October 10, 2006
For decades during the Cold War, the Democrats held dominion over the US federal legislature. They abused their power from time to time, bullied their adversaries from time to time, but the loyal opposition nonetheless had a few tools to help them balance the fight. They used certain little tricks in the bag that historians refer to as the “checks and balances” built into our Constitution (some put there intentionally, some accidentally). They could filibuster here, or pocket veto there (when a Republican held the White House). Famously, when a Republican abused his power in the White House in the early 1970’s, the Democrats themselves used some checks and balances to mitigate the problem.
I love checks and balances. They have helped to make this country great.
The Republicans became expert at using what leverage they could to keep from being overwhelmed by their adversaries. Alas, when the loyal opposition Republicans came to dominate the legislature themselves, their membership likewise abused their power from time to time, and bullied their adversaries from time to time.
And when the Democrats, who were not accustomed to being on the short end of the power balance, grasped clumsily at these checks and balances that the Republicans had used so well over the preceding decades, the Republicans got a little testy and started to dismantle some of those checks and balances. They threatened to take away the filibuster (even at the time, this was referred to as “the nuclear option”, and I agree with that term), they endorsed and ratified into law Presidential powers that had previously been held in check by the Congress.
I suppose that this is a decent strategy if you believe that the system is fundamentally flawed, and/or that your side is unfailingly right (so that checks and balances are no long beneficial to the system), and/or that you believe you will hold onto control of both the White House and the Congress for the foreseeable future.
I maintained at the time these events were taking place (but I’m not sure I published these thoughts to my public blog) that this was not a well-advised strategy. I felt that passing into law a bill that allowed the President to forgo the modicum of Congressional oversight that was previously required for wiretaps, and threatening to eliminate the filibuster as a tool, and similar such measures were wrong on four grounds.
First, these actions were unbecoming. The Republicans had earned control of the Congress and of the White House, and to try to further strip the Democrats of any modicum of influence in the government was unnecessary, undesirable, and untoward. We (for I count myself as a Republican) earned our seat at the head of the table, so let’s act like we belong there. Let’s act like grown-ups.
Second, these actions were aimed at dismantling a system of checks and balances that had served our country well for over two centuries. Our political system can always use some improvement, but this is the one feature that has done more good for the system than any other. Tinker with the checks and balances as need be, but be very careful with wholesale changes.
Third, these actions reflected the sheer height of arrogance. They assumed unerring and infallible leadership on the part of the party in power, and ignored the value of the loyal opposition to the shaping of national policy. I’m aware of only a few experiments in single-party governance in world history, and those did not turn out well.
Forth, it was the height of folly to assume that the Republican Party would retain control over both the legislature and the administration indefinitely. Here, I think (and I thought, even as these events were transpiring), is (was) the biggest flaw in Republican thinking: even if you trust your Republican President to never err in his role as Commander-in-Chief (a trust that I did not share, my party affiliation notwithstanding), what happens when the Democrats take over the White House? As, inevitably, they must. Even if you view the filibuster as an annoying impediment to the victorious majority of Congress asserting its will, what happens when the Democrats once again assume leadership of the legislature? As, again, they inevitably must.
Leadership involves taking responsibility, taking charge, and moving forward. Only the pettiest among the custodians of power would squander their advantage by spending their efforts on holding down others rather than moving themselves and the nation forward as a whole.
While I was disappointed to see my party behave so poorly on a national level, I figured that the books might not be balanced for many years to come. I worried (and still worry) about whether the Democrats would/will behave with equal obnoxiousness when they resume power in either the executive or legislative branches. But I nonetheless have always felt that the Democrats coming back to power is inevitable. The evidence now suggests that this may happen sooner, rather than later, in the Congress.
It is unfortunate, both for the Republican party and for the nation as a whole, that the current leadership wasn’t a better group of winners.
All is not lost, however. The pendulum continues to swing, and it is foolish to think that if it swings one way today that it will not swing the other way again tomorrow. It is my hope that the Republicans will be better winners next time around. (Who knows? If we are very, very lucky, perhaps the Democrats will be better winners the next time *they* sit at the head of the table, be that this year or down the road.)
October 14, 2006
I absolutely love this line. Raymund Eich, on the advantage of having an Independent candidate to vote for:
"It's great. I get to throw my vote away without having to waste it on the Libertarian."
I'm laughing just thinking about it.
October 16, 2006
Both sides of the aisle in our national political arena have many, many legitimate issues to bring up regarding the conduct on the other side. So, it bothers me when one side finds it necessary to make stuff up about the other.
I happened to see a trailer for a movie called "...So Goes the Nation", which alleges to be a documentary following the campaigns of the two major candidates for President as they were conducted in the state of Ohio in 2004. ("As goes Ohio, so goes the nation," was a quip that was often repeated while votes were being counted in that year's election.)
While the blurb describing the documentary makes it sound like a (presumably balanced) assessment of both sides, the trailer makes it very clear where the movie stands with the bold white-text-on-black-background graphic proclaiming:
And then, in bigger type, we see:
Sounds pretty ominous, doesn't it? Sounds like something's afoot, eh?
Except, the assertion is wrong *and* grossly misleading.
Forty-two years ago was 1964. Here are the Presidents who have won elections during the last 42 years:
Lyndon Johnson (D)
Richard Nixon (R)
Jimmy Carter (D)
Ronald Reagan (R)
George Bush (R)
Bill Clinton (D)
George W. Bush (R)
I count three D's elected, and four R's elected.
So the answer to the movie trailer's ominous pronouncement is, quite simply:
Nothing more ominous than that.
Copyright (c)1998 - 2010 by Allan Rousselle. All rights reserved, all wrongs reversed, all reservations righted, all right, already.
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