Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Is the Opposition Loyal? Part Two

Tonight we will not hear the President of the United States address a joint session of Congress regarding the dire economic condition of the nation. It was Mr. Obama’s intention to begin this new session of Congress by addressing the issues about which the whole country is concerned. As is well known, Speaker John Boehner has informed the President that the United States House of Representatives will be otherwise engaged.

“ ‘As the majority leader announced more than a month ago, the House will not be in session until Wednesday, Sept. 7, with votes at 6:30 that evening,’ the speaker wrote. ‘ With the significant amount of time, typically more than three hours, that is required to allow for a security sweep of the House chamber before receiving a president, it is my recommendation that your address be held on the following evening, when we can ensure there will be no parliamentary or logistical impediments that might detract from your remarks.’ ” (“Obama Moves Jobs Speech After Skirmish With Boehner,” The New York Times, August 31, 2011)

Mr. Boehner’s unprecedented refusal to grant the President’s request has been reported, reviewed, and, from the very beginning, denounced as just another petty political squabble. Blame has been cast on both the Speaker and the President.

“ ‘If the objective of the White House and Speaker Boehner was to demonstrate to the American people that they have gotten the message from the markets and from voters that our economic straits are so dire that it is time to set petty politics aside, they have failed before they started,’ said David Rothkopf, a former Commerce Department official in the Clinton administration. ‘This childish gamesmanship regarding timing reconfirms to the world that Washington is a sandbox full of petulant children who don’t play well together.' He called Wednesday’s antics 'late-summer silliness.’ ” (The New York Times, same article as above)

Despite the fact that Mr. Boehner is the first member of Congress to deny a president permission to speak to a joint session of Congress, it is the President who has received the most criticism. He is accused of playing politics.

“The real story, of course, was that the White House had high-handedly announced its preferred time for the speech, which just happened to conflict with a long-planned GOP presidential candidates’ debate at the Reagan library.” (The Weekly Standard, “The Scrapbook: Dissing Boehner,” September 12, 2011)

Even before Mr. Boehner took his stand against the President’s supposedly political proposal, talk radio condemned the idea. How could the President dare to upstage a Republican Party candidate debate? It is only reasonable to conclude that Mr. Boehner’s motive to deny the President’s proposal is to thwart Mr. Obama’s alleged political gambit and please the likes of Mr. Limbaugh. His stated reason is lame. The House has no business this evening that cannot be postponed.

Other aspects to this story have been reported, mostly from anonymous sources. Most of what has been reported is irrelevant. It remains that Mr. Boehner has done what has never been done before. In this, he has shown that, despite the fact that the Republican Party likes to wrap itself in the Constitution and boast its fidelity to the intentions of the Founding Fathers, it knows and cares little for either.

Let us grant the Republican contention that Mr. Obama scheduled his address to Congress to upstage Republican candidate debate. I do not know that this is so. It is, however, the best reason the Republicans have to deny the President’s request. So let it stand.

The activities of any political party should not interfere with the work of the elected government. A single debate, this early, is of negligible importance, particularly when compared to an official address by the sitting president.

The Republicans are far from selecting a candidate for the coming election. They have held one straw poll, in which Mrs. Bachman was selected. The Iowa straw poll historically has had little positive effect on selecting the eventual Republican candidate and even less on the results of the national election. Mrs. Bachmann’s victory was quickly eclipsed by Texas Governor Rick Perry’s mere announcement of his candidacy.

Even with Mr. Perry’s announcement, there is dissatisfaction among Republicans with the candidates vying for the ticket. Despite the fact time is growing short, there are calls for Representative Paul Ryan, Governor Chris Christie and even Mrs. Sarah Palin to enter the race.

The Republican contention that tonight’s debate should take precedence over a president's speech to Congress is nothing less than hubris.

The Constitution established three branches of government, the legislative, executive, and judicial. There is no mention of political parties. Political parties have no official standing in the work of government. In fact, the Founding Fathers disliked the idea of political parties and hoped that the nation could do without them.

