Saturday, February 13, 2010

Word roots. Filibuster as Legislative Piracy. Rename and Contain It, Then Vote. The Freeboot; and The Vote

Filibuster as Legislative Piracy.
Rename and Contain.

1. Rename filibuster as The Freeboot -
The Privateer's Licensed Attack on Enemy Ships

2. Contain It:  Unrebutted minority speech time limited to substantive presentation of the minority's alternative proposal, no topic repetition, no list-reading.

3. Then Vote.

Rename the filibuster.

Was the filibuster intended, as now used,as a license to block any progress at all in enactment of legislation; or was its reasonable intent to extend reasonable discussion of substantive topics related to it, to protect the minority.

Topics included in the extended debates in history, time-wasters or substantive, are inconclusive. Does it turn on which number for a supermajority is chosen, see arguments for the constitutionality of the filibuster in theory at :// /  But the filibuster's structure - at least sometimes permitting simply time fillers in lieu of real speeches on substantive, relevant matters to the legislation - enabled the abuse by linguistic fillers.  Block it all by taking up time, and time and time.  The ultimate constipant.  Original intent is hard to pinpoint, but we know what we need now that it has been abused in becoming the rule rather than the exception in setting vote threshholds.

So look back at the meaning of the word for guidance on how to fix the now dysfunctional filibuster. Enter, etymology.

Etymology is looking at roots of words.  Find meanings that may have been lost along the way, but -  if unearthed - could add significance to a current application.

1. Rename it:  Rename the Filibuster as The Freeboot, to get people's attention, and tell it like it is -- a taking. What are its pros and cons.

Here, we look back and propose that the filibuster be renamed as "The Freeboot" - to connote

a) the pirate origins of the words filibuster and privateering, see filibuster at ://; and at ://

b) the political effect of such pirating when it is used to pirate time, to force a prolonged argument.

This is getting an advantage for free: you don't have a majority, you don't "deserve" to delay a vote by arguing on and on, but still, through the filibuster, you have this uninterrupted talking chance to get something for nothing. And what you get now is a blockage. Good for you. When the other side is a minority and wants to do the same thing, good for it. But it is abused. All has stopped with its overuse.

2.  Then Contain it:  Only permit the Merits of The Freebooter's Cause to be the topic in the argument by the minority.

The Freeboot has to be contained. Change the rule so that only the merits of the speakers' cause can be addressed: no reading of phone books, no repetition.  And no negatives thrown at the majority position.  In that way, The Freeboot will indeed end at some point, and there will be a vote, but The Freebooter will have had a chance to have changed some minds.

Roots of it:

Why bother with the past?  It adds to understanding. Look at the roots of the word "filibuster", so much in the news and grating at our teeth these days.  Watch government halted by those demanding a supermajority for any governmental matter of significance, or imagined significance, to pass. Pirates! Highjacking the process for personal gain. Privateers, licensed by their now-minority party to attack the enemy, the current majority in government.  What a twist.


Etymology - An Overview

1. Filibuster.

This is pan-European.  Trace the meaning of "filibuster". Start here: at ://
  • Pirates. 1580's - There were indeed pirates in the Caribbean. The Spanish called them filibustero, the French called them flibustier (unrelated to the bustier, we are confident), and the Dutch called them vrijbuiter - from to rob or to plunder, see :// and all that turned into flibutor or Freebooter.
  • Freebooters. Fast forward to 1850 or 1860 or so - American "lawless adventurers" or Freebooters  went to Central America and tried to overthrow governments.  Then, in about 1851, in our own halls of government, "obstructionist legislators 'pirated' debate ***"  Freebooting.
Filibuster is also a category of adventurer - the rovers.  Other adventurer categories included the hunters, or buccaneers,  and farmers or habitans.  See that at Etymology of 'filibuster' at ://

Rover. Rove. Sounds familiar. Genes, genes.

Those references, and The Freebooters, also appear at ://

2.  The Freebooter

The Freebooter, the one who was the adventurer who tried to overthrow countries in Central America in the 19th Century, see #1, continues to mean "pirate" - see Word of the Day, Freebooter, at ://

The connection with piracy has remained in understanding "freebooter", making it especially appropriate as an alternate name for the filibuster.  The "pirate" connection to the filibuster over time has faded, has been booted aside by those engaging in the practice and hoping to look more genteel.

More on freebooting. The "boot" word form did not mean your galoshes.  Think instead of "booty"; and throw in this to boot, see the Word of the Day site.  Continue to find that the word "better" is connected to the advantage of getting the booty - and for free.

3.  The Pirate - a long history.

  • Pirates:  to make trouble, to experiment, to test, to attack, see old Latin and Greek roots at ://  People acting piratically is not new. The issue is how to contain them. Sea robber.  Brigand. "One who takes another's work without permission."  See ://
4.  The Privateer: 

The privateer is a pirate but one who is not outside the law.  He is licensed by the monarch during wartime to attack enemy ships.  See ://   A  synonym for pirate is "privateer" says Charles Hodgson at Word of the Day.

Does that mean that those who seek to privatize everything, including social security, are pirates?  We do not suggest using the term "privateer" for filibusterer because it sounds too justified - in the service of the King,  - when a filibuster may not be in the King's service at all, but just self-serving.


II.  How to rename the filibuster:  The Freeboot

The Freeboot.  For the filibuster. This word conveys many sides of a filibuster: energy, sneak, gotcha, derailing.  It also conveys the pleasure of getting what you may not deserve - and for free, just elbow. Very tempting. It conveys the capacity of the filibuster to serve a dark side, the malicious privateer element, to pirate away the debate, steal it by force. To get something for nothing is always suspect, but there is an element of admiration for those who manage it. 

At its worst, the filibuster is indeed legislative piracy.  At its best, the noble but misused minority gets a chance to stand for what is clearly right, to grab the time needed to convince the others of the cause, then for those others to hear, change, and vote for the filibusterer. The filibuster is not all bad. It just has to be contained.


III.  How to contain it

A. Merits of the speakers' views only.   

No part of the filibuster's debate time shall be consumed by any topic not directly related to the merits of the speaker's cause.  And there shall  be no repetition of topics.

It shall be conclusively presumed by the time of the filibuster that all the speaker's negative views of the majority's cause have been laid out. 

B.  If the speakers can think of nothing more to say, then the Freeboot ends.

The speeches will have to end, given the substance, positive and no repetition rule, see A. In that way, there will be a vote, although it will be indefinitely delayed so long as the speakers can think of bona fide new merits to their cause.

Shout-outs of "You Pirate!" shall be allowed during the otherwise unrebutted speechifying, such interruptions having been instigated and approved by the current minority Party as Acceptable Congressional Manners.

Now:  the vote.