Amid a million stories about what constitutes a filibuster, and who does and doesn’t like Ted Cruz (and whether his anti-Obamacare talkathon will be good or bad for his presidential campaign), let’s not lose sight of the dynamic that gave rise to it.
What happened over the past 48 hours is a direct consequence of Republicans making sport out of misleading the public, and particularly conservatives, about the threat Obamacare poses to the country. It created an incentive for publicity-hungry members to stage more and more elaborate, but ultimately symbolic, anti-Obamacare performances
If Republicans really worried that Obamacare is as dangerous as they’ve been claiming for years — if they truly believed it will sap the middle class of ambition and bankrupt the country — then many more of them would have joined Cruz over the past 24 hours. At the very least, they wouldn’t have blown him off and attacked his motives and trashed him anonymously in the press.
But the deceptive nature of their opposition campaign created an opening for a false savior like Cruz to outperform them.
Republicans are annoyed with Cruz for plenty of reasons — he’s arrogant, he’s lying to primary voters about the limits of GOP power, he’s inching Congress toward a government shutdown most of the party wants to avoid. But a big subtext here is that he’s exposed the simple message that once united the party as a sham. If Obamacare is as perilous as the party claims, why wait until the next election to try and derail it? By swooping in like he did, knowing he couldn’t deliver, he actually exposed both charades — his own and his GOP antagonists’ — and left ACA intact.
Cruz’s plea has been buried beneath a mountain of navel lint, excavated in a search for the true meaning of the word “filibuster.” Cruz didn’t help matters by consistently trying to shift blame for the consequences of the delay he was trying to provoke over to the Democrats. But it was pretty straightforward. It was first and foremost directed at his GOP colleagues: Let’s not put funding for the government on a glide path to renewal until Senate Democrats agree not to remove a rider defunding Obamacare without a supermajority.
If the healthcare law were such a dire threat to American liberty, then the defund effort would have been a no-brainer. Why take the risk that Obamacare will latch itself like a parasite onto the beating heart of the American economy over the next 16 or 40 months? Why would Republicans passively allow it take hold for a day, if that will leave them either unable to repeal it at all or forced to replace it with something almost as damaging in 2016?
If they’d been sounding the tocsins of doom in earnest, the political consequences of a shutdown would have been worth bearing. Republicans would have joined him and turned what he did from a day-long oratory into a “real” filibuster.
Does that mean Cruz and his fellow speakers are the only true believers in the GOP? I don’t think so. I think they saw an opportunity to claim the spotlight and they took it. They know the movement they’re courting rewards those kinds of demonstrations. It wasn’t an earnest attempt at persuasion — it’s not like anti-Obamacare screeds are new to anyone. Which is why it’s correct to point out, as dozens of others including Harry Reid already have, that Cruz wasn’t filibustering anything.
I agree, but only because I don’t believe Cruz ever intended to convince any of his colleagues to change their votes.
And there’s no going back from this. You can’t claim to be a hero if you won’t run into a burning building to save a child. Cruz lit the building on fire. Nearly every Republican stood safely outside. And a lot of people are going to remember that the next time any of them claim Obamacare will ruin the country and only they can stop it.