March 8, 2013

That question you were asking about filibusters

Washington Post - Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) reportedly took daily steam baths in preparation for his 24-hour 1957 screed against the Civil Rights Act, to dehydrate himself and prepare for his separation from the urinal. In 1935, Sen. Huey Long (D-La.) managed to go for 10 hours when he rose to address matters in the National Recovery Act, but he was felled by nature: According to a 2005 Village Voice account of the day, “The Kingfish announced he would yield the floor to seek a conference with the leadership, and he ran for the toilet.”

“My urinary tract was in good shape that day,” says Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), the last torchbearer of the filibuster — he spoke for eight hours in 2010 about tax cuts. “We got a call from the nurse,” though, he says. She wanted him to make sure he walked around enough, to avoid blood clots. The experience wasn’t scary, he says, because he was speaking on something “I feel very strongly about.”

Sam Smith, 2011-  I was fortunate enough to have covered a number of real filibusters. Once I reported that "This afternoon it was JW Fulbright who said the issue of discrimination was non-existent -- raised every four years for political reasons." Fulbright at the time was participating in a southern filibuster that had already been going 69 hours, far longer than any previous effort.

Among those also taking part were Sam Ervin and the rambunctious, hard-drinking Russell Long who managed to hold the Senate floor for eleven hours. This, however, was no record. Senator Wayne Morse had once gone over 18 hours and two years earlier, Strom Thurmond had held the floor for more than a day.

Thurmond reportedly described to Rep. Wayne Hayes in some detail how he managed this feat without having to relieve himself, noting that he had taken saunas, avoided liquids and so forth. Hayes listened thoughtfully and then said, "Strom, I can understand how you went that long without pissing, but what I can't figure out is how someone so full of shit as you could have done it."

One filibuster would drift into another and the hours turned into days. A group of reporters gathered around the minority leader, Everett Dirksen, in the middle of a night and one asked, "How are you doing?" The Wizard of Ooze told us he was doing all right "but at some point I suppose I shall have to lie down and let Morpheus embrace me . . . After two weeks the flesh rides herd on the spirit."

That was a real filibuster. Today, Dirksen would have just called Harry Reid and said, "Chalk me up for a filibuster."

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