The poetry of Harry Reid

1 October 2009

From Politico:

“Remember, a public option is a relative term,” Reid said. “There’s a public option, there’s a public option, and there’s a public option. And we’re going to look at each of them.”

Uh… no.  There’s a public option, there’s a public option, and there’s a public option.  And they’re all the public option.  But thanks for that.

Though I suppose he’s right in the sense that no matter what a public option looks like he’s perfectly incapable of preventing any of these children from being devoured by Cronus, especially when there’s a half-billion dollar effort afoot to defeat the public option (and keep the bill, now that includes a mandate to buy health insurance at perhaps the worst possible time since World War II).

Of course this appeared in a British, not American, paper.  I don’t think it’s a cover up.  I think we’re just deadened to the influence of this money in the legislative process.  Given the expense of electoral politics these days, why not?

Perhaps processes like these would be a mite easier, if not more civil if we asked the question “Why not?” – and forbade mention of Hitler, or Stalin, or anybody wanting anyone else dead, in the answers.

I’ve temporarily run out of steam on soccer, so I guess it’s back to politics.  At least until I can afford to buy an album to review or something.

It seems like I’m not the only one running out of steam.  The fracas festering over the long hot weeks of August has put the health insurance initiative onto the back foot in a serious way.  That culminated over the past weekend with a serious trial balloon put up by senior Obama officials, including Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, that seemed to accept the likelihood of the loss of the “public option.”  Their reward for this suggestion was a few warm words from ex-Democratic Senator Richard Shelby (R – Alabama) and the rekindling of a newer, stronger liberal uprising than even the one I sensed coming in July.  (You can read that slightly-updated post here.)

There is no longer any mincing of words: House Democrats are openly talking about scuttling the ship if it doesn’t carry some kind of government extension of health insurance, and it appears possibly that it’s abandonment could touch off a wave of protests that would make the town halls look like insignificant skirmishes.  This is what I meant about Obama’s potential failure being worse than 1994.  In 94 Democrats blamed Republicans.  If Obama removes the public option, Democrats will blame him.  His people have backed off the notion of dropping a public plan in a real hurry, but even suggesting it openly has been almost as damaging as allowing the bill to wither on the vine in the first place.

The flurry of activity of Obama’s first several months was designed to embolden the party, whose electoral success has left it inexperienced and fractured, while demoralizing Republicans. Before they could finish getting over the election you get the stimulus.  Before you can get a grip on that you get the environment bill.  Before you can finish chewing on that you get health care.  Fast and furious.  This has not been a wasted effort – part of the vitriol you see at town halls is likely pent-up anger amongst hardcore conservatives (and make no mistake that it is hardcore conservatives, not any Nixonian Great Silent Majority, though they ought not be disregarded because of it). But the failure of the town halls, and the failure of the first stage of this battle, is that enough time was left for such anger to coalesce and express.

The reason Obama and his people kept going on about this August deadline was to keep the pressure on and prevent Republicans from getting a grip on the battle.  Up until now the Republicans have been like the French in 1940: getting the shit kicked out of them so badly that they can’t imagine a situation other than having the shit kicked out of them.  This pause is vital time they need to regroup, and they are using it.  In retrospect it was a gift from Obama.  The idea that you can push for Congress to do something-anything, so long as it’s quick, and not actually hand them a bill is a bit ridiculous.  The chaos that followed was eminently predictable, though Nancy Pelosi was swift in marshaling her forces and getting something passed.  Of course as soon as progress looks likely there lies the Senate.

To whit:

House Democrats also are growing increasingly agitated at what they see as the Senate’s outsized role in the health care debate. Liberals are especially wary of the Finance Committee, the only congressional panel that has yet to pass health care legislation and where support for a public plan is weakest.

“The Senate needs to understand that they are one-half of the process, not the entire process,” said Engel. “This is not a matter of [Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max] Baucus or anybody else negotiating a bill, than coming to the House and saying, ‘Take it or leave it.’ That’s not how it works.”

So petrified is the White House of the now automatic Senate filibuster that they’re ready to throw in the towel without anyone actually having voted against it – and despite sixty Democratic votes in the Senate.  This is hardly the first time the once-rare filibuster has conspired to destroy legislation which has clear majority support in both houses.  It ought to be the last.

You may remember that in 2005 there was a big fracas about the so-called “nuclear option.”  Democrats in the Senate had successfully blocked several conservative federal court appointees, and Republican frustration has reached a boiling point.  They proposed a striking (and not-so-unprecedented) manuever: to change the rules of the Senate to forbid a filibuster.  The idea was rather ingenious: matters under filibuster require 60 votes to clear, and a change to the rules of the Senate requires 67, but an opinion of the chair on a point of order under parliamentary procedure may be overruled by a simple majority – 51.  Such a move would create a precedent effectively overturning the cloture rule.

It would have worked like this: a senator makes a point of order asking for an immediate vote to end debate (cloture) by simple majority. The chair – the Vice President or temporary President of the Senate – rules on this point of order;  for this process to work properly they would have to uphold it. A filibusterer (perhaps filibustero) would move to appeal the decision of the chair.  This is a debatable motion. To overcome it an opponent moves to table the appeal, which is not debatable and is voted on via a simple majority.  If the appeal is tabled, the chair’s decision stands and a precedent against the filibuster is created. That precedent would be binding.

