Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. James Darsey

Second Advisor

Dr. Elizabeth Burmester

Third Advisor

Dr. Tim Barouch

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Carl Burgchardt


This dissertation aims to map the evolutionary history of the talking filibuster as a rhetorical form. Since Senators can forego a talking filibuster and obstruct a bill with a secret hold, filibustering is a strategic rhetorical choice. In addition to the textuality of filibustering, then, what performative and symbolic rhetorical work is done by the filibuster that secret holds do not do? I argue that the filibuster is a form of populist transcendence, an innovative rhetorical technique for transcending senatorial elitism. Chapter two studies Robert La Follette and his era: the fin de siècle. This populist agrarian used lengthy deliberation and filibustering as “temporal republicanism” to slow legislative proceedings during the social acceleration of the industrial age. In response to La Follette’s deliberative filibusters, Senate rules were changed to stymie him. With deliberation restricted, filibustering Senators had to create and maintain a scene to hold the floor. Chapters three and four study Huey Long and "Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," the personae they adopted, and the suffering they underwent to create their dramatic filibusters. However, Frank Capra’s film over-dramatized the visuals and motorized the pacing of the filibuster to create a spectacular caricature of the form for mass entertainment. Finally, in our social-media age, the filibuster has taken on a hybrid form: synthesizing spectacular drama with deliberation. Chapter five studies Wendy Davis and her ability to interact with citizens through social media. The co-creation of the filibuster by senators and citizens produced identification, empathy, deliberation, and dramatic political action when citizens went to the Texas capitol and shouted from the gallery to kill the bill. Using Jacques Rancière, I find that this new form of filibustering blurs the line between actors and audience and can emancipate spectators. Thus, social media is re-enlivening both the dramatic and deliberative aspects of filibustering. Overall, the filibuster began as a deliberative form, became a dramatic form, and now within the social media spectacle, deliberation and drama are synthesizing.