Thursday, February 28, 2013

Defense! Defense!

I’ve been toying with writing about Chuck Hagel’s nomination as head the Defense Department (once known as the War Department) with some uncertainty. His rejection by the Senate would have precluded treating the matter lightly. Now that he’s been confirmed the subject is fair game.

Had the plot ended tragically Republicans would have provided the comic relief. Since it turned out to be all comedy these guys were the whole show. John McCain asked Hagel if he stood by his statement that the “surge,” (once known as reinforcements) and the Iraq War were our worst mistakes since Vietnam. McCain seems to believe that the success of the whole operation rested on that of the surge. Pressed repeatedly for a yes or no, Hagel could have recanted and admitted that as bad actions go the surge didn’t hold a candle to the war itself. It simply involved more casualties and more resources than otherwise, but in a shorter time. Of course that would have spoiled all the fun that followed.

The star of the show was Senator Ted Cruz of Texas serving his first month in office. If this performance is any indication the next six years could be very entertaining. He repeatedly asked questions of the “do you still beat your wife” nature, requiring Hagel’s denial of things of which he’d never been accused, like belonging to “Friends of Hamas,” a non-existent group conjured up by a humor blog. To those of us who remember Joe McCarthy, Mr. Cruz tactics are reminiscent, and even more far-fetched, if that’s possible. Remember, there really had been a Communist Party in America, we were in a cold war with the Soviet Union, a hot one in Korea, and he had the tacit backing of his party’s establishment. All in all “Tail Gunner Joe”” had the wind at his back while Ted Cruz is running right into it.

This man’s antics bring to mind the other Senator from the Lone Star State which is now represented in that body by two major league doozies, John Cornyn being the other. When Democrats filibustered a few of W’s more extreme judicial appointments (Yes, both parties do it) Cornyn blamed our judicial system for the murder of one Chicago judge, and the mother of a second by losers in two court cases.* In other words these murders were justified, presumably by obstructionist Senate Democrats.

I am of two minds over Texas Governor Rick Perry’s talk about his state’s secession. My ambivalence on this subject also coupled with the thought that there might one day be some serious revisionist thinking involving the Mexican War.

*Has anybody noticed the allusions to Chicago as the Mecca of crime, by partisans of you know which party, since you know who became president?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

To Vote or Not to Vote

Political propriety has it as gospel that high voter turnout is a good thing. Of course there are heretics. But most of them know enough to keep their thoughts to themselves and execute them through their actions. I’m referring specifically to today’s Republicans. It’s no secret that they’ve been trying to prevent or discourage voting by folks who aren’t up in the chips and vote heavily Democratic, in six major swing states carried by Obama in the last two elections. The techniques involved make it difficult to establish identity or to make them wait hours in line to vote, an obstacle not common to affluent voting flirted districts. While their motive is clear they owe the public something a bit more subtle. Let me help them. They could say that many of these people lack sufficient knowledge or, as I’m sure they feel, that they don’t pay a large enough portion of our taxes for the privilege of voting. Instead they’ve settled on a real doozy, voter fraud.

The irrelevance of this logic is that fraudulent voting has not been a problem unless one considers .00000018% of total votes cast as such. Figure out the zeros if you like. Most errors are unintentional such as voting in the wrong precinct. But even if this were a problem a longer voting period would have no effect other than giving the authorities more time to inspect the legitimacy of individual votes.

The stage for this chicanery was set by the heavy turnout of Tea Party types in the otherwise sparsely attended 2010 midterm elections and could be greatly exacerbated next year. I’m encouraged by signs that Democrats are aware of the situation in Congress this time.

But even success at the federal level won’t protect them from what may well be their Achilles heel, state government. This is where after the 2014 elections, the voting processes of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida and Virginia, and probably the president-elect in 2016 will be determined. It could involve less Washington D.C. and more Harrisburg Columbus, Lansing, Madison, Richmond and Tallahassee.

Republicans let the cat out of the bag when the newly elected governors and legislatures openly flirted with the idea of awarding their states’ electoral votes on the basis of Congressional representation, a process that would have made Romney president. All but one have claimed to have lost interest. The idea is widely unpopular and these governors and state legislatures are up for reelection next year so it makes sense to play rope a dope until after the election and then do what they please. None of the governors elected in 2010 who are now engaged in a crusade against labor said a word on the subject when they were running for office.

