Ted Kennedy

There has been much discussion among political pundits this week regarding whether Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh’s decision not to run for re-election is a symptom of a broken U.S. Senate.

Perhaps it is. After all, compared to the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate has been an epic failure. But it is also possible that Bayh – who is only a two-term senator, not a lifetime member of Congress – just wants to do other things, like run for president or make a lot more money somewhere in the private sector. Regardless of Bayh’s motive, the discussion about the U.S. Senate’s ineffectiveness is a needed one. The increasing ineffectiveness of a bipartisan approach to politics also needs to be part of the same discussion. After all, it seems as if the politicians who don’t fit squarely in the peg holes drilled by their party lines are the ones who are more likely not to seek re-election.

One of the major selling points of an Obama presidency was the promise of bipartisanship. Yet in the Senate, the simple threat of a filibuster by a 40-vote minority is enough to grind the lawmaking machinery to a standstill. (Yes, I know it is a 41-vote minority now, but this problem was happening well before Scott Brown was elected to fill the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.)

I’m not pinning the ineffectiveness problem solely on the standing Republican threat to filibuster. I’m positive that at least several Republican senators would be more willing to reach across the political aisle if they didn’t have to worry about the severe backlash they would get from conservative pundits like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, not the mention the whole TEA Party movement.

You see, the Republicans who plan to stay in office are worried about losing support of the far right wing of their party. And now it seems that same worry is spilling over to the Democratic side, because Bayh reportedly told aides he is frustrated with the far left wing of his party, including leftist bloggers who have been blasting him for not agreeing with every single thing the Obama administration has proposed.

The “us and them” mentality has never been so apparent in Congress. Whether it’s the Republicans or Democrats, politicians are clearly scared of what partisan pundits and vocal citizens publicly say about them, more than they ever seemed to worry about them before.

I’m not saying people don’t have the right to criticize politicians – they absolutely do, and I do my fair share of it – but to distill everything into black and white – or red and blue, if you prefer – does a disservice to the issues Congress needs to address.

And I’m convinced the partisan pundits – the ones who are quick to call politicians who don’t toe their party lines un-American – are really the ones undermining our political process, and they don’t care if they do, as long as they make plenty of money while doing it.

This needs to change. Unfortunately, it increasingly seems we’re past the point of no return.

This column was originally published in the Feb. 18 edition of Ottawa Delivered.


I write a political column for Ottawa Delivered, a hyperlocal Web site and weekly newspaper that covers Ottawa, Ill. The following column, which was published Thursday, is about Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy, who died Aug. 25. It was the most-read article on the OD Web site Friday.

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The death of Sen. Edward Kennedy last week prompted me to do a Google search for any connection the so-called “lion of the U.S. Senate” might have had to Ottawa.

Turns out the book “Death at Chappaquiddick” was published here by Green Hill Publishing (now Jameson Books) in 1976. Written by Richard and Thomas Tedrow, the book focuses on one of the lowest points in Kennedy’s life – when, after leaving a party, he drove his car off a bridge, resulting in the drowning death of 28-year-old campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne.

The Chappaquiddick incident is the most notorious of Kennedy’s long and storied public life. As it turned out, Chappaquiddick was the boiling point, the moment in Kennedy’s life when all the tragedy he endured leading up to then finally came to a head. 

Thinking about that, it occurred to me that no matter which side of the political aisle you’re on, Kennedy is worth admiring for his tenacity in the face of adversity.

Lesser men might have quit public life in the face of a brother’s assassination. Two of Kennedy’s brothers were assassinated, yet he carried on as the public face of a very visible political family, shouldering his pain the way he knew best – by using the legislative process to help the less fortunate.

In addition to Chappaquiddick and the assassinations, Kennedy had other experiences that might have set back others. His oldest brother died in World War II. His sister Kathleen died in a plane crash. He survived a plane crash in 1964. His son Edward Kennedy Jr. lost a leg to bone cancer at age 12. Another son spent time in drug rehabilitation for cocaine addiction. The list goes on. And so did Kennedy, never shirking from what he saw as his duty to his country.

Whether or not you agreed with Kennedy’s politics, there should be consensus that the longtime Massachusetts senator was a good example to us all.

Whenever he faced setbacks – even the most heart-wrenching ones – he always pulled himself together and did what he thought was right. And he continued to live life to its fullest, even when faced with his final setback, brain cancer.

We should all strive to do the same.

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For those of you who use Twitter, you can follow me there, too! My personal account is @thebreadline and my work account is @OD_Politics.

At last, Minnesota’s long statewide nightmare is over.

Norm Coleman finally conceded his former U.S. Senate seat to Al Franken, who, as it turned out, won the seat by a mere 312 votes in the November 2008 election, 239 days ago. An entire NBA season was played between the election and its conclusion. (Actually, the NBA season started a week before the election, but you get my point — Minnesotans surely are relieved to hear they finally will have dual representation in the U.S. Senate again after an eight-month election recount battle.)

Coleman decided to throw in the towel  following the Minnesota Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in favor of Franken. This likely isn’t the last we’ve heard of Coleman, though; many political analysts expect him to run for the Minnesota governorship again. (He previously lost that race to former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, giving Coleman the distinction of losing political races to a former pro wrestler and a former comedian.)

The biggest significance of Franken’s victory is the Democrats now have a 60-seat supermajority capable of preventing Republican filibusters in the Senate — sort of. The Democrats actually have only 59 U.S. senators (Joe Lieberman is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats), and two of them (Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy) are in poor health. Some other Democratic senators (members of the Moderate Dems Working Group come to mind) certainly are not rubber-stamp votes for all Democratic bills. Nonetheless, the Republicans still have only 40 senators, so the Democrats have no one to blame but themselves if they don’t pass the kinds of legislation they promised voters.

Norm Coleman before he adopted John Kerry's hairstyle

Norm Coleman before he adopted John Kerry's hairstyle

In what is clearly the biggest news out of Washington in months, somebody leaked out info about the Obamas’ new puppy, including this photo of him wearing a lei during a recent visit to the White House:

Bo 'bama

Bo 'bama

The Washington Post has the scoop on the first puppy, who is set to make his big debut Tuesday:

The little guy is a 6-month-old Portuguese water dog given to the Obama girls as a gift by that Portuguese water dog-loving senator himself, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Malia and Sasha named it Bo; their cousins have a cat named Bo and first lady Michelle Obama’s father was nicknamed Diddley, a source said.

Bo’s a handsome little guy. Well-suited for formal occasions at the White House, he’s got tuxedo-black fur, with a white chest, white paws, and a rakish white goatee.

We should have known the newspaper that cracked Watergate would be on top of this.

As I listened today to the latest news about President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team vetting Hillary and Bill Clinton to determine whether Hillary should become secretary of state, an interesting theory popped into my head. What if Obama is just vetting the Clintons so he knows as much as possible about them without a true intention of offering the job to Hillary? The Clintons aren’t fond of Obama after he defeated Hillary in the Democratic primary, so perhaps Obama is gathering as much information about them as possible (including what controversial donors gave money to Bill Clinton’s foundation) to keep in his back pocket in case they try to backstab him in some way. Perhaps Obama really intends to offer the secretary of state post to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has more foreign policy experience than Hillary and likely has a favor coming his way after endorsing Obama during the primary race.

If my theory proves true, wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants to the Clintons? After all the negative things she said about Obama during the primary race, Hillary probably doesn’t deserve a position in his administration anyway. It isn’t as if she won’t continue to rack up seniority in the Senate if she stays there, where she can work with Sen. Ted Kennedy on implementing universal health care, which has long been one of Hillary’s pet projects.