In 2007, with a new Democratic majority in Congress for the final two years of the Bush presidency, it was Republican filibusters that stymied Democrats trying to send legislation to Bush that he would be forced to veto. And with Barack Obama's presidency, Republican filibusters or threats of filibuster escalated in ways the Senate had never seen before. The rule had not changed, but the norms were blown up. Filibusters were used not simply to block legislation or occasional nominations, but routinely, even on matters and nominations that were entirely uncontroversial and ultimately passed unanimously or near-unanimously. The idea of a filibuster as the expression of a minority that felt so intensely that it would pull out all the stops to try to block something pushed by the majority went by the boards. This was a pure tactic of obstruction, trying to use up as much of the Senate's most precious commodity—time—as possible to screw up the majority's agenda.
As Tom Mann and I point out in our book It's Even Worse Than It Looks, this meant stretching out debate as much as possible, regularly using filibusters on motions to proceed as well as on the legislation, and insisting, after cloture was achieved, on using the full 30 hours allowed for debate post-cloture—but not using any of it for debate, just to soak up more time. To say that these tactics were not filibusters, as Kessler does, is naive at best. Anything that raises the bar from 50 votes to 60, or that threatens to do so to use up precious time, is a filibuster. Additionally, other delaying tactics, including unprecedented use of "blue slips" to block lower-level federal judges, distorting a long-standing norm, have been employed for similar purposes.
To be sure, Republicans had ample reason at times to filibuster; on many bills, to preempt the GOP or simply to avoid embarrassing amendments, Reid has "filled the amendment tree," a tactic to deny the minority any amendments on the floor. Filibustering those bills, as a protest, is understandable. But nominations do not have amendments, and the use of the filibuster to deny the president his team, or to block judges where there were no real quibbles about qualifications or ideology, is a major breach of Senate norms, and Mitch McConnell is responsible.
Lamar Alexander makes a passionate case that none of this justified the use of the nuclear option for real, that it was a manufactured crisis over nominations to the D.C. Circuit. But the bottom-line reality there is that when the call came for a new "Gang of 14" to resolve the issue, there were easily seven Democrats ready to cut the deal, but only two Republicans. A deal could have allowed several Circuit Court nominations through but not all, and a return to the "extraordinary circumstances" standard for executive and judicial nominations, or even an agreement to use that standard in return for a guarantee of minority amendments on legislation.