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Richard A. Arenberg: Staff to Senators Paul Tsongas, George Mitchell and Carl Levin

Richard Arenberg

“When you spend a lot of time in the Senate, you come to realize, as I always say, that these offices are 100 feudal fiefdoms, each with its own prince or princess, and its own currency, its own structure, its own culture.”

Describing what makes the Senate so unique, Richard Arenberg discusses the challenges of studying the institution with Senate historian Donald Ritchie.


ARENBERG: In some ways the Senate can be, as you know, kind of opaque. Analyzing the Senate, looking at vote studies and that sort of thing, can be very illuminating, but it’s also like staring in from the outside through a small window. Sometimes the glass isn’t even all that clear as to what’s going on inside. I think even those that have spent some time here, on fellowships or spent a few years here maybe, I think miss some of the deeper impacts that Rule XXII has on the way this place operates. From my perspective, it’s very profound. It’s central to why the Senate is such a unique institution and its almost unique status as an upper body in the world. It’s about the only place where the upper body is arguably more powerful than the lower body in a national legislature. I think the filibuster has a lot to do with that.

RITCHIE: And the relationship between the two houses is an interesting factor in that. People tend to study one or the other, but it’s really the point/counterpoint that actually goes on, the strategies that need be considered in the House because of the unusual circumstance in the Senate.

ARENBERG:Dick Fenno did that marvelous little book. I forget the exact title but it was something like The Senate, A Bicameral Perspective, or something like that. I always felt it was great but it was too brief. That really needed to be expanded into a full scale look at the Congress. I agree with you, it’s so difficult to study these two bodies. I think you’re caught as an academic trying to study the quantitative aspects like how many votes, and how many holds, how many bills were introduced, and how many passed, things that they try to do to come up with this kind of quantitative, scientific analysis. Then if you try to do something that’s more contextual, you wind up with a case study. When you spend a lot of time in the Senate, you come to realize, as I always say, that these offices are 100 feudal fiefdoms, each with its own prince or princess, and its own currency, its own structure, its own culture. There are some marvelous studies. There was one on [Edmund] Muskie, the name escapes me now—

RITCHIE: By Bernard Asbell.

ARENBERG: Yes, great book. Then I think it was Liz Drew that did one on [John] Culver. That’s a great book. There are lots of fascinating books that way that really got at what was going on in a particular Senate office. But it’s very difficult to generalize from that. I could write three volumes just trying to compare and contrast the three senators I worked for, and you multiply that by 100 in any given time, even more than that, it makes it very difficult to study this institution.

 
  

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