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Burying the Lede

July 21, 2014, 2:19 pm

The Senate is paralyzed, Paul Kane of the Washington Post points out. Why? Personalities:

Senators say that they increasingly feel like pawns caught between Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose deep personal and political antagonisms have almost immobilized the Senate. The two men so distrust each other, and each is so determined to deny the other even the smallest political success, that their approach to running the Senate has been reduced to a campaign of mutually assured dysfunction.

“Mutually assured dysfunction” is nicely turned, and Kane goes on for several paragraphs about Senators discussing the personal antagonism between Reid and McConnell and several interventions which have taken place to try and resolve things.

The real reason doesn’t emerge until much later:

Much of that hopelessness has to do with the aspirations each side has for the November midterms. If Reid allowed the free-flowing give-and-take that defined the Senate of the past, his endangered Democratic incumbents would be forced to vote on carefully crafted GOP amendments designed to hurt them in November. He refuses to do that. If McConnell were to work with Reid to allow the Senate to function more smoothly and effectively, he would undermine a key component of the Republican campaign argument this fall: that Democrats have mismanaged the Senate and the GOP must take over.

I won’t pick on Kane for “free-flowing give-and-take that defined the Senate of the past” (when? The Progressive Era? The Mr. Smith Goes To Washington era?) but I will pick on him for leaving this analysis until so late in the article. Reid and McConnell’s dislike for each other is largely irrelevant to the paralysis. Take them out of the equation, and the Senate would probably get nothing done until after the midterms, anyway. This close to an election, politics trumps policy. Writing that personalities have something substantial to do with it just contributes further to the Hollywoodization of process, and obscures how the system is actually working. We may not like that latter, but we should at least be aware – and made aware – of it.

P.S. If I were cynical, I would note that the report mentions positively 8 current Senators (by my rough count) as trying to break the stalemate: 6 Democrats, 1 Independent (who caucuses with the Democrats), and 1 Republican. A number of them are in intensive reelection fights this fall. So is the story really about the valiant rank and file Senators trying heroically to break the stalemate? If I was really cynical, I might think that Kane was doing a favor for a number of Senators to keep his access nicely maintained. Luckily, I’m a trusting sort.

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