Henry Adams on the Senate and Health Care Reform

Some things never change: “The most troublesome task of a reform President was that of bringing the Senate back to decency.”

It’s hard to read the Education of Henry Adams without suffering from the shock of recognition.  After a Cabinet Secretary tells the young reporter Adams that members of the House are hogs, he thinks to himself:

He had but to ask:—“If a Congressman is a hog, what is a Senator?” This innocent question, put in a candid spirit, petrified any executive officer that ever sat a week in his office. Even Adams admitted that Senators passed belief. The comic side of their egotism partly disguised its extravagance, but faction had gone so far under Andrew Johnson that at times the whole Senate seemed to catch hysterics of nervous bucking without apparent reason. Great leaders, like Sumner and Conkling, could not be burlesqued; they were more grotesque than ridicule could make them. . . . but their egotism and factiousness were no laughing matter. They did permanent and terrible mischief. . . .  The most troublesome task of a reform President was that of bringing the Senate back to decency.

Ezra notes (from Jon Chait) that in the Illinois Senate primary, Republican turnout was up 11% from 2004, and Democratic turnout was down 29%:  “That’s what elections looks like in a world where 59 Senate Democrats give up on health-care reform. The base gives up and stays home.”

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

One thought on “Henry Adams on the Senate and Health Care Reform”

  1. It's hard to read about the 19th century Republican party without being reminded of a funny passage from a letter of Lincoln 's:

    I remember once being much amused at seeing two partially intoxicated men engage in a fight with their great-coats on, which fight, after a long, and rather harmless contest, ended in each having fought himself out of his own coat, and into that of the other. If the two leading parties of this day are really identical with the two in the days of Jefferson and Adams, they have perfomed the same feat as the two drunken men.

    Somewhere between the moment when LBJ said "We shall overcome" and when Nixon said "I do solemnly swear" the Republican Southern strategy set off a similar drunken fight.

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