Nation editor-at-large and host of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes.
Well, not actually cry, more like whine. Sen. Kent Conrad, who's managing the floor on the budget bill for the Dems turned 60 yesterday. It wasn't a particularly happy birthday:
Mr. CONRAD. Mr. President, I thank the ranking member for his continuing courtesy and graciousness. This is my 60th. As I left the house this morning, I told my wife and our son, who is there visiting, I have to question: What have I done wrong in my life to have my 60th birthday spent here managing the budget? But I will get over it.
A few hours later, after lengthy debate over which amendments would be considered when, he kind of lost it:
Mr. CONRAD. Mr. President, I want to enter a plea to my colleagues: We need an attitude adjustment around here. We need an attitude adjustment around here. Here it looks pretty placid. Underneath all of this, there is a great deal of turmoil. If we are going to complete this in any reasonable way, we have to have people be more cooperative, less confrontational, less insistent on side-by-side amendments for even minor matters. I plead with my colleagues. I have a feeling what we have here is a lot of staff members who have gone into hyperactive mode, insisting on things in the name of their boss, and I bet their boss doesn't even know. I bet a lot of bosses would be a little embarrassed, frankly, about the insistence being made here from their staffs about how they have to have this and they have to have that, no matter how minor, no matter how insignificant, no matter how petty. I will tell my colleagues, it is wearing pretty thin with me. It is wearing real thin with me. I want to send that message.
I will stop this car!
Antiwhatian? you ask.
Posting about McCain reminded me that I somehow neglected to link to our lead editorial from last week about McCain. It's behind a sub wall so here's the last few grafs:
Despite his branding as a crusading reformer, McCain was and continues to be a business-as-usual conservative. Indeed, he doesn't just cozy up to lobbyists on planes or take their money--half a million in this campaign cycle alone. They are running his campaign. As the Washington Post reported the day after the Times story broke, McCain's inner circle is dominated by lobbyists, one of whom, Charles Black, recently copped to handling his lobbying business by phone from the back of the Straight Talk Express!
And while the monied interests do their work from the back of his campaign bus, the straight talker is busy running as far as possible from the signature legislative achievement that bears his name: the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill. This started in 2001, when McCain, while pushing to end the massive unregulated donations known as soft money, set up a nonprofit called the Reform Institute, which existed chiefly to--you guessed it--soak up large, unregulated donations from corporate interests, including $200,000 from Cablevision. (Not surprisingly, McCain devoted great energy to its pet cause before the Commerce Committee.) And now McCain, who secured a bank loan on the collateral of his future federal campaign funds, is attempting to back out of his commitment to use public financing, contradicting the spirit of the program.
This, then, is John McCain: not a maverick but what Reformation-era Christians called an antinomian, one who believes that for those who are holy, all is permitted. McCain seems to think he is released from the obligations that bind lesser politicians.
It's hard to begin to capture the blighting effects of the U.S. prison system--though Sasha Abramsky gets close when he likens the current U.S. gulag's effects to that of the GI Bill in reverse: creating a generation of millions who return to their communities jobless, without skills, with untreated addictions and frequently homeless. Accordingly, the Second Chance Act's passage is a major victory: as Chris Suellentrop notes in his excellent piece on the GOP's 'jailhouse conversion,' the Act marks the first piece of legislation Congress has passed that takes a restorative, not punitive, approach to crime.
Still though, I'm reminded of a conversation I had last summer with the Legal Action Center's Glenn Martin--himself formerly incarcerated--who expressed trepidation about allowing the national conversation on prisons focus too much on prison reentry (along with the cost-benefit analyses that generally accompany such arguments). "Beyond prisoner reentry," he says, "we can't overlook the deeper questions of why we put so many people in prison in the first place." And, as well, the question of who.
Our bailiwick here at J Street is to bring you news, ideas, opinions and thoughts from the capital, but I went to dinner with a bunch of beltway denizens last night and all anyone could talk about was Spitzer, so why not share some thoughts, right?
First, I want to stipulate that what Spitzer apparently did is gross and, most of all, cruel to his wife and family. I think he probably also had no choice but to resign. But one of my first thoughts upon hearing about the breaking scandal was "at least he didn't start a war based on lies." This dovetails with a post by Brian Beutler, where he notes that:
And as a rule, I think that's deeply unfortunate. Americans, to some great extent, have internalized this cartoonish idea that politicians ought to be policy-making and policy-enforcing robots, but they almost never seem to bring the hammer down unless a politician errs in some extremely frivolous way. Some senators and congressmen, it's worth pointing out, take legislative action to settle personal vendettas as a matter of routine. Some take bribes, both real and de facto. Others see prostitutes. If I had to pick, I know which "oops" I'd rather catch my elected official in--the only one, it turns out, that's likely to put an entire career in public service at risk.
The point is that sex sells and sex scandals have an undeniable salacious appeal that I think often skews our moral reaction to any sort of political sex scandal. What's more we tend to associate the depth of shamefulness of the revelation with its venality. But I think this is mistaken. Back in 2004, after promising Republican Illinois senate candidate (and Obama opponent) Jack Ryan was undone by allegations in his divorce papers that he'd pressured his wife into having sex in public in a sex club, I wrote a piece making this point. There are all kinds of revelations about a political figure's private life that would be embarrassing or shame-inducing, and would therefore receive far more coverage than a wide variety of routine forms of corruption and ugly views that are considered de rigeur.
To piggy-back (no pun intended) on one of Chris's posts from yesterday, it also bears noting how thoroughly overblown the current debate over Congressional pork is. One: it's more than a little duplicitous for the GOP to suddenly start stampeding down the earmark warpath after pork-barrel spending tripled under their watch (while since 2006, Democrats have slashed earmarks by 43% and created new earmark disclosure rules). Two: the degree of fanfare the DeMint-McCain proposal has drummed up seems to me a bit ludicrous. While it's always refreshing to see members demonstrate commitment to reform, the DeMint-McCain proposal is nothing more than a temporary, one-year ban--kind of like the one the Democrats passed after they took over Congress.
With the GOP continuing to gleefully reprove Democrats on the issue, it certainly doesn't help that McCain has consistently foregone earmarks, while Clinton ranks as one of the Senate's top 10 earmark-grossing members. But for now, when Sen. DeMint crows, "The jig's up on earmarks," remember that he's only referring to this election year (in which not many spending bills are expected to pass anyway).
While overall the post-2006 congress has been a massive disappointment, that is almost entirely due to the inability to overcome both filibusters and backslapping tradition in the Senate, . The house really has done a remarkably good job of reliably producing good legislation, which is then either ignored by the Senate or vetoed by the president.