Times have changed
Mark Schmitt thinks that the age of hero legislators was dependent on an uninformed populace and a lot of unquestioned privilege:
There's been a lot of nostalgia recently about legislative giants of an earlier era -- retiring Sen. Evan Bayh, dull and cautious, compares unfavorably to his father, Sen. Birch Bayh, who in the same span of three terms compiled a record of both accomplishments and ambitious but failed crusades. The giants of past decades were not necessarily smarter or better people. What's different is that those men (in the mid-1970s, there was not one woman in the Senate) had no hesitation about their entitlement to rule. They never went to town meetings where constituents had read pending legislation on the Internet and asked detailed questions about Section 547 -- indeed they rarely went home at all. Many of them barely worried about reelection.
Today we'd welcome the arrogance and insularity of those giants, who bravely cast unpopular votes. Progressives have been asking both legislators and the president to be more arrogant, to exercise the raw power of the majority without hesitation. But how much real democracy would we have to give up to re-create the environment? Today, as voters, we can read legislation, find the backroom deals, make our own judgments and know in real time how members vote. Congress and the White House are also coming gradually closer to looking like America. With accountability and transparency come legislators who are going to be a little less sure of themselves, a little more worried about each move. It's hard to separate the arrogant bravery of the giants of the past from the isolated white-male entitlement that produced it.
Photo credit: Associated Press
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