It was almost time for the annual Top 10 Moments of 2011 (Number One – “Jim Suttle is still Mayor of Omaha”). Or, it may have been time for the hilarious New Year Resolutions For People In The News (Mitt Romney – “What? Resolution? How do you spell it?”)
But then, on Tuesday, Senator Ben Nelson announced he wouldn’t seek re-election.
Will this hand his seat to the Republicans? Probably, but it depends on who runs, and how they run. It’s hard to believe Nebraskans really want a senator who believes some people are sub-human, or who implements policies that result in the death and illnesses of babies. Will the Democratic nominee be able to motivate progressives? Will he or she be able to appeal to the best natures of Nebraskans across the state? Will either eventual candidate make an embarrassing statement or mistake?
It’s up in the air whether or not Ben would have won re-election. I think he would have.
But I don’t think he deserves another term. It’s good that he’s quitting.
Ben Nelson has many admirers among Nebraska Democrats. And as he is the only Democrat holding any state wide office, it could be argued his leaving the Senate is tragic at least, disastrous at worst.
But I think it’s a good thing. Ben’s term in the Senate – at least since Barack Obama was elected – has itself been tragic and, to an extent, disastrous for the people of the country – not just Nebraska, but the entire country.
With Obama’s election, the country had a real chance to implement governance that would actually benefit its citizens: we had a need for jobs, for safety nets for the victims of the recession, for affordable health care. The only thing that could possible stop change was a recalcitrant congress. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell famously stated that his party’s primary goal was to cause Obama to fail. But he could only do this by obstructing Obama’s reform initiatives, and that meant filibuster – the Senate maneuver that requires 60 out of 100 votes to get anything done, rather than a simple majority.
And that’s what McConnell has been doing, with the help of Ben Nelson.
Nelson threatened to support the filibuster of the Affordable Health care Act until it was watered down and the “Cornhusker kickback” added to it. He ended up voting against the health care bill, and that’s fine. Political disagreements happen, they get aired, they get resolved. But what Nelson did was far, far beyond political disagreements. He joined with sworn obstructionists to obstruct a president of his own party – joined them in their strategy to keep Obama from accomplishing anything of value.
Nelson boasted, after he agreed to not filibuster health care, that “Throughout my Senate career, I have consistently rejected efforts to obstruct”.
He then proceeded to join Republicans in obstructing:
A bill that would have created thousands of jobs;
Wall Street reform.
All those things, like the health care bill, would have benefited the 99% (the appointment was to the National Labor Relations Board)). Nelson voted – not against those initiatives, mind you, but to not even allow them to be discussed.
Discussed. Sounds like…. It sounds like what we should feel towards Ben Nelson.
It could be argued that those filibusters would have succeeded anyway, that Nelson was just shoring up his standing with his conservative constituents. No matter: leaders, people of integrity, do the right thing without regard to its popularity. Leaders form popular opinion; they don’t wince at it.
A lot of Nebraskans are happy to see Ben Nelson go because they think he is too liberal. He’s not a liberal. He’s an obstructionist.