Jon Avlon reacts to the demise of the Benator with the creakiest of cliches, the “all the moderates are leaving” piece. Just as awful as you might expect. Particularly annoying is this bit:

There was a time when divided government did not mean dysfunctional government. The presence of conservative Democrats and progressive Republicans helped ensure that cross-aisle coalitions could be formed to find solutions on the most pressing issues of the day, from the Marshall Plan to the Interstate Highway System to civil rights.

He’s talking about a fairly long stretch here, from the 1940s through the 1960s, but much of that time was completely characterized by failing to “find solutions to the most pressing issues of the day.” Such as, for example, civil rights. Because a dysfunctional Congress allowed Southern Democrats to tie up legislation that had clear majorities behind it for years and years.

Hey, I liked Ben Nelson. I have no problems at all with the occasional nonentity in the Senate. And I do think it’s generally a good thing when parties nominate moderates to allow them to compete in ideologically hostile territory. But, c’mon; no one is actually going to miss the Benator, who was hardly the type of Senator who helps solve “the most pressing issues of the day.”

Oh, and the historic 111th Congress, for all its polarization, was far more productive than any postwar Congress through 1962, at least. You know, legislating in the US is hard. It’s always been hard. It’s designed that way. It was hard before Ben Nelson, hard while he was around, and it’ll be hard after he’s gone. But it’s very difficult, I’d say, to make the case that Nelson did very much to make it easier.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.