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Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

Gawande, D-MA
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Faiz Shakir at Think Progress has a pretty stunning proposal: appointing Harvard-based surgeon/author/hero Atul Gawande to Ted Kennedy’s vacated senate seat in Massachusetts.

On the day he would step foot in the Senate, Dr. Gawande would be the most knowledgeable health policy expert in the chamber, an incredible resource for his fellow Senate colleagues, and a champion for reform.

Matthew Yglesias writes:

Someone holding a Senate seat during a critical period but with no future political ambitions would have a pretty unique opportunity to play a kind of bold leadership role if the Senator in question were someone with the knowledge and credibility to really contribute to the debate.

I like Ezra Klein’s take best:

I’d worry that Atul himself would find it a bit of a disappointing experience, as knowing stuff is not likely to matter much at this stage in the process… But it would be a bulletproof choice, and would certainly lead to a great New Yorker article.

This jibes with my sense that the timing is off, unless the health care bill is going to take a lot longer than most people think it will. But, jeez…

It’s almost like the Senate should have a handful of at-large, two-year members who are experts on particular policy issues. They’d rotate in like non-permanent members of the UN Security Council.

(This is probably why I should not be allowed to design a system of government. It’d have epicycles all over the place. Even more than the current U.S. Senate.)

5 comments

But they can always call experts to address current issues. Like when Jim Inhofe called Michael Crichton to address the Senate on the climate change hoax.

Tim Carmody says…

Committee testimony is okay, but full Senators with the ability to 1) vote 2) debate on the floor 3) ASK questions on committees, etc., is a whole notha ball o’ wax.

Of course, as you point out, the folks likely to get these spots are probably more likely to be a Michael Crichton than an Atul Gawande. Stupid democracy.

I’d take a whole Senate made up up a wide variety of experts from a number of key fields who could speak authoritatively on a number of key questions over the current makeup of disconnected professional politicians (read: fundraisers) any day. Imagine how much might actually get done by men and women whose usual professional life revolves around action, not on how they can raise enough money to bury their opponent in the next cycle.

But barring that impossibility, your idea would be great, Tim. However, I’d be pessimistic about the chances of the rest of the Senate’s being interesting in utilizing such minds. Without seniority, you’re not much in either house of Congress.

Tim Carmody says…

My ideas are always better when everyone’s willing to ignore their impossibility. 😉

This is why we should have consecutive term limits, with each term 2 years. That way, if there is an issue pressing the country – for instance Health Care – you can vote in the most qualified person to handle what’s important in the congress at that point – like a Gawande. This would limit the perpetual campaign, the power of seniority and create a less glacially bureaucratic congress. (and ideally the person would be more than an expert at just one thing … to, you know, deal with all that other stuff)

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