Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bits and Pieces

Pornography and Power:
Michelle Bachmann signed a pledge from an outfit called the Family Leader.  Now this bigoted, un - American pledge has a number of ugly provisions, but one of the more problematic of them is that she will seek an unconditional ban on Pornography.  This is a very bad thing on a number of different levels.

First, political candidates should be disqualified for signing pledges.  It puts them in a position where they are promising to never consider new information or conditions, but to hew to a previously determined belief structure no matter what might happen in the future.  We certainly do not need a head of state who is constrained by a set of political promises made to special interest groups during the campaign.  I suppose, in this context, it's actually a good thing that politicians have traditionally been willing to abandon campaign promises at the first hint of political expediency.

Second, again, these are people whose core ideology is to reduce the cost, size and footprint of the federal government.  But here once again, we find them embarrassingly willing to spend taxpayer dollars to enlist the overwhelming power of American governance to restrict specific liberties that they find objectionable.  I know it has gotten painfully redundant to point out the repeated hypocrisy of the American Political Right, but at some point it just seems like their constituency should demand some basic level of consistency in their agenda and message.

But the real problem here is actually a larger one, and one that crosses political and philosophical belief systems.  As much as Americans like to invoke the constitution and the American form of liberal democracy, it seems that a very large percentage of them, indeed, a majority even, do not have even a first grader's understanding of how it functions.  In most liberal democracies, the head of state is mostly a figurehead, with very little actual power.  Now, in the US system, where the head of state is also the head of government, the President actually has more power than most of his international peers, and over the last quarter century has accrued even more than he is entitled to.  But in the end, the President can only set the agenda.  He cannot change the constitution, create a federal statute or appropriate funds.  Certainly, in international affairs he retains greater flexibility of action, but when it comes to domestic legislation, he is ultimately powerless.

Just as  GW Bush was unable to privatize Social Security, and just as Obama is unable to allocate further expansionary fiscal policy, a putative President Bachmann would be unable to create new laws regarding the production and distribution of adult media.  This is a particularly difficult area, due to the First Amendment concerns it raises, and has been an argument between legislators and the Judiciary for decades, if not longer.

But this is something that politicians understand intimately, and the people never seem to truly grasp.  If you want to influence policy, the President is an ineffective vehicle with which to do so.  Lobbyists and political professionals have understood since the dawn of representative government that you influence policy by achieving legislative and judicial majorities.  As long as the people think they are electing a monarch instead of a President, they will always be disappointed by his inability to effect real policy changes - and these sorts of pledges that ask a Presidential candidate to promise to implement policy change that is beyond her legal purview will only continue to raise unrealistic expectations.

The Debt Ceiling Negotiations
Now that the destructive reality of this massive self-inflicted wound is starting to sink in, let's not let history and events obfuscate the fundamental blunder.  This should NEVER have become a negotiation at all.  Ask yourself, why is it the policy of the United States to refuse to negotiate with hostage takers?  The President could have said, from the very beginning, "I will not negotiate economic policy under threat of the destruction of the economy".  Everyone would have understood what he was saying, and after an appropriate amount of bluster and name-calling, the congress would have voted to raise the debt limit like they always do.  But by accepting the premise that an increase in the debt ceiling was an outcome preferred by only his party, and accepting further that his party would be expected to give something up in exchange for the votes to pass the increase, Obama created a whole new paradigm in the American political process.  We now accept as a viable option in major legislative negotiation for one side to threaten to just burn down the entire house if they don't get their way.

One can't help but hearken back to the end of the odious GW Bush years, when it appeared that the Republican response to that debacle of governance would be to simply decide he was just too far to the left, and to push ideologically extreme right wing 'conservatives' into the party mainstream.  I remember how we shook our heads and concluded that they ultimately just couldn't do that, as it would destroy their viability as a national party.  Alas, as it turned out, both things could be true, but the unanticipated outcome would be that they would becomme a kind of political suicide bomber, willing to take the country down with them when they failed.

South Sudan
Congratulations.  Now stand by for the horrific tragedy.  It is, once again, the same lesson, still unlearned.  A nation without some strong and stable institutions of governance cannot be governed, and will not survive.  Giving everyone a ballot in war and dictator ravaged Iraq resulted only in the Tyranny of the Majority, and an authoritarian kleptocratic despot, because there was no superstructure of independent governance to build on.  Places like Afghanistan and Somalia have never been functional nations, because they are not nations in any fundamental way except in an atlas.  They are completely artificial constructs, with groups of unrelated, often hostile people forced to claim the same nationalist identity - and again, there is simply no basis for developing the institutions of governance.  Not only is democracy impossible, but even some sort of benign dictatorship cannot be achieved.

South Sudan has every problem any nation can have, all at once.  Grinding poverty.  Tribal animosity.  Ethnic and sectarian divisions.  Decades of war and hate.  Resource wealth.  No infrastructure, no economy, no system for education.  Who thinks 7000 angry, desultory and heavily armed UN 'Peacekeepers' will do anything to change the obvious and oft - repeated calculation?


  1. The President could have said, from the very beginning, "I will not negotiate economic policy under threat of the destruction of the economy".

    Yes, indeed.

    But the Republicans knew 1) he wouldn't, and 2) that our corporate media would spin for their side, no matter how corrosive.

    And so, here we are.

  2. miket, what's the difference between signing a pledge or making any number of other campaign promises?

    the Constitution is pretty clear on qualifications regarding candidates for political office... and the proper response to people signing pledges that one finds obnoxious is to withhold your support and/or work against their election... or even, should Bachmann be elected, work frantically to find a way to flee the planet.

  3. sorry for mangling your handle...poor typing skills and no offense intended

  4. there certainly is too far right to be anything but all too wrong.