Skip to main content

The truth about the Texas filibuster and abortion

By Paul Waldman, Special to CNN
updated 11:41 AM EDT, Thu June 27, 2013
Sen. Wendy Davis attempted to block a Texas abortion bill that would have greatly restricted abortions in the state, by attempting a 13-hour filibuster. The attempt fell short by about three hours when the chairman ruled she had gone off topic. Sen. Wendy Davis attempted to block a Texas abortion bill that would have greatly restricted abortions in the state, by attempting a 13-hour filibuster. The attempt fell short by about three hours when the chairman ruled she had gone off topic.
HIDE CAPTION
Texas abortion bill fails amid chaos
Texas abortion bill fails amid chaos
Texas abortion bill fails amid chaos
Texas abortion bill fails amid chaos
Texas abortion bill fails amid chaos
Texas abortion bill fails amid chaos
Texas abortion bill fails amid chaos
Texas abortion bill fails amid chaos
Texas abortion bill fails amid chaos
Texas abortion bill fails amid chaos
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul Waldman: Sen. Wendy Davis' filibuster over abortion bill a rare look into state of politics
  • He says nationally GOP may be weak, but in states, where abortion vulnerable, it controls
  • He says depressing truth is despite Davis' feat, GOP likely to pass an abortion bill later
  • Waldman: At state level, GOP has real power, meaning women, minorities, poor suffer

Editor's note: Paul Waldman is a contributing editor at The American Prospect and the author of "Being Right Is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success." Follow him on his blog and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Parliamentary processes in state legislatures don't offer too many moments of genuine excitement, but on Tuesday night we saw one in Texas, as state Sen. Wendy Davis mounted a successful old-school, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style filibuster to stop a bill dramatically restricting women's access to abortion in our second-largest state.

It featured accusations and recriminations, aching feet in pink tennis shoes, shenanigans over the time stamp on the bill, and an angry crowd. This rare episode offers us an important illustration of where politics is in America today, and where it will be for some time to come.

Paul Waldman
Paul Waldman

To simplify things a bit: The Republican party is in retreat, yet more aggressive than ever. The culture war will never die. And for all Americans' supposed disgust with party polarization, the people we elect are doing pretty much what the voters ask them to.

When Republicans won sweeping victories at the state level in the 2010 elections, they decided that they should use every ounce of power they had to remake the states they control.

Those Northeasterners might be passing marriage equality and expanding health insurance, but in the red states it was a different story. They rolled out bills to cut taxes for the wealthy and increase them for the poor, to make it harder for people to vote, and to reject the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (which meant keeping their poor populations without health insurance, even though the federal government would pick up the tab).

Perry renews Texas abortion battle with special session

They also went after abortion rights with particular zeal. No fewer than 92 state laws restricting abortion were passed in 2011, the year after the Republican victories; last year another 43 such laws were added to the books. Nationally, the GOP is in the doldrums, disliked by young people and growing minority groups, and with an increasingly unpopular agenda. But where they have power, they're making the most of it.

Wendy Davis describes Texas filibuster
Watch how Texas Senate filibuster began

The depressing truth is that despite Wendy Davis' heroic feat of vertical endurance (the strange rules of Texas filibusters forbid one from even leaning on something, let alone sitting down or taking a bathroom break), when the Texas legislature comes back for its next session, Republicans are likely to pass this bill or something like it again.

Perhaps they'll be given pause by all the attention garnered by this controversy over the last couple of days. But probably not, because the legislators are true believers. They're not waging war on women's rights because they think it will get them a few extra votes, they're doing it because it's what they believe.

When the House of Representatives in Washington passes a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, it's nothing more than an impotent legislative outburst. Just like the 37 times the House has voted to repeal Obamacare, it knew its bill would never pass the Senate or get the president's signature. Representatives did it to make themselves feel better, maybe blow off some steam. But at the state level, Republicans have real power, which means women and minorities and the poor suffer.

Just this week, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, giving states in the South freedom to enact new restrictions that could enhance the power white voters have at the ballot box. But the court also struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and effectively killed California's Proposition 8, making gay people's lives a little easier, particularly where they're now allowed to marry. The result will likely be that red states will get redder and blue states bluer.

Some people mocked Barack Obama for arguing in 2008 that he could bring Republicans and Democrats together to transcend party divisions.

What most forget is that George W. Bush made exactly the same promise in 2000 ("I don't have enemies to fight," he said in his convention speech. "And I have no stake in the bitter arguments of the last few years. I want to change the tone of Washington to one of civility and respect."). Bill Clinton said the same thing in 1992. None of them succeeded, and it doesn't seem like that unity is in the offing any time soon.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul Waldman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
updated 9:48 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT