Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right…

There are decided benefits to being a registered independent voter. With no sense whatsoever of party loyalty, one is free to lambaste politicians who act up, regardless of their affiliation.

For example, Senator Trent Lott (R-MI). (Correction: R-MS. Dang typos and postal codes…)

Back during Hurricane Katrina, one of Senator Lott’s three homes was destroyed. He turned to his insurer, State Farm, and filed a claim. State Farm, in return, pointed out that their policy specifically excluded flood damage, and he should talk with his flood insurance coverer — in this case, the US government. (I understand Senator Lott has a passing familiarity with the institution in question.) Under that policy, he was covered up to $350,000 in losses.

Senator Lott didn’t take that suggestion well, it appears, and swore vengeance on not only State Farm, but their entire industry, apparently under the theory that “we’ll make you suffer by punishing your competitors, too.)

It seems that State Farm, even after avoiding the flood damage/wind damage dispute in many cases, had it’s own water damage — it took a bath in Katrina. And with Lott’s heavy-handed demands and use of his clout in Washington, it ended up shelling out a lot of money that it was not contractually obliged to do so in order to avoid his wrath.

So, they decided to cut their losses, and minimize their future risk. State Farm — along with several of its competitors — have chosen to stop issuing policies in large areas that were mauled by Katrina. As is their right — there is no law requiring them to do business there, and if they’ve found it too expensive to do so (thank you, Senator Lott), then they not only can decide to take their ball and go home, they have a legal obligation to their stockholders to do so.

So the private insurance market is pulling up stakes and evacuating the likely path of future hurricanes, cutting adrift the people who had been depending on that coverage. (I almost said “leaving them high and dry,” but that wasn’t quite the right metaphor.) So Senator Lott has his solution for them: an expansion of federal flood insurance to cover more of the damage hurricanes cost.

Well done, Senator Lott. You’ve turned your private vendetta against one company into a rallying cry for yet more federal control over something that had previously been a matter for private industry. You’ve replaced market-driven free enterprise with publicly-funded government bureaucrats.

You know, I defended Lott when he made his controversial remarks about Senator Strom Thurmond, under the “for god’s sake, why not say something nice about the ancient guy? He’s gonna croak soon anyway, so why not give him his political jollies” theory. The whole point of saying that “it might have been better if you’d been elected president back then” was to make the decrepit old fossil feel a little better before he finally kicked the bucket. It was not a ringing endorsement of Thurmond’s platform of over half a century ago, merely a slightly premature “do not speak ill of the dead” moment. And I still think that Lott got a raw deal out of it.

But now I see that, for whatever reason, it’s a good thing that he lost his leadership position. And, perhaps, even a good thing that his party has been relegated to the minority.

The damnedest shame of all of it is that Lott overwhelmingly won re-election just last November, and this move will most likely boost his popularity even more with his constituents, who see him as “sticking it” to the insurance companies they’re already peeved at — and not see the long-term costs of his jihad.

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