David Bernstein wrote a good overview of last night’s Massachusetts Senatorial debate.If you’re interested in the race, I recommend clicking over and reading the whole thing. All I’m interested in here is the way that politics really does make a reasonable discussion impossible.
Current House representative Ed Markey is the favorite in this race. Republican Gabriel Gomez has spent the campaign thus far trying to get traction against Markey. And you can sympathize with Gomez. He is, after all, running in a very liberal state. What’s more, Markey is popular and experienced. So one of Gomez’s complaints is that Markey is an ineffective legislator as proved by the fact that Markey has never gotten his own bill signed into law by the president.
This was discussed at the debate last night. And Markey had a good answer. He has written and sponsored a number of bills that were later integrated into larger bills that became law:
Normally, that would be the end of this discussion. But Gomez doesn’t accept it, claiming that this is some kind of lawyer’s trick. As Bernstein notes, even if that were true, it makes no sense. Gomez only brought up the “you ain’t passed no laws” claim to argue that Markey was ineffective. Clearly getting his bills passed inside a larger bill with someone else’s name on the top is effective.
This is unfortunately the nature of politics. Gomez can concede the point and look like an idiot or not concede the point and look like an idiot. There is no room for him to win by manning up and admitting that the new information means that Markey really has been an effective legislator. Of course, the original idea was wrong. Legislators are successful in a lot of different ways; they don’t need to author legislation. But what is a conservative to do in Massachusetts? He can’t argue about ideology. So the debate is necessarily about technocracy. And even in that way, Republicans are at a distinct disadvantage.
I’m not sure there is a solution for this. I would think that blue state Republicans would liberalize more to become competitive. But they can only go so far before they become Democrats themselves. The process works better with Democrats in red states. Blue state Republicans have the advantage that if they can just get a low-turnout election, they might win. But the problem is more fundamental: we don’t want a real debate about issues. And so Gomez is using the only tools he can.