Why all this complicated crap?  Because it’s the way the Senate works.  And herein lies the problem.

It’s time to use the nuclear option.  Many Democrats opposed it in 2005 – I can’t remember, but I probably did too – but we’re not talking about a couple of judges on the DC Court of Appeals.  We’re talking about the provision of health care for millions of people.  We’re talking about what Woodrow Wilson called “a little group of willful men” when the first rule against filibustering came about in 1917.  We are talking about a body that, to quote an Australian, most closely resembles a “tinselled abortion of the House of Lords.”  And make no mistake that this is precisely what the Senate has always been and remains today: an attack on popular sovereignty and a frustration to the will of the people, regardless of who is in power.

Senators would resist, you say.  Undoubtedly.  The plans in 2005 were scuppered by a “Gang of 14,” a group of senators who pledged to support a number of appointments, accept opposition to others and vote against the nuclear option, denying it a majority.  But that was four years ago, when Republicans had a 55-45 majority.  A whopping third of the Senate is different than it was then and there are 14 more Democrats.  Of the Gang of 14, four are gone – one to the Obama Administration, one retired and two lost re-election in 2006.  All of those seats are now Democrats.  Even if you include the remaining Democrats from the 14 in opposition to such a move, that’s only 46 votes against a nuclear option – not enough to stop it.  Perhaps some others would buckle; but when you consider the stakes – not a few judges but the centerpiece of the Democratic agenda, on which they were elected with an overwhelming legislative mandate, and which has been a dream of Democrats at every level for 50 years – there is only one right option.

It’s time for a majority to count for something.  Americans do not cast votes for their officials to do nothing, and yet too often that’s exactly what they get.  The Democratic Party said it would be different; it’s time to show it.  And should Republicans take back the Senate, a year from now or three or five?  They will be elected to lead and to govern.  They have the right, and should have the ability, to do so.  This is the democratic principle: that your opponents have as much right to rule as you should they secure a popular mandate.  Sixty votes is nobody’s mandate, which nobody foresaw and which was never writ in any Constitution or charter.  By clinging to it the Senate has become not merely anti-democratic – it always was – but ossified and corrupted by purely negative power.

No more.

Shockingly, Marco Rubio isn’t on the list.  Could it be possible they didn’t read my post?

Surely not.

They like Jim Smith for it.  Not knowing any better I’d say that sounds right, but as the Fix points out the Times editorial did the option no favors.  (Then again, it’s not like they’ll hold Crist’s choice against him a year from now.  Who else would they endorse?  Especially in the primary.)

If I were Crist and weren’t particularly concerned about the quality of a candidate (somehow which person would do the best job is a consideration usually left out of speculation in the papers), I’d be thinking that I want somebody conservative, somebody not from Tampa Bay (or indeed the Gulf Coast) and somebody clean.  Allan Bense sounds best of all those alternatives.  Despite the fact that he was also Speaker of the Florida House, a position that usually involves drinking a bucket of Kool-Aid, he has the same kind of credentials as Rubio and is from the Panhandle, a good conservative area Crist needs to worry about.

Jim Smith was a lobbyist at one of Florida’s many slightly-creepy lobbying firms (whose counterparts will continue not to hire me if I keep talking like that) and Bob Martinez has been gone too long and has the same name as Mel, which is just weird.  Also confusing.  I know it’s a common name, but this has got to be bad luck or something. Worse than that, there’s a 2 Live Crew song about him.  It’s, uh, not a good thing.

So Mel Martinez resigned.  Peter Schorsch has a pretty comprehensive list of reactions here, to which I’m sure he’ll add his own soon.  Whatever I have to say would be fairly boring boilerplate reflecting the fact that I don’t know anymore than the Politico website tells me, and I’m not convinced they know much either.  (They certainly didn’t know about this.)  I prefer to propose a thought experiment.

Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio

Grist for it comes from this un-self-consciously ridiculous article at a website called “Red County.”  I’ve not heard of it before, which may not say much, but the quality of this piece doesn’t suggest I’m missing a great deal.  The jist is that what’s best for the Republican Party is to lock down the seat by allowing the strongest available candidate to run as an incumbent.  That means appointing Marco Rubio.  (The article falsely describes this as “beyond fanciful” because it would require Crist to “set aside his ambitions for the good of the party.”  It is in fact beyond fanciful because it belies all reason by suggesting that Rubio is best for the Republican Party.  I could go on, but…)

Now granted, I’m not exactly pulling for a Republican win.  But I would certainly prefer Crist if I had to have one of them.  (Available data suggest a lot of Republicans agree.)  Rubio would certainly be an easier target in the general election, but not Katherine Harris-easy.  Indeed the fact that the opposition to incumbent Bill Nelson was so weak in 2006 means that in terms of statewide politics we really don’t know what the race will look like (though the fact that Harris kept Nelson to 60% despite being just a touch nuts doesn’t bode well).  There’s no indication yet whether turnout will be permanently up but my instinct is that it probably won’t, and chances are that 2010 will look more like 2004.

