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Senator Ben Sasse: “The people despise us all”

Senator Ben Sasse: “The people despise us all”

“This is not a call for less fighting. This is a call for more meaningful fighting.”

The Senate is known for its well-prepared speeches and high-profile filibusters; what it’s not known for is for those speeches to have any real or lasting effect on long-term policymaking in Washington.

A freshman senator may have changed all that this week (okay, this is bluster, but bear with me) with his “maiden” floor speech, in which he spent a great deal of time offering the perspective he gained from over a year’s worth of observation.

Ben Sasse (R-NE) waited until this week to address his colleagues in the Senate chamber—and boy did he make the most of it. He used his time at the mic to criticize the partisanship, grandstanding, and public bickering that defines the culture of “the greatest deliberative body in the world.”


And if I can be brutally honest for a moment: I’m home basically every weekend, and what I hear — and what I’m sure most of you hear — is some version of this: A pox on both parties and all your houses. We don’t believe politicians are even trying to fix this mess. To the Republicans, to those who claim this new majority is leading the way: Few believe that. To the grandstanders who use this institution as a platform for outside pursuits: Few believe the country’s needs are as important to you as your ambitions.

To the Democrats, who did this body harm through nuclear tactics: Few believe bare-knuckled politics are a substitute for principled governing. And does anyone doubt that many on both the right and the left now salivate for more of these radical tactics? The people despise us all.

And why is this? Because we’re not doing the job we were sent here to do. The Senate isn’t tackling the great national problems that worry those we work for.

There are good and bad reasons to be unpopular. A good reason would be to suffer for waging an honorable fight for the long-term that has near-term political downsides — like telling seniors the sobering truth that they’ve paid in far less for their Social Security and Medicare than they are currently getting back.

But we all know deep down that the political class is unpopular not because of our relentless truth-telling, but because of politicians’ habit of regularized pandering to those who already agree with us. The sound-bite culture — whether in our ninety-second TV stand-ups in the Russell rotunda, in our press releases, in the habits honed in campaigns — is everywhere around us.

If you don’t have time to devote to the whole 20+ minutes, Morning Joe (!) clipped a greatest hits roll:

Two weeks ago, in discussion about this with one of you, I was asked: “So you are going to admit our institutional brokenness and call for more civility on the Floor?”

No. While I am in favor of more civility, my actual call here is for more substance.
This is not a call for less fighting — but for more meaningful fighting. This is a call for bringing our A-game to the debates on the biggest issues here, with less regard for the 24-month election cycle and the 24-hour news cycle. This is a call to be for things that are big enough that you might risk your reelection.

What Sasse did here is important. By criticizing the very character of the body he willingly joined, he opened himself up to the highest level of scrutiny from both his constituents and his growing national audience. Words are great, but Sasse has set himself up with a chance to prove that there’s substance behind those words, which means more to his voter base than his ability to make nice speeches.

I look forward to seeing what Sasse does with the opportunity.

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Awesome speech, but the Senate isn’t going to fix itself. It’s time for an Article V convention to repeal the 17th Amendment. That’s the place to start.

P.S. History proved that Joseph McCarthy was correct.

    Valerie in reply to snopercod. | November 8, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    I understand the frustration, but believe that an Article V Convention would not be in our best interests. Once called, there is no restraint on what such a Convention might do, and I fear for the outcome.

    Despite all the noise and apocalyptic rhetoric, I would recommend the remedies we have in hand — using elections to turn over the composition of our governing bodies.

    The Republican Party got thrown out into the wilderness a few years back, and has spent its time on critical examination of the issues, and renewal. They have thought through their policies, and are very solid on their economic views. Also, they have given us good candidates at all levels of the States, and the Presidency.

    Next up, the Democrats need the same thing, to get rid of their radical misanthropes.

      Paul in reply to Valerie. | November 8, 2015 at 1:13 pm

      “… there is no restraint on what such a Convention might do…” WRONG! The state delegations would be sent with specific instructions to attempt to craft specific types of amendments. And then any amendments raised by the convention would have to be ratified by 38 or more states.

      “…I would recommend the remedies we have in hand…” Yes, like an Article V Convention which is included in The Constitution for just the circumstance we have today; a runaway Federal Government where other means to check it have been neutered (eg. the 17th amendment taking away state’s power).

