About Life and Politics in D.C.
You might not have noticed, but I have switched the blog over to http://www.kenkerns.com.
I like this space, I really do. But I bugged me that I drew a nearly meaningless distinction between my website and my blog. So I found a design that let me incorporate one into the other. And since I don’t blog as much anymore (I tweet), it works.
But feel free to browse the blog’s history if you want.
When you carefully read from prepared remarks to state a belief you and many other congressman share (and are privately unrepentant about), it’s not a gaffe. And it certainly doesn’t compare to anything the Vice President may have said, most often as a joke.
I mean, technically, a gaffe is synonymous with a mistake, so I suppose they are right. But more generically, a gaffe has been used to reference a blooper, a foolish slip up, and usually referred to in politics as an impromptu moment of unscripted remarks (i.e. candor).
What Barton said was not an impromptu apology, and shouldn’t be treated as an off-the-cuff statement or a freudian slip of the tongue. He meant it and only apologized because it was politically necessary.
I’m tired of politicians saying what they really mean, realizing their mistake, “apologizing, and the media giddishly accepting it at face value before moving on. Not everything should be dismissed lightly as a gaffe.
When the top Republican on the Energy committee reads from prepared remarks in order to apologize to a foreign company with a long history of safety violations for having been made to compensate fellow Americans for the worst environmental disaster in our history – that’s not a childish mistake we can laugh at and forget.
D.C. may be a small town for the elites who mingle at A-list events. But the crap these career politicians do and say in our name have an impact, and can’t always be easily dismissed with the swiftness of a child with ADHD.
Sometimes you have to stop in awe of the insensitivity of those in power and the media who enable them.
Matt Yglesias has a good point on low-level political appointees for jobs that don’t need politicians and/or don’t need input from a filibuster-happy Senate.
Here’s a few of the jobs the Senate confirmed:
— Benjamin B. Tucker, of New York, to be Deputy Director for State, Local, and Tribal Affairs, Office of National Drug Control Policy.
— Jim R. Esquea, of New York, to be an Assistant Secretary for Legislation, Department of Health and Human Services.
— David T. Matsuda, of the District of Columbia, to be Administrator of the Maritime Administration.
— Lana Pollack, of Michigan, to be a Commissioner on the part of the United States on the International Joint Commission, United States and Canada.
— James L. Taylor, of Virginia, to be Chief Financial Officer, Department of Labor.
Does the Senate really need input on a deputy director for a small White House office dealing with drug policy? Do they have any official rationale for having input in who Obama picks for his Assistant Secretary for Legislation (basically a government-paid lobbyist to help Exec Branch win support on the Hill)?
It really does get a bit ridiculous that such low-level positions could be held up for months on the threat of a filibuster which never materializes, when no one, not even the Senators themselves, care that much about the nominations except as leverage to make a political point?
I know we have the patronage system from Andrew Jackson’s days, and no one likes to denigrate civil servants more than the conservative movement, but sure we could do with a few less politician-managers and instead a few more professionals in our government?
If the British can hold an entire election and confirm a new Cabinet in the span of six weeks, surely the country that created the permanent campaign could at least get on with the business of governing by not taking so longer to fill the bureaucracy after each election.
Chris Cilliza made a pretty pithy attack on run-off elections the other day, basically dismissing them as either relics of a pre-Jim-Crow South or an unnecessary burden on state election officials.
However, I think runoffs are a good idea – but only if they are instantenous.
The point of a runoff election is to ensure that a majority of the voters actually wanted the candidate that got elected. And there is legitimate democratic value in guaranteeing a majority mandate for whoever wins. In the interest of speed, I’ll skip that normative discussion.
Currently, there are a variety of run-offs in the United States, all of them requiring a second election to be held between 2 weeks and 2 months after the original election, usually with the top 2 candidates (or sometimes the top candidates from each party, in particular versions of open/jungle primaries).
There are some run-offs even in this situation that don’t make sense – like North Carolina’s requirement of 40% instead of 50% to win an election. Is it any more valid that you beat your opponent by 41%-39% than by 39%-37%? And if 41% is valid enough to avoid a runoff, what if both candidates get over 40%? If you’re going to do a run-off requiring a separate election, let’s at least stick to a majority threshold, since only one candidate could ever get a majority.
Some countries, most notably Australia in its lower House of Representatives, using a system of voting that is variably called preferential voting, Alternate Vote, or instant-runoff voting. It’s the system that makes most since to me, and one I’d rather see us adopt for all elections.
The idea is simple – rather than voting for one candidate, you rank the candidates in order of preference. For example, you might prefer the Tea Party candidate, but you’d then mark your ballot showing your second and third choices, and so on. Then, after the votes are counted, if the Tea Party doesn’t win a majority, the ballots cast for the candidate with the least number of votes gets redistributed to their second choice. This process continues until someone gets a majority.
This system would avoid the sense of wasted votes or spolier candidacies. It would ensure every winner has a majority of the voters. And it would be a means of avoiding the expense of a second round of voting in a primary or general election.
The main drawback would be a media one – not every election tally would be finished on Election Night. In fact, depending on the closeness of the election and the size of the ballot paper, it might take weeks to complete the count. But then, it already takes weeks in some cases to get an accurate and official count.
The system we have isn’t perfect, but neither are the alternatives. That’s why other countries do it differently, as do other states.
But dismissing the runoff as a relic of the past and favoring a winner-take-all plurality outcome in elections to save money and ensure dramatic Election Night coverage is hardly democratic and quite a self-serving thing for Twitter-happy journalists to be advocating.