The Republicans should know this if they knew the Constitution and its history as they claim. James Madison penned Federalist 10 as a warning against political parties, which he called “factions.” The Founding Fathers hope of politics without political parties did not survive their lifetime, and even Mr. Madison became a member of a political party. Nevertheless, the Founding Fathers would be appalled to see this day when a single party’s candidate debate interferes with the work of the elected government.

Perhaps some would question the wisdom of Mr. Obama using his office to upstage a single debate of the opposing party’s candidate debate. Let them. There is no reason that any sitting president should take into consideration the internal work of the opposing party in the rightful execution of his duties. More importantly, there is no reason the opposing party should expect such consideration.

The Constitution established three branches of government. Mr. Boehner won a majority of the votes of the 8th congressional district of Ohio to become a member of the lower chamber of the legislative branch. The majority of that lower chamber elected Mr. Boehner Speaker of the House of Representatives. Mr. Boehner thus represents both the 8th congressional district and one half of the bicameral legislature.

The President of the United States is elected by the whole nation, albeit indirectly through the Electoral College. Mr. Obama won the office of President of the United States by a clear majority of the popular vote and the Electoral College – without the assistance of a decision of the Supreme Court. He represents not a district, or even a state. He is President of the whole country and for the whole country.

To be sure, the president is not a dictator. There are constitutional limits to his authority. The Constitution provides checks and balances so that no single branch of government has power beyond what is necessary to exercise its duties to the country.

However, the Republicans have taken the legislature beyond anything the Founding Fathers imagined. Republican senators, by the mere threat of filibuster, have turn back presidential appointments. The single disqualifying mark of an appointee is that the appointment came from Mr. Obama.

“Speaking with National Journal magazine about Republican Party priorities for the 2008-2010 Congress, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell explained that ‘the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.’ ” (Wikipedia, Mitch McConnell)

Senator McConnell has expressed clearly that the single priority of the Republican Party is not the welfare of the country, but the augmentation of the power of the Republican Party. In keeping with this priority, the Republican Party perpetrated the unnecessary debt-ceiling crisis. In keeping with this priority, Mr. Boehner denied the President of the United States a joint session of Congress. In these and several other instances the Republican Party has demonstrated that it has no respect for the constitutionally established office of the executive as long as Mr. Obama occupies it – the vote of the people be damned.

This is not the governance the Founding Fathers envisioned. This is the factionalism that James Madison abhorred.

In September 2009, the President addressed a joint session of Congress. It was there that Representative Joe Wilson set the true precedent for Mr. Boehner’s action this month. Mr. Wilson broke with tradition and shouted at the President. On September 11, 2009, I asked the question, “Is the Opposition Loyal?” on this blog (see archive). This question stands.

[Works consulted for this essay: The Debate on the Constitution, Part One, Library of America, 1993; James Madison, Writings, Library of America, 1999; Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution, Richard Beeman, Random House, 2009; The Oxford Companion to United States History, edited by Paul S. Boyer, Oxford University Press, 2001.]


Father Hollywood said...

Dear Dr. Hill:

Asking for political opinions is always a risky venture - and I respect the fact that this is your blog. But since you asked, and begging your pardon ahead of time if I make you angry, here are my observations:

The parties are an impediment to the Constitution. Both of them. Democrats demonize Boehner and Republicans demonize Obama. It's talk-radio style posturing - no different than boxing arena trash talk. But I believe the system itself is flawed. The names of the people and the parties don't matter. They are (nearly) all puppets of influence peddlers.

The checks and balances between the federal branches has been subverted to where the executive and judicial branches collude to the point of reducing the congress to an almost honorary status - and the members of congress are fine with it, because nearly every member is more loyal to party (and lobbyists) than to branch, or even the people who elect them. Congress allows the president to get away with murder - so long as he is of their party - and often even when he isn't! Congress allows the judiciary to legislate - which gives congressmen a convenient excuse for their own failure to keep their campaign promises. Congress has the constitutional power to rein in the excesses of both the executive and judiciary - but lacks the political incentive to do it.

