On Media Coverage Of Ted Cruz's Fake Filibuster

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (joined by a coterie of Senate Republicans) spoke on the Senate floor for about 21 hours in opposition to funding the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” Cruz's speech was not a filibuster, it had to end before today's scheduled vote on the Senate's bill to continue funding the government, and was never a threat to derail legislation that was passed and signed into law three years ago.

As such, much of the media coverage of Cruz's speech has focused on the political circus Cruz has whipped up. Since he couldn't actually alter the legislative process and has few supporters on either side of the aisle, it's not unreasonable to think that Cruz is doing this for his own benefit. Washington Examiner political writer Timothy Carney has sensed this tone in the media coverage of Cruz's fake filibuster and sounds the familiar “LIBERAL BIAS” klaxon, arguing that Texas state senator Wendy Davis' (D) filibuster to halt passage of a restrictive anti-abortion rights bill this past summer was similar to Cruz's but “the media spin was different.”

The circumstances surrounding Cruz's and Davis' speeches, however, are pretty different. “Davis's filibuster was no more likely than Cruz's to change the law,” Carney wrote. Perhaps so, but Davis' filibuster was an extraordinary measure taken in response to extraordinary measures deployed by Gov. Rick Perry and the Republican-dominated legislature. Davis' filibuster came at the end of a special legislative session convened by Perry specifically to pass the abortion law, and after it failed to pass Perry had to call yet another special session to pass the bill, and a third after that to deal with the business the legislature couldn't attend to because it was wrapped up in the abortion debate. Cruz was operating within the regular business of the Senate and there was a hard deadline on how long he could continue.

Politically, Davis' filibuster became a flashpoint in the national abortion debate because it split activists along the well-established lines, and abortion rights supporters worked doggedly to elevate Davis' profile while opponents worked to marginalize her. It also helped to highlight the intense state-level fights over abortion rights that had not registered on the national media's radar. With Cruz, that dynamic doesn't exist. He has a few supporters in the Senate, and most Republicans -- including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip John Cornyn -- aren't backing him. Even the Wall Street Journal editorial board dismissed his anti-Obamacare campaign with more than a whiff of contempt: “The supposedly intrepid General Cruz can view the battle from the comfort of HQ while the enlisted troops take any casualties.”

And Cruz is relitigating a fight that has long since been resolved. Most of the country already knows of and has an opinion of Obamacare. It was a central theme of the 2012 election and the guy who was for it won easily. The only thing Ted Cruz has brought to the table is Ted Cruz. Steve Benen put it just right: “Cruz seems to be generating quite a few headlines for himself. But as a qualitative matter, was Davis' speech a more important, consequential, and impressive display? I don't consider it a close call.”