Ben Nelson Doesn’t Care What You Think of Nebraska

Matt Yglesias makes the point today that “Ben Nelson Has Apparently Learned Nothing.” Nelson, you’ll remember, was the Democrat that last night voted against continuing debate on the Financial Regulation bill in the Senate, defeating it (for the time being) and winning the day for Republicans who can now claim they have bi-partisan support against it. This was pretty transparently a case of Nelson bowing to his richest constituent, the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet, who wanted a loophole inserted in the bill that would’ve brought his company even bigger profits.

Yglesias (emphasis mine):

Has Nelson forgotten how the Cornhusker Kickback saga played out? That it became a huge embarrassment for him personally, for his party, and for his state? These close votes on big issues are a great opportunity for Senators with specific policy priorities to get things done. It’s an opportunity that Nelson squandered on health care by asking for something petty and squalid, and it’s something he seems to want to squander anew with this purely parochial concern for the interests of his richest constituent.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think Ben Nelson cares that much about what the rest of the country thinks about Nebraska. He shouldn’t. The immediate impact of state reputation is probably in reducing interest from those in other states in visiting and/or moving to Nebraska. Let’s assume that already, most of the people who move to Nebraska do so for very specific reasons, like going to school there or getting a job there. Having a Senator who’s looking out uniquely for that state at the expense of his own reputation in the Senate isn’t a real downer toward those interests.

As far as tourism, I speak as someone from the middle states: if you’re planning a vacation in Nebraska, you’re not going to change those plans because “oh, that’s the state where they have that pro-derivatives Senator who stopped health care reform!” My experience tells me that if you’re vacationing in Nebraska, you’re either a) already in Nebraska or b) nearby with a real desire to see Car Henge. (Thanks, Dad). No amount of obstructionist behavior in the Senate is going to turn that car around.

Beyond all of that, any Senator from Nebraska whose name is known outside of Nebraska for reasons of political activity is a boon to Nebraska. Ben Nelson isn’t an embarrassment to Nebraska. He’s their Bob Dole. There’s almost no incentive for him to vote against the interest of his richest constituent; so long as Nebraska is happy with him, what does he care what anyone else thinks? He wasn’t going to win Democrat of the Year anyway.

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