Commentary Magazine


Topic: dysfunction

How Many Final Straws Did Bayh Have?

Evan Bayh better get his story straight. First, we heard it was the collapse of the jobs bill, care of the bumbling Harry Reid, that chased Bayh out the door. Now the spin is that it was the Senate thumbs down on the debt commission. (“Both parties were to blame, he said. Twenty-three Republicans [and one independent] voted no, seven of them people who had previously co-sponsored the commission bill. So did 22 Democrats, many of them committee chairmen looking out for their own prerogatives.”) That’s two “final straws.” What wasn’t a final straw, though, was passage of a monstrous 2009 budget, or all the backroom deals on ObamaCare, or the fake accounting that pronounced ObamaCare deficit neutral. That was all perfectly fine with Bayh.

Bayh is now enjoying the adulation of many pundits looking for a heroic figure and a validater for their view that Congress is inherently dysfunctional. But let’s be honest here: dysfunction also relates to the substance of what Congress has been doing, not merely what it has failed to do. (And is Bayh “part of the problem” because he opposed cap-and-trade and therefore was an “obstructionist”?) And in that regard, Bayh, like virtually all his fellow Democrats, facilitated rotten and irresponsible legislation.

But for now, Bayh is a convenient figure to use in the assault on “gridlock” — which is normally defined these days as failure to do everything on the liberal wish list. Well, if that’s gridlock, then things are working spectacularly well in the Senate, just as the Fouding Fathers intended. The Senate rules are there to slow the rush into foolishness and tyranny and make it hard to pass legislation unless it enjoys wide support. So until Obama-Reid-Pelosi start coming up with legislation that enjoys that sort of support, we should celebrate gridlock and refrain from shedding too many tears over the departure of a senator who talked a good game but voted like most partisan Democrats.

Evan Bayh better get his story straight. First, we heard it was the collapse of the jobs bill, care of the bumbling Harry Reid, that chased Bayh out the door. Now the spin is that it was the Senate thumbs down on the debt commission. (“Both parties were to blame, he said. Twenty-three Republicans [and one independent] voted no, seven of them people who had previously co-sponsored the commission bill. So did 22 Democrats, many of them committee chairmen looking out for their own prerogatives.”) That’s two “final straws.” What wasn’t a final straw, though, was passage of a monstrous 2009 budget, or all the backroom deals on ObamaCare, or the fake accounting that pronounced ObamaCare deficit neutral. That was all perfectly fine with Bayh.

Bayh is now enjoying the adulation of many pundits looking for a heroic figure and a validater for their view that Congress is inherently dysfunctional. But let’s be honest here: dysfunction also relates to the substance of what Congress has been doing, not merely what it has failed to do. (And is Bayh “part of the problem” because he opposed cap-and-trade and therefore was an “obstructionist”?) And in that regard, Bayh, like virtually all his fellow Democrats, facilitated rotten and irresponsible legislation.

But for now, Bayh is a convenient figure to use in the assault on “gridlock” — which is normally defined these days as failure to do everything on the liberal wish list. Well, if that’s gridlock, then things are working spectacularly well in the Senate, just as the Fouding Fathers intended. The Senate rules are there to slow the rush into foolishness and tyranny and make it hard to pass legislation unless it enjoys wide support. So until Obama-Reid-Pelosi start coming up with legislation that enjoys that sort of support, we should celebrate gridlock and refrain from shedding too many tears over the departure of a senator who talked a good game but voted like most partisan Democrats.

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Where’s the Gratitude, Sarah?

One of the most amusing tropes of the past few weeks in relation to the release of Sarah Palin’s book has been the notion that, among everything else that is wrong and terrible about her, Palin should be ashamed of herself for her ingratitude. After all, she was plucked from obscurity and made world famous, and yet she has the nerve in the course of her book to take shots at those she feels didn’t do well by her during the election campaign last year. Evidently, it seems, Palin should have been grateful to “the McCain campaign” for “the McCain campaign’s” supposed kindness toward her. Michiko Kakutani, on the New York Times website this morning, offers the most complete rendition of this:

The most sustained and vehement barbs in this book are directed not at Democrats or liberals or the press, but at the McCain campaign. The very campaign that plucked her out of Alaska, anointed her the Republican vice-presidential nominee and made her one of the most talked about women on the planet — someone who could command a reported $5 million for writing this book. … [She is] thoroughly ungrateful toward the McCain campaign for putting her on the national stage.

