Sunday, May 01, 2005

Filibustering Frist 

Unlike many of my comrades fellow travellers fellow bloggers over here on the right side of the 'sphere, I have no problem with commies moonbats per se. I just don't like lefties who don't have a sense of humor. Come to think of it, I'm not long on wingnuts conservatives who don't have a sense of humor, either.

In any case, even left-wing protests at the TigerHawk alma mater tend to be moderate in tone and free of a lot of the craziness that seems to attend lefty activism on the West Coast. There are relatively few BushHitler signs and that sort of nonsense.

There is a very smart and entertaining protest going on right now, in fact, and I went down to pay it a visit at 7 a.m. this rainy Sunday morning. An enterprising clot of activists is conducting a "filibuster" in front of -- I kid you not -- the Frist* Campus Center. They have been speaking for something like 118 hours, and plan to keep going at least through Wednesday. This fellow has been reading the Bible for hours, having worked his way through the gospels. He had "skipped a few" and was reading Revelations during my brief visit.
 Posted by Hello

Here's a side view of the protest -- there were a lot of people there at 11:30 last night, but being a college campus there was nobody watching at 7. They'll be back, though.
 Posted by Hello

TigerHawk exclusive photographs.

For those of you who want to keep up with the action, there's a webcam and lotso' links here. The "filibuster's" official site has received more than 58,000 visits in less than three days, mostly via lefty blogs. Technorati shows only 20 links, but I think that its taxed servers are running far behind reality.

Because the protestors are friendly and moderate, they have gotten various politicians to speak, including our own Congressman Rush Holt. CNN has been out there, and one of the organizers, a very friendly junior named "Karen," told me that Air America was going to interview them. I expect that they will get more of the MSM next week. 'Prince' coverage here.

The official TigerHawk position on the filibuster, by the way, is that it would be a mistake for the Republicans, in a moment of ephemeral ascendancy, to abolish it even for judicial nominations. Once abolished for one thing, people will want to change the rules for tax increases, entitlement programs, environmental laws and attorney general nominations. However, I think that these Princeton students have the right idea: If you are going to filibuster, then you should have to filibuster. Filibusters should come at some personal and political cost. We should abolish the candy-ass filibusters of modern times, and require that if debate is not closed it must therefore happen.

The prospect of John Kerry, Hillary Clinton or Ted Kennedy bloviating for hours on C-SPAN would deter filibusters except when the stakes are dire, if for no other reason than the risk that long debate would create a huge amount of fodder for negative advertising. If Frist were to enact the "reform" of the filibuster instead of its repeal, he would sieze the high ground. He could take the position that the Republicans are merely rolling back the "worst excesses" of the long period of Democratic majority in the Congress, and that filibusters will still be possible if Senators are willing to lay it all on the line. Indeed, even the students at Princeton would be hard-pressed to argue against such a reform of the filibuster, since extended speechifying is precisely the means they have used to make their point.

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers! If you're unfamiliar with TigerHawk's eclectic offerings, please take a moment to look around.

UPDATE: MUSC Tiger points out that Dick Morris made the same argument a couple of days ago.

UPDATE (Sunday night): As predicted, the MSM is picking up the story. WaPo here.

Final UPDATE (Monday night): Recognizing that I am hardly the first to this idea, thanks to Instapundit's exposure my post seems to have triggered a mini-debate today. I have more developed thoughts and links here.
*Yes, it is the same Frist. Or essentially the same Frist. Bill Frist (Princeton '74) is from a very rich Princeton family with a number of alumni. Some years ago they contributed a big wad to build the University's first real student center. Not surprisingly, it is named after them. It's just up the road from Carl Ichan laboratory and (Meg) Whitman College. Princeton's that kind of place.


By Blogger Fausta, at Sun May 01, 08:50:00 AM:

I wonder if they take blogger guest filibusterers . . .  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun May 01, 09:39:00 AM:

I bet they would! Go over and volunteer for a stretch -- I would guess that there is lots of room between, say, 3-5 a.m. on Monday morning!  

By Blogger Fausta, at Sun May 01, 11:10:00 AM:

I meant diurnal blogger guest filibusterers  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun May 01, 11:28:00 AM:

(a) The prospect of John Kerry, Hillary Clinton or Ted Kennedy bloviating for hours on C-SPAN would deter filibusters except when the stakes are dire, if for no other reason than the risk that long debate would create a huge amount of fodder for negative advertising.

