Real filibusters

Sam Smith, 2009 – 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.”

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