January 9, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Democrats hit a speed bump
Just when President Obama is on the verge of achieving an historic legislative victory through the passage of his health care bill (or what's left of it, anyway), the Democratic Party is experiencing some "blowback" from angry voters. In recent days, two veteran Senate Democrats and Gov. Bill Ritter of Colorado have announced that they will not run for reelection this year. Senators Byron Dorgan (ND) and Chris Dodd (CT) called it quits, even though both are in the prime of their political lives. See the Washington Post. Next on the list of endangered Democrats: Majority Leader Harry Reid, who his trailing badly in all the polls in Nevada.
Dodd, of course, has serious ethical problems related to the collapse of the mortgage industry (see Sept. 20, 2008), and would have had a difficult race in any case. But still it makes you wonder why the Democrats would put so much effort into passing a health care bill that is so unpopular. After all, aren't members of Congress motivated first and foremost by their own political survival, meaning reelection? On Facebook recently, I made the suggestion Democrats are willing to pay a heavy electoral price this year precisely because the health care bill will have such a profound transformative effect on the country that it will change the entire political landscape and create a built-in constituency for the Democrats for a generation to come. (For many of them, whether this country can even afford such an ill-considered extravagance is beside the point.) Any thought of repealing the health care bill, as some right-wing activists are demanding of Republican candidates this year, is extremely unrealistic. It's very sad but very true.
Don't forget, President Obama campaigned on a pledge to "transform a nation" (see March 1, 2009), and I have no doubt whatsoever that he is dead serious about it. We may not even recognize this country a few years from now. So, the Democrats may calculate that the short-term losses will be more than offset by the prospects for achieving long-term political hegemony.
Who is Erroll Southers?
He's President Obama's nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration, but his chances of getting Senate confirmation are declining day by day. Southers abused his investigative powers by accessing a database for personal use while an FBI agent during the late 1980s, and then he made false statements about it in an affidavit submitted to a Senate committee. That's not smart at all. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) played a leading role in insisting that Southers get further scrutiny before being confirmed. (DeMint is playing an increasingly prominent role in the Senate, and I expect him to gain further renown as a national leader in years to come.) See the Washington Post. At a time when the TSA is playing an extremely important role in resisting the threat of terrorism, we can't afford to have an ethically-challenged person head that agency.
Some people may recall that President Obama made a firm pledge during the 2008 campaign that negotiations among congressional leaders would be fully open to the public. It was an extremely unrealistic pledge, and he should have known better. Indeed, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi laughed at the idea that she would be obliged to live up to Obama's campaign promise, not a good sign for party unity. At washingtonpost.com (hat tip to Connie), Ezra Stein suggests ways to "make government more transparent," which is hard to argue with. He derides the Senate Republicans attempt to delay the health care bill by reading the entire bill on the Senate floor, partly because no normal person can understand that language anyway. I commented:
A noble sentiment, but it would be easy to circumvent any such reforms. Plus, the easier it is to access a given piece of legislative information, the less hard most citizens are likely to work to get it. Bottom line: The less the government tries to do, the less need there is to make its actions comprehensible to the general public.
In sum, government transparency is not likely to happen as long as congressional leaders feel secure enough not to worry about withstanding a serious challenge to reelection -- and that hardly ever happens. Maybe Harry Reid will start to open up...
NOTE: Earlier today (Saturday) I discovered that my politics blog post for Jan. 10, 2009 ("Bush's fiscal profligacy: a recap") had originally been labelled as "Jan. 10, 2008." Since it was a fairly important post which I have cited since then at least once, and may do so again, I corrected that error, and included a note at the bottom, along with a screen shot of the original date stamp to show when it was originally posted.