Brilliant. Is it awkward being a genius, or do you get accustomed to it? (I ask on behalf of a couple of my kids.)

(b) Re "Fellow travelers" - we are the virtual Mongol horde, per the WSJ.

Tom Maguire  

By Blogger Kid Various, at Sun May 01, 02:49:00 PM:

Spot on!

Forcing either side to bring business in the Senate to a halt and to go on a marathon talk binge like Jimmy Stewart would discourage the filibuster's use but still leave it as an important arrow in the quiver for dire circumstances.  

By Blogger Fausta, at Sun May 01, 04:26:00 PM:

I went by and the kids are agreeable to guest filibusterers. I might get my filibuster after all  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun May 01, 04:42:00 PM:

Heh. Let us know when you are going on -- we need to publicize that. :)  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun May 01, 06:28:00 PM:

Wrong. Bill Frist is the son of a doctor who has since died. They are from Nashville. His father and older brother Tommy founded Hospital Corporation of America and made a lot on the stock. There is a Frist Family Foundation which I believe funded both Frist buildings(one at Harvard..one at Princeton...both Bill Frist alma maters.

I'll tell you a secret about the guy as I've known him since I was knee-high to a grasshopper so to speak. He's perhaps one of the finest people I've ever known. He's not holier than thou but he is really responsible.

If kids were drinking in high school at a party...he wasn't. He was the one that drove them home. Everybody loved the guy...regardless of politics.

An old friend of Billy Frist.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun May 01, 07:28:00 PM:

Last Anonymous Guy: I have no problem with Bill Frist. I know one guy who knows Frist, and he says the same thing. OK, his family foundation built the building. When I said "old Princeton family" I meant as alumni, not residents. Sorry about the confusion.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun May 01, 07:41:00 PM:

Thanks Tigerhawk...Nashville is quite covetous of their own, LOL.  

By Blogger Lynxx Pherrett, at Sun May 01, 08:00:00 PM:

Jack Kemp wrote the same thing back in November 2004: "Force a real filibuster, if necessary."  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun May 01, 08:46:00 PM:

Lynxx - The idea of returning to the original "manly" filibuster is not particularly new, Tom Maguire's much appreciated kudos notwithstanding. However, it has been strangely absent from the recent discussion of the topic. I mentioned it to the Princeton protesters this morning, and they didn't even know what I was talking about (probably because they were, like, 20 years old). I'm glad to give the idea some renewed vigor, and happy that Glenn picked it up.  

By Blogger Elisson, at Sun May 01, 10:26:00 PM:

I got your Frist - right here.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun May 01, 10:59:00 PM:

Does anyone know why and when they quit doing actual filibusters? I bet there was no damn good reason other than it was uncomfortable.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun May 01, 11:10:00 PM:

I agree that it would be amusing to make the donks filibuster, but here's the thing - the filibuster concept is over.

I mean, do you doubt for a minute that when the pendulum swings, & the Democrats are back in control of one or the other houses of congress, they will hesitate for even a minute to eliminate the filibuster if the Republicans try to use it the way that the donks threaten on judges?

So the only real question is whether the Republicans have the votes to eliminate the filibuster now, or the Democrats have the votes to eliminate it later.

Either way, the filibuster party is over.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon May 02, 12:14:00 PM:

The problem with this stance on filibustering -- that the process of speaking endlessly for days actually take place -- is that the majority party has to actually listen to it. That is, they must have enough senators on the floor to maintain an quorom, or else the filibusterers (is that the term?) would get to shut up/sleep until the quorum is restored. This quorum rule is what the Democrats in the Texas legislature attempted to use instead of a filibuster when DeLay Gerrymandered Texas a few years back. --dblack  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon May 02, 12:51:00 PM:

I understand the point, but that would mean that the majority also has to care a lot, rather than a little, when it wants to go to the mat. The existence of an actual brink (the minority looking like idiots and the majority sitting in their seats for day son end) might make both the minority and the majority less likely to engage in brinksmanship.  

By Blogger Colin, at Mon May 02, 05:04:00 PM:

Hey guys, you're a little late to the party, I was talking about this last week. ;)


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon May 02, 05:33:00 PM:

I have an alternative idea for "reforming" the filibuster. Set up a dunk tank in the Capitol rotunda. Each day at 7am, the filibustering senators get in the tank for consecutive 15-minute terms. As long as they can get 41 senators in the tank that day, the filibuster holds; as soon as they come up short, the filibustered motion comes to a vote. In order to have the privlege of dunking one of these august luminaries, ordinary citizens will pay $100 and get 3 balls and 3 minutes.

