Thursday, May 26, 2005

Last Week’s News About Manufactured News

I know that most of the country has already moved on from the conundrum over riots and deaths in the Muslim world as the result of Newsweek’s made up story about Koran desecration at Guantanamo Bay. But I wanted to take notice of award winning author and journalist Orson Scott Card’s angry but insightful article on the subject.

Card, a Democrat, rips the MSM for the elitist anti-American sentiment that runs rampant through its ranks. His remarks swell to cover all such elitists. Card juxtaposes Smartland – a state of mind inhabited by elitists – with Heartland – the state of mind where most of middle America dwells. Though he is talking about a state of mind, his Smartland-Heartland seems to closely align with the (mostly red) red/blue map showing how the US voted in the last general election by county.

Card also takes the politically incorrect position of taking aim at the Muslim rioters. He rightly demonstrates that Muslim extremists have become the monsters that many Christians were during the crusades.

Card concludes with a forbidding warning about what life would be like if the Smartlanders got control of our government. Hey, I think we’re largely already there.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Gunning For the Maleficent Seven

Despite MSM gushing, just about everyone that knows anything about the judicial filibuster compromise knows that conservatives took it in the shorts. Angry conservatives say that they intend to make the compromisers pay a political price. What are their prospects? Where do these senators hail from and when are they up for election?

· Lincoln Chafee (RI): 2006
· Susan Collins (ME): 2008
· Mike DeWine (OH): 2006
· Lindsey Graham (SC): 2008
· John McCain (AZ): 2010
· Olympia Snowe (ME): 2006
· John Warner (VA): 2008

Conservatives consider most of these senators RINOs (Republicans in name only). So do a lot of their constituents. The fact that many of these people aren’t real conservatives is one of the things that got them elected in the first place.

Of the three that are up for election in 2006, Chafee and Snowe are quite safe in the Northeast where social conservatives are something of an anomaly. Conservatives could cause DeWine some problems in Ohio, but they have a huge incumbency advantage to overcome.

McCain clearly wants to run for president again. Social conservatives have the power to pretty much derail his chances for getting the Republican nomination. He will definitely pay a price in that respect.

Of the 2008 crowd, Collins and Warner are like Chafee and Snowe. If conservatives succeed in toppling any of them they are likely to be replaced by people (Democrat or Republican) that are at least as liberal as the ones ousted. Only Graham could end up being game, but like DeWine, his incumbency advantage will weigh heavily in his favor.

What about the seven Democrats? Could conservatives whack them?

· Robert Byrd (WV): 2006
· Daniel Inouye (HI): 2010
· Mary Landrieu (LA): 2008
· Joe Lieberman (CT): 2006
· Ben Nelson (NE): 2006
· Mark Pryor (AR): 2008
· Ken Salazar (CO): 2010

For 2006 conservatives could hurt Nelson in Nebraska, but Robert Byrd is probably the safest senator in the nation. Joe Lieberman is arguably more conservative than his Republican colleague Christopher Dodd, and social conservatives need not apply in Connecticut anyway. Landrieu and Pryor both live in states with a strong social conservative base, so they might see some trouble in 08 – especially Landrieu who barely won her seat in a special election. Inouye and Salazar just won elections last year and Inouye is totally safe in Hawaii anyway.

Come on. These people aren’t stupid. They each calculated the political cost of their action before taking it. Some of them may have miscalculated, and that is where conservatives may find opportunities. But some conservatives will not be content merely to punish these 14. There is a current running out there that feels that the Republican leadership sold out and allowed this to happen. They aim to spread the pain throughout those they deem RINOs.

The question is what course conservatives will take to administer punishment. They could take the long view and work extra hard to groom conservative candidates to replace targeted senators as they retire while simultaneously making retirement seem an increasingly good option. I’m afraid that their patience has grown too thin for that. They could just mess things up and cause rancor among Republicans, thereby giving their opponents an even greater edge.

