Partisanship

It is not Dishonorable to be Honorable

Chris Johnson, whom Donald has labeled as Defender of the Faith, sums up my feelings on the Todd Akin affair both here and here. Darwin also has an eminently sensible take. Meanwhile, Akin continues to labor under the delusion that he can still defeat Senator McCaskill this November, bolstered by this preposterously over-Republican sampled poll showing that he maintains a one point lead. Evidently his idiocy extends to issues beyond rape.

What’s remarkable is that a hefty proportion of conservatives are calling for Akin to withdraw. When Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter and (kinda sorta) Rush Limbaugh are all urging you to get out of the race, it’s a sign that it’s not just establishment “RINOs” that have turned against you.

Now I do also think that Levin and our own Bonchamps make good points about Democrat hypocrisy on this issue. That said, those few who continue to defend Akin are relying on the most obnoxious tu quoque strategy in order to justify Akin’s continued presence in the Missouri Senate race. Chris and Dana Loesch have been Akin’s most ardent supporters on twitter. They haven’t necessarily defended his statement, but they have insisted that because Democrats say and do much viler things, and because leftists tend to rally around those Democrats who say and defend stupid things, it’s wrong for conservatives and Republicans to insist that Akin get out. They argue that conservatives opposed to Akin are being cowards who are chickening out in the face of Democrat aggression.

First of all, I would argue that the more cowardly and politically weak-minded thing to do is to essentially cede what should be a fairly easy pick-up for Republicans. More importantly,  blind partisan loyalty is not a virtue to be emulated, and the proper response to gutter politics is not to get in the gutter with your opponents.

Let’s take a look at two comments left on Bonchamps’ post.

Yes women get pregnant from rapes. No your body doesn’t shut that down. If a man ejaculates semen into a woman, she can get pregnant whether it’s consensual or it’s rape. I knew a woman who did indeed get pregnant after being gang raped. It happens. Apparently you folks think rape is a joke. Hardy har.

This was downright erudite in comparison to this one:

i hope all of you get raped and then you can feel what it is like, bunch of hypocrites

If you read the comments on Congressman Akin’s facebook page announcing that he is staying in, you’ll see comments from conservatives supporting him, comments from conservatives politely asking him to step down, and comments from unhinged leftists who think that Akin’s comments are a sign that he and all Republicans want women shackled and subservient. Twitter is alive with comments from the likes of Michael Moore:

Don’t let the Repubs paint Akin as a lone nut. HE is THEM. They all believe this: Gov’t MUST have control over what women do w/ their bodies

This is a sentiment that has been echoed in various corridors.

There’s really no charitable way to put it: these people are obviously out of their gourd. These are people not interested in dialogue, nor or they people who can be reasoned with. Yet these are types of people that Akin supporters, in a sense, want to emulate. Instead of being reviled by the viciousness or ruthlessness of the hyper-partisans on the left, some on the right are consumed with the idea of “fighting fire with fire.”

Don’t get me wrong. The Akin supporters (by and large) have not said anything nearly as dumb or vile as these people. Yet instead of recognizing the behavior of the other side as something anti-social and to be avoided, it’s as though certain conservatives see this, dig in their heels, and insist on playing a somewhat milder version of the same game.

A lot of the people on the right behaving like that think that they are simply following in the path of the late Andrew Breitbart. Breitbart, of course, was largely beloved on the right because of his take no prisoners attitude, and because he had an amazing ability to beat the left at their own game. But there’s a difference between sticking to your guns and blind partisan loyalty. I can sympathize with individuals who believe that Republicans are too soft at times and easily back down from political fights. Yet, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that Republicans actually are willing to hold other Republicans’ feet to the fire. In other words, there is nothing dishonorable about being honorable. I don’t think blind partisanship is something we need more of.

Condescender In Chief

Charles Krauthammer has an excellent column about President Obama’s immigration speech in El Paso the other day.  Here’s a sample:

The El Paso speech is notable not for breaking any new ground on immigration but for perfectly illustrating Obama’s political style: the professorial, almost therapeutic, invitation to civil discourse, wrapped around the basest of rhetorical devices — charges of malice compounded with accusations of bad faith. “They’ll never be satisfied,” said Obama about border control. “And I understand that. That’s politics.”

How understanding. The other side plays “politics,” Obama acts in the public interest. Their eyes are on poll numbers, political power, the next election; Obama’s rest fixedly on the little children.

