It was real life imitating art. Bernie Sanders, U.S. senator from Vermont, stood on the Senate floor last week and spoke non-stop for more than eight hours. It’s what we used to call a filibuster, until the rules of the Senate were changed to make sure senators never had to bother with actually filibustering, and that a verbal notice of intent to filibuster is now deemed sufficient to prevent legislation from being brought forward for a vote until 60 senators vote to end the filibuster that never took place.
Sanders, an independent, opposes the compromise package on extending Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent of income earners. He took to the floor to explain his reasons, giving us the first actual filibuster of the 88 pretend filibusters Congress has exercised this session.
Captured on C-SPAN, Sanders told anecdotes, recounted economic history, read constituent letters and, as aides handed him slips of paper, reported the tally of phone calls to his office. Sanders’ opposition to the package is similar to that of Jimmy Stewart’s fictional character in the famous 1939 film — speaking truth to power. And what powerful truth he spoke. Jimmy Stewart would have been proud of his bravura performance.
Speaking on behalf of the decency of the American people, the hard-working men and women whose voices are often not heard on Capitol Hill, what Sanders gave us was a comprehensive description of the root causes of the Great Recession and a historical look at the changes in the economy that are undercutting the middle class.
From the Wall Street bailout, to NAFTA, Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve, the resurgence of predatory lending, banks “too big to fail” now bigger than ever, and the dismantling of manufacturing in the U.S., Sanders stood and told the American people directly why he was delaying a vote on the bill he opposes.
It’s what filibusters were meant to be and it’s what they should be again.
Senators who are so philosophically opposed to a piece of legislation that they are determined to prevent it coming to the Senate floor for an up or down vote need to stand up and tell us why, unfiltered by 10-second sound bites and pundits telling us what they think it means to the political landscape.
I would have liked to hear from the senators who prevented a vote on legislation providing for medical care for 9/11 first responders suffering from illnesses caused by inhaling silica and steel dust from the Twin Towers. The public, and the first responders, deserve to know these senators’ philosophical, fundamental, and patriotic reasons for denying these sickened heroes the medical help they still need.
I would have liked to hear from Jim DeMint, R-S.C., the lone senator who prevented a vote on legislation that would have allowed increased compensation to the families of the 11 workers who lost their lives in the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Let DeMint stand up and explain to the spouses and children of these lost workers why an archaic maritime law passed 100 years ago should not be amended to allow for contemporary standards of compensation. Let him explain why he refuses to speak to the father who lost his son in the explosion and has now made it his life’s work to change this archaic law.
I would like to hear from Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who piously said just this week that he believes it is “sacrilegious” to work during the week preceding and following Christmas.
Let Cornyn stand on the floor of the Senate and explain to millions of working Americans why doing their job as their employers require is “sacrilegious.” Let him explain why doing his duty to serve his country at Christmas is somehow so different from that of the millions of men and women serving their country on the front lines of war.
Whatever one thinks of Bernie Sanders, or whether one believes tax cuts trickle down or gusher up, Sanders kept faith with the American people by assuming they care more about substance than politics and have the intelligence to discern the difference.