Politics

The Lure of Authoritarianism

There seems an odd attraction towards Chinese-style authoritarianism among certain more technocratic/elitist segments of the left-leaning political elite. On the one hand we have we have people like Thomas Friedman arguing that Chinese one-party-autocracy is more efficient in passing the sort of regulations (“green” energy and nationalized health care) that he cares most about. On the other, we have Harold Meyerson’s claim that China is doing a better job of providing clean political process and economic recovery than the US, and that if Republicans don’t get in line behind Obama’s agenda the rest of the world will resolve to follow China’s autocratic example rather than American-style democracy.

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What We Know Now

As it so happened, I was in Washington DC on that National Mall as congress was voting on the mess which is our “health care reform” bill. I hadn’t been to our capitol city before, and it was a simply beautiful afternoon — one on which it was hard to believe that our elected representatives were bringing us one large step closer to a major budgetary crisis point, and Representative Stupak was busy selling out the principles everyone had imagined to be as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar for a rather paltry executive order which may (or may not) come after the fact. (Call me a cynic, but I could well imagine the EO never coming. Though in a sense, why not issue it: It would have no effect and could be repealed at any time. Still, there would be a great deal of justice and truth in Obama using the old Microsoft line, “Your mistake was in trusting us.”)

Still, though sun, green grass, and stone monuments are fresh in my mind, and the largest looming problems in my mind revolve around children wailing that they need a bathroom right now while traveling on the metro (let’s just say that didn’t end well) I don’t want to seem as if I’m discounting the importance of what we’ve just seen. And there seem to be some fairly clear conclusions we can draw:

1) Stupak had no desire to be to abortion what Joe Lieberman chose to be to foreign policy. Lieberman was hounded out of his party and continues to hold office only because of people who disagree with him on nearly every other issue admired his principled stands on Iraq, Israel, etc. If Stupak had brought down the Health Care Reform bill in defense of the unborn, he would have received similar treatment from his own party to what Lieberman has received, and he clearly didn’t want to be that person. Instead, having talking himself into a corner he really didn’t want to be in, he seized upon a fig leaf when it was offered and did what he’d clearly wanted to do all along:

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Poll Shows Americans Would Like to Have Their Cake and Eat It Too

The Washington Post has a new poll out which will please both political parties, since the American people in the main agree with both of them. A majority of people want Congress to scrap the current Health Care Reform bills, and a majority also think Obama has done a bad job of handling the health care issue. Yet a majority also want Health Care Reform passed this year and blame Republicans for lack of progress.

Solid majorities think that the current HCR bills are too complex and too expensive, but majorities also approve of the main components: require employers to provide insurance, require people without insurance to buy it, subsidize people who can’t afford insurance, and require insurance companies to give everyone insurance regardless of their medical histories or problems. So basically, people would love the bill as is, so long as it didn’t cost anything and wasn’t complex.

And in the results most likely to give legislators pause: People say they’re looking for new candidates of incumbents in the next congressional election by a 56 to 36 majority. 71% of people disapprove of how congress is doing its job. And of the 62% of the population that has private insurance (15% have MediCare, 3% have Medicaid and 17% have no insurance) 74% trust their insurance companies to do a “good” or “great” job of processing their claims fairly.

If people like the idea of health care reform, but don’t want it to cost anything or be complex, while distrusting congress and trusting their insurance companies, it sounds to me like nothing is likely to happen on the health care front this year.

President Obama vs. House Republicans

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President Obama on Friday attended a dinner at a retreat for House Republicans in Baltimore, MA. The President delivered a speech calling for bipartisanship and following this, there was a Q&A session that played out more as back-and-forth mostly civil, though sometimes heated, arguing. This went on for over an hour!

This was quite interesting considering the almost scripted and narrative (thanks to the mainstream media) nature of American politics. Lucky for the American people, it was televised.

The Supreme Court Rules On Campaign Finance

From NPR’s “Watching Washington” Blog:

The Supreme Court Scrambles Politics — Again

Many people will hear about Thursday’s landmark Supreme Court decision freeing corporations to mount political campaigns and say the court has blown up politics as we know it.

By bringing corporations (and by extension, labor unions) back into the electioneering fray, the court has restarted a spending war Congress had tried to restrain over the past generation — most recently with the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, best known for its co-sponsoring senators, John McCain (R-AZ) and Russell Feingold (D-WI).

