This is the only thing that keeps either party within a mile of good behavior — the understanding that if you deceive the public, or act with gross incompetence, that behavior is going to be politicized and used against you.
Consider the example of the various one-party cities in this nation.
Can there be any doubt that “politicization” of one’s errors or actual violations is, while annoying for the party who has erred, the only thing that restrains a party from wholesale violations of the public trust?
Besides the obvious salutary public policy effects, there is of course a more tangible reason why records should be retained and, when subpoenaed by Congress, disclosed to that body:
Because it’s the law.
And adherence to the Law is the only thing that keeps a society of feuding political parties from degenerating into a third-world system of coups and counter-coups.
If the party I oppose shows perfect contempt for following the law when it sees a political advantage in doing so, why should I not support the selfsame law-breaking when the party I support decides it might find some advantage in doing so?
The government’s basis for rule over the citizens is based on two things:
1. Sheer naked coercive power.
2. Moral authority, and the notion that, while a citizen might not like the particular government serving at any particular time, that citizen values something more eternal than the temporary political circumstances of a four year period of time.
Namely, the idea that it is best for everyone to follow the law, because it’s more important to support a stable government without turmoil and violence than to violate the law to win on any immediate, ephemeral political point.
Note that it is far better for any society that the government’s power rests more on the second pillar than on the first. Because so long as that pillar, of moral authority, of general fairness, of a general sense that the longterm interests of America are better served by adherence to government than to rebellion against it, the government will rarely, if ever, have to resort to the ultimate pillar of authority, which is physical, violent coercion.
August 9, 2014
July 4, 2014
Published on 3 Jul 2014
“America is dropping like a stone in rankings of freedom. As power accumulates in one person, expect that to continue,” says Frank Buckley, George Mason University law professor and author of the new book, The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America.
Buckley sat down with Reason TV‘s Tracy Oppenheimer to discuss how the U.S. presidency has evolved into what he calls “something like an elective monarch.” He says that this is not what the framers of the Constitution had intended, nor did they conceive of the modern version of the separation of powers.
“A parliamentary regime was more or less what the framers wanted…as far as the separation of powers is concerned,” says Buckley “instead of a device to constrain a president, it’s one which immunizes him from criticism by Congress.”
June 16, 2014
Published on 16 Jun 2014
Get Konnected at http://thekronies.com/
In this very special episode of “The Less You Know”, Johnny and Bobby learn a valuable lesson about campaign finance.
With a crucial re-authorization vote looming, the Representatives must decide whether or not to support the U.S. Export-Import Bank. Johnny and Bobby nearly make a terrible mistake, one that could endanger their political careers!
Luckily, Bankor and Ariel Stryker appear just in time to set the Reps straight…straight on the path to re-election. Including a special appearance by “the Big man” himself, this episode is sure to capture hearts, minds, and votes.
June 15, 2014
Sharyl Attkisson has a set of questions that someone in congress or within the Justice department should be directing toward the IRS after Friday’s announcement that, oopsie, we kinda sorta lost those Lois Lerner emails you were interested in reading:
- Please provide a timeline of the crash and documentation covering when it was first discovered and by whom; when, how and by whom it was learned that materials were lost; the official documentation reporting the crash and federal data loss; documentation reflecting all attempts to recover the materials; and the remediation records documenting the fix. This material should include the names of all officials and technicians involved, as well as all internal communications about the matter.
- Please provide all documents and emails that refer to the crash from the time that it happened through the IRS’ disclosure to Congress Friday that it had occurred.
- Please provide the documents that show the computer crash and lost data were appropriately reported to the required entities including any contractor servicing the IRS. If the incident was not reported, please explain why.
- Please provide a list summarizing what other data was irretrievably lost in the computer crash. If the loss involved any personal data, was the loss disclosed to those impacted? If not, why?
- Please provide documentation reflecting any security analyses done to assess the impact of the crash and lost materials. If such analyses were not performed, why not?
- Please provide documentation showing the steps taken to recover the material, and the names of all technicians who attempted the recovery.
- Please explain why redundancies required for federal systems were either not used or were not effective in restoring the lost materials, and provide documentation showing how this shortfall has been remediated.
