09.26.2013 0

Ted Cruz’s real filibuster

By Brad Tidwell

Many in the D.C. establishment misunderstand Ted Cruz’s real goal in speaking for 21 hours straight — his goal is to Make D.C. Listen.

TedCruzsRealFilibusterAfter Ted Cruz’s speech came to an end, 21 hours and 19 minutes after it began, the very next speech that was heard came from Senate Majority leader, Harry Reid. Reid’s summary of the speech (which he’d authorized Cruz to give): a “waste of time”.

Even before the speech, the objections from the usual D.C. corners had come fast and hard, claiming that Cruz’s speech was not a “real” filibuster, that it was merely an elongated speech that happened to last all night, that it wasn’t going to accomplish much, that it wouldn’t stop the vote, and that nobody would care. But what merit do these criticisms have?

The accusations from inside the Beltway that Cruz’s speech would fail because it would be unheard by anyone outside the Beltway are particularly ironic. For the talking heads to claim that speeches unheard by the unpolitical masses aren’t useful is the greatest critique of their existence ever devised. One would hope their newfound focus on utility would result in less chattering, but that’s pretty unlikely.

Cruz’s speech invites comparisons to Rand Paul’s 13 hour filibuster against the Obama nomination of CIA Director John Brennan. Much of Paul’s speech centered around the use of drone strikes rather than the nomination of Brennan, which was an opportunity to bring these important issues into the national conversation. After Senator Paul made his case, a poll showed 79 percent of Americans supported Paul’s position.

Was Rand Paul’s 13 hour speech a “waste of time” because it didn’t defeat the nomination of Brennan? It’s clear that defeating Brennan’s nomination was never Senator Paul’s ultimate goal. The filibuster rallied people around a sense of frustration they felt with the government that they saw as broken and needing change. Obamacare creates a lot of those same tensions, and there is also a clear majority of people who oppose the legislation. But their voices are not being heard.

It seems that despite the hand-wringing about procedural process, Cruz’s speech was, in fact, heard. And the reaction was strong — but not in the way that Democrats might have hoped for. In the physical world, 1.6 million people signed a petition to defund Obamacare. Cruz made constant mention of the phone lines and switchboards in the Senate that were being shut down with calls of those opposing Obamacare.

Online, there were also reports of unprecedented levels of email traffic going in to Senator’s offices. At one point, the hashtag #KeepCruzing was the second highest trending tag worldwide on Twitter. Other tags that also trended were #StandWithCruz, and the very telling #MakeDCListen. That last hashtag is particularly insightful, because if Cruz’s 21 hour speech had to fit into three words, “make D.C. listen” would make a perfect summary.

There has always been a physical goal to Cruz’s speech — to encourage Senate Republicans to vote no on cloture, and to say as he has for the last few days, that a vote for cloture is a vote to allow Obamacare to continue. But Cruz’s real motivation was exposed in the last few hours of his speech — his real goal, in his words, is to “change the broken ways of Washington, and start listening to the American people.”

The problem Cruz is directly addressing is the fact that while a clear majority oppose Obamacare, D.C. seems to be all about business as usual. There are in fact policy bills being proposed by the GOP to replace Obamacare that will likely never get past Harry Reid’s desk. The problem isn’t that the policies aren’t being proposed, the problem is they never get debated because of the partisan politics of the Senate.

That’s the real filibuster in this debate. Like Rand Paul’s filibuster, Cruz’s speech focused on something larger than just the question at hand.  Cruz was given a bully pulpit to talk about the human cost of Obamacare, and he did so eloquently. He escaped the noise, procedure and talking points, and went to the heart of the matter. While the Senate fails to act, he’s standing — and speaking — for those with no voice.

Cruz’s speech proved that someone, somewhere in Washington, was listening to the people who were being affected daily by the costs of Obamacare. As he read account after account, his motivation was clear. To paraphrase Bill Buckley, last night Ted Cruz stood athwart history, yelling “Stop,” at a time when no one was inclined to do so, or had much patience with those who urged it.

Brad Tidwell is the web editor for Americans for Limited Government.


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