Thursday, January 21, 2010

Preview: Massachusetts

[NOTE: This was recorded Tuesday night]

B: I know we haven’t actually posted the first segment, but I want to talk about Massachusetts. Living in New England, Delaware, specifically, it’s in my backyard.

That was actually one of my more amusing moments, reading your interview with Clark, when he admitted he was a Democrat. I always told him it was pretty obvious, really. I think the only person who ever thought he was a Republican was his mother. But I’m a Democrat. And a lot of Democrats are terrified.

Massachusetts is a Democratic stronghold. All of their statewide offices are held by Democrats. The Kennedys are a legacy in Massachusetts. Even a few weeks ago, it was inconceivable that a Democrat wouldn’t win the seat Ted Kennedy left open when he died of brain cancer.

But it was only inconceivable because the Democrats lacked imagination. First off, Martha Coakley was a terrible candidate. It’s the problem with primaries- they have a tendency to pick candidates that may not fare as well in general elections: like John Kerry, to recall the other senator from Massachusetts.

Second, Americans are worried. It isn’t about health care, really, or the rest of Obama’s agenda, either. It’s about the economy, stupid. 10% unemployment scares people. They see layoffs everywhere they look, and it’s impossible not to wonder if they’re next. And if they do get a pink slip, they know just how difficult it will be to find another job.

Third, where the Democratic agenda has landed them in hot water is in its focus. When people are worried about feeding their kids, the absolute last thing that people want to think about is being generous and charitable. And that’s the frame the Democrats have been using during the healthcare debate. What would have made the legislation ten times more palatable would have been nixing all the talk of covering the uninsured, and instead focusing on reforms that make insurance more affordable, and make coverage portable even in the event of a job less. That’s not to say that the rest of the bill is meaningless, but the way it’s discussed has been fatally flawed- even terrifying to some people. Massachusetts is the one state in the nation where healthcare really shouldn’t be a factor in an election like this, because Massachusetts already has this kind of healthcare reform, and it’s popular, too.

Fourth, even when Democrats have done things that directly effect jobs, like the stimulus, they forget to talk about it. The stimulus didn’t create too many jobs, but it saved thousands of state and local government jobs, kept thousands of state and local governments from having to make really painful cuts to services when the bad economy would have made those cuts that much worse.

Fifth, Americans don’t like a supermajority. There’s a belief in this country that a balanced Congress can synergize the best ideas of the right and the left. Look at what happened in Georgia. In the general election there was a fairly tight race for the Senate, tight enough that neither candidate got 50% of the vote, so there was a mandatory run-off contest. But in the interim, Democrats had won what was one vote shy of a supermajority. Subsequently, the Democrat lost by five times what the deficit was in the general election.

Massachusetts wasn’t about anything other than the electorate worrying about themselves, and I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. Things have gotten bad enough that most Americans worry about falling into that widening sinkhole of people without jobs, with foreclosed homes, without insurance, basically without hope. If Democrats don’t want to be spanked come November, they’ll find a way to make Americans hopeful again.

ID: … oh, you’ve stopped talking. Okay. Uh. How might they do that?

B: Probably the best way would be to change the filibuster.

ID: To play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, wouldn’t using the nuclear option piss off the electorate?

B: The real question is whether or not Americans would prefer Senatorial gridlock, which is the current status quo, or getting the business of the people done. The filibuster is decidedly undemocratic, because it allows a minority to prevent the majority from legislating. I’m not saying we have to do away with it entirely, but lowering it to 55 would certainly change the dynamic.

And the filibuster isn’t sacrosanct. It was changed several times in the last century. The ability to vote for cloture, the end of a filibuster, didn’t exist until 1917. In 1949, the cloture requirement was changed from 67 senators to 60. And until 1975 filibustering required that opponents of a bill continue debating twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, to maintain a filibuster. The nuclear option has actually been used three times, though this “precedent” was retroactively removed. And really, debate over the nuclear option has been ongoing since 2005, when a Republican majority started talking about using it.

ID: So you’re saying for the Democrats to legislate effectively, they should emulate Republican tactics?

B: I’m saying a good idea is a good idea. In 2008 Republicans used the filibuster a record 139 times, almost double the Democrats’ usage when they were in the minority. This means that twice a week Republicans stopped debate on a bill.

Republican strategy is focused on preventing Democrats from legislating effectively. And they can do that so long as the filibuster remains intact.

ID: But you’re a billionaire. Shouldn’t you be a Republican?

B: If I were only concerned with the size of my fortune, maybe. But I believe the primary role of government is to be an advocate for its people, to serve as a check on the power of others with influence on American life. And compared with the power of other nations, compared with the influence of corporations like my own, I think the American people need a strong advocate.

The first actual segment of this interview will be coming shortly, but in the meantime, well, he couldn't help himself.

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