SATISFICING AND COCKTAIL WIENERS

Sometimes – OK, most of the time – I think it would be pretty cool to be a Big Name Blogger; carried by major media outlets, rubbing shoulders with media celebrities, and raking in 50,000 hits per day. Then I remember that popularity of that kind draws one into the Beltway world and, given enough time and exposure to the media Villagers, turns you into another milquetoasty cog in the machine that churns out the bland, "moderate" product that passes for journalism these days. Fortunately I'll never have to figure this out firsthand but I think that no matter how progressive you are, every day immersed in that world makes you sound just a little bit more like David Brooks. Before anyone realizes what happened you're on TV telling the President to run to the center. You start talking about being "mature" and "realistic" with alarming regularity. Policy advocacy goes out the window in favor of satisficing (Herbert Simon's wonderful portmanteau of satisfy and suffice) and accept catering to the mushy center. Maybe something in cocktail wieners – or whatever gets served at exclusive Beltway circle jerks – makes settling for mediocrity seem appealing.

Ezra Klein is a pretty good read. He has widely been considered one of the bright lights in a dim field of political commentators. This makes it all the more shocking to see him grab his ankles for Evan Bayh in this puzzling, rambling, open-ended interview. Bayh makes some valid points and of course his premise – that the Senate is fundamentally flawed – is reasonable. At the same time he is using Klein to go on the traditional Retiring Senator Jeremiad about how irrevocably broken the institution is, how valiantly he tried to make it right, and how in the end the forces of Evil were just too powerful. The fact is that Evan Bayh is exactly what is wrong with the Senate and I find it irresponsible at best that Klein not only failed to call him on it but served as a one-man cheering section throughout Bayh's sanctimonious, pedantic, Lieberman-esque lecture.

He complains about the "six year campaign." What meaningful campaign finance reforms did he propose or vote for during his tenure?

He whines about the influence of moneyed interests. No doubt his principled opposition to health care reform was not influenced by the millions and millions of dollars that Indiana insurance giant WellPoint channeled through Mrs. Bayh as a poorly disguised bribe.

He complains about self-interest a few paragraphs after complaining about how he'd never get a chairmanship because of the Democratic rules.

His grand example of the failure to protect the common good is the members of his own party who refused to cater to GOP talking points about "deficit reduction" and the discredited economics that underlie them.

He says "Ezra, is we're on the path of political least resistance. Make no hard decisions…" after he quit.

He talks about real statesmanship being defined as making tough choices and doing something for the good of the whole even if it isn't your preference. Why did he repeatedly hold up his own party's legislation until it looked more like Evan Bayh wanted it to look? (i.e. like something the Republicans wrote)

He calls himself a "progressive" repeatedly and Klein is too busy sucking to call him out on it.

He talks repeatedly about being a deficit hawk and Klein never asks him why he voted to repeal the Estate Tax and for the massive Bush-era tax cuts.

Bayh's grand message is that good people are caught up in a bad system. That sounds more than a bit like the Nuremburg Defense. The system is made up of people, and Evan Bayh is one of them. Maybe the problem is more complex than Senate rules and the need for constant fundraising. Maybe the real problem is that retiring Senators suddenly start talking about very big ideas that were strangely absent during their time in office. Now that he has had this spiritual epiphany he's quitting a position of tremendous power because attempting to fix the problem would be too hard. Thanks for playing. I have fifty bucks that says he takes a lobbying job six months after his term ends.

I hope Ezra Klein re-reads this a few times and does to his own work what he failed to do in his talk with Bayh; that is, to ask a few critical, tough questions about his performance.

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11 Responses to “SATISFICING AND COCKTAIL WIENERS”

  1. waldo Says:

    You're not Robinson Crusoe being disappointed with this 'interview'. And I remember an interviewer fronting Smirk about his WMD assertions and when smirk lied and yelled at him he was totally cowed. Maybe it's that effect many interviewers when they're being lied to and manipulated. We could call it 'I'm a big brave investigative reporter 'til I'm shirt-fronted by someone with authority then I crap my pants and whimper' syndrome.