So long as they do not give to candidates directly, corporations can spend whatever they wish to support or oppose candidates for president or Congress. They are free to exercise their rights of free speech under the First Amendment. Just like citizens. Their rights cannot be suppressed on the basis of their “corporate identity,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy.

The ramifications for this year’s congressional elections and the 2012 presidential contest are sure to be profound. What does it mean, for example, for an investment bank such as Goldman Sachs, which had the cash to pay $16 billion in compensation to its employees for 2009, when a major issue before Congress this year is a tax on those bonuses? (Read the whole column here).

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) has launched an online petition against the decision. The text reads:

Unlimited corporate spending on campaigns means the government is up for sale and that the law itself will be bought and sold. It would be political bribery on the largest scale imaginable.

This issue transcends partisan political arguments. We cannot have a government that is bought and paid for by huge multinational corporations. You must stop this.

From The Courthouse News Service:

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Supreme Court today killed a central part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law and ruled that corporations may spend as much as they wish to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress. The 5-4 vote left intact limits on corporate gifts to individual candidates (read the whole story here).

Following the decision, George Will declared the ruling as a radical defense for freedom of speech. In reply, E.J. Dionne argues that will amount to a corporate take over of politics.

Also see here for the story on the Court’s ruling on campaign finance reform from RealClearPolitics.

Coakley: Faithful Catholics Shouldn't Work In Emergency Rooms

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“Ken Pittman: Right, if you are a Catholic, and believe what the Pope teaches that any form of birth control is a sin. ah you don’t want to do that.

Martha Coakley: No we have a separation of church and state Ken, lets be clear.

Ken Pittman: In the emergency room you still have your religious freedom.

Martha Coakley: (…stammering) The law says that people are allowed to have that. You can have religious freedom but you probably shouldn’t work in the emergency room.”

A charming sentiment from Martha Coakley running for the Senate seat in Massachusetts.  For this gem, I award Ms. Coakley the second American Catholic Know-Nothing Award.  If I were living in Massachusetts, I would be out next Tuesday to cast my vote against this bigot.

At Least I Know I'm Free: A Myth That Unites

I was talking with a relative recently who was telling me about an incident a while back where the maintenance staff at the building he worked at had gone on strike and were picketing the building. Emails had gone out from the building management telling people not to get into arguments or cause incidents with the picketers, and it became a source of quite a bit of topic around the office. My relative was amused to hear expressed several times the sentiment, “That’s what makes our country different from the rest of the world. Here, they have the freedom to hold a protest like that.”

It if, of course, true that they have the freedom to picket their employer here. However, that’s not necessarily a contrast with the rest of the developed world. They could do the same in thing in Canada, or the UK or France or Germany, etc. There is, as my relative pointed out, a tendency at times for Americans to assume that because our country was very consciously founded in order to secure certain freedoms, that this means that people who don’t live in the US don’t have the same freedoms. Obviously, some don’t. One’s freedom of political and economic expression is severely limited if you live in North Korea or China or Cuba or some such nation. But there are many other countries in which people enjoy basically all the same freedoms that we do.

This American tendency to assume that we are the only ones to enjoy the freedoms outlined in our Bill of Rights is something which very much annoys many people who consider the US to be dangerously nationalistic, or who would prefer that we see the US as just one other region, not better or worse than others. Continue reading

Humpty Dumpty Defines Conservatism

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t – till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,’” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll 

For whatever reason, adults on the internet often fall into relabelling each others politics with all the glee that second graders find in saying, “Am not!”, “Are too!”, “Am not!” 

Sometimes, it gets downright silly, as in this comment:

Hah! Nobody has yet addressed my basic point – American arch-liberals, direct offsprings of the Enlightenment, are under some illusion that they are “conservative”. Couldn’t be more wrong. As for me, I’m an old-style Christian Democrat with not much time for rights-based individualism, the so-called separation of church and state, lassez-faire liberalism, or muscular nationalism. I’m a corporatist, I’m fully on baord with Bendict’s world political authority, and I’ll take Catholic social teaching over American Calvinist economics any day, thank you very much.
 
Who is supposed to be the conservative again? 

