Note to Readers: “The Lunatic of the Month” is rendered to one who, in the modest opinion of this writer and in keeping with the mandate of this blog, has made a worthy attempt to see “clouds as mountains amid machinations of a no-holds-barred culture,” regardless of gender, race, orientation, ethnicity or political affiliation. The conferral of the award does not suggest endorsement or promotion of a recipient’s expressed affiliations. Nominations are welcomed.
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Who can listen to anyone speaking nonstop for 13 hours and actually hear the point he trying to make? On March 6 and 7, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) held forth his intention to filibuster the Senate vote on the nominee for Director of the CIA, John O. Brennan. Paul’s point was to bring attention to the use of drones on American soil and protecting the constitutional freedom of Americans not to be killed by one. He stayed standing. He pressed on. He made some salient points. At other points he meandered. Inevitably, the doldrums set in.
Then it wasn’t about words anymore. Power of the filibuster isn’t in the words, nor can it be. The power of the filibuster is about a man standing on two feet in one place and in a singular aspect who keeps talking for the purpose of keeping talking to make a point about something one feels is worth making a fool of yourself for. Even President Obama, for all his rhetorical panache, had to tip a hat to this display. Rand Paul got hungry. He ate the candy bar and dripped caramel onto his text. He got tired. This is where (my guess is) he might have spaced out a little and started seeing funny faces in the patterns in the Senate floor carpet.
You need a bathroom break, but behind the portion of the mind that is formulating words, cadences and syllables, you start to think: I remember the trip from [here] to [there] and there was no place to stop for a bathroom break so I pressed on. I am going to pretend I am on that highway and, dang it, just passed the last rest area for the next 50 miles. I have to press on and find something else to think about.
The term found a way into vernacular by means of writings about a French clergyman named Père Jean-Baptiste Labat (1663 – 1738). He was also a botanist, writer, explorer, ethnographer, soldier, engineer, and landowner and traveled a lot:
“These duties involved prodigious physical and mental exertion, in a climate deadly to Europeans. They also involved much voyaging in waters haunted by filibusters and buccaneers. But nothing appears to daunt Labat. As for the filibusters, he becomes their comrade and personal friend; – he even becomes their chaplain, and does not scruple to make excursions with them.” — Lafcadio Hearn, Two Years in the French West Indies (1890).
The power of the filibuster resides in the sheer will it takes to keep standing, to keep talking, and power-through the funny faces in the carpet. It is the force of conviction over the polish of diction. It is about drudgery, slog, and blood sugar levels. It is Jacob wrestling the angel:
“And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’” (Genesis 35)
It doesn’t have to make any logical sense. (Brennan was confirmed, after all.) But logic and sense are not the forces that drive the engine of the filibuster. That power belongs to the candy bar. The fog, the tedium, the batting down boredom and fatigue, the aches in your feet and the bloating bladder — this the where the battle is won or lost. Nibbling on that candy bar, dribbling caramel onto the text, Rand Paul looks the fool and indeed seems the fool: he laughs at himself. We couldn’t help get the point.
There is little force behind grandstanding. But there is something insanely inspiring about genuine human fortitude. For this, Poets & Lunatics salutes Rand Paul as our March 2013 “Lunatic of the Month.”
Almighty God, bestow upon us the meaning of words, the light of understanding, the nobility of diction, and the faith of the true nature. And grant that what we believe we may also speak.
Saint Hilary (c. 315-368), Bishop of Poitiers
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