  2. johnnyboy Says:

    Ed, as long as you continue to use curse words, create oddly political/sexual fantasies and refrain from deleting/editing our comments, you will still remain a "rebel" and therefore be read by a certain segment of underground intelligencia. And we thank you for not going Hollywood.

    On Bayh, it would be easy to dismiss the whole ball of corn by saying "Oh, he's a hoosier, what did you expect?" but he's actually more representative of a current breed of democratic senators that are clean, articulate and smell good but have extremely tiny testicles.

    "I swear, if I see ONE MORE useless Obama speech… I'm gonna… Oh, never mind."

  3. Crazy for Urban Planning Says:

    I love this blog Ed – don't you dare ever consider hanging out with David fuckin' Brooks.

    As to Senator Bayh (bye bye), like Johnny boy said, these people seem to be created in car factories to look exactly the same! They all speak coherently for seemingly hours on end, seem to wear pressed suits to bed while they sleep, and refuse to pass any anything that would limit the gravy train of lobbyists and fundraisers.

    The question I would like to ask these ass wipes is: do they enjoy fund raising so much that they won't correct the corrosive relationship they have with rich corporations? Isn't it the most unpleasant part of the "job" of writing legislation in the US Senate? This question drives me mad and gives me headaches!

  4. Crazy for Urban Planning Says:

    what no more comments? it was a good post!

  5. HoosierPoli Says:

    Six months? I'd be surprised if he isn't shilling for Eli Lilly within six HOURS.

    The system is broken until, through irrepressable collective action, Americans force through a constitutional amendment that says no public servant can ever have had any lobbying contact with the government, nor can they ever have lobbying contact afterwards. Put a hard wall in between the influence peddlers and the decision-makers. Make "Congressman" an UNDESIRABLE job, and the only applicants will be people who are actually fucking serious about it.

  6. Matthew Says:

    I think HoosierPoli may be on to something. Really, being a career congressman isn't spectacularly (note that I said spectacularly) lucrative, unless you're a big enough name to get paid to go around the country and give inane talks to the tune of six figures for forty-five minutes work. But being a former congressman, well, there's all kinds of money to be made that way. Maybe the goal of any rational economic actor is to get elected, stay long enough so that people know you were there, then leave while complaining about how broken the system is, so that you can go make buttloads of cash perpetuating the exact same flaws you were just bitching about.

  7. jazzbumpa Says:

    On the one hand, I find to reassuring to be reminded that I belong to a certain segment of underground intelligencia.

    On the other hand –

    WASF,
    JzB

  8. Grumpygradstudent Says:

    The dude doesn't want to do it anymore. Yeah, I wish he'd stay and save the seat from falling into R hands, but shit, i'm sitting here in my underpants commenting anonymously on a blog…I hardly have room to complain about someone choosing to leave professional politics. I sure as shit don't want that job.

  9. Prudence Says:

    Ed, perhaps you already know him, but Spencer Ackerman is always good value, like turning up the fact that 8 year old Eric Cartman is packing: http://washingtonindependent.com/77476/blackwater-the-senate-and-south-park

    "Employees of the CIA-connected private security corporation Blackwater diverted hundreds of weapons, including more than 500 AK-47 assault rifles, from a U.S. weapons bunker in Afghanistan intended to equip Afghan policemen, according to an investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee. On at least one occasion, an individual claiming to work for the company evidently signed for a weapons shipment using the name of a

  10. Marin Sedita Says:

    Thanks for the info on that. I wrote it off as merely another charge, but I am about to have a look at it just as before.

  11. John Magnum Says:

    Checking back in in 2012, and Evan Bayh… did some lobbying and became a Fox News contributor. What an incredible surprise.