I would not run from the bomb

21 11 2013

Nuke ’em, Harry! Nuke ’em!

I’m referring to the change in Senate rules in which presidential nominees and sub-Supreme Court federal court nominees could be confirmed with a majority vote, i.e., could no longer be filibustered, but it sounds so much more fun to say “NUUUUUKE THEMMMM!”

Even Jonathan Bernstein, who is generally a fan of (kinda) the filibuster, agrees that the Republicans aggressive use of the filibuster has gone out of whack. His tolerance of the filibuster is based in his wariness of majoritarianism, and his belief in the necessity of keeping the minority in the game.

These are important considerations, and I appreciate Bernstein’s tempered historical approach to Senate history. Given that power shifts from Democrats to Republicans and back again with some regularity, not treating the losing party as, well, losers, makes sense: they need to keep a hand in governance.

If that losing party holds no interest in governance, however, and refuses to take any responsibility for the actions of the US government as a whole, then, Bernstein concedes, nuking the minority’s ability to stifle action makes more sense than deferring to it.

I come at this from a different direction, from the necessity of accountability rather than deference. Even when the Republicans were in control of the Senate I supported filibuster reform: if the electorate voted for Republicans, then they (we) ought to deal with the consequences of those elections. If we don’t like those consequences, we should vote differently.

There are problems with this position, of course: this is a policy-first approach, and most people don’t care about policy. As such, my whole notion of weakening or removing the brakes on majority action  might not lead to any greater accountability: if you don’t connect policy to party, then passage of a hated/loved policy won’t necessarily lead to lessened/greater attachment to party.

Still, it’s possible that among the reasons for weak linkage between policy and party attachment (esp. in terms of voting) is that Congressmembers have been able to shrug off responsibility for policy (in)action amidst the thicket of Senate rules. Maybe if we Americans could no longer count on a minority to stifle the majority we would actually have to come to terms with the consequences of our votes.

Maybe not. Maybe Bernstein’s caution is correct. But maybe the best way to figure this out is to  NUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUKE the Senate filibuster rule.

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You’re just another brick in the wall

2 10 2013

I first read Diane Ravitch as an undergraduate—my policy professor, Cathy Johnson, had assigned The Troubled Crusade for her class—and while I was suspicious of what I sniffed out as her conservatism, even I had to admit her history was good.

As she moved in and out of government (she worked for Bush I; I knew it!), I paid some attention to her doings, thinking of her as a kind of reasonable conservative.

Well.

She has certainly moved on from her years as a critic of public education, shifting from that of mod-con to the flag-bearer for a democratic education.

“A Nation at Risk” didn’t say much about accountability. It was really just saying woe is us, woe is us, our schools are failing, we need to have higher standards, we need to have a better curriculum. It didn’t say much about testing. I think there were one or two lines about it. But a lot of people jumped on this and said, “Oh, yeah. We need to test more. We need to have higher graduation standards.” Which is fine. But what they really had in mind by accountability was, “Who is going to be held accountable?” Meaning: “Who should be punished?” Uh, they don’t operate their businesses that way. The really great companies in America don’t operate by punishing their employees. They try to get the best people they can and then they take good care of them. I’m thinking of companies like Google. They talk about all the perks for the employees. Well, schools don’t have any perks for employees. All we’re doing now is talking about who should get fired next. So accountability has become this idea of, “Somebody’s head has to be chopped off. Some school has to be humiliated.” And that’s not educational. That’s penitentiary talk. (emph added)

Sing it, sister!

And there are districts like the one I wrote about in Minneapolis where there are schools that are virtually all white, schools that are completely black, schools that are all Hmong, schools that are all something else. And, you know, nobody stops and says, “Wait a minute. Aren’t we supposed to be trying to have an integrated society?” So in some ways what schools are dealing with today, public schools and also charter schools, is a social failure. It’s really a question of, What kind of a society do we want to be? (emph added)