My personal observation is that the majority of current voters are not right-side conservatives. Most hang around the middle of the spectrum. Social conservatives make up an even smaller base than conservatives in general. However, they have enough numbers and clout to provide a swing vote where races are relatively close. I hope they use that power judiciously. Let’s not cut off our noses to spite our faces.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Non-Nuclear Deal Brings Disappointment

A deal has been reached on filibustering judicial nominees. The Senate has been spared the dreaded “nuclear option.” Some of President Bush’s most controversial judicial nominees will get an up or down vote on the Senate floor. But conservatives are not happy.

14 “moderate” senators, seven Republicans and seven Democrats, have banded together to implement a compromise that will prevent the Republican majority from changing the filibuster rules and prevent the Democrats from filibustering Bush’s judicial nominees except under “extraordinary circumstances,” whatever that means.

Senate Filibuster Basics
To understand what happened you have to understand how the Senate works. There are 101 possible votes: 100 senators plus the Vice President, who sits as the speaker of the chamber. There are currently 55 Republicans and 45 Democrats. Historically it has been easier for the minority party (regardless of who holds the majority) to put aside differences and maintain a united front.

A parliamentary device called the filibuster allows the minority party to prevent a vote on the floor of the Senate. The minority party can continue debate ad infinitum until at least 60 senators vote for cloture (this number has been changed throughout history by majority vote). This ends the debate and makes way for the vote to take place. The most infamous use of this device was to prevent a floor vote on civil rights legislation for decades by senators from southern states, despite the fact that the legislation clearly would have passed a floor vote.

Filibustering Judges and Stopping the Stoppers
During W’s first term Democrats used the filibuster to block votes on half of the President’s nominees to mid-level federal courts – the courts that are seedbeds for Supreme Court nominees. This unprecedented use of the filibuster blocked judges with conservative, religious, or constructionist viewpoints, regardless of their fitness to serve. Despite being in the majority, Republicans were unable to cobble together sufficient votes for cloture.

As the 2004 political campaign wrapped up, it became clear that Republicans had gained more power in the Senate. Encouraged by constituents, majority leader Bill Frist warned that if Democrats refused to allow a floor vote on all of the President’s nominees he would call for a parliamentary ruling from the speaker (a.k.a. Vice President Cheney) that would determine that filibusters were out of order in regard to judicial nominee votes. The speaker’s ruling would require 51 votes to become an official rule. This was dubbed the “nuclear option.”

Conservatives have been very unhappy with the amount of time it has taken to bring this matter to a head, but Frist had to work to make sure that he had at least 51 votes. Some liberal Republicans openly broke ranks. Minority leader Harry Reid suggested that he had enough votes to prevent the rule change. It was all scheduled to come to a vote today. That vote won’t happen because 14 senators have robbed both sides from having sufficient votes to either implement the rule change or to sustain a filibuster.

The Compromise: Winners and Losers
One of the central figures of the compromise is the media darling John McCain (R-AZ). While many are surprised by this development, we probably shouldn’t be. A lot of scuttlebutt has been going around about a compromise brokered by Trent Lott (R-MS). Several long-time experts on the Senate have speculated for weeks that a compromise would be reached when the vote became imminent – within 24 hours of the vote. However, we must understand that unless the Republicans pushed it all the way to the edge there would have been no compromise.

Who wins? Harry Reid sounded very happy indeed and admonished W to be humble, but Bill Frist sounded bitter and said that the agreement falls far short of ensuring a fair floor vote on each nominee. That pretty much says it all. Why would Reid be happy? Because the Democrats are now off the hook with their extremist supporters that had pushed them into an unworkable obstructionist position. Frist is unhappy because he knows that his constituents – the grass roots folks that care about this issue – feel shortchanged. Republicans might pay in the next election.

Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family represents the feelings of many conservatives. He has worked tirelessly for several years to see this matter resolved. He feels the agreement the agreement “represents a complete bailout and a betrayal by a cabal of Republicans and a great victory for united Democrats.”

The conservatives’ disappointment can be understood. When courts started creatively interpreting the Constitution in socially liberal ways, conservatives understood that they needed to get more constructionist judges appointed. To do that they needed stronger representation in Congress (particularly the Senate) and in the White House. Many have worked at the grass roots level for years to achieve this goal. Then, after getting there, the rules of the game were changed. So they worked to get even stronger representation. They thought they had a sure win this time. Now they feel like victory has been snatched away in the last seconds of the game.

