The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Insider's view of Senate's woes

Looking at stuff relevant to the tort reform bill piece earlier today, I came across an excellent piece at the Decembrist on the deterioriation of the US Senate under Republican control.

The writer, Mark Schmitt, was a staffer for Bill Bradley in the 90s and is now at the middle-of-the-road New America Foundation.

Normally, with a piece like this, I'd fear a Golden Age-ist piece of partisan hackery [1]. Schmitt's is a very pleasant surprise.

A brief scan - of a piece demanding more detailed consideration than that! - suggests that his main point is, since the ideological alignment of the parties which started with the Kennedy-Johnson Southern Strategy [2] ended with the assumption of control by the GOP, the tools which, in less polarised times, were used with discretion or not at all, have been pushed to the limit.

(He mentions reconciliation - which, like the Senate hold, seems to get much less media play than it deserves.)

Schmitt has faith in the stability of the institution that, in time, it will eventually return to a more collegial style of operation.

Now, regular readers will know that I admire Lyndon Johnson's approach to leadership: know the rules; know the men; exploit both as hard as you can.

A son-of-a-bitch and proud of it! The idea that the shenanigan is a recent invention is false, of course: LBJ may have been the first to employ shenanigans on an industrial scale, and therefore may have got results with gentler methods than later leaders who had to deal with wised-up senators.

And even LBJ may have been tentative in using a variety of shenanigan for the first time that would now be routinely wheeled out.

But I'd hypothesise that, had the leadership weapons of today been available in his time, he would have used them if other methods had failed.

It's an extension of the irony (previously discussed here) that the Democratic Southern Strategy led (via the racial gerrymanders mandated by the Voting Rights Act) to the end of the Solid South in Congress: that same movement resulted in the ideological homogenisation of the parties that facilitated the centralised partisan management of the Senate that Democrats suffer from the most [3].

But if the parties in the Senate do eventually decide to take a turn toward rationality and civility, they could do worse, in trying to recall what that sounded like, to go back to Schmitt's piece...

  1. Of the sort that disfigures most arguments about the nuclear option, for instance.

  2. The Rise of Southern Republicans by Merle and Earl Black (February 4) is still the book to have on the effects of the strategy. (There was an etext link that worked then.)

  3. Moderate Republicans have also, in their own way, been squeezed.

    As an example of ideological overlap in times (recently) past, ranking senators in the 93rd Congress according to the Voteview 1st coordinate (measuring ideology alone the liberal-conservative axis, -1.0 to +1.0), the most liberal Republican was Clifford Case (NJ) at -0.357, the 32nd most liberal senator.

    The most conservative Dem was James Allen (AL) at 0.153, the 72nd most liberal senator.

    While, for the 108th, the parties had complete ideological separation, except for Zell Miller - an exceptional case for more reasons than one!

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