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Senate 'Secret Santa' Effort Won't Actually Solve America's Problems, According To Political Science

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First Posted: 12/01/11 12:12 PM ET Updated: 12/01/11 06:00 PM ET

The U.S. Senate hasn't enjoyed much acclaim of late. Mired in gridlock and saddled with record-low approval ratings, Senators need to demonstrate that they are capable of doing something that won't disintegrate into a dust cloud of rancor and incompetence. But what can they do? Well, the holiday season is upon us -- should they maybe try doing one of those "Secret Santa" things that epitomize Yuletide-forced fun? Sure, why not. But will it fix everything? Shockingly, it may not!

According to this Reuters report, Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) are trying to set up a "Secret Santa" gift exchange with the members of their august body, and while "no one predicts" the effort "will unleash unprecedented bipartisan tidings of comfort and joy," it's still seen as a "political test" of whether senators can do anything at all that does not end in everyone setting fire to one another. So far, Franken and Johanns have signed up 58 members, so this is still two votes short of cloture.

This may be one of the only pieces of political reporting you'll read all year that doesn't hang mostly on the "on background" remarks of anonymous sources, so that's nice. You'll therefore learn that Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) is "cynical" about this, and that Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), "at first," was worried that the effort was "too gimmicky." But my favorite part of the story, by far, is this section:

Paul Sracic, a political science professor at Youngstown State University, does not expect much from the initiative.

"This conflict between the two parties is not just a misunderstanding that can be solved by them getting to know each other a little better," he said.

Wonderful. Typically, political reporters pore over every insignificant twitch in every insignificant poll as if they were ancient practitioners of augury, make blithe assertions (such as: negative campaign ads turn off independent voters) that are not founded in fact, and chase down every little bit of speculative befuddlement at the constant expense of basic electoral fundamentals -- all of which demonstrates a basic level of contempt for political science. But when it comes to finding out whether a Christmas gift exchange might be the key to alleviating all of Congress' problems, now we've got to get a political scientist on the phone!

At any rate, I wish our senators all the best in their attempt to manufacture Christmas cheer, but what I'd really like to know is how I can get hooked up with the Federal Reserve's "Secret Santa" exchange, which seems much, much cooler.

[Hat Tip: Jim Newell]

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