This impugning of motives is an Obama constant. “They” play politics with deficit reduction, with government shutdowns, with health care. And now immigration. It is ironic that such a charge should be made in a speech that is nothing but politics. There is zero chance of any immigration legislation passing Congress in the next two years. El Paso was simply an attempt to gin up the Hispanic vote as part of an openly political two-city, three-event campaign swing in preparation for 2012.

Accordingly, the El Paso speech featured two other staples: the breathtaking invention and the statistical sleight of hand.

Krauthammer continues, calling out the president for his abuse of statistics and his demagoguery.

For a man who has blown so much hot air about civility and changing the dialogue in Washington, President Obama has been in fact more overtly partisan than any president I can recall, and my political memory dates back to Reagan.  Most of the president’s major addresses contain the following elements:

1 - Discussion of other side’s opposition to his plans in tone that suggests mild surprise and even outrage that other people have differing viewpoints.  President Obama often pays lip service to respecting other’s viewpoints, but when he actually gets around to discussing policy issues his tone becomes sarcastic and mocking, as though no sentient human being could possibly think other than he does.

2Erecting strawman arguments and mischaracterizing opponents’ positions. An absolute staple of any Obama speech, as highlighted by Krauthammer above.

3 – Testily dismissing opponents.  Having characterized his opponents as people who want to starve the elderly, children, women, Asians, Eskimos, and puppies, President Obama then concludes this portion of his speech with a metaphorical wave of his hand.  On several occasions he has quite literally said that Republican input was not welcome.

What a uniter, that guy.

And here’s the thing.  In a certain sense I don’t really care.  There were times during George Bush’s presidency that I wanted him to be a bit feistier and take on his opponents more fiercely.  Presidents are supposed to be above the fray, but that’s a bit of hogwash.  Presidents can be partisan crusaders as long as they keep it within respectful limits.  In other words, they should be above the level of your typical comment box antagonist.

Besides, when President Obama gets into sarcastic mode it’s one of the few times he almost seems human and non-boring.  Most of the time Obama displays two rhetorical styles: faux Martin Luther King Jr, and robot teleprompter reader.  Either he’s doing his worst impression of a dynamic speaker or else he sounds like someone who has just woken from a deep nap.  I don’t know who these people are that think he’s a great speaker, but frankly he rarely speaks like a normal man except when he’s cranky and sarcastic.  In fact, if he were more regularly sarcastic and petty then I might be able to sit through more of his talks.  At least then they would be entertaining.

No, what grates about his divisive rhetoric is that it contradicts all his campaign blabber from 2008.  Oh, sure, it’s the same nonsense we hear from all camps every election season, and I’m sure several GOP candidates this Fall and Winter will go out of their way to make some appeal to “curing our partisan discord.”  Hopefully I will have my bucket at the ready for such moments.  But not only has Obama not kept this unkeepable promise, he actually has gone above and beyond to completely obliterate any sense of being some kind of uniter.

Unfortunately we will never learn, and again we’ll fall for this cheap rhetoric in the future.  As I said, we’ll get more of the same in 2o12.  Like the rising of the sun and its setting, empty campaign promises of entering into some non partisan fairy land are sure bets.  Such meaningless dribble overlooks two facts of life:  there have been very few times in American history when we have not been subject to deep partisan divides, and there will never be a time in America where people do not have passionate beliefs that are irreconcilable with other beliefs.  That’s not to say we have to be jerks about it, but it should make us wake up to the reality that differences of opinion will always exist in a free country, and glossing over those differences by vacuous campaign rhetoric won’t bring us any closer to bridging those gaps.

The Advantage of Ideology

One of the main problems with politics is that it is complicated. Take, for example, the recently passed health care bill. The bill was over 2,000 pages. I haven’t read it. Neither, I imagine, have most of our readers (indeed, it would not surprise me if no single person has read every word of the bill, though obviously each of the bill’s many provisions has been read by someone).

Of course, even if someone had read every word of the bill, this would not be sufficient to have a truly informed position on it. To have a truly informed position one would have to not only read the bill but understand it. And to do that would require a great deal of knowledge about fields as complicated and diverse as the law, medicine, political science, economics, bureaucratic management, etc.

And, mind you, even if one were somehow able to master and muster all of this information, that would only entitle one to a have a truly informed position on that one bill.

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Health Care Conference

It appears that Democratic leadership is going to forgo the customary conference process to reconcile the House and Senate health care reform bills. Instead it will be negotiated between Democratic leaders from both chambers and the Obama administration, to the exclusion of Republican lawmakers.