- Please provide any documents reflecting an investigation into how the crash resulted in the irretrievable loss of federal data and what factors were found to be responsible for the existence of this situation.
- I would also ask for those who discovered and reported the crash to testify under oath, as well as any officials who reported the materials as having been irretrievably lost.
Losing an ordinary email archive happens now and again. Losing an email archive that is the focus of some fascinating questions about the IRS being used as a partisan oppression device against political opponents? That will take a lot of explaining away, as it’s just too convenient and the timing is highly suspicious. What is even more interesting is that the IRS hinted that since they can’t find those emails, they’re thinking of abandoning the investigation. So, clearly there’s nothing to see here and we should all just move along now.
Update: This seems relevant.
NY Times goes DefCon 1 over missing WH emails, calls for Congressional action – in 2008 http://t.co/lj3PA9IRlf
— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) June 14, 2014
Update, 17 June: Megan McArdle assesses whether this “innocent” explanation is plausible.
In short, yes, there is an innocent explanation: An accident combined with a really bad e-mail storage policy to wipe out critical records. There’s also a semi-innocent explanation, where really bad storage policy could have enabled Lerner to arrange a hard drive accident that destroyed incriminating e-mails before she had to respond to Camp’s initial letter. I find the innocent explanation much more plausible than a conspiracy, or even the semi-innocent explanation — even assuming that she was conspiring with the White House, why bother with the elaborate schemes when you could just send your incriminating e-mails from an outside account?
But that still leaves me really concerned about the terrible policy decisions. The timing of the data loss is incredibly suspicious, and the IRS has left itself completely unable to answer those suspicions with anything better than a shrug. It should expect — in fact, it should request — a thorough outside investigation of this incident, but even the most scrupulous audit will not be able to entirely quell the worry that the IRS enabled a rogue agent to get away with destroying evidence.
To believe the IRS requires a pretty low opinion of government competence. My friends who work in regulated sectors such as finance are outraged by the IRS’s description of how it was running its backup process, because the government subjects them to constantly ratcheting standards for document retention — specifying how long, and on what format, they have to keep every communication ever generated by their firms. How dare they demand higher standards of regulated companies than they do of the regulators?
In 2014, every government agency should be storing every e-mail that goes in or out in an easily accessible format. That they weren’t bothering suggests that the IRS does not expect to deliver the kind of accountability that it routinely demands of taxpayers. That’s potentially a much bigger problem than anything Lois Lerner stands accused of — and it should be rectified, government-wide, with all due speed.
A few minutes later, Megan sent out this Twitter update:
Okay, one crash I believe. Six crashes is starting to strain my credibility gland. http://t.co/CIBkP6xjR2
— Megan McArdle (@asymmetricinfo) June 17, 2014
April 15, 2014
Chris Kluwe is deputized to answer reader letters for Deadspin. It actually has some football-related stuff, in addition to an answer for this query from Ethan:
How many people that are not the president, do you think have had sex in the Oval Office?
Has to be at least in the thousands. Think of all the Congressmen working after hours, diligently crafting pork with the help of nubile young interns who’re easily impressed by wrinkly, dead Cryptkeeper flesh and the ephemeral promise of power. One thing leads to another, he says he knows a guy on the Secret Service who can get them into the Oval Office as long as they’re quiet, and boom — now he’s desperately trying to remember where he left the Viagra while she tries to convince herself this will totally launch her career. I bet the Secret Service guys even have a name for it, like the Clinton, or the Kennedy.
“Hey Chip, looks like ‘ol Strom Thurmond’s pulling another Jefferson tonight. Make sure his walker’s outside the door in about three minutes.”
“Greeeaat, I’ll let the cleaning staff know it’s gonna be another late one.”
February 25, 2014
This is the sort of story that wouldn’t be out of place in the 1970s, but seems to have come adrift in the timestream and for some reason shows up today:
Just when it appeared that a supposedly modern, progressive society is willing to accept people for who they are and not force them to pretend to be something they’re not, someone is trying to kick the pendulum sharply in the other direction.
