04 January 2019

The Voice of Experience

A few news items in the last couple of days have demonstrated pretty definitively that we're in for a fun time leading up to and following the 2020 election cycle. Remember that "fun" is an acronym for "fouled-up nonsense," or something that sounds a lot like that. It all boils down to this: Governance is not a fraternity hazing ritual with strict taking of turns. The longer the various party establishments stick to this vision, the longer they're going to be despised and unable to actually do anything.

First (at least in time), there are the (entirely expected) rumblings from the party elders about the uppity new congresscreatures.

Some new lawmakers could get prime positions. Rep.-elect Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), 77, who served as a secretary of Health and Human Services and is one of the oldest freshman lawmakers in history, has a shot at a seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee that oversees healthcare policy. Orange County Rep.-elect Katie Porter, who has significant experience investigating consumer bankruptcy, could get on the Financial Services Committee.

Fellow California Rep.-elect Katie Hill, who is one of the freshman class’ two representatives to House leadership and serves on the group that will make committee assignments, acknowledged the struggle between putting freshmen in key roles and respecting the more experienced lawmakers who want the same slots. “You’re talking about people who have dedicated years and sometimes decades to hard work in the hopes or the goal of getting on these exclusive committees,” she said. Now there are freshmen who are “sort of wanting to jump the line. It’s tough. I understand.” The new lawmakers have also shown that they’re willing to air their grievances loudly and directly to the public. Unhappy with climate policy, Ocasio-Cortez protested in Pelosi’s office on her first day in Washington for freshman orientation.

(fake paragraphing removed for clarity) Earlier in the article, another asshole (non-gender specific) remarked

Other veteran lawmakers were less charitable, viewing the newcomers’ demands as audacious. “I don’t know if I want to say ‘Sit down and shut up’” in the newspaper, said one Democrat."

This reflects one of several necessary-but-not-sufficient fallacies embedded in power structures that use seniority as a measure of right and merit. Experience with a system is a necessary component for the system as a whole to function, especially procedurally. It is not, however, sufficient… or a measure of merit, suitability, knowledge of substance, or anything else. Expertise gathered outside the seniority system — like, say, law professors who've been writing on the issues that will concern their requested committee assignments for two decades, and I'm referring to Katie Porter in addition to someone else discussed below — matters. Professor Porter probably knows one helluva lot more about regulation of the financial industry than a five-term member from East Overshoe (or who has extensive inherited wealth) who is now senior enough to demand a mere committee seat (we're not talking about appointment as "Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer"!) under a seniority system.

This is particularly ironic coming from a party that has, without exception since well before Watergate, been composed of two types of people at the top: When successful on the national stage, outsiders; otherwise, establishment-system losers who are nonetheless successful in getting their own power advanced while sabotaging substantive agendas. And yet because they continue to control the machinery of power — and I use that term advisedly — the latter remain convinced of their own rectitude and merit. Including, most damagingly, their perceptions of "likability" and how that relates to candidacy. I'm hoping that Professor Warren doesn't listen to advisors touting this issue as much as Secretary Clinton did, because acknowledging that narrative put Clinton in a straitjacket from which Houdini wouldn't even have tried to escape.

The problem with Clinton wasn't "likability." It was the perception — rightly or wrongly, but IMNSHO mostly rightly — of putting somewhat feminist lipstick on an establishment pigsty. Leave aside the "daughter of Chicago machine politics" problem, which would have been a much more central issue if not for the, umm, jackass in the room: Nepotism. Because regardless of her own merits, Hilary Clinton rose to national prominence via family relationships. And that is not acceptable… especially given that little fallback of Chicago machine politics lurking in the background. The Jackasses haven't learned a damned thing from the failure of Edward Kennedy on the national stage… nor from the damned near uniform failure of Chicago machine politicians when imported into the Obama administration, especially those with existing political Names. And if you really need further proof, just look at the history of Claire McCaskill, stretching back to her initial… ascension… to office.

Experience is only a voice, assholes. It's not the entire conversation, especially when "go along to get along" is precisely the narrative behind Time's Up and MeToo and the civil rights movements (race, gender, orientation, whatever). And not all voices — even, and perhaps especially, when coming from those who have no personal experience with the present circumstances facing those calling for change — are those of anything resembling "wisdom." The entire point of a representative (and not appointed) legislative body is to provide soapboxes for diverse points of view — not to bury them by ensuring that the soapboxes that matter most to them have been reserved for others.