Why the big fights over Burris & Kennedy?

Our intrepid news media is simply obsessed with what is to come of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s now vacant Senate seats. 

In both cases, the governor is responsible for selecting someone to fill the vacated seat until the next scheduled election. 

In Obama’s home state of Illinois, the source of the controversy is clear.  The governor there, Rod Blagojevich, faces what seems to be politically fatal charges of corruption. They even have tapes of Blagojevich trying to sell the Senate seat. His appointment of Roland Burris is certainly worthy of scrutiny.

In New York, the battle for Hillary’s old seat is a bit different. The front runner so far has been Caroline Kennedy, who seems to have little political qualifications outside of her family name. 

But that’s not the entire story in Illinois or New York. The bigger story is the power of incumbency. John Cole gets it exactly right:

Instead of the sturm and drang about coronations and heirs to Clinton and all this other nonsense, we would have someone appointed for two years, and it would just be assumed they would have a tough election ahead of them in 2010. But, as it is now, once you get into office in the United States, you have to be pretty terrible at an almost epic level (think Liddy Dole, and even then it was dicey until her idiotic last minute commercial) to lose an election once you have the power of the incumbency.

It is just assumed that whoever takes Clinton’s seat will be there for the next three decades, and that changes all the calculations. That, to me, is the real problem, and it isn’t supposed to be like that. The point of elections every two years in the House and every six in the Senate is that if you screw one of them up, in a relatively short time, you get a do-over. When you just assume someone will be there for the next thirty years instead of six, it really makes the decisions much more important and… much more acrimonious.

And at this point, I’m not sure what the solution is, but there has to be one.


  1. Ian

    Solution: Term limits.

  2. Chris

    I think it’s a bad idea to artificially limit the time an effective politician can serve. Especially if we’re talking about term limits of less than 10 years.

  3. Ian

    Why? I can’t really think of any reason why we should have senators or congressmen for their entire lives.

  4. Chris

    I never said entire lives. My point is that effective politicians are a rare commodity, and shouldn’t be thrown out after only a few years of service. Especially when you consider the amount of time it takes to get acclimated to a new job.

    California is an excellent example of a dysfunctional government caused needlessly by well-meaning term limits.

  5. Ian

    Is that really the cause of California’s problems? I’m asking honestly because I don’t know.

    Two term limits on a senator is still 12 years. I can’t imagine it takes more than a year or two to get acclimated. Instead, I would argue that 12 years is long enough to make a politician out of touch with their populace and fully influenced by special interest. 12 years is a generation gap. The population and their interests can change greatly over that amount of time. Ineffective senators, as you pointed out with Elizabeth Dole almost winning, can still hold on to their senate seats for decades.