Depending on your political point of view, pro or con, elections in this country are supposed to have consequences. But for some strange idealistic reasons, there are Democrats in the U.S. Senate who don’t seem to understand that.
West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kristen Sinema catch all the smoke for not wanting to change the filibuster, but they are not the only ones who are reluctant to change or eliminate this archaic and racist Senate rule.
If former Republicans and current members of the Trump cult had control of all three branches of the federal government, as Democrats currently do, there would be no handwringing over if they should invoke the nuclear option to change the rules regarding the 60-vote threshold needed to break a filibuster to achieve their political goals and pass their stated agenda.
It already would have been done and the goals they wanted would already be law or policy.
The last time the nuclear option was invoked by the Senate was in 2017, when then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used it to eliminate the 60-vote rule for nominating Supreme Court justices and conservatives to the federal bench.
It was first used in 2013 by Democratic leader Harry Reid after Republicans, upset over President Barack Obama’s re-election continuously blocked and stalled a succession of his presidential nominees.
As more and more Trump Party-controlled state legislatures pass laws to make it harder for black, brown and other groups that tend to vote more for Democrats to exercise this basic right of citizenship, changing the filibuster is the only way the For the People Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Act will ever become law.
Without passage of these laws, designed to protect access to the ballot box and the right to vote, the Cult, which is now the minority political party in this country, will be able to retain much of the political power that is constantly slipping away from them.
Speaking of the Cult, one thing that I have always admired about them is the way in which they are able to rename an issue, then build a narrative around it that rebrands the issue for their base and in the media and get the result they desire.
For instance, thanks to then-GOP consultant Frank Luntz, the estate inheritance tax become the death tax.
Social welfare assistance for the poor and needy become government handouts. Social welfare for corporations and groups that leaned Republican became subsidies.
Tax cuts for businesses and rich people became economic stimulus and incentives.Tax increases for these groups became job-killing tax bills.
So, in the spirit of “if you can’t beat them, join them,” I hope Democrats and their friends in the media who want to change the rules of the filibuster continue to refer to it as a Jim Crow relic.
While it didn’t’ start out being a Jim Crow thing, once Jim Crow became a thing, the Senate filibuster became the biggest and most effective tool in a segregationist senator’s racist bag.
According to historians, since 1917, when the Senate created cloture, a motion or process in parliamentary procedure aimed at bringing debate to a quick end, half of the legislation derailed by a filibuster dealt with civil rights matters like authorizing federal investigations and prosecution of lynching, placing bans on the use of poll taxes in elections and the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race in housing sales and rentals.
Here’s the first of the 200 times filibusters were used to prevent an anti-lynching bill from becoming the law of the land.
In 1920, in the wake of a national outcry over the ever-growing number of black men, women and children who had been lynched since the end of Reconstruction, Henry Cabot Lodge, a Republican from Massachusetts (yes, a Republican), introduced a bill to combat lynching that already had passed the House and had majority support in the Senate.
Southern Democrats, who were the party of racists back in the day, filibustered the bill for a week, forcing Lodge to drop it.
It took until 2005 for an anti-lynching bill to become the law of the land.
Last year, a filibuster from Rand Paul, Kentucky’s junior senator, temporarily stopped the passage of a bill making lynching a federal hate crime.
I hope Charles Booker, Paul’s Democratic opponent, brings that up a few hundred times during his run to replace Paul next year.
In 1946, after several election cycles in some Southern states in which only a couple hundred thousand people voted, the Senate was close to passing a bill outlawing the poll tax, but segregationist Southern senators used the filibuster to prevent it from coming up for a vote.
The poll tax would last until 1964, when it was ended by a constitutional amendment.
Speaking of 1964, the most famous filibuster ever was the one Robert Byrd, a Southern Democrat from West Virginia, and others mounted to thwart the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that protected voting rights, banned discrimination in public facilities and enforced equal opportunity in employment.
It went on for 60 days before President Lyndon Johnson got enough dirt on Byrd to make him stop it.
One of the changes to the filibuster Joe Manchin says he might support is the return to the talking filibuster of the bygone days.
The record for the longest continuous one is held by Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. In 1957, he spoke for more than 24 hours to prevent the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, a bill designed to protect the rights of African-Americans to vote.
Although he failed, thanks to his efforts, a much-watered down version of the bill was passed two hours after his speaking marathon.
In light of the racist history of early 20th century Democrats using the filibuster for bad, here’s hoping that 21st century ones are ready to make up for it.
The historian in me would be remiss if I didn’t mention how the filibuster came to be in the first place.
It was created by accident, when then-Vice President Aaron Burr, a few months following his duel with Alexander Hamilton, made a revision to the Senate rule book.
Trying to remove what he thought was redundant language, he cut out the phrase “previous question motion,” which would have allowed a majority of lawmakers to end debate and force a vote on a bill.
Instead, for more than a century, his third biggest mistake (behind killing a Founding Father and possibly committing treason) managed to give a tiny handful of senators the power to block a bill indefinitely.
In 1917, Woodrow Wilson told fellow Democrats that reform to the filibuster was needed. Using language that is still relevant today he said:
“The Senate of the United States is the only legislative body in the world which cannot act when its majority is ready for action. A little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible.”
Thus, the modern filibuster was born.
Hi, Momma Lois.
TONY KENDALL of Hazel is a writer, teacher, actor, playwright and sports fanatic. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.