12/16/2010 12:01 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bernie's Rorschach Filibuster: What Was the Point?

When is a filibuster not a filibuster?

Bernie Sanders' widely lauded/mocked/viewed-online "filibuster," of course, didn't "bust" anything. The eight-hour marathon speech did not prevent Obama's tax cut compromise (or capitulation, depending on your viewpoint) from passing the Senate. Indeed, from the overwhelming final vote (81-19), it seems that there was never any force on Earth that could have.

The regressive Bush tax structure is now well on the way to becoming the Obama regressive tax structure, and don't doubt for a moment that the House -- not equipped with the rules enabling determined obstructionism by a minority -- will pass it as well, despite the anger coming from its progressive wing.

So what was the point of Sanders' exercise? It did not effect the passage of the cloture motion -- that threshold for the parliamentary filibuster so often used by the GOP. And although it looked and sounded like an old school, stand-up-and-talk-it-to-death filibuster, Bernie spoke even before the cloture motion -- days before the actual roll call vote on the bill itself. Given that timing, it was clearly never intended to act as a real filibuster. Nor, as some inferred, was it apparently a shot across the bow, demonstrating that Sanders was ready, willing and able to mount the real thing the day of the final vote.

Given the above, there will be plenty of folks who look at it as a cynical exercise designed by the junior Senator of my home state of Vermont to do nothing more than generate a few hurrahs his way from his significant national following. Hardcore grousers who see Washington as one big faux democratic front hiding a "corporatocracy" may even see it as a grand show to distract and divert the opposition.

As the highest profile grouchy liberal blogger in my state, I'm generally among the first to go with the former interpretation (although I'm not so jaded as to go with the latter). The truth is, though, that there are other, at least as valid ways to answer the question of what the "point" of the speech was, if one expands the context a bit beyond the confines of the Senate floor.

As a now middle-aged veteran of campaigns across the country over my entire adult life, I'm hard pressed to imagine the last time I saw progressive morale at such a low point. And it's hard to get excited about the occasional defiant press release from one relatively liberal Congressperson or another. After all, it's just too easy to throw a turn-of-phrase bone to a hungry left and keep them on yur good side (even if President Obama can't even figure that much out).

But a nine hour speech is not easy -- not even if one is a lot younger than Senator Sanders. It's an effort. And one can look at the fact that the Senate vote was a done deal and choose to be cynical about the speech, sure -- but one can look at that same inevitability and ask oneself why Sanders would undertake such a marathon at all? Why not just an especially good soundbite for the YouTube crowd that would have avoided the hoarseness and sleep deprivation?

The fact is that Bernie's filiwhatever-it-was did energize the base. It did give us all a little boost when we needed it. Could that not be enough of a point, given the timing?

I suppose If I chose to, I could look at it as a crass move to get me applauding, or even as an exercise in futility and impotence, but not today. Not this time. This time, I'm looking at the Bernie Rorschach Speech as a Christmas present from Senator Sanders to this exhausted, frustrated, cynical activist.

Happy holidays back atcha, Bernie.

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