Bunning, Dodd give the lie to the Beltway elite view that Washington is too responsive to public opinion
When you look past the craziness, chaos and confusion of politics these days, you still find roughly two major schools of thought that aim to explain What’s Fundamentally Wrong.
The first says America is paralyzed by a political system that is too democratic — too responsive to citizens’ whims. This is the religion of almost everyone in the permanent Washington elite, regardless of party. Its canon mixing paeans to noblesse oblige with shrill authoritarianism is most clearly articulated by high priests like the Washington Post’s David Broder and the New York Times’ Tom Friedman. The former has said democracy threatens to make “official Washington altogether too responsive to public opinion”; the latter dreams of Chinese-style dictatorship.
“One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages,” Friedman recently gushed, adding that the chief “advantage” is the ability of despots to “just impose” policies at the barrel of a gun.
By contrast, most people living outside of Washington (i.e., the Rest of Us) see America harmed by a political system that is too undemocratic — too controlled by moneyed interests, unaccountable lawmakers and a servile press. An organizer friend of mine sums up this view by saying, “The best kind of politician is a nervous politician” — and the trouble is that gerrymandering, extended terms, incumbent fundraising advantages, obsequious media coverage, lame duck-ness and other travesties make sure few politicians are ever nervous about keeping their jobs.
Over the course of history, neither side of this divide has had a full monopoly on truth. But recent moves by three senators teach that, at least at this moment, the Rest of Us are more accurately diagnosing the root problem than our Beltway adversaries.
What, for instance, is Sen. Jim Bunning but the personification of unaccountability’s downsides? The Kentucky Republican announced in July that he is not seeking reelection. Thus shielded from democratic pressure, he felt free to let his conservative extremism fly with an outrageous attempt this week to block unemployment benefits for thousands of jobless Americans.
Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd is Bunning’s Democratic analogue. When he was planning to face voters in 2010, he was motivated to represent their support for stronger financial regulations. For instance, he promised to use his Banking Committee chairmanship to pass a bill constructing a Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) — one independent of the Federal Reserve, which he rightly said “failed for over 14 years to put an end to the predatory mortgage lending practices that led to the financial crisis.”
Now, however, Dodd has opted not to run for reelection — and guess what? He’s started working with lobbyists to make sure any CFPA is run by the Fed.
The converse of Dodd and Bunning is Michael Bennet, who embodies the same axiom — but in the opposite way. Confronting an increasingly aggressive Democratic primary challenge from former state legislator Andrew Romanoff, the Colorado senator is suddenly shaking off his backbench lethargy. Last week, he released a letter endorsing the use of majority rules (“reconciliation”) to create a much-needed government-run health insurer that will compete with private insurance monopolies. Polls in Colorado and nationally show his initiative is wildly popular — and since he needs voters’ support to retain his Senate seat, he is reinvigorating this critical fight.
Bennet is nervous; Bunning and Dodd are not. The one facing democracy is serving the public interest; the two insulated from democracy are serving their own interests. In government today, the election-related trepidation and legislative responsiveness is the exception, the insulation and indifference the norm.
If you want to understand What’s Fundamentally Wrong, here endeth the lesson.
David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books “Hostile Takeover” and “The Uprising.” He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at OpenLeft.com. E-mail him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @davidsirota.
© 2010 Creators.com
David Sirota is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future." E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com. More David Sirota.
More Related Stories
- Holder signed off on search warrant for reporter
- Boy Scouts end ban on openly gay boys
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- Mike Judge: "Bowling for Columbine" made me pro-gun
- UK Military: London attack victim was a "model soldier"
- Billionaire hedge funder: Babies, breast-feeding "kill" focus, keep women from succeeding
- New York chef serves up eight-course meal around "Arrested Development" jokes
- Closing Gitmo is not enough
- Murkowski: Palin too disengaged to run for Senate
- "Bookless library" set to open in Texas
- HLN: Jodi Arias "pleading for her life" got us a ratings win!
- In IRS scandal, new GOP tactic is ignorance
- Twitter beefs up security measures
- Code Pink activist berates Obama at national security speech
- Man arrested for sending Craigslist sex party to neighbor's house
- Michael Ian Black on Maron feud: He "considered me a poseur"
- Chekhov's story mirrors Russia's own
- Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina denied parole
- Greek yogurt, toxic waste hazard?
- 2 more arrested in London attacks
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11