According to The Hill, lobbyist Jack Burkman said Monday that he’s preparing legislation that would ban gay players from the NFL.
“We are losing our decency as a nation,” Burkman said in a statement. “Imagine your son being forced to shower with a gay man. That’s a horrifying prospect for every mom in the country. What in the world has this nation come to?”
One must assume that Burkman’s belief is, contra Chris Kluwe, sharing a shower room with a gay man will magically turn you into a “lustful cockmonster”.
January 16, 2014
Jim Geraghty‘s congressman is retiring, so some have suggested that he should run to replace him. Here’s the speech he’ll never give:
I have been asked what I am willing to do to earn the great responsibility and honor of representing you in the House of Representatives. My answer is simple and direct: Absolutely nothing.
(Nervous laughter from crowd.)
My fellow Virginians, if you elect me to Congress, I promise that I will not lift a finger for the special interests, the corporate interests, the lobbyists, Big Oil, Big Business, Big Papi, the Big Ten, the Notorious B.I.G., or The Big Bang Theory. I won’t answer to them or any other one of our public discourse’s designated villains of the week.
I can make this promise with confidence because I’m pretty sure I won’t do much of anything for you, either.
This is an area where my principled commitment to limited government and my deep disinterest in dealing with your problems will align perfectly.
Do you want a deduction or tax credit written into the tax code to benefit your business? Well, tough, because you’re not getting it. Your business is supposed to thrive because it provides quality goods and services, not because it gets some special help from the IRS.
(Murmurs of discontent.)
Have you ever considered that maybe the reason Congress is so awful is you, dear voters? I mean, you elected these clowns. But even beyond that, most of the time when members of Congress interact with the public, they’re being asked for favors. The mail they get, the phone calls they get, most of the people who show up at their town halls – everybody’s asking them for something. Get more funding for this! Help us get money to do that! Make sure this agency spends more on this local project! Look, your congressman is not Santa Claus! [...] Through your behavior and expectations, you’ve conditioned our elected leaders to think of themselves as walking ATMs.
Ask not what your country can do for you … because I’m sick and tired of your whining. Do it yourself.
(The crowd is silent and not happy.)
What do you say, Virginia? Are you ready for a congressman who has nothing to offer you but … well, basically nothing to offer you?
Guy in crowd: Hey, doesn’t Mary Katharine Ham live in this district, too?
Another guy in crowd: Let’s nominate her!
The crowd moves on.
January 15, 2014
President Obama will issue new guidelines on Friday to curtail government surveillance, but will not embrace the most far-reaching proposals of his own advisers and will ask Congress to help decide some of the toughest issues, according to people briefed on his thinking.
Mr. Obama plans to increase limits on access to bulk telephone data, call for privacy safeguards for foreigners and propose the creation of a public advocate to represent privacy concerns at a secret intelligence court. But he will not endorse leaving bulk data in the custody of telecommunications firms, nor will he require court permission for all so-called national security letters seeking business records.
The emerging approach, described by current and former government officials who insisted on anonymity in advance of Mr. Obama’s widely anticipated speech, suggested a president trying to straddle a difficult line in hopes of placating foreign leaders and advocates of civil liberties without a backlash from national security agencies. The result seems to be a speech that leaves in place many current programs, but embraces the spirit of reform and keeps the door open to changes later.
January 9, 2014
Oh, that’s okay then – Congress has the same constitutional protections as other Americans (i.e., none whatsoever)
Like Andrew Napolitano, I’m sure all members of congress heaved a sigh of relief when the NSA said that they have exactly the same constitutional right to privacy from surveillance as every other American does. Wait, what?
Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., wrote to Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Administration (NSA), and asked plainly whether the NSA has been or is now spying on members of Congress or other public officials. The senator’s letter was no doubt prompted by the revelations of Edward Snowden to the effect that the federal government’s lust for personal private data about all Americans and many foreigners knows no bounds, and its respect for the constitutionally protected and statutorily enforced right to privacy is nonexistent.
