Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Porcupine Power is Illusory

I thought that Smith's book was very interesting and I really enjoyed the anecdotal evidence that he used to back up his various arguments. I also thought many of his analogies and insight into Washington made sense and were correct as far as I could tell. I did disagree with him on a central issue though. He seems to glorify the use of "Porcupine Power," which is essentially the power to repel your enemies by being a nuisance. Smith provides good evidence as to when "Porcupine Power" works, but I did not think he spent nearly enough time examining it critically. He spoke at length about how Senator Jesse Helms was able to hold up certain legislation and get his way through being a bully. I agree that there is certainly a time to use strong arm tactics, but I do not think lasting power, and certainly not influence, can be gained in this fashion. The ability to force your opponents to shelf a bill simply because they do not want to put the effort into defending it is power in a way, but the reality is that those types of bills really are not that important. Any sponsor of a critically important bill, like the healthcare bill, is going to fight extremely hard to get that piece of legislation passed even if it means tangling with a "Porcupine." Additionally, Smith comments towards the end of the chapter that Senator Helms had a lot of difficulty getting his bills to pass due to the hostility of his fellow senators. This is, I think, the fundamental problem with "Porcupine power." Killing legislation is one thing, but the greatest Senators and Presidents are the ones who get things done. Senator Helms will remain notorious for his stalling tactics and his ability to galvanize his supporters, but Lincoln will always be immortalized as the great compromiser and quintessential politician. Finally, I do not think that Senator Helms' position would be taken kindly in the current political climate, where voters have routinely punished politicians, especially career politicians, who they perceive as inhibitors as opposed to enablers.

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