Remember 2005 in the US Senate? The minority Democrats were holding up a handful of Bush nominees for various court appointments, and the Republicans were in a snit about it. They threatened the nuclear option; they threatened to change the rules and get rid of the filibuster for votes on judges. "Up or down!" was the rallying cry. The Republicans, deep in the delusion of Karl Rove's "permanent Republican majority," didn't stop to think about what would happen if and when they were in the minority again--they just wanted to stomp on some Democrats.
They were saved from their folly by the gang of fourteen, thus proving that at least seven Republican Senators had the ability to imagine a return to the minority, and the filibuster was saved, with the help of some conservative Democrats.
Had the filibuster fallen for judges, it wouldn't have survived. That would have been the first breach in the levee--the filibuster as a whole would have vanished because the Republican majority was too small to get what it really wanted--they got plenty as it was, but they were constantly complaining about obstructionist Democrats. (I know--how times have changed.)
Which is why, looking back to four years ago, and looking at health care and climate change and all the other issues progressives really want to make happen, it seems pretty clear that we should have told the Republicans to pound sand and blow up the filibuster if they really want to. None of this cloture-on-every-bill crap; none of this needs-sixty-votes-to-pass-the-Senate nonsense. Up or down votes.
Matthew Yglesias made the case in 2005 that dumping the filibuster would be, in the long run, good for progressives, and we're seeing that play out right now. EFCA would be law if it weren't for the filibuster. Climate change legislation would be tougher. Health care reform would be much farther along, perhaps already out of committee. We might have even seen some movement on DOMA or DADT, or on getting troops out of Iraq. Progressives would be telling the Blue Dogs to get with the program; they'd be straight ignoring the Republicans, because they would truly be irrelevant.
We were so close.