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When most people hear the word ‘filibuster’, they automatically think of Philip Armbruster, inventor of the steam banjo and the self-ladling tureen. In fact the filibuster is a vital tool in the legislative sabretache, used to ensure that a minority group, such as the American public, does not have its best interests steamrolled by the marching jackboots of the majority in power. And yet, there is a fierce Republican effort to do away with this ancient tradition. What is a filibuster, you ask stupidly? I groan. The word ‘filibuster’ comes from the Dutch vrijbuiter, from which we also get ‘freebooter’. The original sense of the word was that of a mercenary, someone inclined to take hostages. It came into its modern sense when officially condoned in 1872: the exercise of the right to ‘unlimited debate’ to literally talk legislation to death, sheer loquacity grinding legislative business to a halt.
As many nanocephalous nabobs of nugatory nonsense have opined in recent days, the filibuster is a dirty trick. But so what? It works, and it’s legal. It is galling to consider that these same anti-filibuster Republicans have made free use of the practice over the years, especially back when they were right-wing Southern Democrats- the eburneous Right striving to keep the ebenious Left down for the better part of a century. (When Civil Rights legislation became law, they switched parties.) There is, for the record, no official tally of which party made the most filibusters: a filibuster has no clear margins. You know one when you see one, but it doesn’t get recorded as such. I have this directly from the Senate Historian’s office (thank you, Mary). I can say that a Republican holds the record for longest filibuster (Strom ‘Darth’ Thurmond at 24 hours, 18 minutes, not including the rest of his career; see ‘Civil Rights’ above). And the mere threat of a filibuster to stall Senate business is all it usually takes. Why, then, would the oft-minority Republicans want to be rid of something that has been so useful to them?
Because, gang, they don’t ever intend to be in the minority again. Between the recent spate of miraculous Republican-favoring election results, gerrymandering (another word for another day), and the complete and total collapse of the opposition, Republicans are feeling pretty confident that the filibuster won’t be required by them any time soon. They’re packing the courts, they’re rewriting the laws, and they’re in charge of the voting machines. Add to this a gullible, ignorant, fear-crazed, superstitious, xenophobic electorate, and you have yourself a Thousand-Year Right. It never works out that way, of course. We’ll get sick of $10.00 gallons of gasoline and FBI stings and Terror Alerts (‘alert’ doesn’t even enter into the thing) and Ann Coulter’s skeletal knees and fascist Bible nuts peeking into our bedroom windows; we’ll grow weary of joblessness and deficits and wars and the hatred of the rest of the world. It’s only a matter of time. Hitler, whose name I quite cheerfully invoke when thinking not of Bush but of Karl Rove, the Frank Oz to this president’s Fozzy the Bear, only managed 12 years. Rove, through Bush, will get at least 8 years.
But 2008 is a long, long way off, with nothing but steaming devil scats strewing the path between now and then. The Republican majority will shrink like a polar bear’s privates, Democrats will probably attempt to piece together some semblance of a functional government again, and humanity-based legislation will start coming back to the Senate floor. The Republicans will need the filibuster, and they won’t have it. So why force the issue? Why buck history? Many people are saying this is about the judges. The entire filibuster debate began when Bush re-nominated a gaggle of ideological whackbags to the courts, persons so patently unsuited to the job that even the Democrats didn’t have the stomach to shoo them in. Part of the grand Republican strategy for fixing the game while they can involves stacking the courts in their favor. A judge is a lifetime thing. And these cranks are destined to become Supreme Court justices one day. But I think it’s a more personal vendetta that drives the Republicans to attempt to defang the filibuster. It’s the sheer meanness in the right-wing character. For people like Bill ‘Cat Surgeon’ Frist, it is not enough to defeat their enemies. Their enemies must also be silenced. And if there is an opposite of silence in the Senate, it must surely be the filibuster.
BEN TRIPP is an independent filmmaker and all-around swine.
His book, Square In The Nuts, may be purchased here, with other outlets to follow: http://www.lulu.com/Squareinthenuts . Swag is available as always from http://www.cafeshops/tarantulabros . And Mr. Tripp may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.