When Partisanship Trumps Patriotism

When even Fox News anchors accuse John Boehner of a “major breach” of U.S. foreign policy, you can safely assume that Boehner has taken a giant step too far.

Both Chris Wallace and Shepherd Smith have joined other media commentators and harshly criticized both Boehner and Netanyahu for making secret plans to have the Israeli Prime Minister address Congress—to make a speech critical of the Administration’s Iran policies.

Long-standing rules of protocol for foreign visits require White House involvement and sign-off. In this case, the White House was not only bypassed, but as several media sources noted, the entire Administration was intentionally kept in the dark.

In a major departure from what used to be considered patriotic behavior, Boehner and the GOP have invited a foreign leader to use the floor of Congress to bash an American President.

The policies involved are irrelevant. Millions of Americans were deeply opposed to George W. Bush’s foreign policy decisions. If Democrats had invited a foreign leader to Congress, without letting the White House know, to deliver an address critical of Bush’s policies, Republicans—and most patriotic Americans, including Democrats—would justifiably have found that conduct close to traitorous.

It used to be a given that partisan politics stopped at the water’s edge; that in foreign affairs, we were all Americans. Our policy disputes, no matter how bitter, were rightly seen to be internal arguments. Until now, the behavior Boehner has exhibited would have been unthinkable—on both sides of the aisle.

I’m 73 years old, and I’ve followed politics closely for over fifty of those years. Never in my adult life have I seen a President subjected to the level of disrespect that has been shown to Barack Obama. Even FDR, who certainly aroused deep animosity, didn’t have to deal with the level of pure over-the-top hatred shown to this President. I can only conclude that the election of an African-American President has driven a substantial percentage of white America over the mental edge, to the point where they are willing to undermine their own country if that’s what it takes to show their contempt for its President.

This behavior has to stop.

Barack Obama is THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Deal with it. Love him or hate him—agree with his policies or despise them—feel rage or elation over the fact that a black guy handily won two national elections—the occupant of the Oval Office is entitled to respect.

And We the People are entitled to public servants who understand that the rules apply to them whether their party is in power or not– who understand the need to put aside personal pettiness and partisan vindictiveness when they reach the water’s edge.

Wages, Poverty and Civic Participation

Pew’s Research Center recently noted that financial insecurity has a range of what it called “secondary effects” for communities, including diminished participation in civic and political life.

The question that immediately occurred to me was: is this a feature, or a bug?

Ever since Ronald Reagan identified government as the problem rather than the solution, the ascendant radical right has worked tirelessly (and successfully) to remove or reduce the social supports available to poor Americans through government.  At the same time, the GOP has worked to discourage or suppress the votes of those same Americans.

In today’s America, the financially secure have what political scientists call “voice.” Even before Citizens United and its progeny, the well-to-do could and did donate huge sums to favored politicians. The corporations that are “people”(!) can and do hire well-connected lobbyists to ensure that their interests are represented in the halls of power. As Pew has now pointed out, the financially secure are also much more likely to vote.

Voting is the only way financially insecure folks have voice. If enough poor people voted, it would be much more difficult to fashion a government protective of privilege. Keeping poor folks from the polls is thus in the (short term) interest of the well-off.

As Pete, who frequently comments here has pointed out, these aspects of our civic landscape are not the hallmarks of a democracy; they are the attributes of oligarchy.

One problem with oligarchy is that its goals tend to be both short-term and short-sighted.

If we don’t reverse course soon, if we don’t take the boots of the advantaged off the necks of the impoverished and give disheartened Americans a reason to participate in their own self-government,  that short-sighted focus on the next quarterly statement and disregard of the long-term good will take us all down.

Oligarchs included.

 

Bring Back Government

Washington Monthly recently reported on a new book by Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay, and its review by John DiIulio.

Neither of them can be considered politically liberal. Fukuyama is best known for his book The End of History and his association with the rise of the neoconservative movement. DiIulio, late of George W. Bush’s Office of Faith Based and Community Organizations is, as the Monthly noted, a

scholar of government as an institution, and it is in that capacity that he expands on Fukuyama’s critique of modern governments, including that of the United States, as increasingly ineffective not because of excessive size, but because their bureaucrats serve too many masters, including client groups and private interests. And both Fukuyama and DiIulio hold that Americans’ distinctive mistrust of government has kept it from redeeming the hopes and plans of the Progressive Era reformers who sought to give the public sector its own sense of mission and esprit de corps.

DiIulio is concerned that “third party government”–the outsourcing of federal government responsibilities to state and local governments and to private contractors– is making government less accountable as well as less effective.

I have been making this point for years, along with many other scholars, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I agree with this diagnosis, and with DiIulio’s prescription:

There are many steps on the path to reversing America’s political decay by proxy. We need to reinvent federal grants-in-aid to the states, drain the federal for-profit contracting swamps, and wring more public value from grants to nonprofits. But we also quite simply need to hire more federal bureaucrats. The federal bureaucracy is more nearly the solution than the problem. In Bring Back the Bureaucrats, I crudely calculated that we need about one million more full-time federal workers by 2035 in order to serve the public, stop draining its purse, start improving performance, and create an actual system of national public administration.