It's constitution vs. politics - and politics wins.

The checks and balances between he states and the federal government have also been destroyed by an overreaching centralized monster that has shredded the very notion of federalism, especially through the "general welfare" clause and the "interstate commerce" clause - not to mention the idea that the constitution is a "living document" and the fiction that the federal government is the master of the states, and not their servant. The constitution is seen as a speed-bump or a workaround by both parties.

And for the most part, state politicians are complicit, because one day they may scrape their way to Washington. And they belong to the same party as the Washingtonian crowd. They don't want to upset the gravy train.

The constitutional provision that money is based on gold and is not to be tampered with has been turned on its head by the federal reserve system that has overseen the devastation of the dollar - which is now worth less than a nickel compared to when the fed was created. Both parties are complicit in this Marxist economic "central planning" scam and racket that is utterly ruining the economy. We're now at the end of the ponzi scheme and all the crooks are pointing at the other crooks to assign blame. Bernie Madoff ought to run for congress or for the secretary of the treasury - if not president. He has experience and probably ran the racket better than our political class. All one needs to do is look at "social security" (sic) to see the proof in the pudding.


Father Hollywood said...


The Left pushes welfare programs that 1) we can't afford, and 2) sap the creativity and incentive of everyone. The Right pushes a warfare agenda that 1) we can't afford, and 2) puts the entire country - civilians and military alike - in harm's way. We have become a Marxist failure at home and an over-spent empire abroad. And now there is no way to extract ourselves from either mess without a lot of pain and upheaval - while the Professional Left bashes the Republican Party and the Professional Right bashes the Democrat party. Our political system is essentially one goofball short of the Three Stooges.

Both parties play games.

The scheduling of this presidential address to a joint session of congress (i.e. a monumental waste of time and money and nothing more than posing and hot air) is a case in point. Switch the party labels, and the Democrats would be "outraged" that the Republicans are "playing politics" and showing contempt to "Our Democratic Process." And the Republicans would be "shocked" that the constitution (not to mention "Our President") is not being respected. It's all a big game to them. And in fact, both parties had to work around the NFL schedule. Bread and circuses.

I think the federal government has become too big to succeed. It is a top-heavy dinosaur and there is no political will to reduce the size, scope, and cost of the insatiable monster. The vast majority of the federal expenses are defense and entitlements (sacred cows) - while half the country pays no federal taxes. This is the perfect storm predicted by de Tocqueville in 1831. A century after de Tocqueville, we had FDR's massive government programs in the 1930s, Eisenhower's observation of the Military Industrial Complex in the 1950s, and Nixon's nail in the coffin of the Bretton Woods arrangement and the immediate economic devastation of the 1970s. Leaders of both parties are Keynesian in their economic philosophy. How's that working out?

When (not "if") the dollar fails, that will be the end of the warfare state and the welfare state, and there will be a lot of suffering. I just hope that when this happens, another Hitler doesn't rise to power - whether Democrat or Republican or something else. The last thing we need is violence and terrorism from either Left or Right. But both are capable, and will justify themselves.

We would be wise to follow the example of the Soviet Union in its waning days and downsize our morbidly obese central government in a peaceful way that respects the rights of local communities to govern themselves - but the federal government has a lousy track record when it comes to allowing its subjects to govern themselves.

Other than that, I'm really optimistic! :-)

Michael James Hill said...

Father Hollywood.

Of course I am not angry. The blog is for discussion of topics. I encourage different points of view. I am sadden to see too many people retreat into echo chambers.

That said, I really do not think you know much about the Constitution, the history of this country, and you certainly do not know what Marxism is.

As I stated, political parties were formed within the lifetime of the Founding Fathers and our country has had them ever since. They are not directly a threat to the Constitution, but they can pose a threat to our republican demoncracy -- as can many other things. That being said, I do believe that the history of this country is a history of the growth of freedom, with some very dark chapters.

