Sen. Paul captures enthusiasm with filibuster

  • Posted: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 12:12 a.m.
Michael Bitzer
Michael Bitzer

This is an excerpt from “The Party Line” political blog at, written by Dr. Michael Bitzer, professor of political science and history at Catawba College.

For those who have seen the American classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” the lead-up to Sen. Jefferson Smith’s talk-a-thon is the classic image of a filibuster. And while historically filibusters have been rare, Sen. Rand Paul made history with his nearly 13-hour speech, cracking the top 10 longest filibusters in U.S. Senate history.

But while Senator Paul’s marathon talk (with some lengthy “questions” from his fellow Republicans interspersed) failed to delay the confirmation of its intended victim, John Brennan as CIA director, it did appear to establish the junior senator as a possible candidate for higher positions.

When it comes to the longest filibuster, the record goes to Sen. Strom Thurmond, then a Democrat from South Carolina, who sought to prevent consideration of the 1957 Civil Rights Act.

Before heading to the Senate floor to begin his 24 hours and 18 minutes of speaking, the South Carolina senator went to the Senate sauna — to excise as much liquid from his body as possible, thus avoiding the urgency that apparently brought Senator Paul’s filibuster to an end.

And while it wasn’t the age of Twitter in the 1950s, or in the 1940s when Jimmy Stewart sought his cinematic filibuster against his own expulsion from the chamber, Senator Paul’s filibuster did meet a unique coincidence with the movie version.

In the movie, to break Senator Smith’s vocal holding of the Senate hostage, “Boss” Taylor coordinated a telegraph campaign to force the idealistic Smith to yield the floor. Baskets and baskets of telegrams were brought into the Senate, showing how “popular opinion could be made to order — ‘tailor’ made.”

Instead of opposing Senator Paul, however, the 21st century’s version of the telegram, “tweets,” were sent in support from around the world with the hash tag #StandwithRand, from as far as Iran and Venezuela.

Senator Paul may be giving notice that the new batch of anti-establishment GOP senators, such as himself, Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, will use the talking filibuster more regularly than just the threat that has been the case for some time in the Senate.

But not all GOP senators appreciated the talkfest from Senator Paul, with, notably, Sen. John McCain and Lindsey Graham blasting the filibuster. And this seems to continue to stoke the battle within the Republican ranks of the establishment versus the outside-Tea-Party wing of the GOP.

Combining his Tea Party rebuttal to Obama’s State of the Union address to his legislative loquaciousness, Senator Paul seems to be attracting the kind of attention one seeks in laying the foundation for future runs at a higher office.

And, indeed, the senator acknowledged that, unlike his dad’s multiple presidential runs, the son would take a deliberative and pragmatic approach to a possible 2016 bid.

In this period of what political scientists call “the invisible primary,” where potential presidential prospects begin the groundwork for the marathon run (starting after next year’s midterm elections), Senator Paul has captured a vital ingredient needed—the energy and enthusiasm to rally the troops behind his run. Yes, it is early to be thinking of the 2016 presidential race. But with most analysts acknowledging that the first day of any presidential election cycle begins the day after the last presidential winner is declared, Senator Paul could be speaking more broadly than just the topic of his future filibuster fights.

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