One man's take on politics, philosophy, technology, and perhaps a few other things
Saturday, December 17, 2005
A Government of Laws, Not Men
A republic is "a government of laws and not of men."
Those words were written by John Adams. Some seem to have forgotten them, if they ever knew what they meant in the first place.
In the last few days, we've learned, definitively, that the President of the United States, George W. Bush, has ordered his subordinates to break the law. He repeatedly and knowingly ordered employees of the National Security Agency to spy on American citizens without a warrant, and in the process, commit felonies.
Some, including a few congressmen, are actually praising the President, evidently believing that he should be able to do anything he wishes in the name of "fighting terrorism". To most of the rest of us (thankfully, virtually everyone), the idea that the President can simply ignore the laws he doesn't like and justify it on national security grounds goes against the most basic of American values, and represents a grave threat to our democracy.
The most damning aspect of the whole affair is that the law violated (the Foreign Intelligence Survelliance Act) contains provisions specifically allowing for emergencies. Should an emergency situation arise that calls for immediate response, the Attorney General can authorize such survelliance as is necessary in the short term, so long as a warrant is then sought after the emergency has passed. In other words, there literally is no excuse for what the President did.
FISA exists for a reason: it prevents the kinds of abuses that have already taken place in our history. The intelligence and law enforcement apparatus of this country have tremendous power, and have been used in the past to intimidate and punish political opponents. What's more, the power of search and seizure and to violate the privacy of Americans without due process is unconstitutional. FISA is an important cornerstone for keeping dangerous power in check.
I can envision only two reasons why Mr. Bush would have taken the actions he did. The first was a blatant and flagrant and arrogant disdain for following the law, and hence, fulfilling his oath of office. The second is that the spying that was done really had nothing to do with terrorism at all.
Neither scenario exhonerates the President; in fact, both condemn him.
Under any theory of government, under any set of American values that can truly be called such, the President has committed an impeachible offense, and should resign or be removed. Should Congress fail to carry out its duty in this, any and all members that so fail should also be removed.
Those government employees who carried out the orders should be held accountable in a court of law, and a full and proper and public investigation into what went on should commence immediately.
This is truly a crisis: we have a President who feels he is above the law. Either he is shown the error of his ways, or we are no longer a Democracy; we are a dictatorship.
You'd think they would figure out that being appointed by Bush, and the accompanying irresistable temptation to break the law, was something to avoid. Even drug dealers have a pretty good idea which cars not to approach. These guys are smarter than drug dealers, right?
Well, quite a lot has happened, hasn't it? What a year. I suppose, with the administration beginning to suffer "death from a thousand indictments", the GOP's public image in shambles and an election year approaching, now would be a good time to start writing again.
And write I shall.
For today, I'll simply note a couple of things on current events.
First, given Fitzgerald's MO, the actual text of the indictment against Scooter Libby and what we know of this case, I feel fairly confident in saying the Fitzgerald investigation isn't over. It would be wise not to assume anything at this point.
Second, even if the indictments begin and end with Libby, the GOP is looking at a long trial with discovery, testimony, witnesses, etc. exactly at a time when they'd prefer to be putting on a good public face for the voters (next year). Plus, an extremely senior right wing loon and liar is going to go down: make no mistake about it, Libby is screwed. So despite the crazed, shrill triumphalism coming from some parts of the right wing, things really aren't looking too good for wingnuts right now. And that's without any further indictments.
We'll see what we'll see. Me, I kinda think things are looking up.
It's hardly news any more, is it? But we'll point it out, anyway. Today, George Bush said, "If you're 20 years old, just starting out, I want you think about a Social Security system that will be flat bust".
There is no forecast of the future of Social Security that says the system will be "flat bust".
Mr. Bush is telling outright lies about the system to scare people, and it is to be hoped that the media will call him on it (well, we can dream)...
How cute. It would appear that the GOP's now trying to frame Social Security phase-out as "modernization".
Here's another principle that should appeal to conservatives: "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
I think we're all a little tired of the GOP's idea of "modernization". They've "modernized" our standards for going to war, our adherence to the Constitution, our adherence to international law and the Geneva Conventions, they've "modernized" our standards for accountability in government, they've "modernized" our expectations for decent job growth and economic performance...the list goes on and on.
I'll stick with the old, thank you. The GOP's idea of "upgrades" to basic standards of morality, ethics and smart ideas is a little too much to take.
