By Maurice E. Duhon, Jr.
Friday, December 10, as the clock read 10:25am, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont took hold of the Senate floor. It would be 8 full hours before he would choose to return possession of the Senate Floor to its presiding President. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the only Independent Senator presently holding office, walked into “filibuster history” as he opened his statements with these words,
“Mr. President, um, as I think everyone knows, the President of the United States, President Obama and the republican leadership have reached an agreement on a very significant tax bill. In my view, the agreement that they reached is a bad deal for the American people. I think we can do better and I am here today to take a strong stand against this bill and I intend to tell my colleagues in the nation exactly why I am in opposition to this bill and you can call what I’m doing today whatever you want. You can call it a filibuster. You can call it a very long speech. I’m not here to set any great records or to make a spectacle. I am simply here today to take as long as I can to explain to the American people the fact that we have got to do a lot better than this agreement provides.”
Due to the fact there were no Republicans present on the Senate floor and Senator Sanders was not preventing any other Senate business from being carried out, we are unable to legitimately label the Senator’s actions today as a filibuster*. We can however, add the word pseudo and give him the credit of a technicality. Although, as I listened to the Senator, I realized filibuster is merely a word. Sen. Bernie Sanders consciously and procedurally chose to exhibit a detailed and frank presentation explaining, in his opinion, our government’s legislative and systematic demolition of the American Middle-Class.
This is not the first conversation that has been held on this subject within our Senate’s chamber. What made this day in the Senate chamber different than most, if all, is the fact Sen. Sanders chose to share his 8 hours of opinions one-on-one with the American citizens who were attentively sitting on the other side of those “taken for granted” video cameras that record the daily action in the chamber. Whether you favor, dislike, or were previously unaware of Sen. Bernie Sanders I share the following… To observe his actions today was to observe a true statesman.
Whatever his policies and beliefs may be, the Senator spoke to the American people as if they were competent adults. There was no rhetoric, there was no pandering, and there was no obvious disdain for an opposing party. I saw only a man speaking to the people and it seemed as if all he sought to gain, at that moment, was the lending of an available ear. On this day, the vacated chairs of the absent republican Senators were filled by the American people. Or at least that’s what I have come to determine due to the rumor of a crashing Senate computer server due to overwhelming internet viewership and Sen. Sanders managing to become the #1 trending topic on Twitter nationally and #2 worldwide.
*The filibuster as a political delaying tactic has been a part of the American political process since the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. Though it was not used in the early years of the nation, the filibuster has been used hundreds of times since the 1840’s. (Garry Gamber)
Famous Filibusters in Political History
By Garry Gamber
Courtesy of ezinearticles.com
Senator Huey Long
Senator Huey Long, the fiery and colorful senator from Louisiana, made the filibuster famous between 1932 and 1935 when he utilized it several times to stall legislation that he considered unfair to the poor. Long frustrated his opponents and entertained the Senate gallery by reading Shakespeare, reciting shrimp and oyster recipes and talking about “pot-likkers.” An amendment to Senate Rule 19 later required that debate on legislation be germane to the issue being debated.
On June 12, 1935, Senator Long engaged in his most famous filibuster. A bill was before the Senate to eliminate the provision for the Senate to confirm senior National Recovery Act employees. Senator Long opposed the bill because he didn’t want his political adversaries in Louisiana to obtain lucrative N.R.A. jobs. Senator Long spoke for 15 hours and 30 minutes running well into the evening and early morning hours with senators dozing at their desks. Long read and analyzed each section of the Constitution, a document which he claimed had become “ancient and forgotten lore” under President Roosevelt’s New Deal.
After the reading of the Constitution Senator Long offered to give advice to the remaining senators on any subject of their choosing. No senator took Long up on his offer but the gallery patrons began sending notes to the floor for Senator Long to extemporize on. That kept Long going into the early hours of the morning. At 4 a.m. Long yielded the floor in order to use the restroom and his proposal was defeated.
Senator Strom Thurmond
About 9 p.m. on August 28, 1957, Senator Strom Thurmond rose before the Senate and announced, “Mr. President, I rise to speak against the so-called voting rights bill, H.R. 6127.” His own staff had not been informed about Senator Thurmond’s intentions to filibuster the bill, but they knew something was up when they saw Thurmond gathering considerable reading material.
Senator Thurmond had prepared himself for a long filibuster on the Senate floor. Earlier in the day he had spent time in the Senate steam room, dehydrating himself so that he would absorb all the water he drank without having to visit the restroom. His wife packed a steak sandwich lunch for him and she stayed in the family gallery throughout the night. Thurmond brought a quantity of malted milk tablets and throat lozenges from his office.
Senator Thurmond began his filibuster by reading each state’s election statutes. He later read and discussed an opinion by Chief Justice Taft. He also read and discussed the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and Washington’s Farewell Address. His staff, concerned for Senator Thurmond’s health, was finally successful in getting him to leave the floor.
After 24 hours and 18 minutes, a record that still stands, Senator Thurmond concluded his remarks with, “I expect to vote against the bill.” The bill was defeated.