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The Party Line is dedicated to examining regional issues and policies through the figures who give shape to them. These are critical, complex, and even downright confusing times we live in. There’s a lot to navigate nationally and in the Carolinas; whether it’s elections, debates on gay marriage, public school closings, or tax incentives for economic development. The Party Line’s goal is to offer a provocative, intelligent look at the issues and players behind the action; a view that ultimately offers the necessary insight for Carolina voters to hold public servants more accountable.

Sen. Paul Captures Enthusiasm With Filibuster

Michael Bitzer
Michael Bitzer

For those who have seen the American classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” the lead-up to Sen. Jefferson Smith’s talk-a-thon is the classic image of a filibuster.  And while historically filibusters have been rare, Sen. Rand Paul made history with his nearly 13-hour speech, cracking the top 10 longest filibusters in U.S. Senate history.

But while Senator Paul’s marathon talk (with some notably and lengthy “questions” from his fellow Republicans interspersed) failed to delay the confirmation of its intended victim, John Brennan as CIA Director, it did appear to establish the junior senator as a possible candidate for higher positions.

When it comes to the longest filibuster, the record goes to Senator Strom Thurmond, then a Democrat from South Carolina, who sought to prevent consideration of the 1957 Civil Rights Act. 

Before heading to the Senate floor to begin his 24 hours and 18 minutes of speaking, the South Carolina senator went to the Senate sauna—to excise as much liquid from his body as possible, thus avoiding the urgency that apparently brought Sen. Paul’s filibuster to an end. 

And while it wasn’t the age of Twitter in the 1950s, or in the 1940s when Jimmy Stewart sought his cinematic filibuster against his own expulsion from the chamber, Sen. Paul’s filibuster did meet a unique coincidence with the movie version.

In the movie, to break Sen. Smith’s vocal holding of the Senate hostage, “Boss” Taylor coordinated a telegraph campaign to force the idealistic Smith to yield the floor.  Baskets and baskets of telegrams were brought into the Senate, showing how “popular opinion could be made to order—“tailor” made.”

Instead of opposing Sen. Paul, however, the 21st Century’s version of the telegram, “tweets,” were sent in support from around the world with the hash tag #StandwithRand, from as far as Iran and Venezuela.   

Sen. Paul may be giving notice that the new batch of anti-establishment GOP senators, such as himself, Sen. Ted Cruz, and Sen. Mike Lee, will use the talking filibuster more regularly than just the threat that has been the case for some time in the Senate. 

But not all GOP senators appreciated the talkfest from Sen. Paul, with notably Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham blasting the filibuster. And this seems to continue to stoke the battle within the Republican ranks of the establishment versus the outside-Tea-Party wing of the GOP.

Combining his Tea Party rebuttal to Obama’s State of the Union address to his legislative loquaciousness, Sen. Paul seems to be attracting the kind of attention one seeks in laying the foundation for future runs at a higher office.

And, indeed, the senator acknowledged that, unlike his dad’s multiple presidential runs, the son would take a deliberative and pragmatic approach to a possible 2016 bid.

In this period of what political scientists call “the invisible primary,” where potential presidential prospects begin the groundwork for the marathon run (starting after next year’s mid-term elections), Sen. Paul has captured a vital ingredient needed—the energy and enthusiasm to rally the troops behind his run. 

Yes, it is early to be thinking of the 2016 presidential race. But with most analysts acknowledging that the first day of any presidential election cycle begins the day after the last presidential winner is declared, Senator Paul could be speaking more broadly than just the topic of his future filibuster fights.

Dr. Michael Bitzer is an associate professor of politics and history at Catawba College, where he also serves as the 2011-2012 Swink Professor for Excellence in Classroom Teaching and the chair of the department of history & politics. A native South Carolinian, he holds graduate degrees in both history and political science from Clemson University and The University of Georgiaââ