Outsmarting Themselves

One of the more unappealing qualities of our political classes is the vicious, cover-your-ass mentality that you see from so many politicians and their anonymous staffers.  No one wants to get tagged with a failure.  Everyone wants to be seen as the smartest, savviest guy in the room, too.  So they leak, and back-stab, and give not-for-attribution quotes.

We saw that ugly side of the inside-the-Beltway mentality again this week, in a terrific piece in the Washington Post about how the Republicans swept to victory on Tuesday.  David Krone, current Senate Majority Leader’s chief of staff, basically laid the blame for the loss of control of the Senate at the feet of President Obama and his staff.  The President wouldn’t do enough to raise money for vulnerable Senate Democrats, he said, and in the meantime those Democrats were getting dragged down by an increasingly unpopular President who was increasingly seen as mishandling and mismanaging serious problems, like the healthcare.gov website and VA health care.

Of course, the Post piece doesn’t note that Harry Reid’s own strategy made it impossible for the vulnerable Democrats to separate themselves from the President, because Reid consistently refused to allow bills to come to the Senate floor for debate.  As a result, Democratic Senators weren’t permitted to offer amendments or articulate positions that differed from those of the President on controversial issues, and the vast majority of votes taken were of the party-line variety, such as to confirm judicial nominees.  That approach allowed Republicans to launch devastating TV ads noting that the vulnerable Democrats voted with President Obama 97, 98, or 99 percent of the time — percentages that wouldn’t have been so outlandishly high if Reid had actually allowed the legislative process to work as intended.  The “smartest guys in the room” outsmarted themselves.

If only Harry Reid and the other Beltway brainiacs had stopped trying to micromanage the messy political process, Democratic Senators might have avoided a near-total wipeout.  I hope that the Republican Senate leadership learns a lesson from this, loosens the spigots on legislation, and starts debating, amending, and voting on bills to send to the President.  Otherwise, the Republicans, too, might be needing to engage in a little CYA come 2016.

Can The Country Be More Like . . . Columbus?

Last night voters in many states ousted Democratic Senators, turning control over the upper chamber of Congress to Republicans.  Republicans added to their majority in the House of Representatives, giving them the largest edge since World War II.  It’s another recent “wave” election where the country seems to want to abruptly change course.

What is the country looking for, exactly?  Could it be . . . Columbus, Ohio?

IMG_3506Not the city itself, of course, which can be found by anyone with MapQuest.  No, it’s how the city works, and specifically its politics.  Because Columbus epitomizes the kind of let’s-work-together attitude that public opinion surveys routinely say is what American voters want from the federal government.

Columbus has a tradition of moderate, long-serving mayors of both political parties; the current mayor, Democrat Michael Coleman, has been in office since 2000.  For years, and irrespective of political party, the mayor and city council have pursued a pro-growth agenda that has seen Columbus grow and prosper while other cities in the Midwest has struggled and shrunk.  During the last 30 years, great neighborhoods have been rehabbed and developed, downtown housing has started to boom, new businesses have thrived, and the city has developed a strong national reputation as a diverse, gay-friendly place where just about anyone is welcomed and can succeed on their own merits.  For all of these reasons, people who live in Columbus are justifiably proud of the city’s direction.

Through it all, Columbus politics has been marked by a brisk efficiency that seems to emphasize getting things done above petty political differences.  Decisions are made using the three “cs” — cooperation, consultation, and consensus — and residents can’t even remember the last time there was a pitched political battle between the two parties.  There haven’t been awful scandals, and whether it is because the moderate approach is so ingrained, or because it is the heartland and therefore politeness is still viewed as a virtue, you don’t hear bomb-throwing comments or mean descriptions of political opponents.

I’m not saying Columbus is perfect, because of course it isn’t.  But Columbus does seem to be able to get things done where the federal government cannot.  It might be useful for President Obama and congressional leaders to spend some time here in Ohio’s capital city, not to give the standard quick fundraising speech but to see if they can actually learn something practical about how to end the poisonous atmosphere in Washington, D.C. and work together to move the country forward.

Vote, Or We’ll Shoot This Dog

In a few minutes I’ll be heading to the polls.  I vote because it makes me feel good and because I view it as every eligible American’s civic duty — but I draw the line at sending weirdly threatening letters to people who don’t exercise their franchise.

That’s what happened in the Empire State, where the New York Post reports that the New York State Democratic Committee sent letters to voters promising to check on whether they had gone to the polls.  The letter says: “Who you vote for is your secret. But whether or not you vote is public record.”  It adds that “We will be reviewing voting records . . . to determine whether you joined your neighbors who voted in 2014.”  As a parting shot, the letter states:  “If you do not vote this year, we will be interested to hear why not.”

Apparently this kind of voter turnout technique is called “voter shaming” and has been used in other states.  The New York version, though, has an edge of menace and personal accountability designed to ensure maximum effectiveness.  It reminds me of the classic National Lampoon cover with a gun being held to a worried dog’s head and the tagline:  “If you don’t buy this magazine we’ll kill this dog.”  One can almost imagine thuggish, pin-striped representatives of the New York State Democratic Committee knocking on doors and saying:  “Nice little neighborhood you got here.  Be a shame if anything were to happen to it.”

Apparently “voter shaming” has been effective in some places.  I hope it’s effective in New York, too — and the people who got that over-the-top letter all go to the polls and vote against every Democratic candidate, to send a message to the strong-arming jerks who presumed to try to intimidate them into voting in the first place.

As for everyone who lives outside of New York and didn’t receive a “voter shaming” letter, I hope you vote for the candidate of your choice because it’s the right thing to do.