All the way around, it's a win. Either we get judges in the vacancies, or we fully fund social security for the next 200 years... Most importantly, it fulfills a core need of America today: the need for our citizens to express our sheer bipartisan loathing for the whole lot of them politicians.

Oh, yeah, and the water starts at a comfy 100 degrees F and after 2 weeks of filibustering it drops 1 degree per day until it gets to ice water...

cathy :-)  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon May 02, 06:26:00 PM:

You know, I always thought a Mr.Smith-style filibuster required stamini (bladder control) on the part of the filibusterER, not the filibusterEES. But that hasn't been true since Byrd used a simple majority vote to change the filibuster rules, back in '75. Now, even a "real" filibuster is practically cost-free for the minority (they can tag-team, and only one need be present), but is very costly for the majority (almost everybody must be continually present). That kind of perverse incentive is why we have these 'fake' filibusters in the first place. Taken together (cost-free even if you have to hold the floor, and you usually don't have to hold it anyway) explains why (a) we've had so many "filibusters" in the past 30 years, and (b) why their use has expanded to the executive calender instead of being restricted to the legislative calender.

As another anon poster above said, the problem is a "real filibuster" really requires a rules change TOO (and how do you enact THAT rules change, without some nuclear parliamentary trick?) Under current rules, it takes "three-fifths of all Senators elected" break a filibuster, not (as it was during 1917-1949 and 1959-1975) [such-and-so] “of all Senators voting and present."

“Currently a quorum is required while a filibuster is being conducted (51 members present) that means the Republicans would have to have at least 51 of their 55 members on the floor in addition to the one filibustering Democrat Senator. The other Democrats could be home asleep in their beds under the current rules since it takes 60 votes (three-fifths of all elected Senators) for cloture. If the Senate was operating under the older-style cloture (with today's three-fifths instead of the older two-thirds) rule of 'three-fifths of Senators voting and present' then the Democrats would have to have a minimum of 31 Senators present to ensure that the presence of 51 Republican Senators would not allow the 'three-fifths of Senators voting and present' to achieve a successful cloture vote. The reason that the Republicans must have at least 51 members (out of their current 55) present on the floor is that if they only had 50 members present, once the single filibustering Democrat got tired he could simply walk off the floor of the Senate with the other 30 Democrats and there would be no quorum (51 members) present and hence no Senate business may take place.” Explanation taken from

Without SOME change to rule XXII, the Mr.-Smith-Goes-To-Washington filibuster is an imaginary figment: the minority pays a very small price in caucus support, because only one member at a time must be present on the floor. But, they can force the OTHER party to pay a very high price -- because almost every member of the majority must remain continually present. After about three days of this, which group of pampered grandees will fold: the well-rested minority, or the exhausted pajama-clad majority?

Now, you could say that "well, if the majority doesn't care enough to park their well-padded posteriors forever, then the minority deserves to win." But is that really true? You need almost total unanimity -- not just on the merits, but also on the willingness to look foolish, take no showers, get no sleep, and DO NO FUNDRAISING/JUNKETS!!! for days on end -- among the majority, but you only need a half-dozen or so in the minority (and they get to take fundraising/junket/sleep/shower breaks!)

Under current rules, and the nature of our spoiled and lazy elected officials, a “real filibuster” is the same as a win for the minority. PR comes out even: one well-rested and well-dressed fool reading a phone book, versus 51 unshaven bedraggled rumpled-suit-wearing bleary-eyed majority members shambling around on CSPAN. At least under the old rules, it was an endurance test on BOTH sides, instead of only on the side that nominally has the votes to win the issue on the merits.

Be it noted, however, that the R’s are willing to allow this perverse-incentive style “filibuster” to stand, with respect to legislative function. It’s only with regard to nomination confirmations that they consider it (now) to be out of bounds.  

By Blogger Wave Maker, at Mon May 02, 10:25:00 PM:

Hey congrats on the Big Hit, TH!

I've been mulling this issue for a month, but never posted on it for the same reason cited above -- In any event, I think the compromise rule chnage made years ago to make it convenient for a minority filibuster was a big mistake (although perhaps it didn't look like it at the time).  

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