Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sunday Reading

Wise Decision — James Fallows at The Atlantic praises President Obama for backing away from the precipice of bombing Syria.  He annotated the speech with his own thoughts, noted in brackets and italics.

The two crucial parts of his announcement just now:

1) No rush about doing whatever needs to be done with Syria. This is a punitive rather than a preventive action, which should be undertaken with deliberation and — if and when it happens — by surprise.

2) Recognizing the higher wisdom — for himself, for the country, for the world — of taking this to the Congress.

This is the kind of deliberation, and deliberateness, plus finding ways to get out of a (self-created) corner, that has characterized the best of his decisions. It is a very welcome change, and surprise, from what leaks had implied over the past two weeks.

“The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs [known not to be enthusiastic about another engagement] has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose. [Yes! An avoidance of the apparent rush; a recognition that in a punitive raid the advantage of time, and surprise, is on his side.] Moreover, the Chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive; it will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now. [The structure of this sentence implying an ellipsis and leaving room for, “or whenever after that.”]

But having made my decision as Commander-in-Chief based on what I am convinced is our national security interests, I’m also mindful that I’m the President of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. [This and the preceding paragraph, back to back, were the signal that Obama had made the two crucial choices. 1) There’s no rush, and 2) involve the Congress.] I’ve long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might, but in our example as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. And that’s why I’ve made a second decision: I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress. [I stopped listening super-carefully at this point, because the big news was in.]

Over the last several days, we’ve heard from members of Congress who want their voices to be heard. [And of course Obama understands that even many of those people, plus most of the rest, were actually hoping he would ignore them. That was they could complain about his arrogant imperial overreach now, plus themselves avoid taking what can only be a difficult vote.] I absolutely agree. [Don’t throw me in that briar patch!] So this morning, I spoke with all four congressional leaders, and they’ve agreed to schedule a debate and then a vote as soon as Congress comes back into session…. And all of us should be accountable [see above. Every single Representative and Senator will either have to vote to support the Administration, or have to explain a No vote the next time Assad gasses someone] as we move forward, and that can only be accomplished with a vote.

I’m confident in the case our government has made without waiting for U.N. inspectors. I’m comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that, so far, has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable. [A brush-away that is simultaneously off-hand, polite, reasonable-sounding, and utterly dismissive of the Security Council’s uselessness in cases like this. And yet, as a reader pointed out, there is that significant “so far,” allowing for the conceivability of a Russian or Chinese change.] …

Yet, while I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective. [This sentence deserves lapidary examination. The “I believe” / “I know” pairing, the assertion of presidential prerogative as a segue to requesting Congressional approval, the appeal to the high road. Nicely done.]

We should have this debate, because the issues are too big for business as usual. And this morning, John Boehner, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell agreed [When have we seen those ten words in that order? Or will see them again?] that this is the right thing to do for our democracy.”

The leitmotif was invoking several previous times in which Obama had shifted from lackluster and puzzling to being in command of his powers. Eg politically: the disaster of his first debate against Romney, versus his comeback in debates two and three. Strategically: falling for the Afghanistan surge argument in 2009, and then correcting course and reversing the policy by 2011. And now this: a ten-day period in which he seemed out of control, leading to what is strategically and politically a much wiser course.

The Conservative Crack-Up — Kim Messick at Salon takes us through the history of how the Republicans lost their mind.

The cry of the hour is that our politics is “dysfunctional” — mired in “gridlock,” all bipartisanship lost. This is of course true, but it must be seen as merely the latest result of the conservative politics of purity. After all, when does a politician, in the normal course of affairs, have a reason to do something? When he thinks it will gain him a vote, or that not doing it will cost him a vote. It follows that politicians have a reason to be bipartisan — to work with the opposition — only when doing so will increase, not decrease, their electoral support. And this can only happen if they potentially share voters with their opposition. But the Republican electorate is now almost as purified as the Republican Party. Not only is it unlikely to support Democratic candidates, it’s virtually certain to punish any Republican politician who works with Democrats. The electoral logic of bipartisanship has collapsed for most Republicans; they have very little to gain, and much to lose, if they practice it. And so they don’t.

Unfortunately, our government isn’t designed to function in these conditions.  The peculiarities of our system — a Senate, armed with the filibuster, that gives Wyoming’s 576,000 people as much power as California’s 38,000,000; gerrymandered districts in the House; separate selection of the executive and the legislature; a chronically underfunded elections process, generally in partisan hands and in desperate need of rationalization — simply won’t permit it. What we get instead is paralysis — or worse. The Republican Party, particularly in the House, has turned into the legislative equivalent of North Korea — a political outlier so extreme it has lost the ability to achieve its objectives through normal political means. Its only recourse is to threats (increasingly believable) that it will blow up the system rather than countenance this-or-that lapse from conservative dogma. This was the strategy it pursued in the debt ceiling debacle of 2011, and if firebrands such as Ted Cruz and Mike Lee have their way it will guide the party’s approach to the same issue this fall, and perhaps to government funding (including “Obamacare”) as well. Realignment and polarization have led us to gridlock and instability.

The relentless radicalization of the Republican Party since 1964 is the most important single event in the political history of the United States since the New Deal. It has significantly shaped the course of our government and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But this means it has also shaped the individual life of every citizen— the complex amalgam of possibilities and opportunities available (or not) to each of us. The conservative visionaries of the ‘50s and ‘60s wanted a new world. We’re all living in it now.

Too Nice — Andy Borowitz at The New Yorker on why Chris Christie is dropping out of the GOP presidential race.

TRENTON (The Borowitz Report)—New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie withdrew from consideration as a Presidential candidate today after becoming embroiled in what a leading Republican strategist called “a career-ending empathy scandal.”

After signing a law barring licensed therapists from engaging in so-called gay conversion therapy, Mr. Christie stunned his fellow Republicans by seemingly expressing compassion for gay children, thus disqualifying himself from any further role in the G.O.P.

“Showing empathy for gays or children would have been bad enough,” says Republican strategist Harland Dorrinson, one of many party leaders who called for Mr. Christie to withdraw. “But empathy for gay children is a flat-out betrayal.”

In a brief statement to reporters, Mr. Christie expressed remorse for what he called “my unfortunate and ill-considered display of understanding for people different from myself,” and urged the people of New Jersey to remember “my strong record of cutting funds for schools and the elderly.”

While Mr. Christie might try to regain his fellow Republicans’ trust by vetoing more assault-rifle bans, G.O.P. strategist Tracy Klugian says that the governor does not deserve another chance, citing his “dangerous flirtations with compassion” in the past.

“After Hurricane Sandy, Chris Christie worried a lot of us with his recklessly sensitive behavior,” says Mr. Klugian. “But we really thought he had put this problem behind him.”

Hey, it could happen.

Doonesbury — Writers block redux.

One bark on “Sunday Reading

  1. “The conservative crackup.”

    This is not an accident. This is a plan. You just might want to check how the Nazi’s achieved power in Germany in the early 1930s.
    They deliberately made the political process unworkable so that the unknowing would support a dictator that “could get things done.”

    The parliamentary battle of the NSDAP had the single purpose of destroying the parliamentary system from within through its own methods. It was necessary above all to make formal use of the possibilities of the party-state system but to refuse real cooperation and thereby to render the parliamentary system,
    which is by nature dependent upon the responsible cooperation of the opposition, incapable of action.

    Ernst Rudolf Huber (witness)
    From the Chief Counsel for the Prosecution of Axis Criminality
    Volume I, Chapter VII
    1946

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