I had several major revelations on my way to work the morning after the election, and unfortunately, I don't work at a place where I can participate in political activities during working hours. The most important revelation came from a comment I read on Daily Kos this morning: that we couldn't compete with 4 million evangelicals who went to the polls, and that we had every "sane voter" vote for Kerry, yet we were still in the minority.
Now, I don't know about you, but "4 million" out of a country of 290 million (or even 120 million voters) doesn't sound like a majority to me. The problem we have, I think, is that too often we think of things in the same terms as that of the CNN exit poll: liberals, moderates and conservatives.
But the actual situation is far, far more complex. There is no "majority" in this country. There are only factions and coalitions of minorities. And frankly, the Republican coalition (even the "conservative" one) is chock full of contradictions, competing motives and interests, and held together by twine and duct tape. Many of the factions in that contentious coalition are swayable, and given the direction the GOP has been going in the last four years (and longer), ripe for the picking. In fact, we managed to do just that, to a degree. It just wasn't quite enough.
So we need to peel off a few more (or a lot more) from the GOP. We need wedge issues, and we need to drive them home. More than that: we need to cast liberal principles in terms that appeal to the various GOP coalition members.
Religion A couple of ideas that I thought of -- getting liberal Christians organizaed and maybe starting a liberal Christian radio network -- seem to have already been bandied about on liberal blogs. Great minds, and all that.
In addition to those ideas (on the same topic of focusing more as a party and a political philosophy on welcoming and bringing in people of faith), I think liberals would do well to commit some time and effort to casting basic liberal principles in terms of Christian Scripture. The same could be done with criticism of the things Republicans are doing in government and the positions they take in public and private.
The thing is, such casting wouldn't have to be sold to the masses as blatant scripture. This is one of the things Bill Clinton (and now Barack Obama) does extremely well: finding scripture passages to sell ideas that will be recognized by Christians, yet sound simply like poetic and eloquent phrasing to everyone else.
That's not to say that selling liberal ideas and criticism of the GOP ("Gang of Pharisees" -- love it!) in terms of explicitly identified scripture is a bad idea, especially when done with an evangelical Christian audience available (such as in letters to the editor in many local and rural papers).
The key, of course, is to remind strongly Christian voters that there are more Christian principles than being anti-abortion and anti-homosexual. We should own this voting bloc -- many Christian principles have a very liberal bent (especially New Testament principles).
One final thing: I think it's important to remind people of faith that Jefferson's Separation of Church and State protects both; in fact, it's critical to the survival of both institutions.
Terrorism It's time we put Terrorism back where it belongs. This isn't a "values" or "patriotism" issue: it's a foreign policy issue. And looking back on it now, I'm becoming convinced that it was a mistake to not harp far more than we did on the lack of an Osama bin Laden capture.
But that's neither here nor there, now. I think there's a major opening on this front at this point, thanks in part to bin Laden's re-emergence. We (as citizens and as Democratic spokespeople--you know who you are) need to continuously hold Bush's feet to the fire in terms of going after bin Laden and al Qaeda. It should be mentioned constantly, in terms of pressing Mr. Bush to go after the villians, and especially in terms of specific tactical and policy recommendations. We shouldn't let Bush duck the question of bin Laden once again; we shouldn't let him treat bin Laden and al Qaeda as things that we "shouldn't be that concerned about".
By doing this, we gain several advantages. 1) We keep the national defense focus where it should rightfully be in the public eye, 2) We come off as more serious on the issue than Bush (also true enough), 3) We keep the discussion in the realm of the real issue, rather than an abstract realm of values and patriotism.
The downside? There really isn't one. If bin Laden is actually caught and al Qaeda actually addressed, so much the better. An enemy of the country is brought to justice, and terrorism is taken off the table as an issue.
Finally, some themes I'm going to write more on this last topic in the future. For now, I'm going to bring up the fact that there are multiple axes of political emphasis on which various issues and voting blocs lie. By understanding this, and by understanding which buttons to press, we can begin to unravel the GOP coalition.
Here are some liberal themes that fall into each. These were from a 10-minute brainstorming session; I'm sure there are lots more.
