Winter storm Saturn has wreaked its havoc upon a large portion of the United States, dumping feet of snow on broad areas of the nation, downing trees and power lines, and left hundreds of thousands powerless. Many schools and offices have closed due to poor road conditions and lack of power. Amidst this storm, the busy capital of the US marches on. Except the Senate. Here, Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky is taking a stand and filibustering the CIA director nominee confirmation. His filibuster, affectionately known as the filiblizzard, lasted 12 hours and 54 minutes. With many Americans forced to stay indoors, social media sites blew up. People who view C-Span as a useless and boring channel tuned in to watch this historic moment.
Many remember the classic film, Mr. Smith goes to Washington, which tells the story of a young Senator with no political experience who holds a job as a boy scout leader, who goes to DC quite unaware of the corrupt nature of politics. He is swept up in a political machine, but being the model citizen that he is, seeks to stand up for what is right. He thus filibusters the bill of the other Senator from his own state. And, as all Frank Capra films do, the story has a happy ending as the political machine unravels and Mr. Smith is triumphant. “I would note that your standing here today like a modern Mr. Smith Goes to Washington must surely be making Jimmy Stewart smile,” Senator Cruz said to Paul.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term filibuster, or weren’t paying attention in government class, it is a tactic used in the Senate as a form of protest. Once a Senator is recognized by the speaker, they have the right to the floor until they yield their time to another Senator, or sit down. The Senator may yield to questions and still maintain the floor. However if the Senator must remain in the chamber, remain standing, and remain speaking for the entire time. The record for longest filibuster is 24 hours and 18 minutes and was set by Senator Strom Thurmond in protest of The Civil Rights act of 1957, though ultimately the bill passed. There has since been instated the process of Cloture which allows for the end of a filibuster by a two-thirds vote.
However, the point of this Rand’s filibuster was not to set a record, or to earn notoriety and fame, but to stand up for his beliefs and to defend the Constitution and rights of citizens, saying ““I will not sit quietly and let him shred the Constitution.” The controversial issue he was addressing involves the right of the US Government to carry out drone strikes on US citizens, a process which directly contradicts Due Process. Rand Paul was simply asking for confirmation that the killing of US citizens without cause is illegal, and that American’s should not fear for their safety. Several times, it was noted that the White House was failing to reply to Paul’s questions at all. Surprisingly, Rand stayed on topic for the entire time. He did however, get some relief as other Senators asked questions, usually quite lengthy.
It is very unusual for filibusters to take place, but Paul managed to slip in. “One of the reasons filibusters don’t occur is because they carefully guard the floor from letting it happen. And it was left unguarded,” Paul says. He said he really wasn’t expecting to filibuster, making a last-minute decision to, and consequently wasn’t very prepared. “We had no plan and I had the wrong shoes on, my feet were hurting the whole day,” Paul told CNN correspondent Dana Bash. Another reason filibusters generally don’t last is lack of food, and prohibited bathroom trips. Paul was light-hearted about this, saying, “There’s a candy drawer, and if you go to the candy drawer, you can sneak around and get a candy bar,” he said. “But I see you caught me with half the candy bar in and half out of my mouth. My wife said can’t you chew with your mouth closed on the floor?”
The White House gave its response to Paul’s question this morning, in a terse and short response:
Paul has said he is “quite happy” with the response, but he is “disappointed it took a month and a half and a root canal to get it.”
What is remarkable about this process is the public response. A website was created to time the filibuster: Is Rand Paul Still Talking? . The twitter-verse blew up with hashtags #standwithrand #filiblizzard and #randpaul. Senator Cruz noted this, and read some of these tweets on the floor.
For better or worse, social media plays a large role in politics today. Media is responsible for the widespread public response to this issue. Without sites like Twitter and Facebook, few Americans would know that history was being made. This publicity has earned Paul respect from both sides of the aisle, and earned him a reputation of responsibility and integrity, whether one agrees with his opinions on the subject or not. People all across the nation were making comments on his argument, his stamina, and even laughing at the references to Shakespeare and Henry the Fifth. Some have complained about the process, but many have expressed this as one of the reasons America is great.
An event like this opens the eyes of many less familiar with the manner in which our government functions. The formality with which Senators address one another may seem odd, and the entire concept of a filibuster can seem foreign. Moments such as these are excellent opportunities to build awareness.
With the media playing an active role in building the image of celebrities and athletes, much less attention is paid to those who run this country. The novelty of the event will soon wear off, and many will forget about it, going back to paying attention to Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy, or Jennifer Lawrence tripping at the Oscars. It just goes to show the superficiality of the entertainment industry. Because after all, a man talking about politics for 13 hours isn’t going to be able to hold your attention better than a professor lecturing on the economy
unless you’re an economics major, that is.
PSA: This post is in no way meant to take a political stance. It serves merely to note the historical event which occurred and the role of the media in the public response afterward. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Healthy discussion is built on respect, not tearing down other’s opinions and views, no matter whether you believe they are right or not.