What Now?
Besides, what does this compromise mean? It means that you have an even smaller group of people (14 moderates instead of 41 Democrats) holding most of the cards on judicial nominations. It means that power has shifted in the Senate. But nobody knows the strength or the durability of the coalition. We pretty much had known quantities before this. Who knows what the political landscape will look like at another time? The bird in the hand has been exchanged for two in the bush. The real gem, conservative Supreme Court nominees, can still be Borked and/or filibustered. The coalition may fall apart at any time. It may not even exist after the next election cycle. As eloquently noted by respected political analyst Michael Barone, centrist coalitions do not have a history of longevity.

John McCain is beloved by the leftist media because he regularly falls in line with their political leanings despite being a Republican. Some feel that his centrist views and contentious relationship with the Bush Administration make him a natural to win the presidency in 2008. But let’s be realistic. His actions may endear him to centrist, unaffiliated, and unknowledgeable voters, but they make him poison to the Republican machine that would have to hand him the nomination. He might be able to win a general election, but he’ll never get the chance because he can’t win the primaries.

For now we have a tenuous compromise that will allow some of President Bush’s “controversial” judicial nominees to receive a fair vote on the Senate floor. But nothing has been permanently resolved. Wait to see new fireworks when a Supreme Court Justice retires. Politics is a strange business. Part of the landscape never changes, while part of it is ever shifting. It’s sometimes hard to tell which part is which. Social conservatives are trying to play the game, but it turns out that politics is a fickle god.

Andrew McCarthy: The compromise sticks it to conservatives
Quin Hilyer: The compromise proves the Senate is a den of unprincipled back scratchers
NRO Editors: Three reasons the compromise stinks
Scrappleface (satire): Now judicial nominees need a superduper-majority The deal was the best we could really have hoped for
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX): Dems admit their position was unfair
AP: Conservatives intend to make compromisers pay

Monday, May 23, 2005

Is the Medical Industy Always Right?

It seems that the medical industrial complex has grown substantially in significance in our society during my lifetime. It’s almost to the point of worship in some circles. We make many lifestyle choices based on the latest information flowing from the omniscient oracles of medicine. We are constantly bombarded with messages about what we should be doing and about new epidemics plaguing our society. Please note a tone of cynicism in my approach to this topic.

I find it humorous on one hand and pathetic on the other when information comes along that contradicts what has become conventional medical wisdom. Every year as spring moves toward summer the media spews a ponderous pile of preaching about skin cancer. I mean, we all know from years of indoctrination that sun is bad for us and that we need to slather ourselves with sunscreen if we ever think of going out in the sun, right? Check out a few recent Deseret News articles on the subject.

Some states and cities regulate tanning bed use by minors due to skin cancer concerns. (Mind you, I think that spending time on a tanning bed is idiotic, but I’m not sure government’s role is to regulate stupidity). Teenage tanning is a bad idea. Teens ignore tanning risks. (This is news? Teens have been ignoring the risks of all kinds of risky behavior for generations). UofU group cancer prevention advice includes staying out of the sun. Utah 4th in U.S. for skin cancer. Scare article about rare but increasing melanoma in kids. Vitamin D from direct sunlight a good thing (in limited doses). Two Utah women conducting crusade against skin cancer. Lack of vitamin D causes 30 times more deaths than skin cancer from sun.

This last one is a very interesting article. It challenges the medical industrial complex’s accepted view that exposure to sun is bad and that we always need sunscreen when we go outside. Dr. Michael Hollick of Boston University has research that shows that we need more vitamin D and that we need to get it from the sun. Supplements are very poor transmitters of the nutrient. Dr. Hollick says, “The problem has been that the American Academy of Dermatology has been unchallenged for 20 years. They have brainwashed the public at every level.” Dr. Henry Lim, chairman of Henry Ford Health System in Detroit says, “The statement that 'no sun exposure is good' I don't think is correct anymore.”

