A Prairie Populist Leaves the Senate

It’s going to take a while to get used to the thought that the “Senator” part of Senator Byron Dorgan soon will be in the past tense. For most of my adult life, Byron has been an elected official of exceptional conviction and resolve. He also has been an employer and friend of mine. Name a fight that pitted global corporations and entrenched financial interest against the little guy in the U.S. economy, and Byron probably has been there. He has also sought to address global hunger and bring some sanity to foreign affairs.

Byron’s retirement, which he announced recently, isn’t just a loss for the Senate. It marks the waning of a political outlook that took shape in the farm states more than a century ago and that has given spine to the nation’s politics for decades. Byron is probably best known today for opposing the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which since the Depression had held the speculative urges of the banking industry in check. In a prescient speech on the Senate floor in 1999, he warned that Congress would “look back in ten years time and say we should not have done this.” He called it practically to the year. (Only seven other senators voted along with him.)


Obama Needs Our Help

I think it was the late Paul Sweezy who said that you could make Leon Trotsky the CEO of Exxon and the company wouldn’t change much. The behavior of that company, as with any corporation, is built into its DNA, which is encoded for the unrelenting pursuit of gain. A CEO can make changes at the edges. But Exxon still will be Exxon, for pretty much the same reason that a goat isn’t going to fly.

I’ve been thinking about Sweezy’s comment in light of the recent complaining about Obama on the Left. It’s gotten pretty intense, and it’s what the Left in America does best—feel victimized and disaffected. I understand the disappointment. I have been especially dismayed at Obama’s inability to do—and in fact apparent disinterest in doing—the thing I thought he’d do best, which is define the debate. On medical insurance, for example, he’s given his big speeches and then let his opponents drive the issue through the daily news cycle. As a result, advocates of health insurance reform have been on the defensive throughout, which is quite an achievement considering the insurance mess that exists today.


Why Can’t Politicians Speak for Themselves?

It was late in the afternoon, the big hearing was the next morning, and the chief counsel of the US Senate subcommittee realized that no one had written an opening statement for the chairman.

So I, law student and intern, got the job. The hearings were on the Penn Central Railroad, which was the Enron of the late ’60s, and I really cut loose. Why not? Weren’t there wise staffers on the floors above me in the Dirksen Building who would turn my excesses into polished Senate prose?


Politics Just Doesn’t Get It

Ever since the recent election there has been hand-wringing and recrimination on the Democratic side. They need to move to the center. They need bold new themes. They don’t have a clear agenda. Their agenda is too cautious. It is too far left.

The Democrats were indeed a sorry sight, with their calcified issues – Social Security, prescription drugs – and tired scripts produced by battle-weary political consultants.


Reassigning Tim Russert

Those who offer suggestions to the Washington media need not worry that their advice will be taken. The mental grooves here are worn too deep, and self-importance serves to set them in concrete. The only cause for hope is that time still passes. In journalism, as in physics, bad ideas generally don’t concede; they succumb to a new generation. As the current Washington guard inches towards its golden years, there is at least a possibility that something new will push through the concrete. We might be wary of high tech “cures” for aging. Do we really want another 200 years of John MacLaughlin and George Will?

So for the record, as it were, here are nine suggestions the media will ignore.