As I noted below, Rand Paul (and now a handful of his colleagues) are doing a real talking filibuster this afternoon in what is almost certainly a futile effort to block the nomination of John Brennan to serve as CIA Director. I just noticed a fellow reporter snarking on Twitter that, ‘well, Dems wanted to bring back the talking filibuster and now they’ve got it!’
Now, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are both pretty low in my estimation. But this is a good example of why we should have the talking filibuster and just the talking filibuster. And I think also an example of why Senators shouldn’t be afraid of living under such a regime in the minority.
The key problem with what we might call the modern filibuster is that it gives huge power with little or no accountability. The minority can kill legislation virtually at will and with no cost: because you have to be pretty deep into procedure and thus pretty much a news junkie or a partisan to even know what’s happening. That’s a prescription for misbehavior and bad acting — power without accountability.
On the contrary, I would submit that the talking filibuster is significantly self-correcting. A minority that is doing constant filibusters of everything — and by that I mean, visible filibusters — is going to take a public hit pretty quickly. There’s also a cost just in terms exertion for the senators in question. How often do you want to do these marathons?
You’re really only going to do it if it’s very important to you and you feel like it’s very important to your constituents as well. And if that’s the case then I think there’s a good to be served by letting one or more likely a group of Senators slow things down in just this way.
Let’s think back to 2005 when President Bush was trying to partially phase out Social Security. I certainly would have wanted the Democrats to have some filibuster power to slow it down. And I think they could have sustained months of a filibuster because it means that much to so many Democratic senators. I also think they would have been confident their constituents would have backed them up at the next election. Indeed, I suspect the spectacle would have turned things against the policy initiative. (That’s sort of what happened, even absent a filibuster.)
For my part, I think a lot of the politics about drones is seriously overblown. But very clearly Senators on both sides of the aisle want more documents from the White House about the administration’s drone policy. And I would say that’s one reason this has traction, even though as yet only far right Senators have joined in.
I see no contradiction. This is a great example of why the talking filibuster is exactly what we need.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.