Is it even necessary to point out the irony of Ted Van Dyk remarking on other people having outlived the politics of their youth?
Kennedy’s death, Dodd’s withdrawal, and Sen. Robert Byrd’s perilous health have drawn attention to the fact that the Senate that existed when they arrived has dramatically changed.
An astute observation which of course demands immediate, anecdotal references to Hubert Humphrey, Everett Dirksen, Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater, as if to illustrate his point by example.
Um… could Van Dyk be any less self-aware?
Those leaders all knew that no major policy change would be lasting if passed on a one-party basis. This stands in contrast to the path taken over the past year by Obama and Democratic congressional leaders with stimulus, cap-and-trade, and health-care legislation. All were drafted and passed on a Democrats-only basis.
So, Van Dyk’s point is, what? That the Senate that existed at the time Humphrey reached across the aisle to Dirkson has “dramatically changed,” but that Obama and the Democratic leadership should behave as if it hasn’t?
What a load of crap. The Dems did reach across the aisle to “moderate” Republican Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snow, and even to more conservative Republicans like Sen. Chuck Grassley and others, but the Republican caucus, determined to see President Obama fail, refused to concede an inch. Yeah sure, I suppose we could have gotten Republican support for something called “health care reform,” that severely limited the ability of patients to sue for malpractice, while eliminating the ability of states to regulate insurance within their own borders, all the while continuing to allow insurance companies to deny you coverage for preexisting conditions, and cancel your coverage when you get sick. But what would have been the point of that? Short of total capitulation, the Republicans were intent on denying Obama a legislative victory.
That is the new Senate, that exists today, which is indeed very different from the Senate of Van Dyk’s youth, and as much as he may bemoan the decline of bipartisanship, that’s the reality that President Obama et al have to deal with. Times change, something even Ted Kennedy didn’t fully realize until it was too late, for despite his reputation as a liberal lion, he was also one of the Senate’s consummate practitioners of the sort of bipartisan collaboration that Van Dyk now mourns. Stuck in the mindset of the Senate of his youth, Kennedy ended up playing the role of Roosevelt at Yalta when it came to education reform, becoming little more than a Republican tool in garnering bipartisan support for No Child Left Behind, an act that promised to invest in and improve public education, but which ended up punishing those schools that needed the most help, while turning our classrooms into the public school equivalent of a Stanley Kaplan prep course.
I won’t argue with Van Dyk as to whether America might be better served by the more collegial Senate atmosphere of the 1960’s, though it was no doubt easier to reach across the aisle when both sides were populated almost entirely by white, Christian men. My dispute with Van Dyk is over his repeated accusations that the current partisan rancor is entirely the fault of the Democrats — a bizarre assertion after a decade during which Republicans have taken to vilifying their opponents as morons, traitors or worse — and his apparent conclusion that the necessary prescription to our nation’s political woes is unilateral Democratic disarmament.
Not only would the Republican minority laugh at us as we ceded to them the national agenda, voters would laugh at us too. Indeed, I’d argue that the Democrats’ greatest political weakness is the popular perception that Democrats are in fact weak. That’s not a trait that voters tend to seek in their national leaders… hence the two terms of that idiot cowboy, Bush.
But that is exactly the posture that Van Dyk, calling upon his personal experience with a Senate that no longer exists, so vociferously advocates.