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.