Undoubtedly, this is not the last word on sun exposure. But my point is that we regularly suck down whatever the medical industry tells us in a rather uncritical manner. We regulate our lives based on industry propaganda. We need to realize that even the best medical information is not necessarily the whole story. It is just the latest information. If the industry gets too bogged down with accepted “knowledge,” it may fail to do research that might refute or improve that information. There are also constituencies and politics within the medical industry that may skew public information. As we embark on crusades to stop epidemics, maybe we should consider the information basis of each crusade with a grain of salt.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Lest Europe's Fate Be Ours

As I was wrapping up my workout this morning I happened to catch a small segment of the BBC News that highlighted Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Parliament to officially recognize the results of the recent UK elections. They discussed the House of Lords and the House of Commons over images of the Lords in session dressed in regal robes that looked rather silly to me. This brief experience suddenly combined with a lifetime of experience as well as articles I have read over the past few days to create a stark realization of the significant differences between Europe and the US.

My dad came to the US from Germany at age 25. It has taken me a lifetime to begin to grasp my dad’s motives for leaving Europe, despite my having lived in Norway for two years in the early 80s. Two years ago my parents returned from serving a mission for the LDS Church in Germany. Minutes after returning to their home my dad remarked that it was very good to be back “home” in America. He said that returning to Europe reminded him of all the reasons he left in the first place. The people there are “completely screwed up,” according to him. I have always known that my dad never quite saw eye to eye with his family members, but now I understand that part of the reason for this is his unwillingness to accept the established social structure in Europe.

In a previous post I analyzed a July 2004 Wall Street Journal article (requires registration) that outlined the differences between Canadians and Americans in a very entertaining manner. Canada’s staid thinking is strongly tied to that of Europe while Americans have a strong independent streak. When I was a kid in the 60s and 70s there seemed to be a love of things European and a desire to vacation in Europe. I feel like a lot of that sentiment has long since gone by the wayside, fueled in its retreat by post-9/11 European anti-American sentiments and the weakening dollar.

WSJ Opinion Journal editor James Taranto’s blog last Friday (registration required) included a response from reader Jonathan Kahnoski to a previous post about elitist class warfare rhetoric. Mr. Kahnoski said:

When the American intelligentsia bought the whole Marxist-Leninist vocabulary back in the 1920s and 1930s, they bought into the idea of social classes. Marxism-Leninism is a product of the European experience, with its long history of often rigid social classes (royalty, nobility, bourgeoisie, etc.). This vocabulary has had great appeal to Europeans, especially on the Continent. Today, Europeans claim their societies are more egalitarian than America's because of their social welfare programs, while completely overlooking how stationary their citizens are both geographically (what Frenchman will leave his birthplace to take a better job?) and socially (can a "working class" German aspire to a university education or obtain a bachelor's or master's later in life?).

The American experience has been quite different. From the colonial period on, the ideal of America was to free the individual from the artificial constraints of social class.

The same working stiff who takes offense at being called "working class" is quite comfortable being called "blue collar." It is easy to understand why. A class is something you are born into, and trapped in--concepts completely antithetical to the American self-image. A collar, blue or white, is something a person chooses for himself--a concept congruent with the American ideal.

Thus, as you say, some janitors and secretaries and carpenters are insulted when they are referred to as "working class." However, perhaps most ignore the term because they don't associate themselves with "working class" or any other "class." They may agree they wear a white collar or a blue collar, practice a trade or a profession, but these they do by choice. They also will insist they are born-free, "jen-u-ine" Grade A, USDA Choice Americans and they don't know what class you are talking about.
Mr. Kahnoski suggests that the elitists that inhabit many posts in our colleges and universities might “feel more at home in Europe.”

Brian M. Carney, editor of the WSJ editorial page, had an op ed piece (registration required) in Saturday’s edition that discussed Europe’s dismal economic condition. He mentions post-WWII Europe’s economic growth and low unemployment rate prior to sliding into the abyss of the welfare state. In 1965 Europe’s 26% level of government spending was on par with the 25% US level. But in 2002 government spending had increased to 42% for Europe, while the US rate was only 26%.

