Saturday, January 3, 2009

More Senate Shenanegans

This will probably be one of my shorter entries. Truly, this past election cycle has made things interesting for members and observers alike of the U.S. Senate.
The first thing I've wanted to comment on was recent developments in the attempt to fill Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton's Senate seat for New york. I have to say, I've been pleasantly surprised by the reactions of key players on the ground to Caroline Kennedy's bid for the seat. Though not unanimous, there has been a rather strong response among state Democratic party leaders and elected officials, arguing that she doesn't have the experience necessary for them to feel comfortable backing her nomination. She has had several encounters with the media, and yet we're no closer to knowing what kind of positions- or even real grasp- of the issues that would be her job to address if she were appointed. NY Governor David Patterson, who's responsibility it is to fill the vacancy, has been loathe from the beginning to hint at whom he prefers to take the seat. He apparently has been publicly toying with the idea lately of some kind of 'caretaker' appointment, someone who would not be interested in holding the office past the 2010 election that is required by state law to decide the seat's fate more permanently. Whether such an approach would make Kennedy's selection more or less likely remains to be seen, but I find it the least little bit comforting that she isn't being given special treatment because of her political lineage.
As a side note, the question has been posed to me about what the legacy of her father, the late President John F. Kennedy, actually was- why he's idolized the way he is. He made a lot of great speeches, started some big-name public initiatives, he was young, good-looking, and had certain charm about him that even many of the most popular presidents lacked. But by and large, I feel that the reason he is still so much of an icon today is, unfortunately, because he died in office. We're a lot less likely to view 'martyrs' in a negative light, but what I really mean is that he died before his popularity went the way of all presidents'. He had been in office for 3 years and a couple weeks, and his record was decidedly mixed. On the plus side, he had a number of domestic projects and his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis; on the other hand, he had the Bay of Pigs and the fact that the first steps toward large-scale U.S. involvement in Vietnam were actually taken on his watch, not LBJ's. And of course, Marylin Monroe. I feel like he has the same reputation that Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton would have had if they had been killed after 3 years in office. Otherwise, he would have had about the same so-so approval ratings most presidents have after their terms end at the anticipated time.
But anyway, the other big event taking place in the Senate is disgraced-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich's standoff with the Senate Democratic caucus over the governor's appointment of a respected Illinois politician to fill Barack Obama's seat. This was a very gutsy move, as Majority Leader Harry Reid had already vowed not to seat any appointee chosen by Blogojevich, who is under investigation for trying to sell the seat. He has said he will follow through on this. The selection of former state Attorney-General Roland Burris, the first African-American to be elected to statewide office in Illinois and who is widely regarded as the closest thing Illinois has to an elder-statesman, puts the Senate Democratic leadership in an extremely tough spot: refuse to accept someone who is very respected in his home state and who has no actual connection to the corruption scandal, and who would be the chamber's only black member, in the name of 'standing up to corruption in government,' or he could back down and look (more than he does already) as making impractical and unsustainable soapbox stances when facing reporters only to wuss out when the crap hits the fan. Personally, I see no reason to keep Mr. Burris out; he's about as qualified an anyone else they're likely to find, he has the respect of the people of his state, and has no proven connection to something that Gov. Blagojevich hasn't even been convicted of yet. The Constitution gives the houses of Congress certain authority to determine the qualifications of their members, but Harry Reid has taken it too far.

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