September 24, 2013

What is this long speech in the Senate on a Tuesday night, if not a filibuster? Well, this is just Ted Cruz talking.

He reminds me of Oscar Wilde, who was once seated near W. S. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) at a dinner party. Wilde talked and talked. Finally Gilbert cut in, saying, “Oscar, if I could talk like that, I’d hold myself silent and count it as a virtue.”

“Oh no,” Wilde said. “I could deprive myself of the pleasure of talking — but not you of the pleasure of listening.”

That is how Ted Cruz seems to feel about this speech, which some of Twitter has already dubbed the “fauxlibuster.”

In general, I often wonder at the filibuster’s continued popularity.

The first law of talking states that anyone given a microphone and sufficient time will make a career-ending gaffe, so — why would you filibuster, unless you absolutely had to? Microphone + Mouth translates to the inevitable insertion of foot. Or, best-case scenario, a purposeless ramble about fast food chains, your family’s experience, and, possibly, synesthesia.

Ted Cruz has been illustrating this theory, in spades, as he demonstrates his opposition to Obamacare by — talking, at length. Ted Cruz will speak until this speech is finished! He will not stop speaking until he is out of things to say!

His speech is a filibuster in one sense of the word — a massively long speech that holds the discussion captive on some subject of your choosing — but not a filibuster in the sense that it won’t actually hold up the vote on a short-term spending measure, which is scheduled for Wednesday after noon, whatever comes. All this is doing is taking Discussion Time That Might Include People Who Are Not Ted Cruz Talking and replacing it with Ted Cruz Talking. Which, probably, in Ted Cruz’s mind, is a net gain for all of us. His speech won’t alter the vote. It will, however, afford Ted Cruz ample opportunity to talk.

If I were hard-bitten and cynical, I would say that this is our own fault for making elected office such an unpleasant thing to get into that the only people willing to do so these days are the kind of people who think that any situation can be improved by their talking at length, even when their doing so actually accomplishes very little. Even those who agree that Obamacare is a bad idea do not seem sure that this speech is a good idea.

Here, Ted Cruz has the option of Not Talking, in which case there will be a vote after noon on Wednesday, or Talking For As Long As He Possibly Can, in which case there will be a vote after noon on Wednesday.

Watching C-SPAN, is, as usual, its own punishment.

In the course of the afternoon we learned that he was wearing black tennis shoes, not his “argument boots.” We learned about his childhood. We even got some Nazi analogies, just proving that Godwin’s Law holds for filibusters as for online discussion. Godwin’s Law states that as a discussion goes on the probability that someone will be compared to Hitler approaches one.

Cruz remarked early on: “If you go to the 1940s, Nazi Germany. Look, we saw in Britain, Neville Chamberlain, who told the British people, ‘Accept the Nazis. Yes, they’ll dominate the continent of Europe but that’s not our problem. Let’s appease them. Why? Because it can’t be done. We can’t possibly stand against them.’” And that’s with hours to go! “I suspect those same pundits who say it can’t be done, if it had been in the 1940s we would have been listening to them. Then they would have made television. They would have gotten beyond carrier pigeons and beyond letters and they would have been on tv and they would have been saying, ‘You cannot defeat the Germans.’”

Also, carrier pigeons?

He said he would talk “until I am no longer able to stand.” What about until we are no longer able to stand it? But that was a while ago.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.