Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Who's On First

On a recent TV talk show a poll of Tea Party voters was cited in which a substantial majority, in excess of two thirds, consisted of traditional Republican voters who shared the social values associated with that party’s right wing.  One of the panelists pointed out that, by any name, this was essentially the Republican base. Both major parties have bases that almost always vote for their candidates. The difference is in the right wingers’ excess enthusiasm, fanaticism to this admittedly jaundiced eye. This gives the Republicans a big edge.

It is most evident in mid-term elections in which the turnout is lighter than when the presidency is at stake. Congressional elections in 1946, 1994 and recently in 2010, which resulted in Republican landslides, are cases in point. True, the reverse happened in 2006. But that was after six years of the George W. Bush presidency. Truman and Clinton had only been in office for two years and were reelected two years later.  Obama’s test is yet to come.

My thinking is that this enthusiasm gap has something to do with diversified interests on the left contrasted with those on the relatively homogenized right. People whose interests involve the environment, reproductive choice, financial regulations, labor rights and civil liberties may see eye to eye on most of these issues. But not to the degree of those who are indifferent to civil liberties, advocate religion in public life and hate gun control, gays, abortion and government in any form, unless they need it.  Throw in a president who isn’t “one of them” and it’s no contest.

The extreme right tends to be better focused on its benefit to Republicans than the left is to Democrats. Tea Party influence clearly led to the current GOP super House majority. On the other hand the actions of Civil Rights and Vietnam War protestors in the 1960s resulted in the election of Richard Nixon.
People on the far right seem to have more adrenalin than their adversaries on the left. This may lead to what can charitably be called more adventuresome actions which, on occasion, can become a bit chancy. If worst comes to worst they can always fall back on what has become a Republican battle cry since Watergate. It has no place in a court of law, but has worked with some success in the court of public opinion. “They all do it.”

Monday, August 22, 2011

Defense of Liberty

“I would remind you that extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.” Many of us recognize these words as spoken by Barry Goldwater in his 1964 acceptance speech at the Republican Convention. It played a big part in the size of his defeat by Lyndon Johnson in the general election. Yet about two out of five Americans voted for him. Their ideological descendants comprise what is now called the Tea Party. However one regards these people, it’s quite a stretch to call them moderate, they have taken control of the Republican Party by the legitimate process of voting heavily in party primaries.
Goldwater’s statement, with which they evidently concur, sounds alright on paper. The problem is in agreeing on what constitutes defense of liberty. Many of us applauded, as we still do, the non violent civil disobedience inspired by Martin Luther King. The meaning, if not the words of the Goldwater dictum fit. These words could also have been used by the most violent Black Panther during the ghetto riots later in the decade, with an opposite historical verdict.
The Tea Party began making news in the days preceding tax filing on April 15, 2009. The taxes due then were at a slightly lower rate than those of the previous year, during the administration of a Caucasian Republican president. Somehow paying taxes under a Democratic president of color became un-American.
Most of us, including and particularly Tea Partiers, agree that the actions of the colonists leading to the War of Independence, while extreme, were taken in defense of liberty. “Taxation without Representation” was the valid battle cry of the instigators of the Boston Tea Party from which today’s enthusiasts have taken their name. But unlike the taxes imposed by the British that the colonists found so objectionable, today’s taxes have been set by the will of a majority of our own democratically elected representatives.
The folks appearing publicly in colonial garb carrying signs reading “Don’t Tread on Me” provide evidence of at least one major failure of our public education, specifically adult knowledge of American history.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Over the years there have been several times when I just didn’t want to hear the news or, worse yet, commentary on it. One of them was the immediate aftermath of 9/11. The most recent was last week, a consequence of the conclusion of the national debt crisis. There’s much more to be said about what’s wrong than what isn’t. That’s too much territory for me to take on now. 

The one aspect in particular that sticks in my craw is the presidential decision not to invoke the 14th Amendment, with its sanctification of the national debt. Reasoned legal opinion that was initially mixed on this subject seemed to have become more positive as the hour drew nigh.

From the commentary I’ve heard, the president opposed this course because of a reluctance to expand the authority of the executive branch. Hogwash! I can’t remember a president who didn’t want to retain and acquire as much executive power as possible. Some were just better at this sort of thing than others. 

Preserving dubious executive prerogative occupied by the Bush Administration was the reason the Obama Justice Department chose not to prosecute the known civil rights crimes of his predecessor. These were crimes he condemned vehemently while campaigning for the presidency. Beyond that it seems a milestone in naivety to expect the next Republican president not to try to set a new standard in this field.

Another argument I’ve heard is that it would create a “Constitutional crisis.” I’m not certain what the term means, but I remember hearing it used during Watergate and Bush v Gore. The ensuing adjudications resulted sequentially in proper and atrocious judicial decisions.  But while these crises were being settled life went on pretty much as usual, without anything as tumultuous as what’s now taking place on Wall Street; an unintended consequence of “playing it safe.”

I plan to vote for Barack Obama next year. Future composition of the Supreme Court, by itself, is reason enough. But like many who voted for him with passion, I am deeply disappointed with major critical parts of his performance as president.