Archive for January, 2010

Random thoughts on the Massachusetts election

January 20, 2010

Yesterday, Scott Brown (a Republican) defeated a Martha Coakley (a Democrat) for the Senate seat in Massachusetts.  The Senate seat was generally known as Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat because Kennedy was the Massachusetts Senator since 1962.   I have a number of thoughts on the election.  Here they are, in somewhat random order.

  1. The election of Scott Brown will kill the health reform bill because it will give Republicans 41 Senate seats, enough to filibuster any bill.   Most Americans will be grateful, with notable exceptions including those who can’t afford health insurance, those with preexisting medical conditions, and those who are very sick and are being dropped from their coverage by private insurers.
  2. The election confirmed the adage that Republicans are much better at getting elected than they are at governing.   My suspicion is that Republicans are so good at campaigning because they are largely unencumbered by shame (think of Mitt Romney), whereas no matter how hard the Democrats in Congress try, they still let shame get in the way of unadulterated hypocrisy.
  3. Coakley was up in the polls by 20% a month before the election.  It’s pretty clear that Coakley lost in large part because her campaign was “asleep at the switch,” especially since there were no external events in the last month that made much of a difference.  It didn’t help that Coakley came across as arrogant and unwilling to do what it took to get elected.
  4. Scott Brown is a bad choice for Massachusetts.  While I disagree with many of his positions, the most important aspect is the fact that he will support the Republicans in the Senate, who are filibustering almost all Democratic initiatives.   Brown claims to be his own person, and he will vote against the Republican Senate leadership if he disagrees.  Perhaps he is much more independent than all the other Republicans in the Senate, but I doubt it.   I dare him to prove me wrong.  (OK.  If I am wrong, I won’t claim that he accepted my dare.)

The Senate is broken!

January 7, 2010

US Citizens strongly believe in the United States Constitution and support it wholeheartedly.  This is somewhat paradoxical since most Americans cannot name the three branches of government (on the brighter side, 3/4 can name the three Stooges 🙂

I could go on about how little Americans know about the Constitution, but I really want to address a different point.   The U.S. Senate is broken.  Paul Krugman articulated this point well, and I fully agree.  Here are three ways that it is broken:

  1. Because of the incredible overuse of “filibusters”, Democrats need 60 senators to get any bill voted on.  This has given enormous power to some Senators who least deserve it, such as Lieberman and Nelson.  It is also undemocratic and unfair, and it is not what the writers of the Constitution intended.
  2. The Senate is absurdly slow in confirming appointments for the Executive branch.  Obama is in charge of 519 appointee nominations.  After Obama’s first year in office, the Senate has approved only 58%.   Nominees are rejected for trivial reasons (the media encourages this approach), and the vetting process is so burdensome as to be deemed out of control.  Worse yet, a single Senator (let’s call him Senator D-bag) can prevent a nominee from being considered just because the Senator is a D-bag.  If you prefer, you can call him Senator Vitter.
  3. The Congress is largely corrupt, and most of the corruption is fully legal.   The corruption comes from the following huge conflict of interest.  Congress needs to rely on industry for massive campaign contributions, and then votes on issues that strongly effect these industries.  In other countries this is called “bribery.”  In our country, it is called “private funding of election campaigns.”

All three problems are fixable, and they don’t even require amendments to the Constitution.  The US might have a chance of addressing these issues if the US press focused on governance issues rather than on whether the President is using the word “terror” enough or on news about some couple named “Jon and Kate”.   But I understand why the press does not want to focus on governance issues.  After all, most Americans cannot even name the three branches of government.