The thing is, the “McCain campaign” is not a person; it was a bureaucratic organization, and an uncommonly confused and dysfunctional one at that. Perhaps the greatest mark of that dysfunction was the stream of unnamed McCain advisers who went out of their way to criticize Palin in remarks they were too cowardly to deliver for attribution. It was, to say the least, highly peculiar for them to have acted as they did. The only conceivable defense for it was that some of them might have been working to protect John McCain’s reputation by somehow downgrading Palin by comparison; but of course, political advisers to Republican campaigns do not talk to reporters on background for such selfless reasons. They do so to hedge their own bets, to maintain relationships they want to last after the campaign is over. The best way to do that is to reflect the same cultural and theoretical priorities as the journalists to whom they speak, as a means of distancing themselves from the dysfunction and receiving kind post-mortem treatment.

The only “gratitude” Palin owed to the McCain campaign was to McCain. She owed no gratitude to campaign advisers and employees who threw everything but the kitchen sink at her — quite the opposite, in fact. By naming names and revealing the unprofessional behavior of McCain campaign staffers who were doing his election effort no favors by engaging in Palin-bashing, she has struck a blow for a greater degree of campaign civility in the future, in part by letting future potential employers in the political realm know about the poor behavior of people they might hire to help get them elected. The best way to neutralize a hostile leaker in the world of electoral politics is to let the world know that the leaker is a leaker.

As for the sudden concern about whether Palin was “ungrateful,” what Kakutani and others seem to believe is that she should act like one of those people in a T-shirt two sizes too small for them who are plucked from the audience of The Price is Right to bid on the showcase items. Palin did not have her name plucked from a hat. She was one of 22 Republican governors — and the only woman among them, and someone with a 70 percent approval rating in her home state besides.

But of course the whole ingratitude trope is wildly disingenuous. The fact that Kakutani, and others like her, are suddenly concerned with Sarah Palin’s political manners is another mark of the fact that she is being graded on a reverse curve. If she has done it, by definition, it was done wrong.

One of the most amusing tropes of the past few weeks in relation to the release of Sarah Palin’s book has been the notion that, among everything else that is wrong and terrible about her, Palin should be ashamed of herself for her ingratitude. After all, she was plucked from obscurity and made world famous, and yet she has the nerve in the course of her book to take shots at those she feels didn’t do well by her during the election campaign last year. Evidently, it seems, Palin should have been grateful to “the McCain campaign” for “the McCain campaign’s” supposed kindness toward her. Michiko Kakutani, on the New York Times website this morning, offers the most complete rendition of this:

The most sustained and vehement barbs in this book are directed not at Democrats or liberals or the press, but at the McCain campaign. The very campaign that plucked her out of Alaska, anointed her the Republican vice-presidential nominee and made her one of the most talked about women on the planet — someone who could command a reported $5 million for writing this book. … [She is] thoroughly ungrateful toward the McCain campaign for putting her on the national stage.

The thing is, the “McCain campaign” is not a person; it was a bureaucratic organization, and an uncommonly confused and dysfunctional one at that. Perhaps the greatest mark of that dysfunction was the stream of unnamed McCain advisers who went out of their way to criticize Palin in remarks they were too cowardly to deliver for attribution. It was, to say the least, highly peculiar for them to have acted as they did. The only conceivable defense for it was that some of them might have been working to protect John McCain’s reputation by somehow downgrading Palin by comparison; but of course, political advisers to Republican campaigns do not talk to reporters on background for such selfless reasons. They do so to hedge their own bets, to maintain relationships they want to last after the campaign is over. The best way to do that is to reflect the same cultural and theoretical priorities as the journalists to whom they speak, as a means of distancing themselves from the dysfunction and receiving kind post-mortem treatment.

The only “gratitude” Palin owed to the McCain campaign was to McCain. She owed no gratitude to campaign advisers and employees who threw everything but the kitchen sink at her — quite the opposite, in fact. By naming names and revealing the unprofessional behavior of McCain campaign staffers who were doing his election effort no favors by engaging in Palin-bashing, she has struck a blow for a greater degree of campaign civility in the future, in part by letting future potential employers in the political realm know about the poor behavior of people they might hire to help get them elected. The best way to neutralize a hostile leaker in the world of electoral politics is to let the world know that the leaker is a leaker.

As for the sudden concern about whether Palin was “ungrateful,” what Kakutani and others seem to believe is that she should act like one of those people in a T-shirt two sizes too small for them who are plucked from the audience of The Price is Right to bid on the showcase items. Palin did not have her name plucked from a hat. She was one of 22 Republican governors — and the only woman among them, and someone with a 70 percent approval rating in her home state besides.

But of course the whole ingratitude trope is wildly disingenuous. The fact that Kakutani, and others like her, are suddenly concerned with Sarah Palin’s political manners is another mark of the fact that she is being graded on a reverse curve. If she has done it, by definition, it was done wrong.

Read Less




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