A Different Kind of Blog

news and things sacred and irreverent put together by opinionated people.

The Devil Made Me Do It

Posted by tothewire on February 19, 2009

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Long, long ago there was a television series, called “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” about a newspaperman who spent most of his time tracking down demons of the underworld. Since his editor never believed his stories, Kolchak did not get in the paper much. Today, of course, he would be a blogger and have a wide international following although no real source of income.

But I digress. The point here is that in one memorable episode, Kolchak was confronted by a politician who sold his soul to the devil in order to win a seat in the State Senate.

When I first saw this particular program, coyly titled “The Devil’s Platform,” I was covering a real-life State Legislature in Connecticut. My first thought was that accepting eternal damnation in return for a career as a state senator was a little like swapping your house for a pair of socks.

But lately I am beginning to wonder if, in our troubled times, being in a Senate — any Senate — actually is hell. Everybody has seen pictures of the state senators in California, held hostage to a spectacular financial fiasco, sleeping at their desks during the long, long hours of deliberations, which revolve around whether Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger can get a wealthy Republican broccoli farmer to vote for his budget.

And Washington! Imagine you’re Harry Reid, the majority leader. Every time something important comes up, you’ve got to round up 60 votes. And Reid only has 59. One belongs to someone who is apparently doomed to spend the rest of his life in court in Minnesota, arguing about absentee ballot witness registration.

And another, of course, belongs to Roland Burris, cursed with an inability to come up with a consistent story on whether he tried to raise money for Illinois’ rogue governor before said governor forked over a Senate seat. The other senators resent Burris because he is proof that just about anybody blessed with strong persistence and a weak memory can join their club. Reid should also consider the possibility that Burris has been infected by a mind-altering demon that could, at any moment, convince him that he dwells in a reverse reality where all good senators vote against the White House agenda.

The U.S. Senate’s rules — like those in California — wind up leaving the power in the hands of a very few moderate Republicans. Everybody else just sits around reading their mail — or, in the case of California, napping in the aisles — while one or two members of the minority party tries to decide whether to let the economy fall off a cliff.

The good news is that in Washington, the whole world is now run by Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine. True, not what you had in mind when you spent the last year obsessing about the next president. But way better than California, which is facing a series of end-of-times crises that include insolvency, 200,000 imminent layoffs and a halt to all public construction programs. And for weeks, it has all hung on State Senator Abel Maldonado, the above-mentioned broccoli farmer.

As of last night, Maldonado was holding out for changes in the state election laws that would make it easier for him to get the Republican nomination to run for state controller. (I believe there was once an episode of “Marcus Welby, M.D.” in which a troubled would-be father refused treatment for sterility on the grounds that it would hurt his chances of being elected controller. Back in the day, it was inspiring what high regard TV scriptwriters had for state government.)

Maldonado has always denied that his political ambitions had anything to do with his inability to make up his mind about the budget. Nevertheless, one of his ongoing demands has been to eliminate money for new office furniture for his mortal enemy, the current controller, John Chiang.

The California situation is so dire that everybody in the state appears to have forgotten that their governor is a movie star. Schwarzenegger used to be one of the most famous people on the planet, and now he’s spent months begging members of his own party to throw him three lousy votes so he can keep the Department of Motor Vehicles’ offices open. When Arnold’s ally, the Senate minority leader, revved up the pressure, the Republicans responded by electing a new minority leader.

On the plus side, all those arguments about whether the Constitution should be amended so people born outside the United States could run for president can be put on the back burner.

If the nation’s only action-hero governor is at a loss, clearly new powers are needed. Look up that “Night Stalker” episode on the Web and you will learn that the demon soul-selling senator (Tom Skerritt) got “the ability to assume the form of an indestructible black mastiff, and destroy his enemies both within his own party and opposing him.”

I wonder if Harry Reid has heard about this.

By GAIL COLLINS

 NYtimes

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