Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Catch of the Day

I really like Ezra Klein's analysis of the Cruz, Paul, Sanders, and Wendy Davis filibusters/extended speeches, trying to answer the question: why don't more Senators pull this stunt, since it seemed to work so well for the four of them? Klein has three answers: doing it is difficult and carries risks (of saying something foolish); it's usually unnecessary in purely legislative terms, at least in the current Senate; and it can be annoying and counterproductive.

All correct under current Senate rules and procedures.

It's not surprising, then, that the three Senators who have done it recently share quite a bit in common. They're all ideological outliers; Paul and Cruz probably couldn't do much legislatively even if they tried, and Sanders isn't quite in the mainstream of Senate Democrats, although by nature he seems far more interested in going along to get along than Paul and Cruz do.

At least Cruz and Sanders are also good talkers, politicians who definitely have the ability to make it up as they go along (I know less about Paul, and even less about Davis). Not that it's strictly necessary; at least if rules allow it, as they do in the Senate, extended speeches can consist entirely of reading written material, and as all of these cases proved the world will provide plenty of material for any filibustering politician to read once he or she gets a sufficient amount of attention. I'd add to this that arrogance is probably a plus: not just that they have the ability to talk off the cuff at length, but that they believe that they can do so and that they can change opinion with their efforts.

Moreover, it's no surprise that at least two of the examples were seeking higher office (I don't actually know whether Davis was already intending to do so, but I wouldn't be surprised).

What all this suggests is not only, as Klein says, are there disincentives for these long speeches, but they most likely work together to severely limit the number of Senators who are interested in it. Still, I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are more of these in the future. Probably right up to the point where one of them implodes.

Also: nice catch!


  1. Maybe one reason more senators don't do it is that it owes what effectiveness it has to its rarity. If more senators did it, nobody but hard-core political junkies would pay much attention to any particular filibuster/extended speech.

  2. It's a good post by Klein -- but he doesn't note that Cruz actually did tick-off his fellow lawmakers. It was mentioned on Fox News today that Republican lawmakers were upset by Cruz's accusation that any Republican who didn't join him wasn't really serious about ending Obamacare. Of course, it was arguably one of Cruz's goals to burnish his own image with the tea party by angering party insiders. Also, while Cruz didn't say anything outlandishly stupid, it seems unlikely that he impressed anyone who wasn't already on his side (which, again, wasn't the point) All of which is to say, the risks for him really were pretty low.

    The risks for Rand Paul were considerably higher -- ie, the risk of being labeled as a black helicopter guy or getting drummed-out of the GOP for flanking Obama on the left. But his achievements went beyond simply getting people who already agreed with him to pump their fists and toast his name, which is all that was ultimately accomplished by any other recent filibuster.

    Paul's filibuster informed the public that the White House has claimed the power to kill anyone thought to be part of the "war on terror" and that it considers even US soil to be part of the "battlefield." The overwhelming public consensus was that we don't want to wage that kind of "war," at least not on US soil. And the White House gave in on this point, or at least Holder's statement was meant to give the impression that deadly force wouldn't be used against anyone who wasn't an active gunman. And finally, Paul rallied party insiders to his side on an issue that was, by conventional measures, to Obama's left. He moved the national debate (and GOP opinion in particular) in a libertarian direction.

    As a reminder that we're still living with Rand Paul's GOP, Ted Cruz was seen on Fox News saying that he was proud to stand beside Rand Paul and Justin Amash. (Amash is a young libertarian House member known mostly for his anti-NSA bill.) At least Cruz seems to understand the direction of change in GOP politics, even if he's trying to be seen as a leader of that change with a very safe filibuster on an issue most Republicans already agree on.

  3. I think its interesting that Cruz's (non)-filibuster lasted 22 hours. For me it leads to the question Ezra didn't ask, namely, how soon before Cruz' peers realize the branding power of his antics, and how many of them try the same before the partisan media catches on and calls them out?

    A talking filibuster has an interesting shelf-life. For the first, maybe, day - it seems heroic. Soon after it begins to grow annoying, and not long after that, it starts to feel downright desperate. A key consideration is to stop before it gets annoying.

    Another key consideration is not to actually filibuster something otherwise to be voted upon. The problem with that is that your (short) filibuster is followed by a cloture vote, the result of which renders your antics irrelevant or, worse, quixotic.

    There's a way to go about this business and come away a winner among partisans; I think Cruz found the formula! But it can only be repeated so many times before the pundits catch on and pile derision on the politician expecting plaudits for his heroism.

    The real question is: who's gonna be the next to try, and how many more try before the zeitgeist catches on, and sympathy turns to malice? Seems to me you really don't want to be the last person to try this stratagem.

    1. That's true with any con, CSH. Now, I'm going to come out and say that I appreciate Sen. Paul's efforts to walk back the police state industry. This country is drowning in the twin costs of over-incarceration and over-surveillance.

      What would be nice would be to see libertarians take up the cause of the Fourth Amendment the way ultraconservatives harp on the Second.


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