Good for Rand Paul

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The abuse of "filibuster threats" over the past six years has inured us all to the power -- and legitimacy -- of a "real" filibuster.

RandPaul.jpegI am no fan of the way routine minority obstructionism has made 60 votes, rather than the constitutional requirement of a simple majority of 51, the standard for getting anything whatsoever through the Senate. But I have to respect the way the junior senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, took the floor for 13 hours yesterday to mount a genuine filibuster to the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director*, and to raise questions about the unchecked life-and-death power President Obama has asserted in the open-ended "war on terror."

For more on the substance of Rand Paul's filibuster, see Conor Friedersdorf's summary. Even more important, in my view (since it affects a broader range of public business), is the potential of Paul's demonstration to shame Kentucky's senior senator and his colleagues who have indulged the lazy and destructive practice of fake filibusters. As Dave Weigel reported last night in Slate:

"If a person's going to make a stand on a nomination, this is the way to do it--the way Sen. Paul is doing it," [Oregon senator Jeff] Merkley said. "The American people can watch this and weigh in on whether he's a hero or a bum. That's reasonable. That honors the traditions of the Senate."

Merkley contrasted that with the filibuster that happened right before Paul's speech, one that got perfunctory media attention. For the third time, Democrats tried to advance the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. For the third time she got a majority of "aye" votes but couldn't break the 60-vote cloture threshold.

"That took no time or energy from any member," Merkley said. "It had no impact on the American people. It had no accountability. From the time that leadership struck its deal on the filibuster, they talked about the need for comity. And what we've seen since then is a 100 percent, all-out effort to paralyze this body.

This is the way to do it. In the less than 12 hours since Paul finished his filibuster, this may already have become a banal point, but it's worth re-stating: We've had a reminder of what's wrong with the way the Senate usually does its business, or avoids doing so. A good moment for Rand Paul.

(Photo from last fall, source here.)

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* I originally wrote that Brennan had been nominated as "director of central intelligence." That used to be an official title for CIA directors, but it's not any more, since the creation of the Director of National Intelligence post. 
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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