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   The ultimate old boys

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6/26/2008 9:50 pm

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Editorial

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Entered 6/26/2008, Updated 6/26/2008

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STALE AND FECKLESS, all grid- lock and gotcha, national politics seems incapable of tackling the country's direst problems. What we need, proclaim the brighter elements of vox populi, is new blood! Virginia has done its part, electing Jim Webb, a party of one, to the Senate, where he likely will be joined next year by Mark Warner, aka "the radical centrist." Yet even if many Webbs and Warners go to Washington, the Senate's seniority system will work to keep national politics--stale and feckless. In the Senate, seniority--calculated by the number of years a senator has served in Congress or as a governor--dictates committee chairmanships and rankings. Without the approval of affected senators, violations of the system virtually never occur. Early in the nation's history, genuflections to seniority would have made little difference. "During the first 100 years of the Senate's existence," notes the upper chamber's Web site, "members who made it into their second six-year term were considered long-term veterans. During any Congress of that era, as many as half the senators failed to serve out a full six-year term." Also, during the 1800s, the average life expectancy was barely 40, the stage coaches and open railway cars that transported senators to the capital were uncomfortable, and at the inns along the way the honorables often had to share a bed with strangers (no word on whether these were lobbyists). All in all, in the era before federal supremacy, the politically ambitious found enough fulfillment as state legislators.


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