Sunday, July 5, 2009

High Broderism Pawned

Krugman: Al Franken’s secret

David Broder has a column this morning calling for bipartisanship. I know, you’re shocked. But what struck me was this bit about Al Franken:

Franken, the loud-mouthed former comedian, will be the 60th member of the Senate Democratic caucus …

Two points.

First, implicit in this characterization of Franken is the notion of the Senate as a decorous gentlemen’s club. I doubt that club ever existed in reality; but in any case, these days the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body is, not to put too fine a point on it, chock full o’ nuts. James Inhofe: I rest my case.

Second, Al Franken’s dirty secret is that … he’s a big policy wonk.

I used to go on Franken’s radio show, all ready to be jocular — and what he wanted to talk about was the arithmetic of Social Security, or the structure of Medicare Part D.

In fact, the only elected official I know who’s wonkier than Al Franken is Rush Holt, my congressman — and he used to be the assistant director of Princeton’s plasma physics lab. (The campaign’s bumper stickers read, “My Congressman IS a rocket scientist.”)

So what will Franken do to the level of Senate discourse? He’ll raise it.
Yglesias: Bipartisanship in Lieu of Analysis

Strikingly, David Broder thinks we could use more bipartisanship:

Scholars will also make the point that when such complex legislation is being shaped, the substance is likely to be improved when both sides of the aisle contribute ideas. And they will argue that public acceptance of the mandated changes in such programs will be greater if the law comes with the imprimatur of both parties.

I would be interested in a citation for scholarship which argues that complex legislation is likely to be improved by the contribution of ideas from both sides of the aisle. I have, in fact, looked at the question of whether or not bipartisanship enhances policy stability and there turns out not to be evidence for this theory. But, hey, “scholars” will make the point. But with Congressional Republicans currently earning a 29-56 approve/disapprove split it’s hard to argue that getting them on board is crucial to the popularity of a new initiative.

Scott Lemieux, meanwhile, reminds us of Broder’s classic attack on Al Gore for being too interested in public policy:

I have to confess, my attention wandered as he went on through page after page of other swell ideas, and somewhere between hate crimes legislation and a crime victim’s constitutional amendment, I almost nodded off.

My guess is that that’s the nub of the matter. It’s somewhat difficult to try to understand policy proposals on the merits. It’s easy, by contrast, to just look at who’s supporting legislation. You can just say, “good bills are bipartisan bills, partisan bills are bad” and then look at whether or not a proposal has bipartisan support. It’s simple if you’re the kind of person inclined to nodd off if forced to listen to a discussion of policy. Personally, I’m not sure why so many people who find policy so dull are in the field of political journalism. I find it perfectly understandable that it’s not something everyone’s interested in, but it seems to me that people who aren’t interested in policy debates should be in some other line of work rather than writing columns for David Broder.

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