What Norm Coleman & Al Franken Have Taught America

The Senate is carrying more dead weight than an Uruguayan rugby team

You know, in today's America, we focus too much on the negative news: How Tom Brady has not yet contributed another future taxpayer for Social Security, how Terminator Salvation sucks across all entertainment platforms (even cell-phone ringtones), about how even Swine Flu ain't really what it's cracked up to be.

So before we hit the weekend and get trapped in nasty, La Brea Tar Pit–like arguments about whether high-jump legend Javier Sotomayor (no relation to Sonia, though he is a communist!) was a coke user, whether Sonia Sotomayor is an empath or just a reverse racist, and whether Newt Gingrich could in fact pass that apparently super-tough fireman-promotion test in New Haven, let's take a moment to thank two great patriots for teaching us an invaluable lesson in U.S. civics.

I speak, of course, of Norm Coleman and Al Franken, who are duking it out over the privilege to be Amy Klobuchar's (yes, that Amy Klobuchar) senatorial date from the great state of Minnesota. Even as it vanishes from Google News due to lack of interest, the Franken-Coleman procedural slugfest may well be the most clarifying clash of titans since the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Here we are, what, like a year since the election last November and the great recount battle of 2008-2009 limps on like an extended SNL skit. There's a Minnesota Supreme Court case scheduled to be heard on June 1 which should...extend the discussion by at least another week or two. As it stands, Franken won a recount by a tad over 300 votes, although that was before this tape of Franken's early '80s impersonation of Mick Jagger came to light, which surely would have altered last fall's election (and quite possibly The Rolling Stones' recent tour receipts).

[Article continues below godawful video]

So what's the great civics lesson that Coleman, last seen limping around D.C.'s Reagan-National Airport begging for change for arthroscopic surgery, and Franken are teaching us?

It has nothing to do with the intricacies of the recount mechanism (we learned that during the 2000 presidential election), or the great goddamn glory of the American system by which power is transferred peacefully from one party to another (thanks, John Adams, because otherwise you pretty much sucked as president, though you really did make 1776 a toe-tapping musical), or even that a dicey showbiz background full of more bombs than an Afghan playground can be overcome if you're good enough, smart enough, and dog-gone it, if people like you enough (a long line of rehashed celebs from George Murphy to Ronald Reagan to Fred "Gopher" Grandy had already poured that knowledge into us like a pina colada mixed on the Love Boat's lido deck).

No, the lesson is simply this: We've gotten by fine these past few months with just one senator from Minnesota. So fine, in fact, that in this century of constant cost-cutting and rising unemployment, the federal government should do its share by immediately downsizing the World's Greatest Deliberative Body by 50 percent.

Think about it, is any near-bankrupt work unit in America this side of a shovel-ready stimulus project more clogged with redundant and/or phantom employees? Does Massachusetts really need John Kerry and Ted Kennedy? Does Arkansas really need Blanche Lincoln and somebody whose last name is Pryor? I'm betting dollars to donuts that Idaho can get by with either Mike Crapo or Jim Risch. If Idahoans are like regular Americans, then more of them know that Jar Jar Binks was senator from the Chomell Sector than have any idea of who these guys are.

Even in the 11 states where the senatorial team is split between Coms and Yangs Republicans and Democrats, you'd need an electron microscope to fully grok the value of paying a salary to, say, both George Voinovich and Sherrod Brown. Put plainly, the U.S. Senate is carrying more dead weight than an Uruguayan rugby squad.

Cutting the Senate workforce in half will immediately save $8.7 million per year in direct salary costs, plus millions more in pension plans, entourage costs, inevitable sexual-harassment lawsuits, and skyrocketing bean soup expenditures. If the folks who believe that government spending has a multiplier effect can be trusted (and they can't), then cutting government spending at the highest level should send more fiscally responsible ripples through the system than slapping Sen. Robert Byrd's stomach while he's playing Hooverball.

For the past decade or more, those of us in the non-public sectors have been told to do more with less. And, by and large, we have, thanks to a mix of technological innovations and good old-fashioned managerial lashes with wet noodles. I really hate to break it to the Reason staff, but you all are doing at least 50 percent more work now than when I showed up here in 1993. (And, I hasten to add, I haven't seen so many goldbrickers since Beetle Bailey slept through the My Lai massacre.)

Yet the public sector simply increases spending and staff, generally with flat results or worse. A quick example: Since 1970, per-pupil spending in public K-12 schools has more than doubled in real dollars while reading outcomes for 17-year-olds are flat. And as Matt Welch and Reason.tv have documented, the all-too-representative state of California has simply added more workers and more spending in a desperate, though by-all-counts-successful, bid to provide lower-quality services even to illegal immigrants. So it is at the federal level, where the spending-and-hiring explosion of the past decade has been like Arnold Schwarzenegger on steroids. And, as President Obama has told us via his own budget, we ain't seen nothing yet.

