Some Nuts Go to Washington

I’m glad Election Day is finally here. Frankly, I’ve had enough of politics for a while. If I had my way there would be a moratorium on politicking until six months before the 2012 election. Maybe if our elected representatives weren’t so busy campaigning and slinging mud at each other, they could get something done. Dream on, right?

I may be pleased with the outcome of a few races, but in general I don’t think I’m going to be that happy a camper. The pundits say that Americans are angry. That’s what they said in ’92. And we were. And now we are again. It’s the same old cycle: throw the bums out and then complain about the new bums. This time around we’ve got some real nuts to choose from.

Sadly, I am rather pessimistic about things in America these days. It’s frustrating, hoping for change but never seeing it. Or not the kind of change I feel we need. Some of the issues we are dealing with have been bubbling over for forty years or more. When are we going to get around to solving some real problems?

I suppose it’s true that we have had some dramatic and historic change during the last two years. It’s hard to tell, though. Big change should be heralded by fanfare. Something by Wagner. The Ninth Symphony. Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.” Change needs to be accompanied by grand gestures and stirring speeches, so that we know change is taking place. All I’m hearing are some penny whistles . . .

Now, I can point to one visible change:  the way the filibuster is being abused in the US Senate. The filibuster is actually pretty cool. Have you ever seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?

Mr. Smith talking his head off.

James Stewart plays a sincere but naive guy named Jefferson Smith who is appointed to fill a vacancy in the US Senate. He discovers political corruption and when he decides to do something about it, his state’s political boss tries to ruin him with a phony scandal. Just before the vote to expel him from the Senate, Smith launches his filibuster to stop a bloated Works bill and to prove his innocence. Here’s how the filibuster is described by a radio announcer in the movie:

Half of official Washington is here to see democracy’s finest show, the filibuster, the right to talk your head off, the American privilege of free speech in its most dramatic form. The least man in that chamber, once he gets and holds that floor by the rules, can hold it and talk as long as he can stand on his feet providing always, first, that he does not sit down, second, that he does not leave the chamber or stop talking. The galleries are packed. In the diplomatic gallery are the envoys of two dictator powers. They have come here to see what they can’t see at home. DEMOCRACY IN ACTION.

The least man has the right to talk his head off. That’s a big part of what America is all about to me. However, it helps if you are making some kind of sense while you are talking your head off. One’s speech should be grounded in thoughts that have some resemblance to reality. And maybe the willingness to compromise thrown in every once in a while.

I did some research. Here is part of what Wikipedia has to say about “filibuster“:

The term “filibuster” was first used in 1851. It was derived from the Spanish filibustero, which translates as “pirate” or “freebooter.” This term had evolved from the French word flibustier, which itself evolved from the Dutch vrijbuiter (free outsider). This term was applied at the time to American adventurers, mostly from Southern states, who sought to overthrow the governments of the Northern and Central states. Later the term was applied to the users of the filibuster, which was viewed as a tactic for pirating or hijacking debate.

Some people are talking about doing away with it. I think that would be a shame. The filibuster has traditionally been used rather sparingly. I read where Barbara Sinclair, a political scientist at UCLA, found that 8% of major legislation faced a filibuster in the 1960s, while today is it around 70%.

“Pirating” is one way to look at it, in some cases though, it might be standing up for a principle. Jefferson Smith did not filibuster because he wanted to be disagreeable, it was for something noble:

I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine. All you people don’t know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for. And he fought for them once, for the only reason any man ever fights for them; because of just one plain simple rule: ‘Love thy neighbor’ . . . And you know that you fight for the lost causes harder than for any other. Yes, you even die for them.

Thomas Paine, author of "Common Sense"

Of course, it’s just a movie, and a melodramatic and sentimental one at that. Right up my alley. It does represent a certain kind of spirit that I admire, the same kind of spirit that motivated a character named Otter in another movie to say, “I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.” That’s right up my alley, too.

The present situation with the filibuster is representative of the current political climate, where no one can get along and people stand on principle simply for the sake of taking a stand, which really is stupid and futile.

There was another Mr. Paine, a real person, named Thomas, who left these words behind for us to keep in mind on Election day, to remind us that along with all we find unsatisfactory and distasteful, there is this one shining point:

The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery, for slavery consists in being subject to the will of another, and he that has not a vote in the election of representatives is in this case.

Our right to vote is precious. I hope everyone will exercise it today. If mixed in with all the nuts we are about to send to Washington this year, let’s hope that there is at least one Mr. Smith in the bunch.


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