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Politics is depressing


Benjamin Sibelman
Living Worlds Productions

Politics is depressing

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You'd think the Democrats in Congress were born yesterday, from the way they're reacting to losing a Massachusetts senate seat to a Republican.  No, it does not mean that this exceedingly blue state has suddenly swung to the right and wants the policies of the Bush years back.  The far more plausible explanation is that the election was swung largely by voters fed up with the lack of change toward progressive policies since Democrats gained control of both houses three years ago.

But these Democratic politicians feel that, with only 18 more votes in the Senate than the Republicans have (a greater margin than Republicans ever held during the Bush years, as Jon Stewart pointed out while having a nervous breakdown), we have to scale back health care reform even further, drop some major plans for improved regulation of the financial industry, and quite possibly give up on passing a climate bill anytime soon.  Presumably, part of the argument is that this November, the whole country is going to follow Massachusetts's lead and sweep Democrats out of power in Congress--unless they act like they're already back in the minority?  Granted, we'll probably lose some seats just because that's the statistical trend for midterm elections that come two years after the White House changes hands.  But that doesn't mean it makes sense to pretend that's already happened.

It makes no sense, that is, unless you're just looking for any excuse to behave more like Republicans anyway.  I'm probably overstating the case here, but it seems like maybe all politicians prefer to put the interests of their wealthy campaign contributors ahead of their constituents, so as to be assured of having enough cash on hand next time they need to buy lots of TV ads telling those constituents why an opposing candidate can't be allowed to win.  After all, even if you put your constituents first, you still need to buy those ads to tell them how you're standing up for their interests--only in that case you might not have nearly enough cash, especially when simultaneously trying to counter your opponent's smear campaign.  Overly cynical?  Yes, but maybe closer to the truth than the alternate, one-word explanation, "spinelessness."

All of which bodes ill for any attempt to counter the truly disastrous event of the past week, the Supreme Court ruling that removed all limits on corporate and union financing of elections.  Work toward the ideal of "getting money out of politics," long championed by progressives, has been set back massively by this decision.  Of course, Obama's seeming embrace of this goal is already questionable, given that he broke a promise to use public financing in his presidential campaign.  Still, he now says he wants to pass legislation to counter the effect of this ruling.  But with the current mindset of Democrats in Congress, are they really likely to do anything about it?
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