To be sure, cutting the Senate in half won't do anything to cut structural deficits; stave off the coming collapse of Social Security, Medicare, and the Cleveland Cavaliers; or shorten useless security checkpoint lines at the nation's airports. Indeed, if the past few months are any indication, it won't even stop the government from setting all kinds of spending records and making more power grabs than Bob Packwood in a crowded elevator.

But if it keeps both Al Franken and Norm Coleman off the public teat at a job that pays $174,000 a year and forces them onto unemployment at even half that much, well, it'll practically pay for itself in no time.

Nick Gillespie is editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Elemenope||

    Wow. That's...idiotic.

  • DHS Thinks I’m a Terrorist||

    I'm one of those radicals who thinks that there should not be more votes in a particular county than there are voters in that county.

  • creech||

    So in states that now elect one blue and one red senator, (thereby - usually - cancelling out their votes) it would be either/or? Wouldn't this really raise the pander quotient?

  • DHS Thinks I’m a Terrorist ||

    Creech,

    Or, since the federal government is bankrupt they could just make it official and close up shop.

  • the innominate one||

    so, Nick's recommendation is to concentrate power in fewer individuals and increase the importance of support staffers in crafting law? because that's exactly what would happen, I predict. Additionally, bribing sorry, "lobbying" 26 senators to vote a preferred way is a lot cheaper than "lobbying" 51 senators.

  • ||

    Go back to letting the state legislatures pick them. Having direct elections just makes them even bigger whores to the PACs and special interests since they have to run a statewide campaign.

    Second, no Rep or Senator should ever recieve one dime in federal compensation. They are there to represent their states and districts. It should, therefore, be the state's responsibility for the care and feeding of Congress critters. If New York wants to pay their Senators a million a year and Georgia wants to give them a $20 a day travel per diem, that is each state's own business.

    Lastly, Congress should only be allowed to meet for 90 days per year. After that, the staffs are sent home and the doors are locked. Only an emergency called by the President and agreed to via teleconference by 2/3s of each body would recall the bodies. If it can't be investigated or passed in 90 days, it isn't that important.

  • The Equestrian||

    "I'm one of those radicals who thinks that there should not be more votes in a particular county than there are voters in that county."

    http://www.startribune.com/politics/state/46384897.html?elr=KArksUUUU

  • ||

    Middle of the alphabet guy -

    I liked it. Heaping scorn on "the world's greatest deliberative body" is a noble undertaking that should be both applauded and encouraged.

  • ||

    Can't they just have a duel and shoot each other? Honestly, would anyone miss either of them? I could'n thave told you who Norm Coleman was until Franken decided to run against him. And I have spent the last 20 years or so wishing I didn't know who Franken was.

  • ||

    Stuart Smiley goes to Washington could be a funny movie.

  • ||

    Franken would have been better off if he had whacked himself on cocaine back in the day ala Bulushi. Imagine if he had OD in bed with an 18 year old hooker in say 1983. He would be a legend. He would be spoken of with Belushi and Lenny Bruce and Jimi Hendrix in the pantheon of talent that ended too young. As it is now, he hasn't been funny in 20 years and he is trying to be a Senator. If that doesn't make you want to die young and leave a good looking corpse what does.

  • libertarian democrat||

    ........

  • ||

    """As it is now, he hasn't been funny in 20 years and he is trying to be a Senator. """

    Replace Senator with President and I'd swear you were talking about Reagan.

    Can we trade Al Franken for Jim Morrison?

  • ||

    "Replace Senator with President and I'd swear you were talking about Reagan.

    Can we trade Al Franken for Jim Morrison?"

    Reagan was governor of California and the head of a major union. He didn't walk off the set, put bonzo down and run for President. He had been out doing the lecture circuit and making his case for 30 years before he ever ran for President. There is a great story about Reagan destroying RFK in some PBS debate in the mid 60s. RFK was so made at having his clock cleaned so thoroughly he told his people never to put him on the same stage with Reagan again.

    There is no comparison between him and Al Frankin. And yes, I would trade Frankin for Morrison.

  • ||

    Uruguayan Rugby players taste a whole lot better than US Senators. Trust me on this one, I've had both.

    --HtC

  • Alan Vanneman||

    Wow, Nick! This piece has more one-liners than a one-handed paperhanger! Wait, that doesn't sound right. Well, what the hell. Just keep 'em coming. This rimshot's on me.

  • Invisible Finger||

    the federal government should do its share by immediately downsizing the World's Greatest Deliberative Body by 50 percent

    We could do that by shedding 25 states, too.

    California, Michigan, Nevada, Arizona, Mississippi...

  • ||

    Let's elect half the Senate and have the legislatures appoint the other half.

