Since the 2008 election, here is just a sampling of the senators who have gone: Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), John Warner (R-Va.), Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), Arlen Specter (R-then-D-Pa.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), and, of course Vice President Joe Biden (D-Del.)That's...awful, and forces me to do some cranky blogging. "50" years? That would include, say, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, bills associated with none of those worthies. Well, sure, Robert Byrd, but only in that he voted the wrong way. 50 years? Oddly enough, none of this group headed the Church Committe -- that would be Frank Church. Nor the Senate Watergate Committee, also known as the Ervin Committee. We're also missing the Big Two innovators of the 60 vote Senate -- Bob Dole, who has been gone for a long time, and Mitch McConnell, still there.
Virtually every major moment you can think of in the Senate over the past 50 years happened because of the men and women listed above.
Ted Kennedy was, no doubt, one of the most important Senators of the last fifty years. Domenici, Byrd, Biden -- all had their moments. Others, including Jay Rockefeller (the hook for the article), were perfectly good legislators.
But c'mon. It's a huge changing of the guard, but this is one of the oldest, most cliched chestnuts: the "all the important Senators are leaving" piece. I remember a particularly awful one written around Nancy Kassebaum's retirement in 1996. Oh, how could the Senate survive losing folks like that? Well, it did. And it'll survive losing Kohl, Akaka, Hutchison, and, if necessary, Frank Lautenberg, too. Oh, and Ensign. Even the Benator. In fact, as I've said before, the latest group to leave was noted for either having exhausted their energy or having never had much in the first place. No, it doesn't make the Senate "a place of smaller statesmanship and decreased national sway than in years past."
Moreover, Cillizza is absolutely wrong to say that "The intractability that has dominated Senate proceedings in recent years — and led to aggressive efforts to reform filibuster rules — seems to be directly traceable to the fact that the Senate we once knew — and the men and women who populated it— are gone." The truth is that the people who instituted the 60 vote Senate were the Republican Senators of the 1990s, most of whom are in that group that is now gone. Dick Lugar? Bob Bennett? Olympia Snowe? They may have been reasonable people, but they didn't stand up and insist on voting for cloture even in cases in which they opposed the underlying bill or nomination. Indeed, one can very much make the case that they are more responsible for the dysfunctional Senate than anyone else; without them, the attempt to impose a full 60 vote Senate in 2009 would have failed.
Cillizza is apparently the only person in the world who thinks that the last 30 years were some sort of "golden age" of the Senate. Nonsense. (Hey, at least his 50 year timeline captures an era which many believe really were a golden age -- but since the mid 1970s? No way). The truth is that the Senate may to be in better shape, personnel-wise, than it has been for a while now. They still need to come up with reformed rules to make the place work, but if they can do that, I could imagine a much better era than the one just passing. And no one at all will miss Arlen Specter.