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Monday, June 06, 2011


by digby

James Fallows' has written a very stark comment on the lesson of the failed Peter Diamond nomination: if you didn't know our system was dysfunctional before, you can't avoid it now:

[A]s Peter Diamond has recounted in the New York Times, Shelby has, on his own whim, decidedthat the most recent recipient of the Nobel award in economics (Diamond), doesn't meet the Shelby Test for economic excellence. I'm more skeptical than most people about the "Nobel prize" in economics. Technically, it's not one of the "real" Nobel prizes, and in some cases it has inflated the delusions of economists that theirs is a hard science comparable to physics or biology/medicine. But let's be serious. A career politician with a law degree from the University of Alabama (Shelby has 8 years as a prosecutor, 40 years as a legislator). Versus the economist who has just been recognized with the highest international lifetime-achievement honor that exists in his field -- and whose specialty is studying America's worst economic problem of the moment, chronic unemployment. Hmmm, I wonder which of them might be in a better position to judge the other's street-cred about Fed policy. Yet Senate rules let one willful politician say: No, I think not. Presumably the Nobel committee will soon offer Shelby a standing veto over its selections.

Here's the real question: America is rich and resilient. But is it resilient enough to permit folly and self-destruction of this sort? There is no recourse against Sen. Shelby for his abuse of power except to make sure everyone knows and remembers what he has done.

I wish I thought that would have an effect, but I don't. America has become so cynical and opportunistic (in my opinion, largely because of the example of its leadership) that Shelby is seen through the prison of his tribal affiliation and his willingness to do whatever it takes to win. Those who see him as "one of theirs" see hims as a man of principle fighting for the greater good. But that's not the problem. We've always had that. It's the other part of the equation tin which he's seen as a savvy operator who knows how to work the system and beat it that's problematic. The fact that he's doing it in the US Senate, which has always been populated by egomaniacs and tools for the most part, is what makes it so startling. It used to function as a gentleman's club where hardball politics were hidden under a veneer of mutual cooperation. I'm sure that things like this happened in the past, but you wouldn't have found someone like Shelby taking pride in breaking the traditions of the institution and getting kudos for doing it. That he did it over this nomination at this point in history is illustrative of the bigger problem.

I don't think this is a partisan thing. (After all, Shelby was a Democrat for many years who switched to the GOP in 1994.) This is part of the great institutional failure of our whole governing system.