Saturday, October 30, 2010


(The news is bad because the media is worse. For a price, much of the press is no longer free. For the neo-Constitutionalists among us, that news is good; the only report some of them like to hear is the sound of a discharging gun.)

Item 1: In the course of the 2010 election campaign, Tea Party candidates have shown themselves to be proto-crypto, anti-democratic types for whom we have no good name and who have no coherent or cogent philosophy or programs. They exploit the anger and ignorance of American citizens who, dumbed-down, are democracy-adverse. No surprise: the justification of any political system is popular satisfaction. With most Americans dissatisfied, democracy is an endangered political species in the United States.

Tea Party candidates may be running for office, but they are running from their positions, their past, the press, and, most important, the people who must make a choice on Election Day. The ironic hypocrisy is that Tea Party candidates have complained that establishment candidates are out of touch with the American people while they are avoiding contact with them.

Candidates who refuse to describe and defend their positions know that they cannot justify them or attract voters if they try. Candidates who refuse to discuss their past know that they have something to hide. Worse, such candidates once elected by dodging communications with their constituents will ignore them and their interests to vote an ignorant, thus damaging, economic agenda, and a narrow, mean-spirited moral agenda.

The new electoral dynamic is the mix of gerrymandering which promotes partisan ideological purity and political primaries which implement it. Gerrymandering will redraw boundaries not only for federal elections, but also for state elections. I expect it to make many state legislatures more conservative and thus more likely to repeal some amendments to the Constitution and adopt some radical amendments. Control of primaries will mean greater and more inflexible control of candidates before and after election, with large dollops of money from unknown sources added into the brew. There is no end in sight of the beginning of the end of democracy. The putsch is in progress.

At the risk of appearing anti-Catholic—I am not—I note that the five justices on the Supreme Court who voted for unrestricted funds in the Citizens United case were all Catholic. It seems that the old Catholic doctrine of equivocation—remember Macbeth?—has returned to re-assert itself with a vengeance. All five were nominated as judicial conservatives, which usually means jurists who follow precedents (under the doctrine known as stare decisis). For the last two nominees, Roberts and Alito, simply lied—pace “equivocation”—to the Senate about their convictions, which are politically rather than legally motivated. Happily, the one remaining Catholic member of the court, Sonia Sotomayor, proved to be the true judicial conservative in standing by previous decisions.

Item 2: Although Obama is more popular than either chamber of Congress and both chambers together, and more productive in his first two years than almost any other president in history, he has succeeded in demoralizing ardent supporters and in alienating independent voters. His lack of passion is the smallest part of the problem. His lack of convictions, which explains his lack of courage, on tough, especially on moral, issues is a larger part. His failures to work in a clearly bipartisan manner—mostly talk, little walk—; to solicit diverse views as he promised; and to provide full and frequent rationales for his initiatives and innovations are larger still. But largest of all is his failure to be, and appear to be, a reasonable but also a strong leader. The midterm election results will be a referendum, fair or unfair, on his presidency; it will be a repudiation of him and his style even more than his positions and accomplishments. He has only himself to blame; blaming Republicans only, even mainly, will be an abdication of responsibility for his personal deficiencies and political failures, relief from either of which is not impending.

From the start, Obama has opposed Congressional investigations, administration action, and judicial proceedings on every human rights/civil rights abuses committed by his predecessor. Although he has ruled out some of the worst kinds of criminal conduct on his watch, he has not re-affirmed the rule of law by prosecutions of past offenses or proposals of new laws, and thereby has let past criminal conduct stand as precedent. His abhorrence is no deterrent to their resurrection by a subsequent administration. He has failed to close Guantanamo Bay prison facilities, has accepted and advocated indefinite incarceration of “enemy combatants” with little or no legal recourse, and has proposed no legislation to guide current and future anti-terrorist conduct in accordance with law.

