Ted Cruz, Wendy Davis and Rand Paul: One of These Is Not Like the Others

The media were right to treat Ted Cruz’s faux-filibuster like the cheap stunt it was.

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Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaking on the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol  on Sept. 24, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

As Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz's faux-filibuster against Obamacare eclipsed its 20th hour, it was almost inevitable that the performance would draw comparisons to another Lone Star State legislator's recent stand: the actual filibuster of anti-abortion legislation by Democratic Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis.

Conservatives started kvetching that, while Davis was treated like a star in the media for her filibuster, Cruz is receiving little but derision for his. Politico's Dylan Byers hopped on the train, writing "the point is that the coverage of Cruz has been critical, and in some cases unforgiving, from the outset. At least initially, Davis wasn't viewed through a critical lens at all. Her willingness to stand for eleven hours was evidence of the American dream in action. Period."

But there are a couple of important differences between Cruz and Davis that make the media's collective reaction entirely appropriate. For starters, while Davis was actually able to prevent the law to which she was opposed from passing the Texas Senate, albeit briefly, Cruz was not in a position to do any such thing. In fact, his entire speech is part of a deal he worked out with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "Filibusters stop people from voting, and we are going to vote," Reid said.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the tea party.]

But more importantly, Cruz's actual desired outcome doesn't even accomplish his goals. At issue is the continuing resolution passed by House Republicans last week that, while preventing a shutdown when the current round of government funding runs out on Sept. 30, would "defund" Obamacare, the president's signature health care law. But Cruz, who supports defunding, doesn't want the House bill to come to the Senate floor, because then Reid and the Democrats could strip out the defund provision and send it back to the House.

Following so far? Cruz wants to prevent the bill he supports from getting a vote, because then the Senate majority would turn it into a bill he opposes. For a guy who constantly invokes the desires of "the American people" to justify his positions, he doesn't seem to care what the majority of the people's elected representatives in the Senate would vote to do.  Other Republican senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have taken a dim view of Cruz's plan.

But even if Cruz somehow got his wish and the House bill never got a vote on the Senate floor, which would initiate a government shutdown, Obamacare would still not be defunded because, as U.S. News' Carrie Wofford has explained, much of the law's funding comes from sources that don't require the appropriations process. Even with the government shuttered, Obamacare's subsidies, insurance exchanges and regulations will all go forward.

[Vote: Will Ted Cruz's Health Care Speech Help or Hurt Republicans?]

So Cruz's convoluted legislative jujitsu wouldn't accomplish the outcome he wants. Therefore, it is entirely appropriate for the media to call Cruz's speech out for the stunt that it is. Anything less would actually be media malpractice, dishonestly portraying Cruz's speech as something other than an attention-grabbing exercise that will have no practical impact.

A more apt comparison to Davis' actual filibuster would be Republican Sen. Rand Paul's, Ky., actual filibuster of John Brennan's nomination to be CIA director. Paul, for a while, prevented a vote on Brennan's nomination from moving forward. Like Davis, he drew attention to a particular issue while actually delaying, if not ultimately stopping, that which he did not want to occur. And like Davis, he won quite a bit of praise in the press.

Just because Cruz happened to be doing, in form anyway, the same thing as Davis does not mean that the two acts were equal. For a press already too consumed with process over substance, calling a spade a spade when it comes to Cruz was the right thing to do.

  • Read Robert Scheslinger: Ted Cruz's Fake Obamacare Filibuster and His Imaginary 'American People'
  • Read Eric Schnurer: Starbucks, Guns and Where Government Bests Business
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