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Photo Courtesy of salon.com http://media.salon.com/2013/06/wendy_davis.jpg and businessinsider.com

In March 2013, Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky with a libertarian streak, delivered a 13-hour filibuster against the confirmation John Brennan as CIA Director over the use of drones on American soil, making Paul a viable candidate for the 2016 presidential race. Similarly, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster of an abortion bill made her a top-tier candidate for governor. Both instances show how filibustering can be used as a means to propel one’s political trajectory through media.

The article “National News Attention to the 106th Senate” notes that the press naturally focuses on Senators seeking higher office given the “horse-race” nature of presidential campaigns (Fogarty). For Paul, whose father ran for president and has larger appeal than some other Republicans, he was bound to be seen as a potential presidential candidate. By conducting a filibuster against drone strikes, he worked the press and fed speculation about a potential presidential run as well as stating his principle. In turn, while “failed” in the concrete terms of blocking Brennan’s confirmation, he succeeded in raising his national profile.

According a study done by Gregory Kroger, political positioning has not always been the intent of the filibuster. Filibusters were supposed to be conducted in public to hold a Senator who wanted to obstruct procedure accountable in what he calls a battle of attrition. Similarly, the idea is to make the Senator take a physical toll by having to stand for long periods of time, which can be exhausting (2). In the case of Davis’s filibuster, she had a mark against her filibuster when she had someone adjust a backbrace and Paul made many allusions to the physical toll of the filibuster.

But as media attention has increased, the filibuster began to serve as publicity for a candidate. Franklin Mixon, M. Troy Gibson and Kamal Upadhyaya noted that with the rise of CSPAN and “gavel-to-gavel” coverage” lowered “the cost of evaluating a politician’s ‘advertised qualities (141).” This was the case with someone like Senator Wendy Davis. While not a national figure, because of the live-streaming of her filibuster, she could advertise her stance to a larger audience. This enabled Davis to receive an outbreak in support quicker than had there not been that immediate media coverage. In addition, it gave Davis something every candidate needs; name recognition. While most state legislators have little name recognition, Davis became a household name both among liberals and conservatives, which gave DC donors the confidence to donate to her.

What is fascinating about both Davis and Paul is that while both of them failed in their filibuster’s initial goals–Texas would later pick up the abortion bill in a separate session and as mentioned before Brennan was confirmed–the filibuster became a tool for them to receive greater publicity. In addition, both Paul and Davis have relatively thin legislative records compared to their colleagues, making their rise more astounding It could then be said with increased media coverage of politics, the filibuster now serves a role different from its traditional role of blocking policy; that of promoter of performance politics.

Work cited

Gregory Koger. “Filibuster Reform in the Senate, 1913-17”Process, Party and Policy Making: Further New Perspectives on the History of Congress. Ed. David Brady and Mat McCubbins. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2007. 205-225.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/gregorykoger/12

Mixon, Franklin G., M. T. Gibson, and Kamal P. Upadhyaya. “Has Legislative Television Changed Legislator Behavior?: C-SPAN2 and the Frequency of Senate Filibustering.” Public Choice 115.1-2 (2003). Web. 18 Oct. 2013.

Fogarty, Brian J. “National News Attention to the 106th Senate.” Politics 33.1 (2013). Wiley Online Library. Web. 18 Oct. 2013.

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