See the following headlines:

With Few Options, GOP Continues Health Care Fight

Dems intend to bypass GOP on health compromise

Health talks resume with W.H. meet

C-SPAN CEO to Democrats: Televise the Health Care Reform Negotiations

The Bi-Partisanship Fallacy

There’s a school of thought which greatly admires “bi-partisan” approaches to solving political problems. The idea of representatives and senators putting aside their differences to “reach across the aisle” and work together seems admirably, if only because our social training all points towards the importance of compromise in order to get along with others.

However, I’d like to question whether there are often pieces of legislation which are genuinely bi-partisan.

Some legislation is essentially non-partisan. Instituting a national alert system to help track down kidnapped children, for instance, is hardly something which has a major political faction aligned against it.

In other cases, there’s legislation which applies to factions within each party — a result of the fact that our two major political parties include sub-factions which disagree with each other on major issues. For instance, “bi-partisan” immigration reform might draw support both from the business faction within the GOP and the pro-immigration faction within the Democratic Party, while being opposed by labor focused Democrats and immigration focused Republicans.
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'The Federalist Papers' and Contemporary Political Challenges

American Political Theory and Constitutional Law Series, Pt. I

The American people have a history of distrust and suspicion of centralized authority. The original framework for the primitive independent-America outlined in the Articles of Confederation was not weak by accident. Even despite the clear insufficiency of the-then government under the Articles, the framers of the Constitution still found their vision of government to be a hard sell. It is fair to say their success was in finding an effective mix between the Athenian assembly and Roman Senate combined with ‘checks and balance’ with two other branches of government—a republic instead of a direct democracy.

In many ways, this debate has lived on. It is remarkable, particularly in recent decades, how many constitutional amendments have been given real and serious consideration by the U.S. Congress, from balanced budgets, to flag desecration, to super-majorities for taxes,  to line-item veto just begin the list in attempts to reshape the constitutional order.

For some time I have had mixed and often conflicting beliefs about this whole debate. The usual “left” versus “right” spin is, as usual, tiring. Though, I have re-engaged the matter due largely to a new found interest in the project development of Catholic legal theory. Such an undertaking on the part of Catholic law professors and legal professionals have been enormously helpful in the process of asking serious questions and finding an authentic Catholic answer to crucial questions about American government, constitutional law, and jurisprudence. This couldn’t be more true than with my quarrels with the “living Constitution theory” as well as “originalism.” Though it is probably still the case, to some degree, that I am troubled about answers to these questions. I have become more convinced by those who make the case (in regard to one matter) that America needs a much needed reminder: constitutional amendments should be rare and limited to issues of historic significance. The U.S. Constitution must be preserved from short-term and sudden passions. The starting point, I think, is to reiterate, as the Founding Fathers did, the merits of representation, deliberation, and conciliation.

American voters in great number say they favor change, but there is no consensus or clarity about neither the amount nor direction such change should take. Not so surprisingly, contemporary political debates do very little to educate the public about essential constitutional issues. Serious discussion is not only past due, but is vital. What is a greater threat to constitutional government than a lack of substantive public debate and public awareness? An uninformed, ignorant public is perilous to the common good and constitutional order.

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Lesser of Two Evils or Worthy of Honor

Since the Notre Dame controversy has all the staying power of an inebriated relative after a dinner party, I’ll attempt one more brief comment on it.

It is a disappointment to me, though hardly a surprising one, that just about everyone in the Catholic blogsphere who advocated voting for Obama in the first place (or sympathized with those who did) now find so much to object to in those Catholics (including quite a few bishops — all who have address the topic to my knowledge) who are upset at Obama being made the commencement speaker for Notre Dame and awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

The argument, which was made frequently enough during the election, was that while Obama was far from perfect (and, we were always assured, the speaker was indeed deeply troubled by his positions on abortion) he was the better of two distinctly poor alternatives available on the ballot.

If such was one’s true position, I disagree, but with a fair amount of respect.  Sometimes both options available are very bad, and choosing the lesser of two evils is quite the judgment call.

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Partisanship and Empty Rhetoric

It seems in recent week that an ever-increasing focus has fallen on Rush Limbaugh and his radio show.  Not only have the usual suspects worked themselves into a frenzy over him, but we’ve even had President Obama command Congressional Republicans to ignore him.  And the White House has yet to let up on speaking against him.  White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has even taken a few stabs at Limbaugh.  Even more amazingly, Republican Chairman Michael Steele has voiced disapproval of Limbaugh’s talks.

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