All of this is background to the timing of Sanders’ letter. That Clapper perjured himself before, and Alexander misled, Congress is nothing new. And the punishments for lying to Congress and for misleading Congress are identical: five years per lie or per misleading statement. Hence, the silence from the NSA to Sanders.
Well, it wasn’t exactly silence, but rather a refusal to answer a simple question. The NSA did reply to Sanders by stating — in an absurd oxymoron — that members of Congress receive the same constitutional protections as other Americans: that is to say, none from the NSA.
The NSA’s refusal to answer Sanders’ question directly is a tacit admission, because we are all well aware that the NSA collects identifying data on and the content of virtually every email, text message and phone call sent or received in the U.S. In fact, just last week, the secret FISA court renewed the order authorizing massive records collection for the 36th time. If members of Congress are treated no differently than the American public, then the NSA is keeping tabs on every email, text and phone call members of Congress send and receive, too.
That raises a host of constitutional questions. Under the Constitution, Congress and the executive branch are equals. The president — for whom the NSA works — can no more legally spy on members of Congress without a search warrant about the members to be spied upon than Congress can legally spy on the president. Surely the president, a former lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School, knows this.
There was a time when the NSA’s failure to answer such a straightforward question as Sanders has asked would have led to hearings and bipartisan investigations. However, Democrats are largely silent, choosing party and personality over principle, and Republicans know all of this started under President George W. Bush and are afraid to open a can of worms — except for King, who apparently likes to be spied upon.
January 2, 2014
When it comes to crafting winning political narratives, progressives have a natural advantage over conservatives. That’s because progressives have a free hand to project rosy visions of the future while conservatives must constantly defend against progressives’ distorted depictions of the past.
Two fundamental techniques undergird progressives’ success at narrative spinning. The first is skillful framing of the debate through investing heavily in public opinion making machinery. This disarms critics while giving lawmakers cover to vote for bills they’ve neither read nor understood. Thus framed, policies are judged only by their stated intentions, never their actual results. This allows politicians to promote new pieces of legislation named for their lofty objectives, even if the thousands of pages of vague and contradictory content deliver just the opposite.
The second is dodging all responsibility for failure. This is accomplished by blaming insufficient resources, the prior administration, the greedy 1 percent, sabotage by Republicans, or even the people’s obdurate failure to appreciate the progressive benefits conferred upon them. When the going gets tough, reality can be dismissed with a slogan. Forward!
Bill Frezza, “2013: The Year The Progressive Narrative Collided With Reality”, Forbes, 2013-12-30
At Techdirt, Mike Masnick mourns the creative works that should have entered the public domain yesterday, but thanks to Congress will remain locked up for much, much longer:
As they do every year, unfortunately, the good folks at the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke have put together a depressing list of what should have entered the public domain yesterday. As you hopefully know, until 1978, the maximum amount of time that work in the US could be covered by copyright was 56 years (you initially received a 28 year copyright term, which could be renewed for another 28 years). That means, back in 1957, everyone who created the works in that list knew absolutely, and without a doubt that their works would be given back to the public to share, to perform, to build on and more… on January 1, 2014 at the very latest. And they all still created their works, making clear that the incentive of a 56 year monopoly was absolutely more than enough incentive to create.
And yet, for reasons that still no one has made clear, Congress unilaterally changed the terms of the deal, took these works away from the public, without any compensation at all, and will keep them locked up for at least another 40 years. At least.
And it’s not just arts and entertainment. The post points out plenty of science and technology is still locked up thanks to all of this.
1957 was a noteworthy year for science: the USSR launched Sputnik 1 and Sputnik 2, IBM released the first FORTRAN compiler, and the UK’s Medical Research Council published an early report linking smoking and lung cancer. There were groundbreaking publications in the fields of superconductivity and astrophysics such as “Theory of Superconductivity” by John Bardeen, L.N. Cooper, and J.R. Schrieffer and “Synthesis of the Elements in Stars… ” by Geofrey Burbidge, Margaret Burbidge, William Fowler, and Fred Hoyle.