I cannot agree that the checks and balances between the separate branches of government is not working. And the executive is in no way overriding the legislative. If anything, you have got that backwards. The facts of the current administration clearly show that a minority within the legislative branch is subverting the will of the majority and frustrating the actions of the executive. Or did you miss the debt-ceiling crisis?

Your romanticism for small government is quaint. It ignores, however, that this is a big country in a globally connected world. Jeffersonian/Jacksonian ideals no longer fit the facts of our lives.

As for Marxism, you just don't know what it is. The workers of the USA can't even have a trade union. That puts us light years away from the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Stop by again soon. I am working on my next post. There will be a bit of Marxism in it.

Father Hollywood said...

The president routinely legislates by executive order, sends troops around the world with no congressional mandate or declaration of war, and is seen as some kind of worshipful father figure. His wife wants to tell us how many calories to eat. The president (of both parties) has become the nanny-in-chief.

The judiciary routinely invents new "rights" under the constitution, such as infanticide. "Legislation from the bench" is so common that it is cliche.

Even the advocates of Big Government usually admit that the commerce clause has been pulled and twisted more than a 1970s-era Stretch Armstrong doll.

And actually, small government works very well in much of the world. Switzerland, with its direct democracy, loose federation of cantons, gun rights, affinity for gold, has lower crime, less intrusive government, and (to boot) the strongest currency in the world (though they are toying with debasing it themselves).

The fact that we have international travel and commerce is more (not less) reason for us to be frugal and not try to centrally plan our economy and debase the currency.

If (and when) China unpegs the Yuan from the dollar and the people get used to increasing liberties at home and strong currency abroad, we will see a moving of China away from Marxism to freedom even as we are indeed seeing the U.S. move from freedom to serfdom.

Just my opinion! Glad you're not mad! We're still free to discuss such matters - until Obama (or Perry or whoever - it hardly matters which stooge gets elected) gets his "kill switch." ;-)

Michael James Hill said...

Fr. H. -- Mrs. Obama uses the public position to encourage children to exercise, eat right and not become obese and you feel...what? Threatened? Like she is going to come and take away your lunch? When did conservatives become such paranoid sissies?

I am sorry. I am really trying not be insulting here. But really...

Switzerland? Small, landlocked, homogeneous Switzerland has anything to recommend in the way of government to the United States?

Sorry, I will stick to smoking legal tobacco.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Dr. Hill:

Not threatened, but annoyed. People who work in government need to re-read the constitution. They think they are our mommies, daddies, and nannies. They need to get back in their constitutional box.

I don't smoke cigarettes, but it is not some Washington bureaucrat's business to tell me what I can smoke, eat, or drink. We are supposed to be free people, not surfs. Americans want "The Government" to wipe their noses for them.

And it cuts both ways from both wings of the Republicrat party. The GOP is in the Bedroom and the Democrats are in the Boardroom, as the old saying goes. The GOP wants to run the world and the Democrats want to tell us how much to pay employees and how much we are permitted to work for. Both usurp the constitution.

Yes, Switzerland is a better example of government than the United States. If bigger were always better, the Soviet Union would be the model government. Not running deficits, not gun-grabbing, not printing unlimited quantities of worthless scrip, not sending soldiers to invade Lower Slobovistan under the pretense of "Spreading Democracy" while our soldiers die by the thousands would be a definite step up.

The federal government needs to back off and mind its own business. Of course, as its counterfeit currency becomes more and more worthless it will fall away of its own excess weight. Empires fall when the soldiers can't be paid. And ditto for welfare state socialist soviet "republics."

To paraphrase the song, the "fun" will come to an end when "China takes the t-bills away." Of course, "we" will view the Chinese ceasing to buy our worthless scrip as "economic terrorism" or some nonsense. Of course, the Pentagon would be more likely to invade a much smaller country...