Terence Samuel

Terence Samuel is a Prospect senior correspondent and the author of The Upper House: A Journey behind the Closed Doors of the U.S. Senate, published in May by Palgrave Macmillan. Follow him on Twitter.

Recent Articles

Does Franken Solve the Filibuster Problem?

Don't break out the champagne quite yet: The Democrats' supermajority is just as much a curse as it is a blessing.

When Al Franken is sworn in as the new junior senator from Minnesota next week, there will be endless talk about the long interregnum between Election Day and his oath-taking. People will chatter about his unlikely journey from Saturday Night Live funnyman to the U.S. Senate. And there will be even more talk about how his victory gives Democrats the 60 votes they need to end GOP filibusters and tighten their grip on the Senate. But nothing is quite what it seems. While these things are all true, they will turn out to be less consequential than they now appear. For starters, the long battle leading up to Franken's victory is an oddity, but it's certainly not novel. In 1974 when Louis Wyman and John Durkin ended up in a dead heat for a New Hampshire Senate seat, it fell to the state Senate itself to sort things out -- the body took 11 months to decide it could not choose a winner and call for a new election. For much of that time, Durkin and Wyman sat at the back of the Senate chamber...

A Governor Undone by Love

Forget the broader implications for the GOP -- Mark Sanford's public breakdown was a human drama all its own.

Mark Sanford's press conference on Wednesday -- the most recent in what seems like a weekly series of GOP infidelity apologies -- made for riveting television; the more you listened to the South Carolina governor, the less interesting the story's political implications became compared to the raw human drama of a man getting crushed by the consequences of falling in love. Sanford's sudden implosion seems that the political fates have decided that to save the GOP they must destroy it, or, in their own parlance, the party must be born again. Sanford was that rare figure who fought at the barricades of the GOP revolution in 1994 and who survived its collapse with enough credibility intact to think about a future. And while Sanford's very public act of contrition fits the ongoing theme of GOP disintegration, the press conference itself represented a stark evolution in the political-apology genre. Sanford did things people in his position never do: He admitted that he was in love and that...

Nothing Stays in Vegas

It's a safe bet that Sen. John Ensign will survive his affair scandal. The Republican Party's odds are not so good.

Were I a betting man, I would take even odds that Sen. John Ensign of Nevada survives this week's admission that he had an affair with a woman on his staff, who is married to a man on his staff. Sordid, yes -- but not as politically damaging as it once was. There has been so much recent history of this kind of behavior that voters seem to be already factoring in the potential for personal indiscretion in how they assess politicians. The list of rehabilitated philanderers is long, with Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich right at the top. Because he got busted by reporters, because he may be denying his own kid, because he still comes across as a little too slick, it may take a while longer, but I suspect that John Edwards is probably on his way to rehabilitation, too. Among sitting senators, there is at least one other openly contrite adulterer, David Vitter, who is probably doing the I'm-so-glad-it's-no-longer-me dance right now. Indeed, given the current circumstances, the Ensign affair...

Who's Afraid of Virginia Primaries?

Relax, political junkies: Virginia's gubernatorial primary doesn't quite mean what you think it does.

Virginia Democrats chose their nominee for governor this week, and the unexpected choice has set off a huge debate about what the results mean for the party going into the 2010 midterm elections. The answer may be "not as much as we think." But it's hard to convince political junkies that the results of one election do not reveal deep and important truths about the next. Working from that premise, the Virginia results may suggest that Democrats have reason to worry. In fact, the stronger evidence is that the party is making choices as sophisticated as it did in 2008. The bad news is that the invigorated Virginia Democratic Party may have hit the snooze button after finally beating the Republicans in a presidential election for the first time since 1964. Only 6 percent of eligible voters showed up for the gubernatorial primary, and then they chose a candidate based on "electability." For Democrats, that generally means a centrist candidate whom independents will find attractive and...

Can a Speech Change the World?

In his Cairo address, Barack Obama sought to transform the way the United States engages with the Muslim world.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at Cairo University in Cairo, Thursday, June 4, 2009. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
We are now almost completely used to the idea of the Big Obama Speech, a dramatic political event with game-changing implications. The history on the topic is short but convincing: There was the Des Moines speech after his Iowa primary victory, the Philadelphia speech on race, the Denver speech at the Democratic National Convention, and a long list of anticipated, if now-forgotten, economic speeches delivered in the heat of the financial meltdown. After each of these, there was a sense Obama had taken us somewhere we hadn't been before -- that he had explained the unexplainable and that he had given voice to some essential truth. Yesterday was no different. The general sense is that Obama has rewritten the rules of engaging with the Muslim world. Even the president seems to have bought into the idea that his speeches represent certain landmarks; he refers to "my Prague speech" and "my speech in Turkey." And no doubt what we saw yesterday will be forever known as "the Cairo speech." It...