One of the first known practitioners of the filibuster was the Roman senator Cato the Younger. He could obstruct passage of any legislation he opposed by speaking continuously until such time as the Senate would adjourn for the night. In the United States, the filibuster came into existence as the result of an interpretation of Senate rules that did not provide for any process to end debate. The first Senate filibuster occurred in 1837 to prevent allies of President Andrew Jackson from expunging a resolution of censure against him. Jackson had decided to dismantle the Bank of the United States. He claimed that the bank had too many foreign investors, favored the rich over the poor and resisted lending funds for development of America’s Western territories.
The filibuster was used in 1843 when two senators opposed a bill to deregulate the natural gas sector and tried, unsuccessfully, to kill it. It was used in 1917 as twelve anti-war senators drafted a law against armed merchant ships after Germany declared a full submarine war. And, it was invoked again in 1919 by senators trying to stop the Treaty of Versailles, thus ending World War I.
Today, the filibuster is best remembered for the way it has been used to obstruct any meaningful progress towards building a more perfect union. The 1964 civil rights Act filibuster lasted 57 days and it was just one of many ways the rule has been used to sustain a truly abhorrent set of values based upon race. In the past, one would have to stand up and talk thereby casting light on their soul. But recently, the most cowardly specimens within the Senate can simply send an email to filibuster.
The reason that legislation wanted by a majority of the people in the United States does not come about is due to the sophistries of a bigoted minority. Their clear contempt for any multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-racial democracy is now on full display with no plausible deniability. I recently had one person write to me saying “The word democracy does not appear in the Constitution.” I responded by pointing out that, lest there be any ambiguity, the framers instead chose to advance a definition of democracy in the first three words of that document.
The term democracy stems from the word demos which is defined, in most English dictionaries, as the common people; the populace. The words “We the People” map precisely and with fidelity to that concept. Of course certain members of the Senate still cling to the most racist compromise, the constitutional formula that treats every non-white man or woman as three-fifths of a person. And, those Supreme Court justices masquerading as constitutional originalists and textualists, while setting aside the Preamble, have also defined themselves as, to put it charitably, well afoul of their constitutional oath as jurists.
As for the legislation of our day, any rookie salesperson can tell you that the best way to minimize sticker shock is to list a product’s benefits before revealing the price. The reason this country’s social infrastructure initiatives got labeled up front as seven trillion, three point five trillion, and one point seven-five trillion dollar packages is a direct result of the morphing filibuster. This is because when the filibuster is used to quash open debate, and legislation must take the reconciliation route, the price tag can then be used by the wined, dined, and pocket lined to eclipse the benefits. And, at this juncture we must ask, just who benefits from such sophistries?
The United States legislative, executive, and judicial branches are clearly operating in a cash for trash modality. The dark money that secures judicial nominations, confirmations, and accommodations has elevated the most sociopathic members of the Supreme Court. It has produced a fictitious corporate personhood where foreign potentates enjoy superior free speech rights. It has resulted in the idiotic findings that money is speech that can be used routinely to drown out the voices of We the People.
Were it not for the filibuster, the case could be made in full throated support for the welfare of children. Support that extends beyond the conception to birth fetishism that counterfeit conservatives feed to those who are likely to parrot such oversimplified talking points. Were it not for the filibuster, our common definition of socialism would include the three dollars that Kentucky gets back for every one dollar that state contributes to the public treasury. Were it not for the filibuster, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and fossil fuel companies would be exposed as the animating force behind prevaricating senators.
The Electoral College made perfect sense while the country depended on the Pony Express for communications. The filibuster is also sustained in the interest of so-called minority rights. However, the framers had already provided for each state to be represented by two senators, regardless of its geographic size or population. This triple redundancy, in the interest of minority rights, only obscures the gamesmanship that has resulted in our democracy being seen, throughout the world, as something less than authentic.