Thursday, March 16, 2006

D.C. and the Senate

Went to be in the Senate gallery today for the budget amendment fireworks.

After hearing Landrieu (D-LA), Kerry (D-MA), Akaka (D-HI), and Collins (RINO-ME--why doesn't Collins switch parties already?) speak on behalf of their amendments, I watched all the members of the Senate file into the room to deliver their votes on each amendment to the budget.

I'll leave aside the fireworks themselves--suffice it to say that the GOP raised the debt ceiling to $9 trillion dollars, putting the final nail in the coffin of supposed conservative fiscal responsibility (they had no choice, unless they wanted to default on treasury bills), while voting down a number of amendments that even a 9-year-old would endorse, which will make for tasty Dem campaign ads in October. And they didn't even get their Arctic Wildlife Refuge exploitation bill either. All very good politically for our side--though not so good for the country, unfortunately, as the public has to reap what this malAdministration has sown.

Just as interesting to me, however, were a few observations I noted:

1) Seeing all these people whose faces I instantly recognized from photos and television--Santorum, Hillary, Reid, Durbin, Lott, Frist, Lieberman, Feinstein, Boxer, Lautenberg, Jeffords, Murkowski (in a preposterous red dress), Kerry, et al., sent shivers down my spine. It was like being at the Oscars for the Hollywood-obsessed. And yet, as nerdy as that may be, I'm unapologetic. These people matter. They alter people's lives immeasurably, even as most don't even know who they are.

2) They look much more human in person. As much as I hate Lieberman's politics, much less Trent Lott's, it's hard to have the same measure of disgust for the people when you actually see them living and breathing in person. Well, Santorum excepted, I suppose, with that smug, stupid smile on his face. But I guess that just makes me a soft-heared liberal...

3) It's easy, in this environment, to see how people might think that someone like Hillary or Kerry could have a chance in 2008. The power around their personae on the actual Senate floor seems immense, and for a minute you think to yourself, "yeah, America could really get behind this person." But then you step away, and realize that Wes Clark or Mark Warner really has a much better shot than anyone in that chamber.

I think that a political consultant or pundit absolutely needs to get out of D.C. and New York for at least six months out of the year to avoid falling prey to the kind of "conventional wisdom"--anything but wise--that can come of being trapped in such an environment.

4) It's also easy, in this environment, to see how one might view politicians from across the aisle as colleagues, rather than ideological opponents or even enemies. I suppose such illusions used to be fine, before the New Conservatives came to power in the mid-80s and early 90s. But now the GOP is simply a comparatively well-oiled machine, relentless, unforgiving and completely in hock to big business interests. It's hard to look at Frist's seemingly kind, avuncular face and see deliberate evil; I don't even think Frist IS deliberately evil, most of the time. But the pressures of being part of the VRWC are too much for all but those of the strongest principle--and even they usually wilt or bolt like Jeffords when all is said and done.

In sum--I think that if you want real perspective on politics, you have to GET OUT of D.C. as often as step foot IN IT. My plan would be to be here for six months of a year, and in California for six months a year. That sounds about right to me right now...


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