Monday, April 27, 2015

Evaluating First-Term Senators: The "Reid Effect"

We are currently in the throes of the second term of a president who has been, in no uncertain terms, quite terrible at his job.  As an administrator, he alternates between despotic and ineffectual, a terrible combination, and a profile not unsurprising for someone with essentially no experience whatsoever running anything.

Although the press did not make an issue of it in 2008, Mr. Obama was coming to the election from very little experience at anything relevant to the ability to be president.  He was, in essence, a community organizer (whatever that is), then briefly in the Illinois legislature with no record of leadership or even voting most of the time, then a U.S. Senator from Illinois.  As senator, his principal activity was running for the presidency, for which the taxpayer paid his salary.

The result of all this is that he has given a bad name to the idea of one-term senators running for president anymore.  This is a very interesting in the upcoming election, given the number of one-term Republican senators expected to run for president.

That any are running at all is interesting from a historical perspective.  It may surprise you that until the election of Warren G. Harding in 1920, no sitting senator had ever been elected to the presidency.  Since then, only John Kennedy in 1960 and the incumbent in 2008 have been elected straight from the Senate.

But run they are, and already the hypocrisy chants are rising.  How, they ask, can we support Marco Rubio or Rand Paul or Ted Cruz, for example, when they are "one-term senators" just like Obama, whom we claim to have been inexperienced and accordingly ineffective as president?

Well, "they" have a point there.  Marco Rubio became a senator in January 2011, as did Rand Paul.   Ted Cruz took his seat in January 2013.  What record can they have accumulated to rationalize voting for them, or even running, predicated on their accomplishments in the Senate?

OK, obviously their Senate careers do not define them.  Marco Rubio was Speaker of the Florida House back to 2006 and has a defined track record from that experience prior to the Senate.  Ted Cruz was Solicitor General for the state of Texas for five years, and was the director of the Office of Policy Planning at FTC, and an associate attorney general at the Department of Justice.

But all that aside -- and as younger candidates (Paul is 52, the other two in their early-mid 40s), their experience will be what it is -- they all do have to be able to distinguish their short Senate tenure and record as senators with the logical criticism leveled at Obama for his time in the Senate.

And that, friends, is actually very curious.

What, that is, could they have actually done?

In case you forgot, during all of the Senate careers of Rubio, Paul and Cruz, until this January, the Senate agenda was controlled by the Majority Leader, and that would be the esteemed Harry Reid of Nevada.  Reid, in an effort to ensure that the USA was not represented by an actual voting chamber after the House of Representatives was lost to the Republicans in 2010, refused to submit bills passed by the House to the Senate for votes.

How absurd was this?  Well, as of August of last year, the Republican-led House passed no fewer than 356 bills and submitted them to Reid and the Senate.  Lest you quibble about partisanship, I'll point out that about 200 of those bills passed the House unanimously (i.e., including all the Democrat congressmen), and 100 of them passed with at least 75% of the Democrats voting for them.

Every one of those bills, when Reid was voted out of the Majority Leader's job by a country sick of the Democrats, sat on his desk, never to be voted on by the Senate.  There was no vote, no consideration and, sadly, no mention of this by the left-leaning USA press and the networks.  No, the press had to promote the Obama narrative about a "do-nothing Congress", and must have felt it was too difficult for their audience to understand that the Republican House was actually doing plenty, while Reid had simply shut down the Senate.  Of course -- he knew he would get away with it given the compliant press.

So here's where we are.  Actually being a Senator -- of either party, actually -- during the Reid years, can't really be thought of as a very accurate example of anyone's leadership.  How could it?  Outside of committee chairmen holding a hearing here and there, under Harry Reid there was essentially nothing for them to do!

This "Reid effect" is a particularly interesting phenomenon.  What does a Ted Cruz, for example, tout as his accomplishments in the Senate, when effectively he, like Rubio and Paul, have only been able to do any work since this January, and have been spending significant time campaigning, and less than full time legislating.

Cruz could certainly point this out, except for a couple things.  First, the press would spin it as something other than Reid playing political intransigent, because to do otherwise would corrupt their narrative.  Second, it really doesn't matter -- whatever the reason, the three Senators simply weren't able to accumulate a voting record or prominent leadership experience.

As a result, they're going to have to work around that.  They can't just blame Reid; however accurate it is, that just becomes an excuse.  We don't want to hear why they were prevented from doing anything in the Senate; that ultimately doesn't tell us anything.  We want to know what they have done, so we can discern what they will do. 

I think that Rubio, a former House Speaker in Florida, is probably best prepared of the three to work around that situation, with Cruz close.  Rand Paul, half a dozen years older but an ophthalmologist for most of his professional life, is least able to work around the accusations of inexperience.

Whatever the outcome, I believe that this is something that we will see soon, and we may not realize the impact of Reid's actions on the three Senators.  I don't know that Reid is smart enough to have done that intentionally, i.e., to have said "If I do nothing, the Republican senators won't be able to gain experience to help them run for president", but the impact is the same.

Harry Reid sat on 356 bills, and if the effect itself wasn't bad enough, it has also hurt our ability to assess some actual candidates for the presidency.

It kind of makes you sick.
Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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  1. Dead On. Who thought when Daschle was voted out we would get someone worse?

    1. Exactly, Anon. Daschle was an ideologue, which is dangerous. Reid is corrupt and mendacious, which is worse. In both, the ends justified the means for them, but Reid's "ends" have been politically and morally despicable -- and in the case noted in the essay, damaging.

  2. I would like to think that the self-inflicted injury and subsequent decision to retire was Karmic retribution...but I'm not a Buddhist..