I mentioned in passing yesterday that David Obey, Member of the House from Wisconsin and currently Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, announced his retirement at the end of this Congress. That's not good enough, and I need to rectify it. Obey has been an important political leader for many years, with a number of important accomplishments to his credit. He leaves with head held high, after the passage of health care reform and his personal triumph with the stimulus bill, and still at the top of his game. Yes, he had a serious Republican challenger, and he might have lost in the fall, but it's still a good way to go out, in my view. He has been a first-rate politician over a long and productive career, and he deserves more notice and praise than he'll ever get. Here's his very nice statement on the occasion, well worth reading; here's E.J. Dionne and Harold Meyerson. I'll just mention that in terms of style, I've always been a big fan of Obey -- in an era of stereotypically blow-dried pols, he was a real person, with wit and with a temper. The nation is a much better place because of his contribution.
One of the oddities of the United States is that our political culture diverges so far from our political institutions and practices in so many ways. The United States, as I never tire of repeating, is a nation of separated institutions sharing powers. As a result, the Constitution empowers many, many people; the president is powerful, but so are the 435 Members of the House, the 100 Senators, the 50 Governors, all those state legislators, and the Justices of the Supreme Court and other judges, and on and on and on (as Hannah Arendt pointed out, power is not zero sum, and I agree with her that the Framers understood and created the potential for enormous power). And yet we hate Congress, and consider all those pols, and especially those elected to Congress, little better than crooks. On their best day; I'm sure Jay Leno would take the crooks. For those of us who are fans of many politicians, most of whom are not Presidents of the United States of America, it's frustrating. The US was invented as a political nation, and yet instead of honoring people like Dave Obey, we have contempt for them, and then rapidly forget them. It's too bad. The truth is, these are the patriots for whom statues should be built.
(In case you're wondering, the other big gap between political institutions & practices and the political culture is about political parties. Very odd: a nation of rabid partisans, all of whom hate political parties).
(We also have a whole bunch of screwy stuff about small towns, suburbs, and cities, but I'm starting to wander a bit off point, I suppose).