I get made fun of a lot for knowing who Jim Bunning is. This is really true.
Actually, Bunning may be a bad example. This past week, the Hall of Fame pitcher and Republican senator from Kentucky achieved a measure of widespread notoriety by single-handedly filibustering an extension of unemployment benefits and making an obscene gesture at an ABC reporter.
The point is, even if you didn’t follow Senate politics obsessively, there’s a chance you’d at least recognize his name.
But Bunning’s intemperance, intransigence and shady financial dealings aren’t what brought him to my attention. His name first hit my radar in early 2009, as the sprawling American political blogosphere began to make eyes at the 2010 midterm elections. Bunning is among the most conservative members of the Senate, but is personally unpopular, a marginal campaigner and from a state that is by no means a Republican stronghold. He’s extremely electorally vulnerable. His retirement, announced last summer, is in fact pretty unabashedly good news for the GOP, though it’s still far from clear that they’ll keep his seat in the upcoming midterm election.
The way the math works, by the way, is that if the Democrats can take the Bluegrass State in November, it’s exceedingly unlikely that they’ll lose their Senate majority.
So because I pay attention to U.S. Senate races, I know who Jim Bunning is. Which kicks the question down the line, I suppose, to why I would ever pay attention to such a thing. Why should a Canadian care at all about the messy political details of one half of another country’s legislature?
There are a few ways to answer this:
- I could talk about how America’s business is the world’s business, about how Canadians in particular live in our big, weird neighbour’s shadow.
- I could talk about the influence of American politics on Canadian, possibly deploying some sort of rubber sheet metaphor.
- I could talk about how, given the intimidatingly low odds of your personal vote actually affecting the outcome of an election, it’s irrational to become monomaniacally attached to the national polity in which you happen, by chance or choice, to live.
- I could talk about how, this year at least, the Senate is where the meat hits the metal in American political sausage, a perpetual dysfunctional old white guy soap opera which, at least in theory, produces legislation which governs the world’s largest economy.
- I could talk about how, for an outsider without a direct political stake in its operation, a body of 100 is much more manageable than a body of 438 and much more interesting than a body of one. The Senate is simply more approachable than the House, more dynamic than the presidency.
- I could talk about the voyeuristic joy of politics, the dirtier and more personal the better, and how there aren’t many places more political, personal or dirty than the United States Senate in the throes of election season.
I think these are all conversations worth having, and as we stumble towards what promises to be a doozy in November, now seems a pretty good time to have them. So welcome to my blog.