Friday, August 13, 2010

Best. Beltway. Ever.

Not this particular one, of course.

About the only thing most people can agree on this election is that everybody sucks. Our guys may not be the greatest, but yours are even worse. Even the people in cable news can only muster up half-hearted 'I love elections' generalities, and if you look really closely, there's the chance there will be eye-rolling involved. The incumbents suck, the challengers suck, it is the year of, as South Park so famously put it, Douchebag Vs. Shit Sandwich.

It's not always. I swear. Washington can be better. It has been better. And I can prove it.

I am in the process of making my latest update to a project I had put together back in 2005 and 2006, which I title 'All-Star Washington'. In it, I went through the biographies of every single person that has ever served as President, Senator, House representative, Vice President, Supreme Court Justice, Cabinet member, White House Chief of Staff, or United Nations representative, and created a full-sized all-star team.

Every. Damned. One of them. Ever.

Oh yes. I did nearly lose my mind. Several times. Why did I do it? Why not?

This is a representation of my vision of the absolute very best Washington can be, when everything clicks, when the voters don't get fooled, when the smear ads don't work, when they vote for the right people, and when the people they put in do their damn job. This is what America has proven that it is capable of.

At the end of this piece, I will provide a link to an Excel file, in which sit the contents of the team. Detailed rules for inclusion are provided there, but before we do that, let's go over some basics:

*Yes, it's a liberal-slanted team. It's my vision, remember. You have a better team, you're free to do one yourself. However, I am not averse to making substitutions when suitable suggestions present themselves. The fact that I have updated it a couple times, and am doing so again now, suggests that this is not a project I ever really consider "done". Times change, people change, historical context changes. Maybe I just missed someone, didn't give them enough of a look. People will be swapped in and out of the team as the years go by, and if I overlooked someone good, I'm all ears.

And I'm fairly sure someone got overlooked at some point.

*For the very newest members, potential comes into play as a sort of effort to level the field. Once you've gotten a couple terms under your belt, potential ceases to help your case. (Gabrielle Giffords was swapped out in this most recent version.)

*What you do out of office matters too. I judge total life achievements here, though if you're tasked towards something specific, I only judge job-relevant achievements. You might have done a stint in the Peace Corps and saved a town from getting flooded by a dam, but if you're in the Supreme Court, that doesn't matter much.

*Anonymous backbenchers who never actually did anything have no place here. You're voted in to do something. (The exception is when the rest of the field is downright awful and you're left taking the least-bad of the group. Alaska, Arkansas, seriously, elect better people.)

*Positions are prioritized in the order previously stated: President, Senate, House, VP (historically it wasn't that important until recently), Supreme Court, Cabinet (in order of succession), White House Chief of Staff, UN Representative. All-Stars are universally assumed to take the highest-priority office available to them. I'm not going to sit here wondering if someone would rather be a Senator or Vice President.

*The minimum requirement to qualify for an office is one day served. If you are awarded an office, but die before you're seated, too bad. If you're an interim guy who sat in for two weeks while the President found a replacement for you, you're eligible.

*The House is not apportioned according to current numbers. One free seat was given to each state, and then it became a free-for-all for the other 385. (You must be a state to be eligible. Time as a territory does not count.) This is why the All-Star House sees 33 people from Massachusetts and only four from Florida.

*Back when I did it, I was sick of looking at it by the end and didn't want to add any more positions, but now that the general structure's all in place, I could see myself to add things like key ambassadors or Surgeon General or the like.

*Scandal is a killer. Only a rare few have managed to suffer a scandal and still gain a spot on the team- Schuyler Colfax, Daniel J. Flood, that's pretty much it.

*End of the day, if things work, they work, and if they don't, they don't. Being ahead of your time on an idea that later turns out to be good gets you credit. Making a lone stand on a vote you later turn out to be on the correct side on gets you credit. Falling in line on a popular idea that turns out to fail spectacularly gets you nowhere. It pays to be on the right side of history.

As for the current makeup of the team:

*There are four current Senators on the team: Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. Snowe, I'm wrestling on what to do with her re: her role in the healthcare debate, but my inclination is to leave her be. My policy is not to punish or praise entire groups for particular actions; just the ringleaders. Snowe was not a ringleader in that debacle. Feingold is a recent edition, just having passed William Proxmire for a spot in the chamber.

*There are 32 current House members on the team; seven of them Republican. None of them are ringleaders either, and I'd only really move to dock Zach Wamp or Jeff Flake even a little bit. And it won't cost either their spot on the team. The others- Ron Paul, Vern Ehlers, Pat Tiberi, Wally Herger and Chris Smith- won't suffer any ill effect. None of them have an overly large role in the general degradation of decorum the past couple years; I view them as pretty much along for the ride. And Paul's pretty much his own animal anyway. (John Carter of Texas, though, was on the team, but was knocked out because of the degradation.)

*There are three current Senators who didn't make the Senate, but did make the House: Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. Gregg did take some damage for the degradation, but again, not enough to cost him his spot.

*Though the ideologies of the parties have changed over time, I did note parties, and handed out party leaderships. The Senate sees 50 Democrats and 30 Republicans, with six other parties filling the remainder along with two independents. Paul Douglas of Illinois is Senate Majority Leader, with Carl Schurz of Missouri as Senate Minority Leader. (David Davis, an excellent Senator himself, fills the other Illinois seat, so Obama would have a high, high hurdle to clear just to get his Senate seat back, never mind knocking out President George Washington. Despite Illinois' history of scandal, it's a deep field at the top.) The House sees 203 Democrats, 160 Republicans, one independent, and 16 other parties making up the remainder. James K. Polk of Tennessee is Speaker of the House, and Abraham Lincoln of Illinois is House Minority Leader.

That all said... I present, to the best of my ability, the All-Stars of Washington.

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