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Huffington Post: Filibuster Reform Goes to Washington

As the Senate considers filibuster reform in the coming weeks, politicians and pundits alike will be paying lip service to Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Since Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart) won over audiences around the world with his heroic filibuster to save American democracy from the tyranny of the powerful in this populist classic, the obscure Senate rule has been framed as an important feature of our political system. Yet since the rule was amended some 40 years ago, this right — in the language of the film — “to talk your head off” has been repurposed into a clerical procedure used to gag dissent and keep important debates from being heard at all. In recent years, the ersatz filibuster has mangled the intent of the founding fathers and made the Senate all but dysfunctional. Senators Udall, Merkley and Harkin have been associating their “talking filibuster” proposal with the film and its extraordinary hero. They would restore the traditional filibuster and make it so that senators would have to hold the floor and speak, just like Jeff Smith did. It is a worthy goal, and it is worth reminding ourselves of the spirit of American democracy that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was fighting to save.