Sunday, January 25, 2009

No Vacancy

Dad used to say that being US Senator was the best job in government, and I still think he's right about that.  Presidents come and go, but these women and men just keep hangin' on.  Some courageous and fearless forces for change, but most Congresses of the past 10-15 years are their own best arguments for federal term limits.

Back in the day, I recall towering figures in that rarified assembly:  Dirksen, Jackson, Proxmire, McCarthy, Fulbright, Symington, Muskie, McGovern, Mondale, Kennedy (2!), the list goes on. These men were giants of my early political awareness as a young teen---perhaps they would seem less so through the eyes of the more cynical adult.  Or maybe it was the times that made the men---the turbulent 60s and 70s of civil rights, Great Society, Vietnam, and social unrest.

The latest high profile appointees--one from my home state of Illinois and the other from my adopted state of NY--completely underwhelm, yet their appointments are consistent with the state of affairs at the senior levels of our government.  Mediocrity rules.  The rich or the bland or the blow-dried (or a combo of all 3 !) only need apply.  Failed to pay social security taxes for that nanny 8 years ago?  You're out!  Had an extramarital affair on a business trip to Vienna 12 years ago?  Fuhgeddaboutit!  Smoked pot as a college freshman?  I'll get back to you....  Gay?  Are you kidding!?  Support the war in Iraq and the NRA position on gun control?  Sure, come right in, may I offer you some tea, Senator......

The good news is that Senate appointees fare poorly when it's time to face election by the people. In NY State, for example, no Senate appointee (and there have been three) has ever won election in his own right.  

In case you missed that day in social studies, it's worth recalling that the election of US senators is a relatively recent phenom, having come about as a result of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution in 1913.  Prior to that, state legislatures voted them in---another example of the Framers intent that ours was to be a republic and not a full-blown democracy.  

Quiz: Which 3 states have had the highest number of appointees?  (answer below)

The metrics of the 17th amendment----184 senators appointed (an average of about 2 per year), of which only 115 chose to run for election.  Of those who faced voters, it was about a 50/50 split----60 elected 55 defeated---a 33% yield on the appointee pool.

A-list names whose senatorial careers started as appointees:  John Foster Dulles, Sam Ervin, Walter Mondale, Ted Stevens, George Mitchell, Pierre Salinger.

Saddest tale:  Alva Moore Lumpkin, Democrat, South Carolina, appointed July 17, 1941, and died in office 2 weeks later.  

Not sure where this is going, so I'll end it here and go back to surfing the web for more Caroline gossip  (NOT !).

Answers to quiz:  Kentucky (8 appointments), Idaho (6), California (6).  

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