Why Retiring Lawmakers are Good For America
A Connecticut senator is doing what's best for America and his party. Hint: It's not Joe Lieberman.
A Connecticut senator is doing what's best for America and his party. And it's not Joe Lieberman. Chris Dodd, a five-term senator from Connecticut, will not stand for reelection this November. Chris Cilizza at The Fix has the scoop:
Dodd's retirement comes roughly two years after his presidential ambitions came to an end in the Iowa caucuses. Dodd, always a longshot in a field filled with better known and better financed candidates, had moved his family to the Hawkeye State in the fall of 2007 in hopes of generating some excitement for his bid. The move backfired on the Democratic incumbent as many Connecticut voters bristled.
Dodd's political problems were further compounded later in 2008 when it was reported that he had been included in a special VIP mortgage loan program by Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo. Dodd insisted he was unaware of his inclusion and he was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Senate Ethics Committee but the political damage was done.
Once among the safest of incumbents, Dodd's numbers plummeted in the spring of 2009 before rebounding somewhat over the summer. But, a Quinnipiac University poll conducted late last year showed significant slippage for Dodd and led to widespread speculation that he had to vacate the seat for his party to have a chance at retaining it in the upcoming midterm elections.
The news of Dodd's retirement came on the heels of an announcement that longtime Democratic senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota will not run for reelection, either. Dorgan's throwing in the towel is the bigger blow to the Democratic party. Connecticut's Democratic attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, will run and likely keep Dodd's seat blue, but North Dakota is a cherry-red state that will be difficult to win without the power of incumbency Dorgan enjoyed for three terms. Both retirements, however, offer great hope to those Americans tired of the game-playing that pervades the U.S. Congress, particularly the Senate.
Rather than being "lame ducks", as Sarah Palin mysteriously claimed when leaving the governorship of Alaska in July, I've long been of the mind that retiring lawmakers are the most useful to the general public good. Dodd deserves credit for being enormously so even before Tuesday's bombshell announcement. In the year since his presidential bid flamed out, he has led the Democratic passage of health care reform, financial regulatory reform, consumer protection legislation, and administration of the $700 billion TARP bailout program. In 2010, I'm genuinely confident that a newly freewheeling Dodd could lead on immigration reform (Dodd is a fluent Spanish speaker who spent a Peace Corps tour in Costa Rica), and smart management of the drawdown in Iraq and the surge in Afghanistan from his post on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And while replacing old, white men with slightly younger, white men isn't that satisfying, any Congressional turnover is generally a good thing.
It should be mentioned that Democrats have no need to panic--more Republicans than Democrats are retiring this year, and they are still likely to keep a majority in both houses. As for other at-risk Democratic senators--Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson, Harry Reid--here's hoping that they can look beyond what's a precarious situation for them and see the bigger picture--a precarious situation for the country, and do the right thing on the various pieces of contentious legislation coming down the pipe in 2010.