They further make an important point that while the works listed above grab all the attention, because they were so successful, the real shame is in lots of other works that are simply not available at all any more. And this would likely include all sorts of works from 1985. After all, works created in 1985, if created under the old law, would have been given an initial 28 year copyright term, which would also be expiring, and if history is any guide, the vast majority of those would not have their copyrights renewed. Instead, they’re locked up… and quite frequently completely unavailable, with a very real risk of being lost to history.
The really crazy part about all of this is that it’s the exact opposite of the entire original purpose of copyright. Copyright law was put in place specifically to encourage the creation of works that would be put into the public domain to promote learning, knowledge and understanding. Yet, instead, it’s been distorted, twisted and misrepresented into a system that is used solely to lock stuff up, make it less accessible and less available, limiting the ability to promote knowledge and learning. What a shame.
December 1, 2013
At Outside the Beltway, James Joyner calls this “justification” for restoring the draft the dumbest argument yet:
While I oppose bringing back military conscription, there are respectable arguments for doing so. The all-volunteer force allows the sons and daughters of the wealthy and powerful to avoid the burden of fighting our wars. It also makes sending young Americans into harm’s way easier.
But Dana Milbank offers a nonsensical reason for denying our youth the freedom to choose their own path:
There is no better explanation for what has gone wrong in Washington in recent years than the tabulation done every two years of how many members of Congress served in the military.
A Congressional Quarterly count of the current Congress finds that just 86 of the 435 members of the House are veterans, as are only 17 of 100 senators, which puts the overall rate at 19 percent. This is the lowest percentage of veterans in Congress since World War II, down from a high of 77 percent in 1977-78, according to the American Legion. For the past 21 years, the presidency has been occupied by men who didn’t serve or, in the case of George W. Bush, served in a capacity designed to avoid combat.
It’s no coincidence that this same period has seen the gradual collapse of our ability to govern ourselves: a loss of control over the nation’s debt, legislative stalemate and a disabling partisanship. It’s no coincidence, either, that Americans’ approval of Congress has dropped to just 9 percent, the lowest since Gallup began asking the question 39 years ago.
Because so few serving in politics have worn their country’s uniform, they have collectively forgotten how to put country before party and self-interest. They have forgotten a “cause greater than self,” and they have lost the knowledge of how to make compromises for the good of the country. Without a history of sacrifice and service, they’ve turned politics into war.
That few in Congress have served in the military is lamentable for many reasons, the most obvious of which is that it not only makes them less intimately familiar with the demands of combat but also tends to undermine civil-military relations by making our civilian leaders afraid to challenge our military brass. But the notion that having worn a military uniform somehow makes one immune from partisanship and foolishness is absurd.
October 21, 2013
Megan McArdle on the problem with emulating the Conquistator model of operational planning and burning your boats:
There’s a legend that after Hernan Cortes and his crew landed on the shores of the New World, Cortes ordered that their boats be burned. The only way they would be able to get back to Spain would be to conquer the land, giving them the resources to build new boats. With necessity at their backs, his band of adventurers managed to conquer all of Mexico.
It’s not clear if this story is actually true, but it’s nonetheless beloved by motivational speakers. The last two weeks of political paralysis have been an excellent illustration of why you shouldn’t model your negotiation strategy on a guy who’s mostly famous for slaughtering strangers.
The state insurance exchanges aren’t working, Obamacare is in jeopardy, and Democrats are casting around for a way to blame this on Republicans. The answer they have settled on: It’s their fault because Republican governors did not set up exchanges.
Think about what they are actually saying: “We passed a law that was so incredibly fragile that it was destined to fail unless all the state governments controlled by the party that opposed this law worked hard to make the system a success.”
And why did they expect this to happen? The answer boils down to this: “After we burn the boats, everyone’s supposed to band together to fight the Aztecs!”
I’ve long criticized the health-care law for being a Rube Goldberg Policy Machine: There are dozens of pieces that all have to work perfectly. If one of them fails, the whole apparatus breaks down and the individual insurance market spirals toward death. That seemed risky to me, especially when the law was passed over fervent opposition — a fervent opposition that was smugly told that “elections have consequences,” without anyone apparently considering that future elections might have different consequences.
