Volume 3 of Robert Caro's masterpiece biography on Lyndon Johnson, Master of the Senate begins with a 100 page history of "the greatest deliberative body on earth." The title of the chapter, "The Dam," refers to the role the Senate has historically played in blocking the great currents of progressive legislation that stream out of the House. It was largely due to the conservative nature of the Senate that a full century passed between the end of the Civil War and the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
The fight over civil rights in particular led the liberal voices of the 1950's and 60's to denounce the filibuster as a cruel tool that did nothing but thwart the will of the people.
Since the civil rights era, the dialogue on the filibuster has significantly changed. It's less about a particular issue than whoever is in power. Predictably, whoever is in power hates it and whoever is out of power loves it. The Republicans, for instance, have used the filibuster in the last session more than any party in history.
Both parties have flip-flopped on the issue, as well as supposedly principled observers like the New York Times. As Jonathan Tobin points out, the Times has changed its position numerous times in the last two decades. It has from advocating complete elimination in 1995, to vigorously supporting it during the Bush years, to now supporting a reformed filibuster.
Regardless of hypocrisy, a reformed filibuster is really what would be best. Under the current system, any senator who objects to "ending debate" on a bill can trigger a vote on cloture, which requires 60 votes for passage. If they don't get 60 votes, however, the Senate usually moves on to other business.
Under a proposal offered by several Democratic senators, a filibuster can only happen when senators are willing to actually continue debate on a bill.
At least 10 senators would have to file a filibuster petition, and members would have to speak continuously on the floor to keep the filibuster going. To ensure the seriousness of the attempt, the requirements would grow each day: five senators would have to hold the floor for the first day, 10 the second day, etc. Those conducting the filibuster would thus have to make their case on camera. (A cloture vote of 60 senators would still be required to break the blockade.)
This would force the minority to pick its battles more carefully, reserving filibusters for the most important debates, rather than as a tool to disrupt day-to-day business.
The filibuster should exist, but those who want to filibuster should be forced to break a sweat, or at least bore everybody to death by reading a phone book, in the effort. Republicans would be wise to support the rule change. Perhaps a few theatrical filibusters could gain them more than hundreds of discreet ones that nobody hears about.