Ed policy is not my area at all, but my response to this is: Right on! RIGHT ON!

~~~

h/t Charlie Pierce





Jumble sales are organized and pamphlets have been posted

28 06 2012

Did not expect that.

No, I didn’t know what the Supreme Court would do, but as a Professional Pessimist, it is my sworn duty to think the worst. And the worst did not come to pass.

Should I note here my pinko preference for a socialistic universal socialistic single-payer socialistic public socialistic health care socialistic plan? Okay, why not: I’da preferred a single-payer, Medicare-for-all, what have you, plan, but the Affordable Care Act seems to (only recently re-insured) me an improvement over the (former) status quo, a movement toward justice, and thus worthy of support on its own merits.

As to the politics, well, a win from the Supremes helps those who I want to win in November: it doesn’t wipe out all of the effort of the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats, and amongst the great majority of voters who are not yet paying attention to the election this decision sends the sorta-subliminal message of Obama as a winner.

Americans like winners.

In any case, I have nothing to offer on details of the constitutional interpretation or of the long-term consequences of the apparent limitations on the commerce clause, but I want to plant my flag on a particular patch of political pedantry: I am relieved that the Court upheld the law not just or even primarily because I like the law, but because I believe—strongly—that the Congress ought to be able to legislate. The Court is supreme over all other courts, but it is not and should not be supreme over the other two branches.

Now, insofar as I believe the Court ought vigorously defend the Constitution and believe it has a particular role in upholding the rights of minorities against encroachment by majorities, this seems an untenable position for me to take. Ah, hell, perhaps it is: how else can the Court defend the Constitution and minority rights without asserting its powers over and above those of the Congress and the executive branch? It would be suspiciously convenient for me to say that in case where the Court rules in favor of Guantanamo detainees, say, that they are merely preventing the other two branches from elevating themselves above the Constitution.

Yeah, way too convenient.

I guess I mean to say: Legislators should be free to legislate, political questions should be decided in the political arena, and those who pass the laws should not be able either to hide behind the Court or use the courts to accomplish in the judicial branch what they could not accomplish in the legislative.

Again, damned difficult balancing act, but I think the more we (citizens, legislators) rely on the courts to settle political disagreements, the less responsibility we require from those legislators. I think we ought to live with the consequences of who we elect to public office, and using the courts to buffer us from those consequences distorts the political process.

For similar reasons, I’m foursquare in favor of filibuster reform or even elimination: if we elect idiots and bullies to office, then we shouldn’t be surprised to see them pass idiotic and mean legislation. What’s the old line? We dance with the ones that brung us. Well, if we don’t like how they dance, maybe we’ll be a little more careful in choice of dates.

Oh, crap, this is all going off the rails, isn’t it? Let me put this another way: I believe in responsible government, in accountability, and as the justices of the Supreme Court are not accountable to us, then I choose to concentrate on the members of those institutions which are.

So: Yay for the Affordable Care Act! Yay for Obama! And yay for politics!





I will follow

10 07 2011

How can a political freak not have fun with a fellow political freak—oh she of the Goth eyeliner (which only serves to accentuate her cheerful bats-in-the-belfry look) and psycholbin-inflected understanding of American history, someone given to hiding behind bushes to spy on an open protest and screaming about lesbian bathroom-kidnap plots—like Michele Bachmann?

I’ve had a lot of fun with the Republican representative from the sixth district  of Minnesota, and, frankly, I expect to continue doing so. She may be an ideological menace who would make a terrible, terrible president, but she’s so manifestly unsuited to the job that I have no real worries about her delivering an inaugural address in January 2013.

So I feel free to mock her at will.

There is, however, one (semi-? sur-?) real issue that her candidacy brings to the political debate, that of the influence of her husband, Marcus. Ms. Bachmann, you see, proclaims adherence to the “wifely submission” model of marriage.

How she and her hub run their home is, in the main, not my business, and the practice of a spouse influencing a politician’s decisions is hardly new (if only John had listened to Abigail’s admonition to “remember the ladies”. . .).  But outside of Edith Wilson’s alleged takeover of the presidency during husband Woodrow’s stroke-induced decline, it’s generally conceded that whatever the influence, the president is still is charge.

If, however, that politician states outright that she is not in charge, then what are constituents and voters to decide?

Marcus Bachmann, after all, isn’t the one taking the oath of office. He makes no promises to “uphold and defend the Constitution”, nor does he hold any responsibility to his wife’s constituents. He is in charge without being accountable.

Now, given that Rep. Bachmann stated in 2006 that “The Lord says be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands” a month before she was elected for the first time to the House, and has been re-elected twice, it’s entirely possible that her constituents decided they were just fine with voting for someone who answered to her husband before she answered to them. Maybe that they both claimed to answer to God was sufficient assurance that even if this greater accountability to the Lord translated into a lesser accountability to the people, the greater was for the better.

The issue of authority in marriage is a big issue in conservative Christian circles. The “complementarian” versus “egalitarian” models of marriage each (apparently) finds support in scripture, and even those marriages which claim the husband as head can look awfully equal. And with or without any scripto-ideological positioning, marriage can be a bugger.

Given these complexities, it’s possible that those who hear “submissiveness” translate the term  into “agreement”, and are thus unbothered by any notion that Mr. Bachmann might tell Mrs. Bachmann what to do; they’re simply a married couple, like any other, trying to keep it together.

That’s one end of the interpretive spectrum, anyway. At the other end, however, is the possibility that the Mister is in charge, and that what he says, goes, period. No oaths of office, no promises to constituents, matters as much as the God-infused authority of the Man of the House.

I’ll take the cynical middle course: Rep. Bachmann may see no conflict in choosing amongst her various accountabilities—her God, her husband, the Constitution, the citizens in her district—because these constituencies all line up. That is, because she doesn’t recognize that there might be other legitimate interests, because she doesn’t acknowledge the existence of those who legitimately (i.e., are motivated by something other than hatred or ignorance or some sort of anti-American bias) oppose her, she doesn’t have to reckon with the mess of pluralism—which is to say, the mess of American and global politics today.

Nope, she’s just able serenely to float above it all, hand-in-hand with her hubby, utterly unable and unwilling to engage in the realities of life as Other people live it.

We’re not real to her, and thus not to be taken seriously.

Which I guess frees us not to take her seriously, either.

_____

h/t Jill Lawrence, The Daily Beast; Jason Horowitz, The Washington Post; Molly Worthen, New York Times Magazine