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Sunday, March 21, 2004
Just finished reading "What Makes You Think We Read the Bills?" by Senator H.L. Richardson, who was a California State Senator in the mid 1970's. The book was published in 1978 but has as much appeal today as it did back then. Sen. Richardson's irreverant description of how legislators act, in general, and vote, in particular, is very revealing. Specifically, he describes the actual motivations for why individuals vote for certain legislation : a) political survivability, i.e., ensure reelection, b) quid pro quo with other legislators, or c) for political revenge.
All three of these helps explain Mr. Kerry's current troubles in defending his voting record. Saying things like "I voted for it before I voted against it," simply won't fly with the majority of the country. Most people do not watch C-SPAN during house and senate votes and do not understand how legislation is passed, with amendments, etc. Richardson highlights why voting records, when looked at in total, might seem a bit confusing - legislators vote to save their ass, and they vote depending on who is holding the cattle prod at the moment.
In general, this probably explains why it is tough to be a Congressman and be elected to the White House - the last to do so was John Kennedy. As a governor there is not much of a "voting record," other than vetoes, and therefore it is a) easier to be consistent in policy/management styles, and b) easier to fly under the radar as it pertains to some of the more emotional topics, e.g., abortion, that legislators are forced to actually vote on every once and a while.
It seems that Mr. Kerry might not have expected to be the Democratic nominee. Leiberman and Gephart both voted for the war and for the $87b that Pres. Bush requested for the operations in Iraq. Mr. Kerry voted for the war and against the funding. In my view, if Mr. Kerry had completely reversed his previous voting on arms systems, CIA funding, etc., after 9/11 - on the off chance that he was going to be the nominee - he would have nullified the Bush claims that he a) waffles and b) is suspect in his committment to national security.
Whether Kerry would be able to govern as he campaigns is far from clear. I do not think that the Joint Chiefs wield that much power, but in the end Kerry would have to listen to any credible information that required military response - regardless of his desire to avoid it. However, Kerry's voting record and subsequent desire to get out from underneath the record, indicates to me that he is not where he expected to be.
Richardson's book is an easy read - took me the better part of three hours - is funny and enlightening - I recommend it.
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