  • Cal Lipigian||

    All those obscure references and libertarian bent made it seem like it was written by Dennis Miller--back when he was funny.

  • ||

    Be careful what you wish for wingnuts, the Senate is the only thing keeping the old confederacy relevant.

  • ||

    Dear Mr. President,

    There are too many states. Please eliminate three.

  • ||

    Be careful what you wish for wingnuts, the Senate is the only thing keeping the old confederacy relevant.

    One would have to be a complete retard to think that "the old conferacy" is relevant in the 21st century. Yes Tony, that includes you.

  • ||

    Be careful what you wish for wingnuts, the Senate is the only thing keeping the old confederacy relevant.

    Those would be the states that produced three of the last four Democratic Presidents (Johnson, Carter, and Clinton)?

  • ||

    Anybody else think they should just have another election?

  • the innominate one||

    JT - only if you'll let Florida have a do-over for the 2000 presidential election.

  • ||

    Ahoy!

    I propose one senator to represent the entire South, and two pairs of overalls and a corncob pipe for the House!

  • ||

    Anybody else think they should just have another election?

    What an excellent idea. Any election with a margin of less than 1% should be declared null and void, and a new one held.

    The two candidates from the tied election are, of course, barred from running in the do-over.

    JT - only if you'll let Florida have a do-over for the 2000 presidential election.

    No problem. I would be genuinely curious to know who has debased their political currency more since 2008, Bush or Gore. And if Gore wins, we can substitute him in the history books and put his name on the Presidential Library.

  • Billy||

    "There is a great story about Reagan destroying RFK in some PBS debate in the mid 60s. RFK was so made at having his clock cleaned so thoroughly he told his people never to put him on the same stage with Reagan again."

    I've seen that. It's awesome!

  • ||

    It would be nice if Coleman can just spin it out for another 5&1/2 years.

  • the innominate one||

    RC - I'd sincerely like to have "none of the above" added to all ballots, with the candidates who lose to NOTA banned from the ballot in the run-off.

  • ||

    Thanks so much for the bean soup recipe. I had no idea it was on the internet. It's a great soup and the very best thing about The United States Senate.

  • Jonas||

    There seriously just needs to be a law that says that if an election with a margin of victory of less than 1% is disputed, then the winner is determined by toin-coss. Seriously.

  • ||


    Jonas | May 29, 2009, 7:48pm | #

    There seriously just needs to be a law that says that if an election with a margin of victory of less than 1% is disputed, then the winner is determined by toin-coss a duel to the death with sabres. Seriously.



    Fixed.

  • Anonymous||

    It's a Uruguayan rugby not an.

  • cwwe||

    Really as exhausting as this may have been to watch it is nice to see the power of small is still alive and well in politics. This slugfest is over a few hundred votes and that means every vote actually counts.

  • Someone Who Doesn\'t Want to L||

    "All those obscure references and libertarian bent made it seem like it was written by Dennis Miller--back when he was funny."

    Such a time never existed.

  • ||

    The cost of Senator's (and staff) salaries is peanuts with respect to what incompetence in the Senate costs, and that is what should be the focus.
    The Franken-Coleman saga shows us how two unremarkable people end-up in a tie for one of the most powerful positions in the country thanks to the stronghold the two main parties have in our current political system.

  • ||

    I wrote on a variety of blogs way back in November 8 that the Coleman lead was not big enough to keep the democrat vote making machine from grabbing the election. You need at least a couple of percent lead to insure a permanent win. I recommended Coleman hold a presser and say something like 'I note my lead is not enough to overcome democrat vote counting schemes so I concede to save all the time and money as the eventual result is already preordained'.

  • ||

    What do you expect when you're paying 535 folks in Congress to do nothing but sit around spending money and thinking up new laws to pass?

  • ||

    Downsizing The Senate means a constitutional change and rewriting American History dummy.
    There are only 100 Senators 2 for each state there are more congressman and women based on population in each state.Bush and his cronies destroyed the economy with an Iraqi war for oil for the coffers of his cronies and himself.
    I am a retired NY Yorker who personally knew people who died on 9/11 have a son a navy veteran who as a paramedic helped at the site. Bush and his cronies ignored the warnings and instead of getting Osama Bin Landan went after Saddam Hussein for the oil and bankrupted this country. All of the above are ignorant. The Republicans are backing this election recount and lawsuits in the Coleman/Franken Election and are desperate sore loosers.

  • ||

    Unfair to the Uruguayan Rugby team; I was in the line behind a couple of their team members at the supermarket checkout queue the other day, and they didn't seem to be in bad shape !!

  • anonymous||

    Dumb as hell for SO many reasons. All of which, a high school student could think of, so I won't even list them. All those scratching their heads, go kick your High School teachers, along with the author.

  • Scarpe Nike Italia||

    is good

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