If you are a Democrat and you want to do something that will help you revive your party and rebuild the self-confidence it had just 18 months ago, you should send your money and support to Sharron Angle for United States Senate in Nevada.
Sure, she has some strange views. Angle is known more for what she is against than what she is for. I call her the Elimination Candidate: she would like to eliminate Social Security, the Department of Education, the U.S.’s membership in the United Nations, fluoridization of water, and the Internal Revenue Service code. But so what? A wacky freshman U.S. Senator from Nevada is not a great threat to our democracy. But the person she wants to eliminate from the Senate has proven to be one of the most formidable obstacles to progressive change in this country.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has followed the three Cs of the U.S. Senate: comity, caution, and commitment to campaign contributors so that incumbents win reelection.
The irony is that Reid’s strategy of protecting incumbents will be partly responsible for Democratic losses in Congress next week. When Americans voted for change in 2008, they were telling their elected representatives to protect them from being taken advantage of by large institutions – Wall Street banks, health insurance giants, and abuse of power by the federal government. People told us during the 2008 campaign that they were hurting financially and they wanted someone in Washington who would fight for them against the big forces that were controlling their lives.
Reid’s reluctance to rock the boat on the filibuster rule has allowed the Republicans to hold up legislation and judicial and federal agency nominations without any accountability. Reid should have forced the Republicans to shut down Senate business whenever they wanted to filibuster so that the public can focus on what is at stake and decide which party has the better argument. Instead, Reid allows the Senate to avoid votes on controversial issues, whenever the Republicans threaten a filibuster. The Democrats held a 59-41 advantage over Republicans in the Senate and they behaved like the margin was reversed.
Reid’s deference to a handful of pro-business Democrats – the practical coalition of Evan Bayh, Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, and others – to stall and then finally shrink the president’s stimulus bill told the public that the Democrats were not united and the Senate had a hard time getting anything done.
Reid’s assignment of health care reform to Senator Max Baucus and the Senate Finance Committee was the equivalent of parachuting in a team of pyromaniacs to put out a forest fire. The Senate Finance Committee is the most bought bunch of lawmakers in Washington. Reid’s acquiescence to the health care industry gave the public a close-up view of the anti-consumer deals and compromises that are standard operating procedure in the Senate. It also resulted in a health care reform bill that did not lower insurance rates.
Reid’s equally lax leadership on financial reform sent the message that Congress sided more with the banks and barons of Wall Street than with the average people who have been their victims. Reid let the second most bought Senate committee – the Banking Committee run by Senator Chris Dodd – write legislation that did not place caps on Wall Street executive bonuses and did not outlaw derivative investments, which serve no purpose and were largely responsible for the crash.
The result of this sorry record is an 18% public approval rating of Congress. Bill Maher points out that this is a lower approval rating than the public gave O.J. Simpson when he was on trial for murdering his wife.
While many factors contribute to this public indictment of Congress, the most dramatic rendering of the failure to enact change has been the U.S. Senate.
Many Democrats argue that the party needs to hold Reid’s seat in the Senate and that he is likely to be replaced as leader by either Senator Charles Schumer of New York or Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. But Reid is well-liked by other Senators and they cannot be trusted to oust him. That will be up to Angle.
If Reid goes, Senate Democrats will have to choose between the reliable progressive (Durbin) and the situational liberal (Schumer) for leader. Either one would bring more dynamism to the post. Durbin was one of only 23 Senators to vote against the resolution to go to war with Iraq, he has consistently fought for tougher regulations on Wall Street, and he is respected in the Senate for his well-researched and reasoned arguments. Schumer, who voted for the Iraq War resolution and has consistently voted against regulations on Wall Street, has no problem criticizing the war and beating up on Wall Street rhetorically. His strengths include an ear for finding areas of compromise and a nose for news.
I say let the Eliminator have her way, then get on with the tough job of rebuilding the public’s confidence in Congress to represent the needs of average Americans.