The Filibuster: Imperfect, But Better Than Nothing

Party Makeup of the 117th United States Senate
Party Makeup of the 117th United States Senate

In its current form, the US Senate delaying tactic called the “filibuster” hangs on a rule requiring 60 votes for “cloture.” Simply put, it takes 51 Senators to pass a bill, but before that it takes the consent of 60 Senators to end debate and actually get to a final majority vote.

Each time control of the US Senate changes hands, the new majority party publicly mulls doing away with the filibuster in the name of democracy, while the new minority party staunchly defends the filibuster in the name of minority rights to force due deliberation.

This year is no exception. The Democrats enjoy a 51-vote majority in the Senate (48 Democrats, two “independents” who caucus with them, and Vice President Kamala Harris as a tie-breaker). If they’re unanimous, they can pass anything they want … but only if they can find ten Republicans to vote for cloture. No wonder they’re tempted to use  a parliamentary tactic (called, by both sides, “the nuclear option”) to do away with the 60-vote requirement.

But there’s a fly in the ointment: President Joe Biden.

Until recently, Biden opposed ending the filibuster, and as not only president but also former 36-year Senator, his opinion carries  weight on the matter with his party.

In a March 16 interview, Biden shifted gears and supported resurrecting the “talking filibuster” as a compromise. “You have to do it what it used to be when I first got to the Senate …. You had to stand up and command the floor, you had to keep talking.”

The “talking filibuster” is both more interesting and more demanding than just sitting on 41 votes to gum up the works. It takes effort, and it’s entertaining (I still remember the late West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd rambling on about his “little dog named Billy” while filibustering something or other).

But whether it’s 60 votes for cloture or Senators yammering about recipes for green bean casseroles, I like the filibuster and want to see it continue regardless of which party is in power. And my reason for that isn’t complicated:

Political power, especially on the sheer size and scale wielded by the US federal government, is a very dangerous thing. Even if it really is the only lesser evil versus Hobbes’s “nature red of tooth and claw” (and I consider that a false dilemma), we should make it as difficult to wield as possible.

Letting 51 politicians do whatever they want, over the opposition of 50 other politicians, is far too loose a standard for application of such power.

At a bare minimum, I’d prefer a 7/8ths vote requirement to pass legislation, with a far lower threshold to repeal it. And, perhaps, a rule mandating the public execution of one randomly selected Senator who votes for each bill that passes.

But in an imperfect world where compromise is valued, I’ll settle for either a 60-vote cloture requirement or a “talking filibuster” scenario in which the minority can, with some application of effort, slow the pace of Leviathan from a sprint to a plod.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Reefer Madness: Biden White House Director’s Cut

Reefer Madness movie poster, 1936 (public domain)
Reefer Madness movie poster, 1936 (public domain)

“Dozens of young White House staffers have been suspended, asked to resign or placed in a remote work program,” The Daily Beast reports,  “due to past marijuana use.”

Or, rather, due to having truthfully disclosed that marijuana use when applying for their jobs. It’s a felony to lie on forms like the Office of Personnel Management’s “Questionnaire for National Security Positions,” which asks “In the last seven (7) years, have you illegally used any drugs or controlled substances?” Presumably some applicants decided to risk the felony rap rather than out themselves. They’re apparently the smart ones.

I’m not prone to pity for government employees who find themselves kicked out of Uncle Sugar’s paycheck mill and into the productive sector, but the sheer idiocy of this move doesn’t augur well for drug policy in general.

If you believed that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were really going to take a different approach to the “war on drugs,” and voted for them on that basis, you got conned. And you should have known better.

When it comes to marijuana in particular, every winning presidential candidate since Bill Clinton has pulled the old “Lucy tells Charlie Brown to kick the football then pulls it away” routine.

Barack Obama and Donald Trump might have fooled you, but they were elected president as, more or less, political novices, without records of actual governance to compare their campaign rhetoric to.

Biden and Harris, on the other hand, have both spent their decades in political office gleefully doing their damnedest to put users of substances they disapprove of behind bars — Biden in the Senate and Harris as both a prosecutor and US Senator. Their supposed slight changes of heart on the presidential campaign trail were simple opportunism, and transparently so to anyone knew their records.

If America in general ran on the White House policy we’re seeing here, US unemployment would stand at (at least) 52%. That’s the percentage of adults who admitted to having used marijuana at some point (and 44% of those claimed to still use it) in a 2017 Marist/Yahoo News poll.

Fortunately, America in general is way ahead of the federal government, and the Biden/Harris administration in particular, on marijuana. Medical marijuana is legal in 39 states and DC (five more have legal CBD), while 15 states and DC have legalized recreational use (although South Dakota’s governor is pushing malicious litigation to overturn the will of the voters on the subject).

The war on marijuana may not be over, but marijuana is clearly going to win it. The only question is how many more victims Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will have abducted and put in cages (or killed) before America recovers from its chronic case of reefer madness.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


“Censor”: When a Word Means Everything, it Means Nothing

Illustration of Humpty Dumpty from Through the Looking Glass, by John Tenniel, 1871. Public Domain.
Illustration of Humpty Dumpty from Through the Looking Glass, by John Tenniel, 1871. Public Domain.

Some words carry emotional force such that using them creates an immediate negative reaction on the part of the listener or reader. That makes such words useful — until they get over-used and misused so much that they cease to have the effect.

Lately, the trending “creep people out to get them on my side” word of choice is “censor” or “censorship.” Most of us support free speech. None of us want to be censored ourselves, and most of us don’t want others censored either.

But what do those words mean?

To censor (verb), according to Oxford Dictionaries, is to “examine (a book, movie, etc.) officially and suppress unacceptable parts of it.”

A censor (noun) is “[a]n official who examines material … and suppresses any parts that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.”

Implicit in both those definitions is that censorship is an act of the state, backed by force of law and if necessary the physical force of government agents.

I’ve often explained censorship this way:

If I tell you that you may not sing “Auld Lang Syne” or I will send police to break up the performance and haul you off to jail, I am censoring (or at least attempting to censor) you.

If I tell you that you may not sing “Auld Lang Syne” on my front porch at 3am and by the way get off my porch, it’s 3 in the morning, I am not censoring you. You’re still free to sing the song anywhere else and any other time, just not on my property while I’m trying to sleep.

Which maps neatly, I think, to Twitter and Facebook deciding who gets to post what on their platforms. They can’t stop you from using other platforms to say whatever it is they don’t want you to say.

It maps less neatly to Apple, Google, and Amazon colluding to destroy one of those other platforms (Parler), seemingly on behalf of government officials who think it’s their business who says what and where. Thankfully Parler survived and returned, but we’ve definitely got some “edge cases” going that certainly at least resemble censorship, and that I was admittedly somewhat asleep at the switch on until that wake-up call.

Recently, I’ve had to add a third example to my explanation, though. Some friends of mine — very libertarian friends, in fact — recently held that Dr. Seuss Enterprises is “censoring” books it chooses not to publish. So, explanation of censorship, part three:

If I choose not to sing “Auld Lang Syne” myself, I’m not “censoring” the song.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty tells Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

There seems to be a lot of Humpty Dumpty usage of the word “censorship” lately. If we’re not careful, abusing it to mean “anything I don’t like” may drain it of its rightful argumentative power and leave us in the grip of the real thing.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.