Miller: Too much small talk

A few days ago, I found myself sitting at a restaurant across the table from a girl I hardly knew. We all know the terror of the first date; when conversation stops, discomfort settles in. Times like these remind me of the value of an Ivy-League education — I can always come up with something to fill a silence. When the energy dulls and she starts examining her menu, my finely honed cocktail party instincts spring into action.

A moment like this, I think, must be the birthplace of the filibuster. On the verge of failure, you’ll grab at anything to stay afloat — even if it means spewing garbage for hours on end.

Senate Republicans are in fact on the verge of failure, and wouldn’t you know it, they’re threatening to spew garbage for hours — even days — on end.

For all intents and purposes, passing health care legislation in the Senate will require 60 votes instead of the simple majority called for by the Constitution. Without a three-fifths vote in favor of cloture, the filibuster Republicans are threatening will shut down the Senate. Republicans are essentially distorting the rules of the game, conflating the procedural vote and the substantive one. While a handful of senators may consider voting for cloture but against the bill, common wisdom is that once the bill advances to a final vote, it will inevitably become law.

To be honest, I’d like to see a filibuster. Americans are fed up with Congress’s inefficacy, and more than half of us favor implementing a public option — imagine our frustration when the Republican party attempts to shut down the government in the midst of an economic crisis because they can’t come to terms with their status as the minority party.

Moreover, it would be a guilty pleasure for me to watch certain conservatives floundering to prolong their speeches for hour after hour. What exactly would Richard Burr choose to discuss for hours on end? How would Lindsey Graham fill the silence? These senators have made careers out of being masterful conversationalists, and I think it’s time to put those skills to the test. Besides, I’ve always wanted to know what Joe Wilson would be like on a first date.

Tragically, Senate Rule 22 eliminates the drama — senators can now block a vote without being required to read from the phone book, or, as Huey Pierce Long did in 1935 (shortly before his assassination), Shakespeare. These days all a senator has to do is announce his intention to filibuster, and the wheels of the legislature grind to a halt. There’ll be no more Strom Thurmond-style soliloquies (his famous stand against the Civil Rights Act of 1957 lasted just over 24 hours, though his contribution can’t hold a candle to the 57-day filibuster mounted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964).

The filibuster shouldn’t be a mere procedural convenience. Any senator threatening to cripple the legislative branch should be keenly aware of the costs to his personal comfort: late nights on the stand where, for a short time, no lobbyist can supply him with lavish meals; where his bowels have no support but his own force of will; where even the C-SPAN cameramen fall asleep watching him.

Every filibustering senator should be forced to endure the awkwardness of the first date, as America anxiously waits for the conversation to perk up again. They should have to confront the fact that no one is interested in the interminable syllables emanating from their mouths. For once, they should discover that substituting bluster for content won’t get them a second date.

It’s a politician’s job to woo his constituents. But the politician also has to understand the rules of the game. Sometimes it’s best to sit back and give your date some breathing room.

Congress has forgotten how to show us a good time. America may not be a cheap date, but we’re easy enough to understand. Give us substance, give us progress and don’t be too stubborn — bravado is seductive, but a lasting relationship needs good pillow talk.

Benjamin Miller is a senior in Morse College.


  • FailBoat

    Where were you when the Democrats bravely filibustered Miguel Estrada and Janice Rogers Brown?

    Probably out supporting the “Gang of 14″ ‘compromise’.

  • PC ’10

    Yeah, the GOP shouldn’t filibuster and shut down the Senate… the same way a Democratic minority obstructed judiciary appointments for six years and left scores of courts with unfilled vacancies. Good one.

  • thetabooparty

    Dear Benjamin,

    Hope your date went well and she was not become catatonic over your dissertation on our ignoble Senate. I enjoyed your article about your date and the ensuring political comment. I would like to take a moment to discuss one passage:

    “To be honest, I’d like to see a filibuster. Americans are fed up with Congress’s inefficacy, and more than half of us favor implementing a public option — imagine our frustration when the Republican party attempts to shut down the government in the midst of an economic crisis because they can’t come to terms with their status as the minority party.”

    Although I am generally in accord with your portrayal of events on important legislation, I differ in the expected outcome. You have correctly identified the frustrated and disgruntled American’s perception of the effectiveness of our Congress. I know that a majority of Americans do not want passage of the Heathcare bill but I am not as convinced that most Americans prefer a public option.

    When you need to repair a faulty appliance, you generally do not buy a new one without first assessing the cost of repair and useful life of the existing product. Once it has been demonstrated that the unit simply needs a rheostat, the consumer is relieved to know that this unanticipated expenditure will not bust his budget.

    Far from transparency as promised by the administration, the actions of the Congress do not, and for the most part, honor the analysis of the Office of Budget Management. That is analogous to the repairman forcing the consumer to purchase a new unit (when the original only needs a simple repair) regardless of the existing funds available or the needs of the consumer. You don’t throw out a working system for a new item with a substantial replacement cost. You fix the problems with the serviceable applicance and save yourself the cost of financing a new system when funds are not available.

    A public option is a commendable attempt to bring affordable healthcare to all – the poor, the young, the edlerly or the disadvantaged. Not all good intentions, however, should be rewarded as honorable and in the best interests of all Americans. We don’t
    need to replace the applicance. We just need to replace a few broken parts.

    Ron Wilner
    Founder and Creator of The Taboo Party

  • @1&2

    Some advice: attacking the Dems’ filibuster isn’t the best strategy if you want to defend the GOP’s current actions.

  • A Senator

    Joe Wilson is a Representative in the House. He will not be invited to speak (or vote) on the Senate floor.