Now, let’s think for a moment on what “conservative” means, if you’re not Humpty Dumpty. Continue reading

Philip Hamburgers New Book is a Rare Find

Michael McConnell, a Law Professor at Stanford, offers this in a First Things review of Philip Hamburger’s new book titled Law and Judicial Duty:

Hamburger traces the development of modern conceptions of the law to the realization, in Europe and especially Britain, that human reason rarely provided clear answers to moral questions and therefore that an attempt to ground law in divine will, or a search for abstract reason and justice, would inevitably lead to discord. As a result, “Europeans increasingly located the obligation of law in the authority of the lawmaker rather than the reason or justice of his laws.” The task of judges, then, was not to seek after elusive notions of justice and right reason but to enforce the law of the land. Natural law shifted in emphasis from moral content to legitimacy and authority, and increasingly to an understanding of authority based on the will of the people.

This seems to me a profound explanation of how and why we understand law today the way we do. It simultaneously shows you what is wrong with the modern conception of the law and what is right.

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A Question About "Culture Wars"

In his great work of literary history, Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century, C.S. Lewis devotes a passage to what he describes, with a certain savageness, as “that whole tragic farce which we call the history of the Reformation.” For Lewis, the issues that divided Catholics and Protestants, that led to bloodshed all over Europe and to a seemingly permanent division of Christians from one another, “could have been fruitfully debated only between mature and saintly disputants in close privacy and at boundless leisure.” Instead, thanks to the prevalence of recent invention of the printing press, and to the intolerance of many of the combatants, deep and subtle questions found their way into the popular press and were immediately transformed into caricatures and cheap slogans. After that there was no hope of peaceful reconciliation.

Is Lewis’ claim valid? If not, why not? I, for one, think there is something to his claim. This point is applicable to an extent, despite the obvious differences, to fundamental political differences. What do we find in political discourse: gross generalizations, demonizing the other size, presuming the worst of the other side, reducing people to their political views, assuming others’ intentions for them, projecting the words or actions of one person within a greater movement onto the whole movement, and the list goes on. Is such an analysis valid; if, no, again, why not?

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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Let's find the fallacy!

Yesterday The Nation‘s John Nichols wrote a rather scathing piece about President Obama: the piece is entitled “Whiner-in-Chief” and the first line reads, “The Obama administration really needs to get over itself.”

Of course, I tend to agree with perspectives like that. :-)  But near the end of the piece Nichols tries to argue that the country isn’t as divided as the White House thinks, and along the way, he makes a heckuva non sequitur:

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What He Said

Here’s Prof. David Post at the Volokh Conspiracy describing politics through an analogy to sports (the easiest way to explain anything to me):

I then said something like – “but it does seem like the overall level of defense is improving all over – I see so many great plays these days . . .” before I recognized how stupid a comment that was.  Of course I was seeing more great defensive plays than I had 10 or 20 years before – because 10 or 20 years before there had been no Sportscenter (or equivalent).  In 1992 (or whenever exactly this was), I could turn on the TV and catch 20 or 30 minutes of great highlights every night, including 5 or 6 truly spectacular defensive plays; in 1980, or 1960, to see 5 or 6 truly spectacular defensive plays, you had to watch 20 or 25 hours of baseball, minimum.  [That’s what ESPN was doing, in effect – watching 10 or 12 games simultaneously and pulling out the highlights].  It was just my mind playing a trick on me; I had unconsciously made a very simple mistake.  The way in which I was perceiving the world of baseball had, with Sportscenter, changed fundamentally, but I hadn’t taken that into account.  Without thinking about it, I had plugged into a simple formula:  Old Days:             5 spectacular plays in 25 hours of baseball watching. New Days:          5 spectacular plays in ½ hour of baseball watching. And I had reached the obvious (and obviously wrong, on reflection) conclusion that the rate of spectacular playmaking had gone up.

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Signs and Portents

Gallup Party ID

The first in an on-going series.  I have never been interested in sports, much to the quiet chagrin of my late father.  Other than hockey in my college days, I can’t recall ever spending any money to see a sporting event.  On the weekends no sounds of athletic contests emanate from the McClarey household TV.  I suspect that my strong interest in politics takes the place of sports for me.  I am endlessly fascinated by it, pay close attention to all news regarding politics and have familiarized myself over the years with a fair amount of the technical aspects of the craft.  For political junkies like me our season is about to begin.  Next year’s congressional elections are just a little over a year away and I think looking at the political tea leaves as they stand now might be amusing to those of our readers who share some portion of my passion.

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