Frist, Do No Harm!

A mostly political Weblog.
May 31 2005 6:02 AM

Frist, Do No Harm!

Plus--McCain saves The Palm; CNN saves Thunder.

(Continued from Page 2)

First, he needs a stamp: He's signed the form. His staff is going over the postage tables  and will determine the correct amount "very, very shortly." ...  Why is getting John Kerry to release his military records like pulling teeth? It's inexplicable. ... Unless, of course, it's explicable. ... P.S.: An 'overzealous aide' almost sent the form in! ... 7:12 P.M. link

Sen. McCain Saves The Palm: From today's NYT report on the bipartisan filibuster-saving compromise signed by 14 senators, including John McCain:

Mr. McCain said he expected that interest groups on both the left and right would be angry at the compromise.

"Think of all the money they are going to lose," he said, ducking into a car to head to the premiere of a film about his life, referring to the fund-raising operations that had sprung up around the judicial battle. [Emph. added]

Hmmm. As long as we're being appropriately cynical and looking for the underlying selfish motives of various parties in the "nuclear" debate, it's worth asking if Senator McCain and his band of self-glorifying depolarizers are really just brave statesmen who, unlike their critics, "managed to put principle above self-protection," in a Washington Post editorial's adoring words.

Why, after all, are so many people in Washington attached to the Senate's "right to unlimited debate"? Is it because the filibuster--which effectively requires a supermajority to pass anything through the Senate-- guarantees "freedom of speech, freedom of debate and freedom to dissent in the United States Senate." (Sen. Byrd's modest version.) Or is it because the filibuster, and the exaggerated power it gives to both minorities and individuals, is the basis for much of the Senate's--indeed Washington's--corrupt cash economy? Without the filibuster, after all, senators in the minority party wouldn't be nearly as big a deal. They couldn't block legislation--so lobbyists wouldn't need to bribe them with campaign contributions. And honest, self-protective corporations wouldn't have to pay so many of these lobbyists to bribe them with campaign contributions.

Even most majority party senators would see some of their power drain away if the Senate became more like the House, organized efficiently along party lines so the majority could exercise its non-filibusterable power. Individual majority senators would be less like princes to be wined, dined and fawned over and more like party backbenchers. Corporations and interest groups wouldn't need to spend a lot of money bribing them either. And why would Boeing and GM want to pay for an army of ex-Senate aides to sweet-talk all 55 Republicans when one aide with the ear of Bill Frist would get the job done? ...

The filibuster's infrastructural role has powerful multiplier effect: It means not only that obscure minority Senators attract millions in campaign contributions. while the aides of obscure minority Senators aides find pleasant $250,000 jobs as influencers with vital "access." It means that those Senators can afford to hire well-paid fundraisers to funnel those contributions, while interest groups need direct mail experts to raise the money to make their own "access" producing contributions, and all these people need restaurants like The Palm  to feed them and brokers to swap their houses and mechanics to service their Acuras and Audis. Thanks to the Senate's precious right of unlimited debate, a wave of prosperity sweeps over the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area! Funded by the rest of the country.

The filibuster is to Washington what the computer chip is to Palo Alto--the technological basis of prosperity. Is it an accident, a Marxist might say, that the Washington Post approves of McCain's handiwork? Without it, many of the talented lawyers who read the Post it might have had to find more productive, less remunerative work. And the paper wouldn't have all those real estate ads.

Not to worry. As another local hero, Sen. Graham, declared yesterday: "The Senate is back in business."

P.S.: I'm not saying McCain or Byrd, or other defenders of proud Senate tradition are consciously promoting the economic self interest of the D.C. establishment that is now lavishing praise on them. But one of the lessons of evolutionary psychology is that our thoughts and actions somehow, without our consciously thinking it, just happen to somehow coincide with our own self interest. Marx suggested the same thing for larger groups (with "objective" interest replacing "subconscious" interest). The two mechanisms--Darwinian and Marxist-- may not be all that different2:28 P.M.  link