Political Jargon Buster: Filibuster

Photo: (LIFE)

45 million 18-29 year olds will be eligible to vote in this year’s presidential election, representing the largest potential voting bloc in the country. Learn more about the issues, register to vote and get involved with MTV’s Power of 12. Today, we’ve got another “Jargon Buster” for you.

filibuster, noun: the right for a person to delay the vote on a bill (or eliminate a vote altogether) by stalling a debate with very, very long speeches; in the US, filibusters are allowed in the Senate and House of Representatives.

“Filibuster” is a particularly fun word. Go on, say it. Out loud. Fi-li-bust-er. Here are some of the things it might bring to mind: Dustbusters, filigree cookies, ”A scrub is a guy who thinks he’s fly / and is also known as a buster,” fine fillies, Mr. Smith going to Washington …

Of those images, the latter would be the most a propos. Have you watched the scene in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” where Jimmy Stewart, all dehydrated and sweaty and crazy-eyed, gives an endless speech in Congress, wearing everyone down until the see the light? No? Check it out. Ol’ dude looks like he ran a megamarathon. This is the gruesome effect of a filibuster.

In real life, filibusters may lean more toward the frustrating and annoying than the epic and triumphant. The film demonstrates, however, that if one person in Congress feels strongly enough that a vote should not be made without changes to a bill or that the issue shouldn’t be brought to vote in the first place, he or she has the right to run his or her mouth indefinitely. It means that, like Jimmy Stewart, a lone idealist can make a difference fighting the system. Might need a Ricola and some Evian after the fact, but it’s a very literal representation of “taking a stand.”

Then again, maybe truth can compete with fiction. In 1957, Senator Strom Thurmond spoke against a bill for over 24 hours, having super hydrated ahead of time and stuffed his pockets with lozenges. He talked and talked, reading from Bill of Rights and Declaration — straight up just filling space. He even talked about his grandmother’s biscuit recipe to take up time. WTF! The result? Thankfully he didn’t get his way and the Civil Rights Act of 1957 passed, giving all American (regardless of gender, religion or ethnicity) the right to vote.