June 21, 2007

The Subs Keep Coming

Here's a little story: Joe Courtney is a Democrat who, in 2006, helped his party take back the House by ousting a popular Republican incumbent by a mere 83 votes. But now he's facing re-election, and things look dicey. Luckily, Courtney has an idea. General Dynamics employs 6,000 people in his Connecticut district building nuclear-powered submarines. But since the end of the Cold War, business has been bad. So if Courtney could just win General Dynamics a contract to build, say, a new nuclear sub, his constituents would be thrilled, and maybe he could win re-election in '08.

Naturally, then, he becomes an expert on nuclear subs. He asks key members on the House Armed Services Committee for help. Nancy Pelosi and John Murtha, well aware that the Democrats need to protect their thin majority, heed his concerns. And Courtney learns to talk about how China is building submarines, so we need to build even more subs to counter the Chinese menace. When Peter Pace appears before Congress, Courtney berates him for not taking the sub issue seriously enough. Soon enough, Murtha starts hinting that a new sub contract might be in the offing. Voila!

That little tale came from Michael Leahy's profile of Courtney in the Washington Post a few weeks ago. A gripping profile, I'd say. Mostly it's about how Courtney spends his days, trying to establish himself as a freshman representative, scrambling to raise money, learning to be in campaign mode from the very first day. He actually comes across as an endearing guy. But the submarine subplot is noteworthy. Here's a budding China hawk, pushing for a 21st-century arms race (mainly) because 6,000 people in his district are employed in the sub industry. And they say socialism's dead.

Meanwhile, I'm sure this isn't an original point, but the Courtney profile does drive home one of the ways in which genuine campaign-finance reform—say, publicly funded elections—would be a boon. Members of Congress really do have to spend an absurd amount of time running around, hobnobbing with donors, flying across the country raising money. It's a wonder that most of them have any time left to actually think about policy issues and so forth. Or think about anything at all. Of course, most of them don't. A bit of a problem, I'd say.
-- Brad Plumer 12:12 AM || ||