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September 25, 2013 9:43 AM Keeping Up With the Pauls

By Ed Kilgore

So with a few respites Ted Cruz gabbed all night, mostly stimulating derisive comments about “faux-busters” and so on and so forth, insofar as the clock is already ticking down to a cloture vote at 1:00 PM today. But there’s much cheering in the fever swamps, where Cruz has kept up with the Pauls gesture-wise, which was probably the main purpose of this gambit.

For the record, Cruz’s stunt isn’t really congruent with Rand Paul’s famous filibuster back in March for a fundamental reason beyond the fact that it didn’t even begin until a cloture motion had been filed. The stated objective of Paul’s filibuster was to force the Obama administration to make fresh disclosures about its drone program. This was an achievable objective, and actually succeeded. Cruz’s grand objective is to “defund Obamacare,” but his immediate objective is to shut down government, which defunds pretty much everything else except Obamacare. As a former debater, he should recognize this as a “plan meets need” problem. If he wins, he doesn’t actually win, and Democrats will never, ever in a billion years give him his grand objective.

There’s another difference between the Cruz and Paul maneuvers, and for that matter between their general orientations. In using the Brennan nomination to dramatize both drone and surveillance operations, Paul was positioning himself as a civil libertarian fighting for an unpopular minority of Americans with legitimate concerns about becoming the object of their government’s unfriendly interest. Cruz claims to be fighting for an unheard majority of Americans who want to kill Obamacare.

Trouble is, of course, that the best evidence Cruz can offer for that proposition are polls showing that Obamacare isn’t popular. But probably a third, or at least a fourth, of those who don’t like Obamacare want something like single payer, the kind of true “government takeover of health care” that would lead people like Cruz to break out the guns and declare an insurrection. In any event, there’s no evidence a majority of Americans want to repeal or “defund” Obamacare instead of making it work with the kind of implementation actions and technical fixes Republican refuse to allow. There’s zero evidence of anything like majority support for the GOP’s atavistic “replacement” agenda. And there’s lots of evidence big majorities oppose shutting down government for any purpose whatsoever.

So Cruz’s “silent majority” self-justification is barren, and as Ezra Klein noted late yesterday, pretty hypocritical insofar as Cruz maintains a lot of positions that defy public opinion (gun background checks, anybody?).

I’d say in general that majoritarianism is an inappropriate argument for self-styled “constitutional conservatives.” The whole idea of this philosophy is that the Founders, acting on behalf of Jesus Christ or natural law, settled many, perhaps most, public policy controversies for all time. Thus Obamacare is an abomination because it expands federal power beyond its “natural” bathtub-size dimensions, overrides the God-given right of private insurance companies to discriminate against “losers” with pre-existing conditions, and imposes an insurance purchasing mandate that opens the floodgates to all sorts of tyranny. Polls and majorities have absolutely zero to do with it; if ninety-eight percent of Americans loved Obamacare, it would still, to a genuine constitutional conservative, represent absolute evil.

So no, Ted Cruz hasn’t placed himself on a level with Rand Paul in the use of the filibuster to advance an achievable objective or a coherent philosophy. But if it plays well among the people with a disproportionate impact on the 2016 presidential nominating process, it may not matter. If you buy the the idea that Cruz is positioning himself to be the candidate for people who love Young Senator Paul but can’t Stand with Rand so long as he is standing in solidarity with hippie peaceniks and dope-smokers, then Ted’s Excellent Overnight Adventure may have been more than worth the effort.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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