      In my opinion you have WAY too much faith in the Republican party. They’ve pissed on their voters and outright lied to get into office. Then they have failed to do any of the things they promised to do. Further, many have the gall to denigrate their voters after they get elected.

      Power needs to be taken away from the federal government, and it will NEVER do so itself.

        Estragon in reply to Paul. | November 8, 2015 at 4:56 pm

        The Constitution being silent on ALL the particulars, what authority do you or any of the advocates have for the makeup and rules for such a convention? Some claim one vote per state because that’s the way the Constitutional Conventions were run, but since when is that binding on anything? Why would it not be specified if that was the intent? Remember, those were both responsible for their own rules, and it took months of negotiations just to convene them.

        The idea you’ve going to pass conservative amendments which will then be ratified by 38 states is delusional anyway. 13 state legislatures can block anything; Democrats current control 17 and one house in a couple of others.

        Paul in reply to Paul. | November 9, 2015 at 8:48 am

        The Constitution is “silent on the particulars” because interstate conventions were commonplace during the founding era through the 19th century. There is plenty of precedent, both legal and otherwise, to guide the function of such a convention. So what if it takes a few months to hash out the particulars? We have 50+ years of “great society” rubbish to fix, taking our time won’t hurt.

        Regarding ratification, the way that Congress “calls” the convention can specify how it is ratified, by state legislatures or by individual state conventions. Look at the county-level returns in recent elections and you’ll see that conservative amendments might stand a much better chance if individual state conventions were held for ratification.

        You really should take the time to read the materials on the web site. Your concerns are addressed in much more detail there.

        “Delusional?” No, I don’t think so. But one thing is certain, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of “insane.”

      buckeyeminuteman in reply to Valerie. | November 9, 2015 at 1:44 pm

      Elections haven’t worked. If we can’t get the Convention of States going, our only other option is pitchforks, lanterns, and strung-up ropes.

      DaveGinOly in reply to Valerie. | November 10, 2015 at 1:08 am

      As Mark Levin has repeatedly pointed out, the threat of a “run-away” convention is a hollow one – the damage is being done now without the left’s having to alter the Constitution. Nothing they could do in a convention can be worse than what is already happening, and it would be subject to the review of the ratification process. A convention does provide an opportunity to stop what is happening. If we can’t throw our best punch for fear of a counter-punch, the fight is already lost.

By criticizing the very character of the body he willingly joined, he opened himself up to the highest level of scrutiny from both his constituents and his growing national audience.

What he opened himself up to, is professional level vilification from inside the Beltway.

My disgust encompasses the three branches of government and all the tentacles of the Executive branch.

Bravo! Of course this is a “Maiden” speech but to expect the House of Lords to do anything meaningful is just too much. As snopercod says above, repeal of the 17th Amendment (along with the 16th) is necessary to restore the balance between the States and the People.

Then again, running the entire Congress out of town on a rail (following tar and feathers) might also work.

    The Friendly Grizzly in reply to SeniorD. | November 8, 2015 at 10:48 am

    I believe that virtually all of the ‘teen amendments need a close look, and possible repeal.

    DaveGinOly in reply to SeniorD. | November 10, 2015 at 1:44 am

    The only purpose of the 16th Amendment was to overturn the principle upon which Pollock v. Farmer’s Loan & Trust was based. Pollock says that an indirect tax that is indistinguishable from a direct tax must be considered a direct tax, and therefore requires apportionment. The 16th Amendment prohibits the consideration of an indirect tax as a direct tax.

    Wikipedia (surprisingly enough), states this rather well:

    ‘In Brushaber the Court noted that even before the Sixteenth Amendment was passed, the Congress had authority to tax income. If a particular income tax was a direct tax or was treated as a direct tax in the constitutional sense (i.e., not only in its language, but also in its operation – DG), that tax could be imposed (after Pollock but before the passage of the Amendment) only by apportionment among the states, according to their census populations.

    ‘In Brushaber, the Court held that the Sixteenth Amendment eliminated the requirement of apportionment as it relates to “taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived.”‘

    In other words, the 16th Amendment says that Congress can ignore the requirements placed upon direct taxes whenever it levies an indirect tax, even when that indirect tax is indistinguishable from a direct tax in its operation. It does nothing more, nothing less.

