In the end, Ted Cruz didn’t mean it. Neither he nor any of his colleagues that had been urging Republicans to filibuster the House bill that defunded ObamaCare and which they had been previously asking for voted to deny cloture on the measure. The 100-0 result in the immediate aftermath of Cruz’s 20-hour filibuster that wasn’t technically a filibuster showed that he and other GOP senators like Mike Lee hadn’t taken leave of their senses. Had 39 other Republicans listened to them—and their ardent followers on Twitter who called anyone who said they would approve a vote on the bill RINOs—then the GOP would have been launching a government shutdown by a procedural technicality that would have made for some very bad optics and an impossibly weak argument. That showed good judgment on their part. The same can be said for Cruz’s talkathon that stretched from early Tuesday afternoon to noon on Wednesday.
As Bethany noted earlier today, the almost universal hostility that Cruz’s publicity stunt generated is as blatant an example of media bias as we are likely to get. A few months ago, the press transformed Texas State Senator Wendy Davis into a national heroine for her equally pointless filibuster defending late term abortion. But since most of the media likes ObamaCare almost as much as they approve of any kind of abortion, Cruz was condemned for taking up the Senate’s time. But Cruz’s stunt wasn’t the disaster that his critics are calling it. I disagreed vehemently with the senator’s efforts to create a standoff that could shut down the government in order to defund ObamaCare. But his marathon speechifying was neither foolish nor did it hurt Republicans the way a shutdown would. Instead, it did exactly what the hashtag created by his followers to celebrate the event wished for: It made Washington listen to complaints about ObamaCare.
Cruz is the kind of politician for whom style often becomes substance. He is an equal opportunity bull in a China shop that has dissed GOP Senate elders as well as Democrats ever since he arrived on Capitol Hill. Though he is clearly as smart if not a lot smarter than most of his colleagues, his obnoxious personality is tough for most of them to take. The same goes for the media and even sections of the public. If I have doubts about him really being presidential timber it is not so much that I disagree with some of his stands but because I don’t believe anyone who comes across as a mean guy, as Cruz undoubtedly has to much of the public, could ever be elected president.
But this is a moment when credit must be given where credit is due. His filibuster was a model of reasoned argument in which he labored mightily to call attention to the fact that the American people are unhappy about the way a Democratic Congress forced ObamaCare down their throats. They are rightly worried about the way it will affect their own health care as well as the potentially devastating impact it will have on the economy as jobs are killed and costs rise. Call it what you like and acknowledge that like Rand Paul’s far less substantial argument about drone attacks in his filibuster earlier this year, his motivation had a lot to do with his desire to run for president in 2016.
But there is something grand about a filibuster and Cruz’s stand deserves the same applause that the media was willing to give to Paul as well as Davis.
As was the case with Paul—whose arguments I disagreed with—Cruz showed there is still space in our public square for principled and high minded debate on the issues. In an era in which sound bytes dominate and in which even most politicians generally shun traditional oratory with the gift for gab, filibusters are a unique opportunity for the participants to riff on big issues and do more than merely give cable news the catch phrases they are asking for. Filibusters give the Senate the kind of glamour that was once associated with it in bygone eras and even if we are well rid of some of the traditions of the past they raise the level of discourse in a way that should be applauded.
I still think Cruz’s efforts to galvanize support for what is, despite his denials, an attempt to shut down the government over the issue, are ill considered and seem mostly focused on increasing his own growing following. But the sniping at Cruz’s filibuster from a media that was ready to lionize Davis and focus on her fashion choices should be dismissed. So, too, should that coming from many of his colleagues among whom he has already worn out his welcome.
Republicans should not be trying to shut down the government but they should seize every opportunity to discuss the ObamaCare disaster. Though the Senate is now moving on and the House will have an opportunity to step back from the brink toward which Cruz has pushed them, the Texas senator deserves credit for stopping the machinery of the Senate for a day to highlight the assault on the nation’s liberties and its economy that ObamaCare represents. So long as the Democrats control the Senate and the White House, more than that is not possible. That frustrates conservatives and leads many to lash out and seek to do the impossible. But anyone who doubts that Cruz did himself a world of political good with this gesture misunderstands both the issue and the conservative movement. We can’t know for sure what the future holds for Cruz but in the last 24 hours we got a glimpse of his political talent. That should scare Republicans and Democrats who will clash with him in the years to come.