For once, Democrats are applauding a filibuster. It happened yesterday in the Texas state senate, where a Democratic member held the floor for something like ten hours -- under more stringent rules than prevail in the U.S. Senate -- to block a vote on a bill imposing virtually preemptive regulations on abortion providers. When the lieutenant governor finally ruled the senator out of order, her fellow Democrats sustained the delay by appealing the ruling. Then the spectators took over. Pro-choice activists in the gallery shouted and chanted with such volume that further stalled the old-fashioned roll-call vote. In the end, the Democrats "won" by delaying the vote past the deadline ending the legislative session. The Republican majority failed to rule.
Talk of double standards is inevitable. At the federal level, Democrats act as if the filibuster is the antithesis of democracy, but Senator Davis has become a hero overnight for her filibuster. Some commentators will echo the gallery activists' boast that they embodied democracy in action ... but if a bunch of Tea Partiers used similar tactics to disrupt a vote on a gun-control bill the same commentators more likely would describe them as "storm trooper" tactics or something along those lines. It's fair to bring this up because liberals ought to learn a lesson from it. They're always open to the hypocrisy charge because liberals themselves so often insist that ends never justify means. They reject the "by any means necessary" ethics of radicalism, but when the chips are down few liberals, I suspect, will sacrifice principle to procedure in the way liberalism sometimes seems to dictate. That doesn't mean that liberals should ride the slippery slope all the way to where the end justifies all means. Instead, it should mean that they ought to be less dogmatic about decrying "obstructionism" when the opposition has a clear right to obstruct and liberals themselves enjoy the same right when they need it. While more radical or populist small-d democrats can object to obstructionism on principle, the liberal objection when obstructionist tactics are employed against them shouldn't be that obstructionism is wrong unto itself, but that the opposition obstructs for the wrong reasons. Merely criticize Republicans for obstructionism and they can answer that they're just doing their jobs representing their constituents. Explain why they're wrong to obstruct specific legislation -- and the explanation has to include more than "we won the election" -- and you may get somewhere with undecided observers.
Not all obstructionism is equal, of course -- and I'm not making a partisan distinction. I'm not really keen on the idea of a partisan mob disrupting a vote by duly elected representatives of the people. There may yet be a place for "mob rule" in the life of any polity, but if a mob is going to show up at a capital building, they probably should have more to do than interrupt a single vote.