Yesterday, I tossed up what I thought was a rather innocuous piece about politics, with the main gist being that while President Bush’s poll numbers were pretty bad for him, I didn’t think that automatically meant good news for his opponents. That started a hell of a lot more discussion than I anticipated, and it went off in ways I didn’t foresee. Some folks accused me of “fantasizing” and being “delusional,” among the more polite terms, and it went downhill from there.
So I figured I’d write a followup piece, specifically about what I THINK will happen, and what I WISH would happen.
I draw a very distinct difference between the two. I like to think of myself as a realist, and able to differentiate between those two things. I see a lot of people who can’t or don’t, and they bother me as intellectually dishonest.
First, the reality: we are not having an election this November. We are having about 470 elections, where every single seat inthe House and one-third of the Senate will be up for grabs. Ted Kennedy, Patrick Kennedy, and Cynthia McKinney, just to name three folks I’d like to see tossed out, will not have to fear in the least losing my vote, because I can’t vote for or against them. (Yes, all three are Democrats, but two are recently scandal-tainted, and my loathing for Teddy transcends politics.)
The two political parties have made a real hash of election laws and regulations, to the point where it is very, very difficult to unseat incumbents. It can happen — in 2002, a long-serving Senator from New Hampshire was upset in the Republican primary — but it usually takes extraordinary circumstances. Consequently, over the average turnover in an election is around 3%. In other words, if you get elected to Congress, you have a 97% chance of staying there as long as you like.
When that 3% is placed against the 33 or 34 Senators and 435 Representatives up for grabs, that means that 1 Senator and 13 Representatives will not be re-elected. And since the Democrats need 5 Senate seats and 15 House seats to reclaim the majority, even if they take all of those seats, they will still fall short of winning either House.
Now, the caveat here is the “extraordinary circumstances.” There could be other factors at play, factors that hurt Republicans nationwide and actually have a significant effect on those 460-odd elections. (I’m too lazy to actually look up whether it’s 468 or 469.) And I just don’t see any around yet. President Bush’s poll numbers might be low, but they’re not coinciding with rising poll numbers for anyone else. As I said yesterday, it’s not a zero-sum game. Those unhappy with Bush aren’t likely to flock to the Democrats, as a lot of them are conservatives who are displeased with his perceived betrayal of conservative principles. They are not the sort to say “well, if the Republican I voted for is going to act like a Democrat, I might as well go down and vote for a Democrat in the first place and get it over with,” they’re more likely to say “if I can’t vote for someone I like and trust, to hell with them, I’ll just not vote this time.”
Bush, make no doubt about it, is a polarizing figure — much like Hillary Clinton. But Bush has done a great deal to play down the extremes. Unfortunately for him, he’s done it by taking steps that turn off his supporters, but not helped pull in his detractors. They’re still as rabid as ever, but the counterbalancing element has diminished. But I just don’t see that translating into a major shakeup in Congress.
So, come November, I see the Democrats making some modest gains in Congress, at best, but in no way taking control of either House.
Now that reality has been dealt with, I’m going to indulge in sheer political fantasy.
I’d like to see at least half the incumbents get tossed out on their asses. I’d like to see a huge freshman class in both houses, filled with eager and idealistic new Congresscritters of both parties looking to shake up the established system and truly clean the Houses. I’d like to see them just try to get as much fixed as they can without worrying about re-election. I’d like to see them dismantle the system that makes incumbency such a powerful factor in elections. I’d like them to revamp the budget process into something that can actually be understood. I’d like to see them fix the tax code into something that can actually be understood enough to be obeyed. I’d like them to establish a new standing committee, the Committee On Repeals, that would be charged with going through the federal code and getting rid of old, useless laws that shouldn’t be on the books (presuming they ever should have been on there.) I’d like to see them not bother to learn the ropes around Washington, but cut them all down and find whole new ways of navigating the bureaucracy. And I’d like to see them get rid of a good quarter or so of federal employees, finding ways to do the people’s business in a more efficient manner — or not do some things at all.
For example, I’d like to see the Department of Education go away. It would be better named the Department of Educational Bureaucracy, as it doesn’t actually educate a single student, but instead concerns itself with rules, regulations, requirements, and administrators. Just get rid of the whole thing, take all the money it currently consumes, take 25% off the top, and give the rest to individual school districts, divvied up so each district gets the same amount per student. I would be willing to bet almost anything it would result in huge improvements in our educational system.
I say I would be willing to bet anything because it’s a safe offer. As I said, that is just a fantasy, just like the idea that more than a dozen or so incumbent Senators and Representatives will be unseated.