Now this is bad for Crist.  Martinez was the more conservative of the two candidates in 2004 and in some ways less well-known; Bill McCollum was a Congressman who had stood against Bill Nelson in 2000, losing narrowly in a fairly narrow year but acquitting himself well-enough.  (He’s now Attorney-General and the prohibitive nominee for Governor.)  Martinez was of little repute until he became HUD Secretary and even then sailed in mostly on the strength of Bush’s coattails.  What a strange idea that sounds now.

While Bush may be gone, conservative street cred still counts for something.  Crist, like McCollum, comes up short here, and Florida has an unusually-conservative primary electorate.  Polls being what they are this far out, they lie.  And money burns.  Rubio holds a lot of cards as an insurgent candidate, most importantly the fact that he’s not in office.  He doesn’t have to do much of anything at all, while Crist is trapped in the governor’s mansion compromising and splitting differences.  Not popular measures amongst the diehards.  Even Rubio’s low name ID may be an advantage: he was a disaster in office, like the rest of the Republican-dominated legislature, but nobody really knows it.  People are movable on him.  You already have an opinion about Crist, and his relative popularity belies his electoral weakness: against a poor campaign in 2006 he barely cleared 50%.

So I wonder: perhaps the nutter at Red County is right.  Maybe Crist should appoint Rubio to Martinez’s seat, not in order to sacrifice his ambitions but rather to further them.  It’s a very calculated risk, of course, but my sense is that Rubio’s biggest strength is his ability to sit on the sidelines and snipe.  Forcing him into the poisoned chalice of office would drag him back down to Earth, forcing on him the difficult decisions that elected officials have to take for granted (and which challengers like Rubio cynically exploit).  Rubio could hardly say no: it would reek of ducking responsibility which would play poorly for a “true conservative.”  As a freshman senator with no seniority I doubt he’d gain much traction and frankly he’s totally unprepared to face a situation like the US Senate – when he was Speaker of the Florida House the chamber was nearly 2/3 Republican and even then he’s got little to show for it.

It’s not as if appointing a placeholder is without risk, too.  I sense that people might find it a bit alienating to be a tossed a benchwarmer for these crucial two years.  Appointing Rubio would give him much needed press, it’s true, as well as the opportunity to vote against the entirety of the Democratic agenda but it would also be a legitimate and forceful political appointment and would focus attention on who he is and how he would behave in office.  The vaunted benefit of “incumbency” would be little use against Crist, and two years is a long time for a relatively inexperienced, undistinguished and unscrutinized state politician like Rubio to go without faceplanting all over the Rotunda.  My sense is that he’s so deep-red conservative and unaccustomed to moderating it that he would do just that.  Giving Rubio precisely what he wants might be the easiest way to take him out of the running.

Likely?  Hardly.  And extraordinarily risky.  (What if Rubio shines?  What if his votes are both ideologically-consistent and popular?)  But it would not be the strangest move the past year has seen.  It could just be a notion of subtlety and cunning.  If nothing else it doesn’t require a long period of hemming and hawing like David Paterson required.  There’s something Alexandrian in its simplicity.  That’s probably why it won’t happen.

A Stormy temper

3 August 2009

Sadly I place this without an attendant picture… though perhaps that’s a mistake.  So:

My favorite Senate candidate... ever.

My favorite Senate candidate... ever.

Stormy Daniels, my queen over the water and potential candidate for the Senate seat held by David Vitter of her home state, Louisiana, ran into a little bit of trouble a short time ago.  In addition to being surprised that she lives so close to my hometown – she and the late Billy Mays are high on our list of famous residents – I cannot help wondering if it’s possible to have a feminist domestic abuse call.  If so, this is definitely it.

[P]orn star Stormy Daniels (real name: Stephanie Clifford) was arrested Saturday afternoon for domestic violence after she allegedly battered her husband because she was “upset because the way the laundry had been done.”

You go, girl.

[UPDATE: I don’t know what it is with Tampa Bay and having issues with porn stars.  But lest I forget to remind you.

Story courtesy of Rich.  Always looking out for me.

About bloody time

30 June 2009

UPDATE: Norm Coleman saw the writing on the wall and conceded.  To be fair to him, whether Franken was seated or not he could have pursued this further still and put another six months on the clock.  So good on him.

I like to think I’d say the same thing about any election that took eight months to decide, no matter who the winner is.  But in this case it’s Al Franken who will be is has been the next Senator from Minnesota, and it’s difficult to suggest that Norm Coleman has anybody to blame but himself.  (And perhaps the Independence Party candidate, whose 12% of the vote could not have helped.)

Interestingly, on the front page the Star Tribune (I originally saw the article on Politico, because I’m a tool, but it’s best to promote local sources of information) they had one of those delicious online instapolls that lets you have your say.  Except I kind of thought that was the point of the courts.  That you don’t have your say.  Somehow I’m not sure five minutes of scanning an article from out-of-state really entitles me to an opinion on the Minnesota Supreme Court.  Call me crazy.