But in this view, the Rube Goldberg quality is actually a plus, because after all, if we do something that might break the insurance market unless Republicans enthusiastically cooperate, they’ll have to enthusiastically cooperate.
This is … what’s the technical term? Right, insane.
Start with the fact that the state exchanges — what we would have had if the Republican governors and legislatures had cooperated — aren’t all in such great shape, either. Don’t get me wrong; some of them are doing very well. But some aren’t really working at all, and in others the results are … unclear. And that’s in blue states where the governor and the legislature were hugely enthusiastic about this program and are going all out to make it work. As anyone who has ever implemented a new program (corporate or government) can tell you, one of the biggest hurdles is getting people who don’t care about your program, or who actively oppose it, to make their piece work. Even if they’re trying in good faith, they have neither your enthusiasm nor your deep grasp of the internal logic. In the best-case scenario, it’s not their No. 1 priority; when it competes for resources with stuff they really care about, it tends to get the second-string people and budget. This is one reason that promising pilot projects often fail when they’re rolled out to the larger organization—and one of the most important things that a corporate innovator has to do is to evangelize his program so that other departments get as enthusiastic as he is.
The Obama administration was not in a position to evangelize the president’s health-care program to Republican governors. If the law absolutely required that those governors be as enthusiastic about implementing a state exchange as the folks in the administration, then it was a bad law that should never have been passed, and the Democrats made a grave mistake that could destroy the nation’s insurance market.
After the boat-burning failed the first time, leaving it weeks from its debut without a working computer system, the administration seems to have decided that what was needed was simply a larger bonfire: Launch the nonworking system, because after all, once you’ve gone live, the potential catastrophe would be nearly upon us, which would somehow force those inside and outside the administration to somehow bring order out of the chaos they had created.
But Republicans should make this work! It’s the right thing to do! That is, of course, debatable. But aside from that, this is magical thinking — as magical as the Tea Partiers who responded, when I pointed out that the shutdown was costing them the support they’d need to retake the Senate and the White House and actually get some policy making done, that this was all the fault of the liberal media, which was just repeating administration talking points.
October 19, 2013
This week’s Goldberg File email included a brief analysis of Raiders of the Lost Ark and tied it to the last couple of weeks of Washington political theatre:
If the Tea Party isn’t pissing someone off, it’s doing it wrong.
Like the skinny guy everyone in prison is afraid of, much of the Tea Party’s political power is drawn from the perception that it’s just a little crazy. Boehner’s hand has been strengthened over the last few years by his ability to tell Obama, “Hey, look, I’d love to cut a deal with you but you see those guys over my right shoulder? — DON’T LOOK THEM IN THE EYE! They are crazy and if I walk back there with what you’re offering they will rip off my legs and beat me to death with them. And then they will get mean.”
So why did I get crosswise with them this time? Because I didn’t think their strategy would work. But going over all that again feels like airing dirty laundry during Thanksgiving dinner just so you can get grandma riled up about grandpa’s escapades during the war. “You weren’t fighting Communists! You were fighting syphilis! We’re going home!”
Still, like most of my colleagues, I didn’t think the strategy would work. And that was a risk for the Tea Parties themselves. Sometimes to use power means to lose power. Good hostage-takers are always careful to ask for a ransom the victim’s families can afford to pay, otherwise what’s the point?
Indiana Jones and the Tea Party of the Lost Ark
In a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon introduces his girlfriend, Amy, to the Raiders of the Lost Ark, which she’d never seen before. She liked the movie, she explains, despite the big “story problem.” Sheldon is aghast at the suggestion there could be any story problems with the “love child” of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. “What story problem?” he demands to know. She explains that Indiana Jones is absolutely irrelevant to the story. If he’d never gotten involved, the Nazis would have still found the ark of the covenant, they would have still brought it to that island, and they would have still had their faces melted.
I’d never thought of it that way before, but it’s actually a very close parallel complaint to the one I’ve written about many times. My dad — who loved the movie — always laughed at the idea that the Nazis would be able to use the ark for their dastardly purposes. The idea that God would be like, “Darn, it’s out of my hands. I guess I have no choice but to lend you my awesome powers for your evil deeds,” is pretty ridiculous. They even returned to this idea in the third movie, when the Nazis tried to get their hands on the Holy Grail — because, you know, Jesus would totally say, “Nazis!? Rats. There’s nothing I can do. It’s life everlasting for the SS!”
