Posts Tagged ‘Jimmy Stewart’

It’s Time for the Filibuster to Go

Sunday, April 4th, 2021

By Bob Gaydos

 Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith goes to Washington,“ Hollywood’s version of the filibuster.

Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith goes to Washington,“ Hollywood’s version of the filibuster.

     “If it’s good enough for The New York Times, it’s good enough for us.”

      With those words of wisdom, a newspaper editor gave a willing but wary member of his staff a gentle shove into the world of editorial writing. The staff member was me. The editor was Bill Kennedy. The newspaper was The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y. The time was late November, 1983. My maiden piece had appeared on Nov. 23,1983, the 20-year anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Serendipity. JFK and I share a birthday.

       On this day, I was asking Bill about an editorial I was thinking of writing, but which The Times, which circulated in our area, had just voiced an opinion on that morning. It was pretty much the same as what I had in mind and I was a little annoyed that they “beat” me. An ego thing.

      “Do we care?“ I asked.

      “Do our readers care, or even notice?” Bill answered.

      I wrote the editorial. The topic has long since been lost in my memory. But Kennedy’s message remained.

       It came to me in a flash a couple of weeks back as I was having a debate with myself on the wisdom of scrapping the Senate filibuster. I had pretty much decided I was all for it because, honestly, I am up to my eyeballs in Mitch McConnell single-handedly trying to destroy this country for anyone but the super-rich and super-white. With him as Senate majority leader for 10 years, any meaningful piece of social legislation proposed by Democrats had no chance. Now, as minority leader, he threatens to use the filibuster to kill Democrats’ sweeping voter reform law while having the gall to claim that Democrats refused to negotiate on it with Republicans.

         My only hesitation in writing this piece was that even some Democrats were defending the filibuster because of its “ttradition“ in the Senate and its supposed protection against a super majority running roughshod over democracy. Those arguments had pretty much lost out and I also thought about the threat the filibuster would pose to immigration reform, criminal justice reform and anything else President Biden might propose to advance racial and cultural harmony in the nation in the wake of four years of the divisive Trump administration.

         Enough of McConnell, already, I said to myself. Let’s save the country while I’m still alive to appreciate it. And then there was the Times editorial: “For Democracy to Stay, the Filibuster Must Go.”

        Well, thanks, Bill.

         Of course, I was so upset that I let them beat me on writing the editorial and didn’t want people to think I just copied theirs, that I waited a good two weeks before sitting down to do mine. This is it. The filibuster must go.

         Here’s why.

         Even though it is promoted as a barrier to a majority abusing its power over a minority, its primary application from the beginning has been to allow a minority of senators to exclude minorities in America from enjoying the rewards of democracy. First, it was slavery. More recently, civil rights legislation. Forget Jimmy Stewart in the movies. It is an outdated tool that has been used to preserve and promote bias. And for all it’s “tradition.” the Senate has already written exceptions into the rule.

         A brief description of the filibuster rule is appropriate here. When the Constitution was written, the framers kept it simple. In order for a bill to pass in the 100-member Senate, a simple majority of 51 votes was all that was needed. When Southern members took to long-winded floor speeches (filibusters) to delay or deter votes to abolish slavery, a rule was approved that requires the votes of 60 senators to end a filibuster.

        Modern senators being less fond of doing the actual work of talking for hours on end, in relays if necessary, to defeat a bill, amended the rule so that any senator can delay a vote on, and maybe defeat, any bill, simply by sending an e-mail saying he or she is filibustering it. That’s it. Go to lunch.

       In effect, that means the bill sponsor has to find 60 votes instead of 51. And, of course, there is no real debate on the bill. The Senate has already excluded money-raising bills and the appointment of federal judges and Supreme Court justices from the filibuster, allowing, most recently, Donald Trump to appoint three new justices to the high court.

         Some (including two Democrats) have suggested going back to the talking filibuster so that there is actual effort required to oppose and maybe some debate on the bill. But there has seldom been any debate provided by the filibuster and, even assuming Republicans are willing to argue for hours on end against expanding voting rights, Biden and the Democrats don’t have the time to waste.

          With Georgia leading the way, Republican legislatures and governors across the country are passing laws to make it much more difficult for members of minorities especially to vote. Basically, that’s un-American. More to the point, it’s racist as hell.

         The only way Republicans win congressional races in a lot of areas is by gerrymandering voting districts so that their candidate has a majority of Republican voters in the district. Even in Georgia, though, that failed when Democrats managed to put together a major get-out-the-vote effort. Republicans are basically scared to death they will not get elected again.

           Being able to vote should be one of the easiest things to do in this country. It’s almost insulting to have to write a column arguing that point. The fact that Republicans lied about the presidential election being stolen from Trump — and some still do — and make no bones about imposing restrictions on people’s ability to vote suggests that there is no debate to be had on this issue. Republicans just don’t want minorities to vote. They are not concerned with changing their policies to attract the voters, just denying the votes.

          Democrats have the presidency and control of both houses of Congress (but only the slimmest of majorities in the Senate) for two years. Midterm elections often produce changes in the power structure. Democrats can go a long way to repairing the damage done in the last four years by the Trump administration. (Biden has already started.) Democrats can go even further by passing sweeping voters rights legislation that will ensure that Congress is truly representative of the majority of the people rather than in the hands of a tyrannical minority interested only in power, not governing.

         Of course, what I just said is pretty much what The New York Times editorial also said. What can I say, great minds think alike. If it’s good enough for The Times (sorry, a slight edit, Bill), most of the time, it’s also good enough for me.

(Personal note: I wrote editorials for The Record for 23 years until I retired. Thanks, Bill.)
rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.