Carney notes that the problem is less severe in the UK. He says that while the worldwide economy went south in the 70s, the Reagan policies in the US and the Thatcher policies in the UK rescued those countries from economic disaster. He says moreover that the continent has no hope of recovery from its nasty death spiral; a cycle of constant simultaneous increases in taxes and unemployment.

It works like this. Government increases spending, so taxes must increase. The increased (usually payroll) taxes result in job losses. With fewer workers to pay the taxes, rates must go up, decreasing “the benefit of working rather than collecting unemployment or welfare checks.” The problem is exacerbated by high welfare rates, such as they have in Europe. I have a German relative that has been out of work for two years, but thanks to lavish state benefits he continues to enjoy a decent lifestyle--work free. Once locked in, this cycle continually repeats itself resulting in a constantly worsening economy.

Regarding the question of whether the European social model can continue, Carney says:

Given that Europe's streak of economic underperformance can now be measured in decades, perhaps a better question to ask is: Why does anyone think that a system of generous welfare benefits, high taxes and harsh restrictions on hiring and firing would ever produce anything like a dynamic, growing economy? Why does anyone assume that there is such a thing as a "European model," rather than just a collection of ill-conceived policies having a predictably depressing effect on the economy and job creation?
I believe that Europe’s social structure lends to its current problems. My dad left Europe when the economy was booming. He didn’t leave for lack of a job; he left because he didn’t think along the lines of the accepted European social structure and way of thinking. Had he not found a sponsor in the US he would have gone first to Australia, but he was getting out one way or another. The European Union has an economy that should compete with the US, but it doesn’t show any signs of doing so anytime in the foreseeable future.

While I pride myself on being a genuine American, I believe that Europe’s experience should be a clear warning for us. The other day John Derbyshire had a particularly dour article in the National Review suggesting that the US is in lock step with Europe (well – especially the UK) in matters of declining conservatism. I don’t fully agree with him, but he has a point.

There is no end to the “good” that people argue that government ought to do, but government should only do what it 1) truly should do (check out the Constitution regarding enumerated powers) and 2) can afford. President Bush and Congress have gone hog wild with spending over the last 4½ years. That hasn’t been reflected in taxes yet, but we can’t put off paying for it forever. It is better to be wise up front than to leave the bill for today’s programs to be paid off by future generations. Bush and some Congressional leaders have given some lip service to this idea as of late, but their actions are far from the hold-the-line-on-spending tactics of the (much disdained by some) Newt Gingrich era Republicans. Where have all the fiscal conservatives gone?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Religious Favoritism or Just Politics?

Has anyone asked why Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has offered to allow a full Senate vote on Thomas Griffith (see here)? Is it because both Harry Reid and Thomas Griffith are members of the LDS Church, or maybe because the Democrats realize that they can’t get the 40 votes they need to filibuster Griffith because he’s not terribly controversial?

Can We Reform Social Security This Year?

In case you haven’t noticed, the effort to reform Social Security is going just about nowhere. President Bush has been campaigning hard for his style of reform. Various Congressional Republicans have floated a wide variety of proposals. Democrats and their allies, on the other hand, have been total obstructionists on the issue, offering no ideas and no real debate. Their strategy pretty much boils down to denying the facts and saying that whatever the Republicans offer is bad.

Let me say up front that I’m going to ignore the libertarian view that we shouldn’t have Social Security at all. While that might fit into the pure conservative idea of utopia, the argument is about two generations late. Social Security has become an integral, but admittedly socialist part of U.S. culture. It’s not going away any time soon. The question is how to deal with it given present and future realities.

Part of the blame for the current impasse goes to the Bush administration. While the administration has been running a political campaign to sell the President’s reform package, it has been very stingy on providing actual details needed by policy makers in Congress. It’s hard to promote a plan that is secret or ethereal. The White House finally provided a detailed plan less than two weeks ago, several months after starting to promote it.

With the issue stalling, the conservative Cato Institute has launched a campaign to “refocus” the debate on “ownership, inheritability, and choice.” These are all good issues, but I’m not sure why solvency isn’t added to these three points, since I think that solvency is the main reason we are having this debate at all.