I’m no theologian, but I just have a hard time believing that’s how God rolls.
Anyway, I bring this up because I think you can say something similar about the last few weeks. There was a whole lot of action, but at the end of the day, things worked out the way they were going to all along. I’m sure there’s a really good extended metaphor in here somewhere. Default was the face-melting ark, but we looked away at the last minute. Or defunding Obamacare was the Holy Grail, or something like that. But I want to get back to why I feel pretty good about how things worked out.
October 7, 2013
Charlie Cooke had a very good column and follow up post this week on progressive disdain for our system of separated powers. What liberals want, according to Charlie, is an “elected king” who can do whatever he wants. I agree with him almost entirely. For instance, he doesn’t say it, but this is exactly what Thomas Friedman wants. It’s what all the pseudo-eggheady-jagoff technocrats always want. The desire to simply impose “optimal policies” heedless of democratic or legal impediments lies behind virtually every technocratic fad of the last couple of centuries. We know what to do, and the problem with democracy is that the rubes won’t let us do it! Stuart Chase, one of the architects of the New Deal (who some say coined the term), openly pleaded for an “economic dictatorship.” After all, he asked, “why should the Russians have all the fun remaking the world?”
But here’s where I disagree a bit with Charlie. The key issue for progressives has never been the form power takes, but power itself. You want my five-second lesson in progressive history? No? Sucks for you, because I’m going to tell you anyway: They always go where the field is open.
When the public was on their side the progressives relied on the public. That’s why we have the direct election of senators. That’s why women got the franchise. Etc. In his early years as an academic Woodrow Wilson wanted Congress to run the country — the way parliament runs England — and relegate the president to a glorified clerk. When the public became unreliable and Congress was no longer a viable vehicle, progressives suddenly fell in love with a Caesarian presidency. Indeed, Wilson himself, the former champion of Congress, became an unapologetic voluptuary of presidential power the moment it suited him — and nary a progressive complained (save poor Randolph Bourne, of course). The progressives rode the presidency like it was a horse they never expected to return to a stable. And when that started to hit the point of diminishing returns, they moved on to the courts (even as they bleated and caterwauled about Nixon’s “abuses” of powers that were created and exploited by Wilson, FDR, and Johnson). After the courts, they relied on the bureaucracy. Like water seeking the shortest path, progressives have always championed the shortest route to social-justice victories.
My point is that I think Charlie is entirely right that progressives want to maximize their power. But the elected king scenario is just one of many they’d be perfectly happy with. If they could have a politburo instead of a unitary executive, they’d probably prefer that. But the point is that the instruments are, uh, instrumental. The core imperative is power. We see this in miniature when liberals don’t control the presidency but do control Congress. Suddenly, it’s vital that the “people’s house” exert its constitutional prerogatives! When the president is a Democrat he needs to rule unimpaired. When he’s a Republican, his dictatorial tendencies must be held in check. When liberals want to reinterpret the Constitution by judicial whim or fiat, it’s proof that the Constitution is living up to its nature as a “living, breathing, document.” When conservatives actually want to amend the Constitution — the only legitimate and constitutional means to change the meaning of the Constitution, I might add — it is a horrible affront to the vision of the Founders!
Once you realize this it helps explain so many of the Left’s hypocrisies and alleged double standards. I say alleged, because they aren’t really double standards. You can only have a double standard when you actually believe something should be a standard. Ultimately, for progressives these procedural debates about how power is used in America are just that: procedural debates. The alleged standards at stake are evanescent and petty — for liberals. The only true standard is whatever advances the progressives’ ball downfield. That is the very heart of “social justice” — doing whatever “good” you can, when you can, however you can. As they say, behind every confessed double standard there is an unconfessed single standard. And for progressives, the single enduring standard is “whatever works for us.”
Jonah Goldberg, “Progressives and Power”, The Goldberg File email newsletter, 2013-10-04