    SCOTUS said (I believe it was in Stanton v. Baltic Mining Co.) the 16th Amendment “granted Congress no new powers of taxation.”

    Repeal of the 16th Amendment would serve no practical purpose – Congress’ authority to tax income is found in Article I, not in the 16th Amendment. The 16th Amendment is a rebuttal to the opinion of SCOTUS in Pollock, not a grant of authority to Congress.

Bitterlyclinging | November 8, 2015 at 10:22 am

Did General Holland M Smith, the commander of the Third, Forth, and Fifth Marines ask to shake hands with General Kuribiyashi and share glasses of Saki with him and the troops under his command defending Iwo Jima?

Is his statement that seniors take out more than they put in to social security true? Does his math also include the amount put into social security by a person’s employer? Does his math include a reasonable rate of return on the money put in by both the indiv8dual AND his employer?

    If you consider any given individual retiree, I don’t think his statement can be considered true. The social sec admin releases a report every few years that projects the rate of return for retirees at various ages and earnings levels. The system is somewhat regressive, but even the lowest earners see a rate of return generally less than 5% which is lower than what one sees as an average in the stock market over the long haul. Of course there is theoretically less risk with social security. The highest earners sees rates of return at 2% or less which is crap.

    But when looking at the program as a whole, he is right that the system is not sustainable financially in the long haul, largely because of changing demographics; the US population is getting older.

    The government either needs to adjust the program, for example with means testing of benefits which would be hugely unpopular because it would effectively turn the program into yet another income redistribution scheme, or they need to miraculously find a huge wave of young workers to pay into the system so that they can afford the retirement benefits of the baby boom generation. Gee, I wonder how they think they can do that?

      Estragon in reply to Paul. | November 8, 2015 at 5:02 pm

      If you count the expanded survivors’ benefits and others added over the years, yes, almost everyone gets more than the total value put in. But raising retirement ages could solve the demographic problem over the longer term.

      Medicare, OTOH, is completely unsustainable. And will be critical very soon unless radically reformed.

        Does amount put in include the amount put in for an individual by his employer. Does government cook these calculations by only taking into account the contributions put in by the employee without adding in the amount put in by that person’s employer.

        The reports I linked to are actuarial studies that take everything into account including dependent benefits, employee and employer contributions, etc.

    gibbie in reply to Gary Britt. | November 8, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    I don’t like Sasse’s way of framing this. He sounds like he’s accusing seniors of greed when it’s quite likely they’re guilty only of expecting the federal government to exercise competent stewardship of their SS contributions.

    He should be more careful. A mistake like this could hurt him with the people he is trying to help.

      Paul in reply to gibbie. | November 9, 2015 at 1:35 pm

      Your point is valid; the problem lies in the fact that politicians, from both parties, have for decades used SS contributions to pay for all sorts of programs. If the money contributed over the decades had been set aside to pay benefits there would be little problem. Instead, the pols spent the money like drunken sailors in a whorehouse, relying on an ever-expanding population to pay for future benefits… kinda like a ponzi scheme.

      Now our demographics have shifted and there are no longer enough young people to pay for the retiring old people. Thus the push for increased immigration.

      This is a classic example of why you want to severely restrict the size of government. It is virtually guaranteed that they will fuck up every single thing that they try to do, and that there will be nasty unintended consequences of everything.

Talk is great. What is more meaningful is the action taken to implement the reality of that talk. Without action, the talk becomes a collection of words. Usually we get talk followed by excuses. So what will it be this time? Action or excuses?

Cassandra also gave a great speech…

“More meaningful fighting” — I would say less fighting, period, and “more meaningful debate.”

After the last Republican primary debate with the question “Is yours a cartoon campaign?” among many others, and this weeks non-stop BS story about how Politico, CNN and the New York Times attempted to debunk, failed to debunk, and the ran stories about how they had succeeded in debunking, Ben Carson’s story about being recruited to West Point, it’s time for something meaningful.

The RNC should make this a theme for their ads.

I would note, before someone else tries to claim Sasse as “Tea Party,” that he served five years in GWB’s Administration, holding three different jobs in two agencies, and the first major national figure to endorse and support him was Mitt Romney.