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The silliness of the filibuster

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Well I did some research and I really surprised me how openly people admit that the filibuster doesn’t serve any other purpose these days than, basically, to allow any single senator to hold the rest of the Senate hostage. Oh, they’ll say that it prevents the majority from running rough shod over the minority, but that’s all hooey. Typically more than one Senator will join forces to make it easier, but it’s still a small minority holding the rest hostage to a silly rule. And from what I could find Senators really didn’t filibuster that often until about the late 19th century. Eventually it got bad enough they had to put in what was called “Rule 22” in 1917 that allow 2/3 of the Senate to close debate or invoke “cloture” as they call it.

The idea, originally, was that every member of Congress should be allowed to debate as long as he needed. The goal was a better understanding of the law and its implications and its consequences. And that was part of the rules of both houses from the beginning, but the reason was actual debate. Well, through the early and mid parts of the 20th century the filibuster was used, not to further debate, but to allow a minority, or even one Senator to kill a bill. The federal lynching bills of 1922, 1935, and 1938 were all killed by filibusters. Y’know, it’s so ironic that Senators used a rule that empowered a minority within the Senate — to prevent laws that would have protected minorities in the general public.

From what I can find, most of the time the filibuster was used, it was used to stop good laws. And it was used — not to allow debate — but to prevent voting. And that is not what the Founding Fathers wanted.

But the lust for power has infected both Democrats and Republicans, and neither are about to end the filibuster, even though it’s obvious that nothing could be further from the idea of promoting the kind of fruitful discussion that would lead to good laws.

So when you hear all the whining and moaning about how horrible it is that the Republicans are getting rid of the filibuster, remember that, first of all —they aren’t — and second of all — it would really be a good thing if they did.

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About Danny Carlton

  • RJ

    Good post.

    The US House of Reps doesn’t have a filibuster. Is it somehow any less democratic than the US Senate???

  • The filibuster is obstructionist. It does more harm than good. If it did not exist, it would force senators to compromise more and deal with the issues before it.

    It is the equivalent of the child who says, “I’m taking my ball and going home, so there! None of you can play” !!

    It IS there to prevent voting, not to promote debate! To doubt that is to filibuster and lie to yourself.
    ZZ Bachman / ZardozZ News & Satire Portal ( http://zardozz.com/zz/ )
    Have a Blog? Ring Surf it @ ZZ OpenRing ( http://zardozz.com/ )

  • Bennett

    Nice thoughtful piece. I always wondered about the fillibuster when was growing up. What?? Talk all night to an empty room? Yield to one your buddies that talks all day and night?

    This is government?

    yo zz, you gettin much milage out of the double z thing?

  • gonzo marx


    the Senate is SUPPOSED to be different form the House

    it is the deliberative body where even the little states have the same Voice as the big ones

    ever hear about it being the “saucer” in which the heated debate is cooled ( old tea analogy..i know..but it IS in your old History books)

    part of it’s Purpose is to BE Obstructionist…to prevent too much governing and laws from being tossed out there willy nilly…and to calm temporary storms arising from fads that catch up the majority in fleeting whimsey

    remember, gentle Readers, that many of the Founders didn’t really like Government…ANY Government..and part of their purpose in designing the Rules and Structure was to help ensure that the Federal Authority could NOT do too much without a large Consensus of Opinion that whatever was before them was a good Idea that would help the Citizens and not curtail their Freedoms or Liberty

    walk lightly and think deeply before comtemplating structural changes…

    remember what almost became our Flag…

    “don’t tread on me”