It's been a while. For this column, for my postings in general. I learned a lesson during my absence. Being human, there's a good chance that I didn't learn it well. And it probably won't stick. But it's a good lesson, and has political application. I got a virus that laid me low. When I was a kid, people would get a virus. It wasn't a cold, it wasn't a flu, and no one really cared what it was. Now, there are blood tests and you know what it is, but mostly you feel terrible for days on end.
Here's the lesson: I'm a doctor, and I know that when you get a knock-you-out-virus, even after you start feeling better, you need to take it easy, because it's going to stay with you for a while. How long? No one knows. Maybe a week, maybe three. But the idea is that if you try to overreach, you'll end up back in bed for another few days. And if you go to work, you're going to give it to all you co-workers. Simply, the lesson is, follow the rules. Stay "sick" until you're better.
In politics, there are all sorts of rules. Some written, some unwritten. But they're rules. And like the laws of physics, most end up inviolate.
So let's get to the Senate, and I'd like to start with Rand Paul. The Senator got up last week on the Senate floor and filibustered. And I think that's a good thing. It wasn't a double super-secret hold. It wasn't something back alley that led to the end of a judicial nomination (calling out Mitch McConnell here, and yes, we'll be getting back to you). It was an honest floor speech on drones. It did what a filibuster is supposed to do: focus attention on something, hold up a process for a while (in this case the Brennan nomination), and finally end. We need more legitimate filibusters: especially now. The Senate has become so dysfunctional, and it was nice to see a 13-hour return to application of the rules.
Now let's talk about the other Senator from Kentucky. Whenever I see a photograph of Mitch McConnell, I think of Frank Burns. I think it's the lips. And the sneakiness. However, he never served in Korea (he's too young), although he did enlist. As an aside, he was discharged for a medical condition that's often related to Multiple Sclerosis, but he doesn't appear to have ever developed MS. I also don't think he cheated on his first or second wives, unlike Frank Burns. His current wife is Elaine Chao, who is Chinese/Taiwanese. You'd think that since she's an immigrant, he'd be more flexible on the issue of immigration, but it never seems to come up.
McConnell was elected to the Senate in 1984. His bumper stickers said "Switch to Mitch", and despite the Reagan landslide, he was the only Senate Republican to oust a sitting Democrat. He hasn't had a lot of challenge during his tenure, but next year may be the year. While the teabag contingent hasn't yet fielded a primary challenger, they likely will. Mitch's war chest is big, $7.3 million at the end of 2012. How much he'll have to spend on the primary is dependent on who arises.
It's looking more and more like Ashley Judd will challenge Mitch in the general. Could she win? Potentially. She maintains a residence in Tennessee, and would have to move her legal residency to Kentucky, but she's no carpetbagger. She spent a fair amount of her childhood in Kentucky, went to college there, and still attends sports games at the University of Kentucky where she is rumoured to sit in the student section. This last tidbit is more important than one might think. For Judd to win in Kentucky she's going to need the youth vote, and being "of them" even in subtle ways will be helpful.
Judd will be able to raise a lot of money. A lot of it will come from out of state, and won't be PAC money, but she'll have Hollywood and all her music and acting fans behind her. She'll also likely be able to create big draws at events: just think about the musical groups that could perform as an introduction.
If she runs, I hope she wins. She's done a lot of humanitarian work and she's a good Democratc: active in a lot of important causes.
The problem is that US Senator is not an entry-level position in politics. That's not the rules. Before you say "Al Franken" - he is an exception to the rule. He holds a Political Science degree, with honours, from Harvard. So long ago that those of us who received such degrees actually obtained them in "government" and not "political science." As someone of Senator Franken's generation, I can tell you that we truly learned g-o-v-e-r-n-m-e-n-t. This is something a lot of current politicians know little about. (I'm talking to YOU teabag contingent.) The Senator spent most of his career as a political pundit, albeit in the comedy arena. think of him as g-dfather to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Street cred. In his first hearing, Senator Franken arrived with a pocket copy of the US Constitution, to which he referred during witness questioning. No lightweight, he.
But I question the wisdom, in general, of electing people to high office who have no experience navigating "lower" levels of the political arena. I love Ashley Judd's politics, and I think she'd make a terrific replacement. Perhaps her bumper stickers should include "Switch from Mitch, Enough is Enough."
2014 is shaping up as an exciting Senatorial election year, with all the announced (and to-be-announced) retirements. Next Sunday, an overview of what we know so far.