Savvy Republicans know from the demographics that the game of majority rule is one they’ll lose, sooner rather than later as I see it. The solution is simple. Just change the rules of the game.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Primary Problems

In my last letter I mentioned having a warm spot in my heart for the legendary smoke filled rooms. After giving the matter some thought I’ve concluded that I could make a pretty strong case for them. Yes, I’d be saying that rather than the public or “the people” selecting a party’s candidates the choice would be made by politicians, some of whom have been known to seek the counsel of “job creators.” I’m not committing myself on the subject. But here’s sort of how my argument would go.

Take the last Republican presidential candidate. Please! (A little attempt at humor might be helpful.) Supporters of the wild and wooly types who fell by the wayside claim that their men would have run a better race than Romney. Nonsense! There is some limit to party loyalty even in traditionally red states. That’s why we now have Democratic Senators in Indiana and Missouri.

As a lifelong Democrat I must admit that Republican conflict warms the cockles of my heart. Their problem today is the need to pacify the warmongers whose vitriol discourages more moderate, and consequently more electable candidates. Jeb Bush and Chris Christie come to mind as well as John Huntsman who learned the lesson from experience.

Then there’s the tradition, not exclusive to Republicans, of primary voters choosing the next in line. In addition to Romney, Bob Dole and Walter Mondale come to mind. As a Democrat I found Al Gore’s nomination particularly upsetting. It’s my opinion that Bill Bradley would have wiped the floor with W. A swing of two or more percent in New Hampshire primary might well have changed history.

The selection of George McGovern as the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee represents the worst corruption of this system yet. Contrary to what some historians say, the Democratic Party did not move to the left. It was pushed there by CREEP, the committee to reelect Nixon. The “dirty tricks” by this group, well chronicled in the Senate Watergate hearings, sabotaged the candidacies of the more moderate and hence more electable Ed Muskie and Hubert Humphrey. It was also acknowledged that would be Nixon donors during the primary season were told to send their money to McGovern.

Examples can be found, for better or worse, for major political decisions made behind closed doors. One of them gave us Warren Harding. Another brought to the world stage an obscure Missouri Senator named Harry Truman. My feelings are more or less the antithesis of Johnny Mercer’s lyrics. I have trouble anticipating the positive and eliminating the negative, but no problem messing with Mister In Between.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


A few months ago I conjectured that the day may come when Republicans will rue having enlisted the aid of “these ruffians.” [The Tea Party] That day may have come with the last election. The partnership had been working well. Tea Party people voted en mass in the usually low turnout 2010 midterms and gave the GOP control of the House of Representatives and, what may be more important, control of governorships and legislatures in several major swing states that voted for Barack Obama in both elections. Like Faust they’d received their desired worldly pleasures, for two years anyhow although unlimited knowledge seems to be on back order. Now they’re having to pay the devil,

This is the second time in my memory that Republicans have suffered a similar collapse, the 1964 Goldwater campaign being the other. They got a break then from the left when Vietnam War protestors and the ghetto rioters muddied the water. This time around the threat of civil disobedience seems to be from the right. Party Pooh-Bahs like Karl Rove, Eric Kantor and Bobby Jindal have been making speeches to remake the party image, a neat trick when you’re simultaneously sticking your audience with the tab.

What makes the job even harder this time is that the Goldwater supporters who shouted down Nelson Rockefeller at the convention look like choir boys compared to people hoarding ammunition for the declared purpose of resisting the government. Their purported fear is that their guns will be taken away. But with folks carrying that much heat it’s only natural to wonder if something else might tick them off. They don’t seem overly fond of the president.

Their intentions may not be as bad as they seem. But their manners leave something to be desired. And manners mean a lot. Ronald Reagan’s crooning that “government is not the solution it’s the problem” is more seditious than Goldwater shouting about extremism and moderation, at least to this observer.

A major part of their hell comes from a primary system by which candidates of both parties are chosen. There’s no preventing voters from registering with the political party and voting for the candidates of their choice. If this system results in the nomination of fire eaters then that’s the way the kookies crumble.* I’m sure the party brass is working diligently for a solution. I must confess to a warm spot in my heart for those smoke filled rooms.

I have no guess what will develop and no suggestions. The two party system doesn’t seem to be working very well. Could it be that the time has come to bring back the Whigs?

*A quote from Claire Booth Luce after the 1964 election.