Most reasonable people can see the problem that DiIulio describes very clearly:

America’s political decay is fed daily by public disdain for public servants and fueled each election season by bovine congresspersons in both parties who score points with voters by bashing “the bureaucrats” and “running against Washington.” The first step toward slowing or reversing America’s political decay is to recognize how for-profit contractors and other administrative proxies have rigged the system in their own interest, expand the federal civil service, and start treating federal bureaucrats as if our public well-being depended on them—for it does.

Unfortunately, the “bovine” folks in charge of Congress are so deep into batshit crazy territory, I doubt anyone will listen. 

 

Are We Crazy?

A recent article posted to the website Alternet posed a simple question: Are Americans crazy?

In my long nomadic life, I’ve had the good fortune to live, work, or travel in all but a handful of countries on this planet.  I’ve been to both poles and a great many places in between, and nosy as I am, I’ve talked with people all along the way. I still remember a time when to be an American was to be envied. The country where I grew up after World War II seemed to be respected and admired around the world for way too many reasons to go into here….

In the early fall of 2014, I traveled from my home in Oslo, Norway, through much of Eastern and Central Europe. Everywhere I went in those two months, moments after locals realized I was an American the questions started and, polite as they usually were, most of them had a single underlying theme: Have Americans gone over the edge? Are you crazy? Please explain.

The author goes on to detail the issues that make America a “puzzlement” to the rest of the world, and I encourage you to click through and read the whole depressing thing.

The takeaway–at least for me–was that this question isn’t just being posed to the six million Americans who live abroad. Increasingly, it is a question that the dwindling numbers of reasonable Americans are asking each other here at home.

How do we explain the various buffoons and zealots holding public office, and the widespread disengagement from the democratic process that placed them there? How do we explain the contempt for poor Americans that characterizes debates about healthcare, poverty and the growth of inequality? How do we explain widespread rejection of science, the backlash against women’s rights, the refusal to do anything about mounting student debt, or even to recognize that education is a public good? How can we possibly defend letting our infrastructure crumble? Or explain the respectful attention generated by chickenhawks intent upon taking us into war after war? (Yes, Lindsay Graham, I’m looking at you and John McCain and the other “heirs” of Dick Cheney.)

If all of this isn’t crazy–if Americans aren’t in the grip of national psychosis– what is it?

 

 

 

Wow..Talk About Your Double Standards!

The Supreme Court recently announced it will hear pending same-sex marriage cases, prompting the increasingly unhinged American Family Association to issue a press release titled “Kagan and Ginsburg: Recuse Yourselves!”

Both of these justices’ personal and private actions that actively endorse gay marriage clearly indicate how they would vote on same-sex marriage cases before the Supreme Court,” said AFA President Tim Wildmon. “Congress has directed that federal judicial officers must disqualify themselves from hearing cases in specified circumstances. Both Kagan and Ginsburg have not only been partial to same-sex marriage but they have also proven themselves to be activists in favor of it. In order to ensure the Court’s integrity and impartiality, both should recuse themselves from same-sex marriage cases. Congress has an obligation to Americans to see that members of the Supreme Court are held to the highest standards of integrity. The law demands it, and the people deserve it.

Because Scalia and Thomas haven’t given us any hints about their approach to the subject..cough, cough. (One of Scalia’s sons directs an Ex-gay “reparative therapy” group, and has declared that homosexuality doesn’t really exist.)

A few observations: first, judges (including Scalia) are entitled to have personal opinions. What we have a right to expect is that they will render decisions based upon precedent and sound constitutional analysis, rather than twisting their legal analyses to fit their policy preferences. (Hint: Ginsburg and Kagan are not the Justices most often accused of that behavior.)

Second–where were these defenders of “high standards of integrity” when their fellow-travelers Scalia and Thomas had frequent, obvious and quite real conflicts of interest?

Both Scalia and Thomas accepted speaking engagements (including cushy travel and accommodations) before ideological groups funded by the Koch brothers, although there were cases pending before the Court in which the Kochs were deeply interested.

Scalia went hunting with then Vice-President Cheney at the same time that Cheney was party to a case before the Court (another one of his sons technically worked for Cheney at the same time, as top lawyer in the Bush Administration’s Labor Department); Thomas has refused to recuse himself in cases where the outcome was very important to the (ideological) organization employing his wife. If a lower court judge refused to recuse under such circumstances, that judge would be sanctioned under the rules cited by the AFA.

I have news for the AFA: being a nice human being while serving on the Supreme Court (the conduct of which Kagan and Ginsberg are guilty) is not how we define a conflict of interest. Even being an narcissistic asshole (Scalia) or a petulant advocate of long-discarded constitutional theories  (Thomas) while serving on the Court is not a conflict.

Refusing to recuse yourself from cases in which you or your spouse have a direct financial interest, or from cases to which your hunting buddy is a party, is.