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Saturday, May 14, 2005

Something New Every Day

Turns out the definition - and therefore the practise - of the Filibuster is rather looser in america than I had imagined? The dictionary defines the word thus:


    1. The use of obstructionist tactics, especially prolonged speechmaking, for the purpose of delaying legislative action.
    2. An instance of the use of this delaying tactic.

  1. An adventurer who engages in a private military action in a foreign country.

I was prompted to look the word up because of something I read - can't remember where, and it was a week or so ago - which described my familiar understanding of it to be the "old-fashioned" meaning, to be quaint; and the piece went on to laugh at the suggestion Senators might be forced to resort to this archaic procedure?

To me, a briton, a filibuster is a parliamentary tactic in which one or two members opposed to a particular piece of legislation will, quite literally, talk it out of debate? They take the floor then refuse to yield it, except to co-conspirators, and will talk and talk for hours and hours - sometimes days - without interruption? It is a demanding and exhausting tactic that requires much preparation - imagine how difficult it must be to talk non-stop for twenty-four hours? Part of the fun, the joy, of the filibuster lies in the rhetorical contortions necessary to connect whatever subject is being spoken of at the moment - vacations in spain, say - to whatever piece of legislation is being bustered - The Defence of the Realm Act, or somesuch?

They are very rare in Britain but they do occur; and afterwards, no matter one's position, there is always a wary, grudging respect paid to those who filibuster successfully.

But here in America, it appears, things are quite different: the term applies to any deliberately obstructionist tactic that plays the rules against the progress of a Bill. Nobody seriously considers filibustering the british way.

So, I wonder, in a non-partisan honest-question way, how do they work here?


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