Whatever you think of the "New Start" nuclear arms treaty with Russia, the repeal of don't ask don't tell, or the bill to give more free health care to people who were in the neighborhood of ground zero in the months after September 11, 2001, it says something about the way the system works in Washington that all these things got passed in a "lame duck" session by politicians many of whom have already been voted out of office by the people they are supposed to be representing. If all these things were such good ideas, why couldn't they have gotten done before the election, or once the newly elected Congress is in place? (One might say the same about the tax cuts, though there in the absence of action taxes would have increased on January 1.)
The New York Times editorial praising the development was headlined "The Senate Surmounts Politics." It reminded me of a passage in Ted Sorensen's Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, which I am in the middle of reading (No Reagan books for me). President Kennedy's closest aide wrote:
in the larger sense of the term 'politics,' all of us on the president's staff knew that we were in part the president's political advisors and that the White House is inherently a political institution. That is why I have not joined those, in subsequent years, who lamented that any particular president was playing politics with foreign policy or some other issue. Of course he is playing politics — the president in a democracy is required to play politics with every issue, if this country is to be governed with the consent of the governed.
This point about consent of the governed is really important, and if it applies to the White House, or the president, it certainly applies also to the Senate. President Kennedy, with Sorensen's assistance, wrote a whole book about politicians who did things that were unpopular with their constituents, so my point isn't that politicians should never do things that are unpopular with voters. I don't think Sorensen was making that point, either. But when the senators are making laws by surmounting politics rather than by representing the people who sent them there — voters who may have already chosen to replace them — it's worth watching with a greater-than-usual degree of skepticism.