An excerpt ran in the Wall Street Journal:

Ben Sasse on the Senate


From Sen. Ben Sasse’smaiden speech on the Senate floor, Nov. 3:

I’m home basically every weekend, and what I hear—and what I’m sure most of you hear—is some version of this: A pox on both parties and all your houses. We don’t believe politicians are even trying to fix this mess. To the Republicans, to those who claim this new majority is leading the way: Few believe that. To the grandstanders who use this institution as a platform for outside pursuits: Few believe the country’s needs are as important to you as your ambitions. To the Democrats, who did this body harm through nuclear tactics: Few believe bare-knuckled politics are a substitute for principled governing. And does anyone doubt that many on both the right and the left now salivate for more of these radical tactics? The people despise us all.

And why is this? Because we’re not doing the job we were sent here to do. The Senate isn’t tackling the great national problems that worry those we work for. . . .

There are good and bad reasons to be unpopular. A good reason would be to suffer for waging an honorable fight for the long-term that has near-term political downsides—like telling seniors the sobering truth that they’ve paid in far less for their Social Security and Medicare than they are currently getting back.

But we all know deep down that the political class is unpopular not because of our relentless truth-telling, but because of politicians’ habit of regularized pandering to those who already agree with us. The sound-bite culture—whether in our 90-second TV stand-ups in the Russell rotunda, in our press releases, in the habits honed in campaigns—is everywhere around us.

This is the very reductionism—the short-termism—that this institution was explicitly supposed to guard against. The “Senate” is a word with two meanings—it is the 100 of us as a group, a community, a “body” (that’s an important metaphor); and it is this physical chamber. The Senate is what we call this special room in which we assemble to debate the really big things. . . .

But bizarrely, we don’t really do this very much here. We don’t have many actual debates. This is a place that would be difficult today to describe as “the greatest deliberative body in the world”—something that has often been true historically. . . .

Perhaps I should pause to acknowledge that an introductory speech like this makes me nervous. Talking about the recovery of more honest, Socratic debate runs the risk, I fully recognize, of being written off as overly romantic, as naïve idealism. To add to the discomfort, I’m brand new to politics and 99th in seniority.

But talking bluntly about what is not working in the Senate in recent decades is actually not naïve idealism, but aspirational realism. Here’s why: I believe that a cultural recovery inside the Senate is a partial prerequisite for a national recovery. I don’t think that generational problems like the absence of a long-term strategy for combating jihad and cyber-war; like telling the truth about entitlement overpromising; like developing new human capital and job retraining strategies for the emerging era of much more rapid job change—I don’t think these long-term problems are solvable without a functioning Senate. And a functioning Senate is a place that rejects short-termism, both in substance and in tone.