said anyone who supports it is a racist. But it was the Democrats, not the GOP, who abused it to prevent the passage of Congressional Republican Civil Rights legislation.
“The filibuster is a dangerous tool that the minority party uses as a means to barter.” – Joe Biden
House progressives Cori Bush (D-MO), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), and Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ed Markey (D-MA) and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris all want to ban the filibuster. They say it prevents the passage of federalizing elections, green energy legislation and strict climate change laws. They are calling Democrats who are against this, enemies of the party.
Sen. Dick Durbin recently said. “We must stop holding this Senate hostage. We can no longer allow arcane rules to block the will of the people. I urge my colleagues to defend democracy by making the changes needed.” Yet in 2018, Durbin, told Huffington Post the filibuster was a necessity to “protect the voice of the people. And making changes to the filibuster would destroy democracy.”
Democrats filibustered the GOP when they had a trifecta with the House, Senate and presidency. They filibustered a COVID-relief bill and Tim Scott’s criminal-justice bill; two of many. The Senate GOP had to end debate on judicial nominees and break filibusters 314 times under President Donald Trump.
Every other president in U.S. history has faced only a combined 244 roll-call votes over a filibuster.
Progressives claim they can’t pass bills to fund roads, protect migrant children or to end election fraud but there are no such bills in Congress. Their current infrastructure, immigration and voting bills are stuffed with policies that empower the government and abridge states rights.
“It is terrifying to think what so many voters will allow these progressives to do to them.” – Sen. John Kennedy, R-LA
The left has shown no inclination they wish to work within the established parameters of Congress. In 2017, 30 Democrats signed a letter written by Republican Sen. Susan Collins defending the filibuster as an imperative tool in maintaining the “deliberative” composure of the legislature. Now they have control of both chambers the filibuster is anti-democratic and a racist Republican tactic?
Napoleon once said, “In politics, an absurdity is not a handicap.” Led by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the party that abused the filibuster for years to prevent the passage of Civil Rights legislation now claims the filibuster is a racist rule? This is the party that forced a $2 trillion progressive wish list through Congress without a single GOP vote? The left’s desire to ban the filibuster is to silence the voice of half of America.
There are few if any legal prerequisites for holding office in America, and Jefferson Smith set a stellar example of why we need less career politicians and more Mr. Smiths in Washington. He is an iconic small town guy, picked by the political machine as least likely to upset the establishment. By the time he arrived in Washington, he knew the rules and used them to benefit his constituents.
This continued hypocritical flip-flopping by the left to tie everything they do not like to racism should concern all Americans. Every member of Congress that claims a parliamentary technique is racist because it prevents them from disenfranchising the minority must be censured. Changing the rules of the Senate to empower one political party over another is antithetical to republican democracy.
“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures.” – Harry S. Truman
About the Author: William Haupt III is a retired professional journalist, author, and citizen legislator in California for over 40 years. He got his start working to approve California Proposition 13. His work also appears in The Center Square, The Western Journal, Neighbor Newspapers, KPXJ 21 (Shreveport, LA), Killeen Daily Herald, Aberdeen American News, InsideNova, Kankakee Daily Journal, Monterey County Weekly, Olean Times Herald, The Greeneville Sun and more. Follow William on Twitter @iii_haupt.