My (Aaron’s) answer to Harold Pollack’s question

Austin answered yesterday.  Here’s the question again:

Over the past three years, we have experienced an amazing number of political, economic, and legislative trials. […]

Anyone active and attentive should be thinking differently about something important after having witnessed so much history being made so quickly on so many different fronts. Tell me–Have your own views changed on any basic issues of domestic policy?

It turned out I knew much, much less about politics than I thought.

I remember when that singing bill on TV taught me that you needed a majority of votes in the House and the Senate to pass a bill into law. Boy, was he wrong. It turns out the constitution wasn’t right – you need 60 votes in the Senate. It also turns out that using the filibuster isn’t when a lone Senator speaks for days, blocking a vote, and changing people’s minds with the sheer passion of his or her commitment; it’s just normal practice of blocking a vote when you don’t want it passed and know it could be. It also turns out that reconciliation is awesome when you’re using it, but tyranny when you’re not.

I realized there’s something odd about the Senate.  A Senator from conservative Nebraska (population 1.8 million) has just as many votes as a Senator from liberal California (population 36.8 million). In fact, the Senator from California represents more than twice the number of people than the Senators from Nebraska, Wyoming, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, and North Dakota combined. It doesn’t matter that way more total people support reform in California than oppose it in all those other states.

I realized that getting 60 votes can’t be done by pressuring from your base:

Moreover, you can’t pressure a Senator in a conservative state from the Left. That will only drive them to the Right. That’s because you don’t win an election as a Democrat in a conservative state by becoming more progressive. You win by becoming more conservative.

Yes, you can make individual Senators more progressive in progressive states. You can threaten a senator from New York or California by running a more liberal person against them in the primaries. This is why Senator Spector fears a primary in (Blue) Pennsylvania. He’s a conservative Senator in a more progressive state. That’s why the Republican Party had so much trouble making him more conservative. That’s why he eventually became a Democrat to survive.

Similarly, you can’t realistically pick at a Democratic Senator in a conservative state for not being progressive. Senator Nelson is risking his election by supporting health care reform in Nebraska. For that matter, so is Senator Reid in Nevada. You can’t demand that he move further from his electorate and just expect him to respond. He wasn’t elected by you. He was elected by mostly more conservative people.

And, most of all, I’ve lost a bit of faith in the media. I’ve come to believe that they enjoy the story more than the truth. They look for the anecdote (often the explosive one) to describe the whole picture. They look for the fight. They look for the drama. They need there to be a “debate” even when there isn’t one.

I’m often reminded of the words of Edward R. Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck:

“I’ve searched my conscience, and I can’t for the life of me find any justification for this, and I simply cannot accept that there are on every story two equal and logical sides to an argument.”

I fear few in the media still feel that way.

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