When Is a Filbuster Exceptional?

Probably like a lot of you, when I heard that senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee (later joined by Marco Rubio) announced they would filibuster any legislation restricting gun rights, I wondered: “How would we know?” With all legislation being explictly or implicitly subject to a 60 vote requirement, it’s a bit difficult to distinguish the filibuster from the regular operation of the Senate rules.

But ah, look at the list of these brave defenders of the Second Amendment, and you know right away this will be an explicit, noisy, heavily advertised and over-the-top filibuster of the old school. In fact, it will probably be the best proof yet of Jonathan Bernstein’s argument that requiring “talking filibusters” could be catnip to the very people who are obstructing the functioning of the Senate, not some big “reform.”

Indeed, in a 60-vote Senate, a “talking filibuster” is the only way to showboat. So we will continue to see them whenever a solon wants “the base” to hear a message really well. It’s the functional equivalent of a direct mail fundraising letter.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.