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Albert Parker

Senate Filibuster Debate
Was a Sham Battle

(21 March 1949)

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 12, 21 March 1949, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Southern Democrats have won a clear-cut victory in the Senate debate over the filibuster, placing themselves in an even stronger position than before to prevent a vote on civil rights legislation. For this they can thank not only the majority of the Republican Party, who voted with them, but also the Truman Democrats who put on a show of “opposition” to the filibuster.

Previously, a two-thirds vote of the Senators present was required to close debate and permit a vote on a bill. But this closure rule was interpreted to apply only to a vote on a bill, and not to a “motion” to take up a bill.

Under the so-called “compromise” being considered as we go to press, closure will apply on any issue – “motion” or bill. But now it would be made operative only by two-thirds of the entire Senate membership, and would not apply under any conditions to debate oyer suggested changes in the closure rule in the future.

This means: 1. Passage of civil rights bills opposed by the Southern Democrats will require the support of 64 out of the Senate’s 96 votes. 2. It will be virtually impossible to repair this violation of majority rule by parliamentary methods alone.

Fraudulent Claim

The Truman Democrats, expressing great indignation about this “compromise,” are now presenting themselves as advocates of closure by a majority vote – which is the only position in accord with elementary democratic procedure. But this claim is a fraud. All they waged in the Senate was a sham battle.

To begin with, they did not even introduce an amendment to achieve closure by majority vote in the Senate Rules Committee. Instead, they voted in this committee only to extend closure by two-thirds vote so that it would apply to “motions” as well as bills, which would by no means deprive the Southern Democrats of their filibuster powers.

And this was the level at which the Trumanites conducted the debate until the very end – that is, on the basis of continued rejection of closure by majority vote, which they now pretend to support. Even at this level their role was thoroughly hypocritical. For example:

On the eve of the filibuster debate, Truman spoke to the nation from the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, but he avoided saying a single word on the filibuster issue. Why?

Shadow Boxing

He made no use at all of. his powerful weapon of patronage to whip recalcitrant Democrats into line even for the weak Rules Committee amendment to extend the closure by two-thirds rule. In the past he has always used this weapon effectively when he really wanted to put over a measure. Why didn’t he use it on this occasion?

He could have gone to the people directly in an effort to arouse popular pressure on behalf of his position, as he did when he announced the “anti-communist” Truman Doctrine. But he did not do so. Why didn’t he?

Instead, he stated in an offhand manner at a press conference that he personally favors closure by majority vote, and conveniently departed for a Florida vacation, leaving his Senatorial supporters to maneuver around a bit for the record. No wonder the Southern Democrats were so arrogant and sure of themselves! They could see for themselves that the Trumanites were only shadow-boxing.

Truman’s hypocrisy should not be viewed in purely personal terms; it has a deep political basis. To lead a real fight to democratize Senate procedure and enact the “Fair Deal” program, Truman would have to break with his Southern wing – that is, risk the split of his own party. He has no intention of doing that, because the Southern Democrats support what to Truman is the most important part of his program – the drive toward war.

An Important Stage

Truman is aided in this duplicity by the labor and Negro leaders who, instead of arousing mass pressure to compel him to carry out his promises, are toeing the line obediently, singing Truman’s praises to the masses and doing everything they can to keep their members tied to the Democratic Party.

How long this situation can continue is another matter. In any case, the Southern victory on the filibuster marks an important stage in the short history of the “Fair Deal” because it will surely renew mass discontent with the Democratic Party and strengthen the tendencies toward independent political action.

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