Sunday, May 08, 2005

Filibuster on trial

I still remember a cartoon from 1964.
Congress was debating whether to pass what was to become the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964, with its far-reaching implications for de jure segregation.
The arguments were loud and passionate. States rights. God's law. Would you want your sister to marry one? We'll have to move to Australia. They don't know their place. On and on. And the Southern Senators were staging a filibuster to keep the issue from coming to a vote, because a majority would pass the bill in a New York minute. And everyone knew that. That's exactly what happened, by the way. And a cloture vote by the then-larger super majority underscored the will of the country in a way that no simple majority would have achieved.

The cartoon depicted a scene from Alice in Wonderland, a scene by the seashore with a walrus addressing a mess of clams. It was the face of Senator Everett Dirksen (the same guy who said "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money.") He was addressing the clams:
"The time has come," the walrus said, "to speak of many things...of civil rights, and cloture votes and Martin Luther Kings..."

Cloture vote. That's what it takes to close a Senate debate if a steadfast minority is staging a filibuster. The number of votes required according to theSenate rules is three-fifths of the Senate. Sixty votes.
There is a Republican majority, so a cloture vote requires eight additional votes. Eight more than fifty-one is all we are discussing.
This is showdown week.

Tom Watson sums it up well...

Funnily enough, the GOP tally in the Senate stands at 55 with a couple of wobbly centrists and mavericks bringing Majority Leader Bill Frist's lock-step votes down to around 51, and the upcoming mid-term elections throwing that 55-45 lead up into the air. But Frist knows far better than these Senate leaders from the past: Mike Mansfield, Robert Byrd, Howard Baker, Bob Dole, George Mitchell, Tom Daschle, and Trent Lott. The cloture rule must go. People of faith demand it, and they're the perceived base for Frist's 2008 run for the Presidency. This is the week, folks - a great week for American politics in the true sense of the word. Dramatic. Vitriolic. Telling. This week will give you a true sense of the ethics and American spirit of Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee. It will also say a lot about the future of the Republican Party, which - from time to time - occasionally finds itself in the minority in the Senate and desirous of a traditional tactic to block what it considers the more radical notions of its opposition. Pay attention.

What's that the blogfather says?
Yes, indeed.


Deborah said...

I believe that if Frist goes through with it, and they succeed in getting rid of the filibuster for judicial nominees, that the Republican party will suffer greatly in public eyes. It will be perceived as overreaching and extremist, and will cause lasting and deep damage to the Republican party.

Richard said...

It was a Paul Conrad cartoon with Dirksen as the Walrus and LBJ as the Carpenter. The first one had them sitting on a rock, surrounded by the oposition: southern democrats, etc., as clams. "The time has come the walrus said, to talk of many things. Of civil rights and cloture votes and Martin Luther Kings."

The next week, they were moving on down the ocean shore with all the clams lying open on the sand and that cartoon's line was, "Shall we be trotting home again? But answer came there none. And that was scarcely odd because they'd eaten every one."

The best pair of political cartoons I have ever seen, framing a week when a great Republican and a great Democrat came together to change their nation.