In the Wall Street Journal, John Fund offers a plan to reinvigorate the reform effort and to steal the Democrats’ best talking points on the issue. The plan has two prongs. The first is to use progressive indexing. More on that below. The second is to immediately set up personal accounts that are invested only in safe government bonds. The President has already included these types of bonds as one of the investment options in his proposal.

The idea with the second point is to take the surpluses projected in the system over the next 12 years and force them into an actual lockbox instead of into government IOUs. Fund says, “Everyone knows that if nothing is done Congress–regardless of which party controls it–will spend every penny of the Social Security surpluses that will flow into the Treasury until 2017, after which the cost of benefits going out will begin exceeding the revenue coming in.”

Fund says that promoting a personal ‘lockbox’ would be a winner with the public at large. People are angry when they find out that they have no personal Social Security account and that their future benefits are determined by political whim. The idea of each person having his or her own account is quite popular, but opinion is quite mixed on investing those funds in private instruments.

By taking “privatization” off the table, Democrats would no longer be able to argue that private accounts would be gambling with your future since all investments would be in government bonds, which are just about the lowest risk instruments around. Fund hints that this could be a temporary measure that would open the door for eventual investing in other types of instruments. Indeed, I think that once people got used to having personal Social Security accounts, many would begin to clamor for other investment options similar to what they have with their 401k accounts.

Democratic investment banker Robert Pozen developed progressive indexing. It is intended to ensure that people at the low end of the economic spectrum are kept above poverty level. However, their increased benefits would be paid for by decreased benefits for everyone else. Can you say “more socialism” children?

Benefits are currently tied to the wage index, so benefits increase at the same rate as wages. However, the wage index climbs at a higher rate than the general inflation index. Some argue that benefits should be tied to the lower inflation index. Critics of this idea note that the wage index is directly tied to actual wages, while the inflation index is a complicated multi-tiered equation that is not closely tied to what real people are experiencing in their actual costs.

Progressive indexing would tie benefits for the lowest 30% to the higher wage index, while tying benefits for the remaining 70% to the lower inflation index. The projected result is a cut in the Social Security deficit from $3.7 trillion to $1.1 trillion over 75 years. Some on both sides of the aisle argue that this plan robs the middle class, but most Democrats aren’t arguing much because robbing from the rich to give to the poor has long been a staple of liberal politics.

Fund’s plan has definite bipartisan appeal. It gives everyone a safe personal account and it takes care of the poor. But the big problem with his plan is that it would take the money going into Social Security out of the budget. It would force the administration and Congress to own up to the true budgetary deficit we face. Congress would have to give up spending the money that is going into Social Security or at least count it as part of the national debt. That could make it a political hard sell. But Fund argues that the political stars are sufficiently aligned to make the plan achievable this year – with the right kind of leadership.

Fund focuses mainly on the political viability of his reform plan. He doesn’t provide much in the way of financial analysis, so I am left to wonder if his plan would actually fix the impending insolvency of the system. I also wonder if the right kind of leadership will be forthcoming to make the plan work. If it achieves solvency, it is less than what I would like, but it is probably the best that can be expected. If it doesn’t achieve solvency, why do it?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Another Six Years For Hatch?

27 years ago I walked up the steps of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. as part of a group of Explorer Scouts from Utah. There we met with Senators Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch. I don’t remember much of what they said, but I do remember being impressed at having the opportunity to shake hands with two very powerful politicians.

Fast-forward 27 years. Jake Garn has long since retired from the Senate, but Orrin Hatch is still there. He is preparing to run for another term in that office. By the end of that term he would have served in the Senate 36 years. Is he angling to become the next Robert Byrd or Strom Thurmond? Career politicians always say the same things when they run for re-election. They need our support so that they can continue their important work, they have unfinished business, etc.

Blogger Mark Towner at Utah Politics wrote, “On Saturday at the Salt Lake County convention [Senator Hatch] asked us for 6 more years to accomplish what he has not been able to accomplish in the past 30, is that likely?” He suggests that Senator Hatch’s arguments against Senator Frank Moss 30 years ago are more than applicable to Hatch today. He has served well, but he’s out of touch with the average Utahan. It’s time for him to retire and time for some new blood. Moss then. Hatch now.

