Dancing in the Legislative Dark?

Posted: May 23, 2008 2:19 PM
Dancing in the Legislative Dark?

During the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois asked him, “You’re a Bruce Springsteen fan?” An odd question, to which Alito replied tepidly, “I am to some degree, yes.”

Durbin had a point to make: “I guess most people in New Jersey would be.” If not, he opined, “they should be.” That’s far from clear, but let’s take the senator at his word.

When Durbin announced he’d vote against confirming Alito, he returned to his earlier theme. “Judge Alito, a New Jersey native, wouldn’t even say whether he was a Bruce Springsteen fan,” the senator chided. “Now, he may be one of the few people from New Jersey who has such cautious fealty to The Boss.”

Or, maybe not.

“Personally, for the last 25 years I have always stayed one step away from partisan politics,” Springsteen wrote in The New York Times in 2004. That’s a good policy for an entertainer. But that year, apparently, was special. The Boss leapt into politics with both feet, campaigning hard for John Kerry.

It’s understandable that Alito, a lifelong conservative, would oppose Springsteen’s liberal ardor. He was simply too polite to make a big deal out of that during hearings meant to focus on his qualifications to sit on the nation’s highest court.

The joke here is on Durbin, in more ways than one. It’s not merely funny that he claimed to oppose Alito because of the judge’s taste in music. It’s funny that he even thought he had to explain his opposition to Alito.

After all, Durbin is a liberal leader of his party’s Senate contingent. It was clear from the get-go he would vote against Alito, a conservative nominated by a president from the opposing party. And that’s the real problem with politics today. It’s predictable and, in many ways, pointless. The goal isn’t to get things done; it’s to attack members of the other party.

As another example, consider the embarrassing story on the front page of the May 17 Washington Post. During a trip to Saudi Arabia, Bush pleaded with the Saudis to pump more crude. And they said no. “Not only did the Saudis resist efforts to boost production even more -- as many congressional leaders are demanding -- they also pointedly said that the extra output was a week-old response to commercial customers, not to the president,” the paper wrote.

Well, that certainly puts us in our place. We’re begging the Saudis to take MORE of our dollars, and they’re refusing.

Of course, any political failure gives the other party a chance to pounce, and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., was ready as always. “The president seems to value his friendship with the Saudis more than his obligation to help the American people with gas prices,” he declared. Nice soundbite, but it would be difficult to find an attack more disconnected from reality.

What, after all, does Schumer think Bush should have done?

The president asked, politely, for more production and was turned down. Now, some might advocate invading Saudi Arabia, annexing the oil fields and taking all the crude we want. But that’s certainly not what Schumer’s calling for.

As an alternative, our country could increase domestic production by drilling in Alaska and off the coast. Yet it’s Schumer’s party that defeats drilling every time the idea comes up. So what’s their plan?

“We’ve been pushing for a long time for energy efficiency,” Schumer told reporters in April. “We believe in a price-gouging bill so that the big oil companies can’t collude. We believe that there’s too much speculation in the markets, and we believe that ought to be reined in.” Again, nice soundbites, but nothing there to “help the American people with gas prices.”

The same thing happens from the other side. Republican House leader John Boehner recently wrote in the Washington Times that, “Americans are paying nearly $1.50 more per gallon at the pump than when Mrs. Pelosi became speaker.”

But it’s not Democratic control of Congress that’s the problem; it’s that Congress refuses to, say, eliminate ethanol mandates, drill for oil off our coasts or make it easier for companies to build refineries. These steps might, indeed, lower prices.

Barack Obama seems to understand that people are fed up with empty attacks, which is why he champions “change.” But his record as a liberal legislator certainly hints he’d be as divisive from the left as President Bush has supposedly been from the right these last seven years. The non-partisan National Journal ranked Obama “the most liberal senator in 2007” based on his congressional votes.

We’ve had enough attacks. It’s time for plans. Let’s hope this year some politicians surprise us by designing approaches to fix Social Security, education and energy. If they think they were “born to run” -- for office, anyway -- they ought to at least try.