The conventional wisdom in politics is that one thing matters to a politician: getting re-elected. That, in turn, depends on two things: votes and money. Often, these two things are inextricably intertwined: the money is used to finance campaigns that garner the politician votes. Where does the money come from? Organized interests who hope to influence the politician’s vote in Congress. If the politician doesn’t vote the way the interest group would like, he or she can expect that the financial contributions will dry up almost immediately.
But political calculations are sometimes more complicated, and sometimes we learn that our Senators cannot be bought and sold quite so easily. Exhibit A: Chris Dodd, the Democratic Senator from Connecticut, who has received $774,000 from health insurers during the last two decades, but who currently supports a public insurance option that those same insurers strongly oppose. What explains this dramatic break from the conventional wisdom? Dodd got involved in a mortgage scandal that has harmed his credibility and threatened his prospects for re-election in 2010.
How does a politician get re-elected? Money and votes. Well, specifically, votes. The money just helps to secure those votes, and the health insurers aren’t going to be able to give Dodd the amount of money he needs to restore his public image. So, he has returned to his Democratic base and is championing the public option in hopes that he will put himself back in the good graces of the electorate in Connecticut. Is he burning bridges with the insurance industry? Probably not. Sure, they’ll be less than happy about a public option, but access to a Senator is too valuable to forgo.
If you want to read the full details of this story, see Tim Noah’s piece here.