1) Altruism vs. Individualism 1a) Watching each other's back
1b) Taking care of each other
1c) Looking out for your neighbor
1e) Duty to others
1h) Taking care of children
1i) Taking care of parents
1j) Charity and donation
1l) Helping the needy and weak
2) Organization vs. Anarchy 2a) Rule of law, law abiding
2b) Chain of command, discipline
2c) Responsible, efficient government
2d) Respecting the rules
3) Democracy vs. Constitutionalism 3a) Will of the people
3b) Fair representation
3d) Legitmate government
4) Equality vs. Merit 4a) Equal opportunity
4b) Fair reward for hard/smart work
4c) Equal treatment under the law
4d) Civil rights
4e) Everyone deserves a shot
5) Cooperation vs. Competition 5a) National unity
5b) Pulling together for the cause
5c) International coalitions
I believe most issues can be discussed in these terms, and the importance of doing this is to identify points of agreement with GOP coalition members ripe for peeling off and adding to our number. Note that the important thing here isn't to change our positions or tell people what they want to hear. Rather, the important things are to 1) identify points of agreement with voting blocs we'd like to court, so those points can be emphasized and nurtured, and 2) learn to speak their language, such that we can sell them on the idea they have more in common with us than with the GOP. Most people vote their interests. If they're convinced that the Democrats will better help them get what they want, they will align themselves with us.
One more thing on this point: I don't mean to suggest by the above that all liberals must take liberal positions on all the axes. We have coalitions just like conservatives do, and different "brands" of liberals fall at varying places on the various axes. Furthermore, liberal positions don't have to fall all the way on the leftward side of the axes. For example, "equal opportunity" embodies both equality (egalitarianism) and merit. The same goes for the support of regulated capitalism.
We have much to do, and little time to do it. But we have a great start. Liberals seem to have finally awakened to the need to pull together and fight, and they have the beginnings of an excellent organizational structure capable of fighting and winning elections. The next step is figuring out that we can't do it alone. Hopefully, what I've discussed here can serve as a framework for broadening our tent a little.
Christian Conservatives Must Not Compromise
*Voters reject liberalism, an evil ideology.
Christians, in politics as in evangelism, are not against people or the world. But we are against false ideas that hold good people captive. On Tuesday, this nation rejected liberalism, primarily because liberalism has been taken captive by the left. Since 1968, the left has taken millions captive, and we must help those Democrats who truly want to be free to actually break free of this evil ideology.
In the weeks and months to come, we will hear the voices of well-meaning people beseeching the victor to compromise with the vanquished. This would be a mistake. Conservatives must not compromise with the left. Good people holding false ideas are won over only if we defeat what is false with the truth.
The left bewitches with its potions and elixirs, served daily in its strongholds of academe, Hollywood and old media. It vomits upon the morals, values and traditions we hold sacred: God, family and country. As we learned Tuesday, it is clear the left holds the majority of Americans, the majority of us, in contempt.
Simply, a majority of Americans have rejected John Kerry and John Edwards and the left because they are wrong. They are wrong because there are not two Americas. We are one nation under a God they reject. We remain indivisible despite their attempts to divide Americans through their relentless warfare against class, ethnic and religious unity.
The nation has now resoundingly rejected the left and its agenda. We do not want to become European. We do not want to become socialist. We do not want to become secular. We are exceptional. We are unique. And we are the greatest force for good in the world, despite what the left, the terrorists or the United Nations may claim. It is for these reasons that we remain the last great hope in the world for freedom.
There are many Bush supporters who doubtlessly think the above is right in every detail.
But let's be clear: for a majority of Bush supporters, it is highly likely that handing the wingnut Christian evangelicals the keys to the castle was not foremost on their minds. Yet, these are the people Bush most closely represents, and these are the people who are now demanding their due.
Welcome to the world, under "Pastor-in-Chief" Bush, that you've created for us. I hope it was what you wanted. Because a country moving inexoribly away from Thomas Jefferson's dream of a secular nation and towards radical Christian Right theocracy is exactly what we got.
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard. -- H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)
I haven't posted much lately, since I've been concentrating on keeping up with all the news as it comes in. As is now clear, though, George W. Bush has "won" a second term.
Congratulations to him. No, really. He's going to get to be in power when his chickens come home to roost. And he'll have to clean up his own mess in Iraq, or suffer the wrath of history to an even greater extent than he already will.
There can be very little doubt that Mr. Bush's victory is a victory for dishonesty. As has been well documented, most of Mr. Bush's supporters are actually quite in the dark about what he stands for and supports, as well as the consequences of his actions and basic facts on issues of importance. Likewise, most of his supporters were doubtlessly swayed by the lies Bush told about John Kerry.
It's clear we have a lot of work to do. Fortunately, this election galvanized liberals into real action, and we had some astounding successes for such a young set of organizations. This is just the beginning, and I guarantee you, we will live to see the right wing just as powerless and hopeless as many liberals feel today.