Towner notes that Newt Gingrich eloquently stated (in the heat of a climate that clamored for term limits) that the longer one breathes the rarified air inside the D.C. beltway, the more one becomes co-opted into the bureaucracies against which they once campaigned. They become attuned to the realities of political deals and compromises. I think it goes further than that. They begin to feel that the preservation of liberty-inhibiting institutions is actually the best way to serve their constituents.

Like universities, power in the Senate derives from tenure. The more senior one becomes the more power one wields. Thanks to the kerfuffle with Arlen Spector (R-PA) becoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee after the last elections, much has been said and written both pro and con about the Senate’s seniority system. Regardless of how we feel about that system, there is little chance that it will change because it provides predictability and stability, and it is the major factor upon which senators (who would have to vote to change the rules) base their careers.

Since the senatorial equation seniority = power is here to stay for now, Utah is best represented by having the most senior senators possible, right? I mean, if seniority is everything in the Senate, Utah would be best served by sending Hatch back for another term, right?

Towner would say that’s wrong. He says, “Senator Hatch is conflicted. Too many deals and too many years in Washington make it impossible for him to actually do what he knows to be right, but instead goes along with what will pass in the Senate.” In other words, what good does seniority do if the views of the constituency are being poorly represented? While seniority is the most important thing to a senator, it is not the primary consideration for a voter, whose first priority is how his or her concerns are being addressed.

Seniority-is-everything ideologues that argue for keeping Hatch are short sighted. Towner points out a likely scenario where Senators Bennett and Hatch will retire in 2010 and 2012 respectively, leaving Utah with two freshman senators. He notes that given the average age in the Senate (and therefore the impending retirements there), Utah would be best served by sending a freshman senator now to begin gaining status for a potential leadership position instead of being left doubly low on the totem pole down the road. Towner suggests that if Orrin were more interested in Utah than in his own career he would retire next year.

Is there a possibility that Utah won’t re-elect Senator Hatch? I don’t think so unless he miraculously steps aside. If you survey Hatch’s fundraising and behind the scenes preparation you can see that he’s fully prepared to mount a serious campaign. He’s not thinking at all about retiring soon.

Many have argued that Hatch won 29 years ago because Senator Moss underestimated his young punk challenger, and that another young challenger could do the same to Hatch next year. I think, however, that Senator Moss failed to appreciate the change in Utah’s political landscape that took place during his tenure in the Senate. Utahans fled the Democratic Party in droves during the 60s and 70s as the party allowed itself to be taken over by secular extremists that challenged traditional morality. When Hatch argued that Moss was out of touch, it was easy for Utahans to see how Moss’ party had lost touch with their values. When Hatch offered an alternative, it was easy to dump Moss because of his party affiliation.

During Hatch’s almost three decades in the Senate, Utah has become more Republican. Hatch has several factors in his favor including being Republican, incumbency (with all of its associated benefits), being active in the LDS Church, and having a weak Democratic party that is unable to offer a viable opponent. It’s not like Moss who was facing a candidate from an ascending Republican Party.

Hatch is working to fend off any serious challenge from within the Republican Party. Any serious candidate needs to be doing a lot of heavy lifting now to prepare for a campaign next year. Is there anyone out there doing that? Are there any major financiers out there helping to mount a campaign against Hatch? Can anyone wrest the party’s commitments and resources from Hatch?

It’s not that Utah lacks viable potential senators; it’s just that Hatch is working to clear and prepare the field so he can reap a bountiful harvest come fall 2006. I think Hatch would have to do something degrading or suffer a serious decline in health for someone to have a chance of bringing him down. Let’s face it, Utahans know and understand Orrin Hatch’s style. Many respect him and few think that he merits dumping, even if he is getting somewhat out of touch with his base. He has become a human institution of sorts.

My personal preference would be to elect a new senator to replace Hatch next year. Is that likely to happen? Probably not, but I’d be happy to take a look at anyone willing to give it a serious try.