Obama’s failure to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by accepting court decisions ruling against it on Constitutional grounds reflects both moral bankruptcy and political inanity. In this instance, his idea that Congress should repeal this law amounts to abandoning his declared purpose to end DADT. Consider the repeal effort thus far. The House repealed it largely on a party-line vote dominated by the Democratic majority; the Senate failed to repeal it largely because of Republican opposition. The new Congress will have a House dominated by Republicans and a Senate unduly influenced by strident homophobes. By contrast, many past administrations have joined in Supreme Court cases to overrule previous federal laws. Obama’s belief that he must support laws which he purports to oppose and which the courts have up-ended makes little legal, political, or moral sense. What does he want?

Item 3: The biggest moral issue is American foreign policy in the Middle East. There were good reasons to end the war in Iraq; there were no good reasons to continue the war in Afghanistan. In the latter country, the U. S. ousted Al Qaeda and had little reason to think that a return of the Taliban would inevitably lead to a return of Al Qaeda. When Obama took office, Al Qaeda had about 100 activists in the country; nearly two years later, it has thousands there, with many more thousands just across the border in Pakistan. U. S. efforts in Afghanistan have been self-defeating; U. S. involvement in Pakistan has been increasingly counter-productive. What does Obama hope to achieve?

Finally, Obama has been at his worst in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. He can be a better friend to Israel by demanding that Israel cease all development in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and by enforcing those demands by progressively more severe reductions of economic, financial, and military support. At the same time, he must demand good conduct from Fatah and Hamas if it wishes to have U. S. recognition of and support for Palestinian statehood. But does he have the nerve to make the case to American Jews?

Item 4: Obama will have enormous difficulty correcting for his major strategic mistake: helping corporations and capitalists, not focusing on the people most affected by the economic collapse: those who had lost jobs or were in danger of losing them, and those who had lost their homes or were in danger of losing them. Even in executing his top-down strategy, he could have achieved structural reforms in the financial industry, not by law, but by the terms and conditions of loans to financial institutions requiring an infusion of funds to survive. But lacking the most fundamental negotiating skills, Obama has demonstrated that he is far more impractical than idealistic. I wonder whether I am alone in finding his negotiating approach—give away what the other side wants before it gets what his side wants—bizarre.

And unsettling and unpromising. In the face of determined Republican opposition in both chambers of Congress, and with Republican control of the House, which originates or refuses to originate revenue legislation, Obama has little control over the legislative agenda for the next two years. Mitch McConnell and John Boehner may be unpopular faces of Republican resistance, but Obama must do more than merely highlight their lack of interest in bipartisanship, especially since the Tea Party regards it as a form of backsliding and betrayal (loop back to the first item). Indeed, the Republican Party now evinces an inherent belief in its Devine Right to Rule. The manifestation of this belief will first appear is a series of investigations into the Obama administration and lead to House impeachment, an action thereby against the second consecutive Democratic president and, again, for the legal, moral, and political equivalent of zits, not your Constitutional “high crimes and misdemeanors.” My conclusion: the Republican Party is committed, or moving inexorably, to end of popular democracy and establish one-party rule.

And so I end where I began.

My predictions about some of the controversial campaigns offer few surprises. My one upset pick is the Senate race in Kentucky, where, I think, Paul will suffer more from the graphic display of his followers’ violence than Conway has suffered from his attack on Paul’s past. (Note that neither of these candidates, like many elsewhere, evinces anything like dignity or decorum. Almost alone in that category: Chris Coons of Delaware. Full disclosure: I gave my mite to his campaign and his only.) I doubt that Republicans will acquire a majority of the Senate and have no idea how large their gains will be in the House, but surely enough to take control. However, predict that the margin will be smaller than the media is hyping—a prediction most at risk of error.

Predictions (Winners>Losers):
SENATE: Murkowski or McAdams>Miller (AK), Murry>Rossi (WA), Boxer>Fiorina (CA), Angle>Reid (NV), Buck>Bennett (CO), Kirk>Giannoulias (IL), Conway>Paul (KY), Manchin>Raese (WV), Toomey>Sestak (PA), Coons>O’Donnell (DE), Rubio>Crist or Meek (FL)
HOUSE: Pearce>Teague (NM)
GOVERNOR: Brown>Whitman (CA), Martinez>Denish (NM), Cuomo>Paladino (NY)

Now vote.

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