Friday, July 08, 2011

Political update for July, 2011


I can’t believe that it was way back on April ’09 I stated my belief that President Obama needs to be impeached over his attack on Libya. I believed that then and I believe it now. This is, in fact, a most grievous breach of a critical constitutional protection.

But, now it is even worse, and President Obama is living up to the worst stereotypes of the right against him by playing an Orwellian word game, insisting that the action in Libya is not “hostilities” under the War Powers Act. I mean Leapin’ Lizards.

I’m not going to over analyze it. It takes the same Rosanna Rosannadanna logic to suggest that bombing another country and trying to kill its leader does not fit under the definition of “hostilities” as it did to come to the conclusion that waterboarding is not torture or that someone who has given up on getting a job should no longer counts as unemployed.

Many commentators have written on this and I hate to be noise, so I will be brief. No one really cares. Okay, maybe Dennis Kucinich and Rand Paul and Walter Jones and a few others care, but it’s not many and certainly not the leadership of either branch. The senate really doesn’t care at all and even Boehner doesn’t seem really concerned about it, though he is asking appropriate questions.

What would happen if Boehner really cared – if McConnell really cared, is that they would simply refuse to negotiate any debt limit raise until the “non-hostilities” was over. They’d just sit on their hands. Sure the Democrats would love it because the war in Libya isn’t unpopular – everyone hates Q – and the surveys already indicates that more people will blame congress, and particularly the Republicans, more than the president and the Democrats.

But, sometimes, when people make a principled stand, perceptions change. And you have to remember that we shouldn’t care when the party of a president agrees with him, because of course they agree with him (most of the time). And we don’t care when the party opposed to the president doesn’t agree with him for the same reasons. Of course they disagree. We (me and right thinking thee) should care what relative independents think.

The problem is that neither party seems really comfortable making principled stands because they want to get re-elected. The tea party, which claims it is not a real party but a a collection of people motivated by pure principle, may be little different at the end of the day, when it comes to their members who just happen also to be congresspersons or senators. Those who voted them in would happily vote them out if they are disappointed by them. Their dedication to principle is still an open question for me and the birther wars hurt them significantly in my book.

On the other hand – this might not seem so bad from a Republican point of view. It’s a Democratic president violating the constitution, which fits in well with their portrait of him as an inveterate liar (I mean, does anyone seriously buy the "not hostilities" line outside of some people in the Justice Department?) and gives whoever their candidate is one more thing to shoot at the president. But, since it is Q Obama's actually shooting at, it doesn’t really matter to them so much if he is violating the constitution. It’s sort of like my opposition to the death penalty, which is based on the fallibility of juries and not because some people don’t deserve to die. If it’s applied, and I feel morally certain the person is guilty, it doesn’t bother me as much.

The last wrinkle is the nuclear option being raised up the flagpole by the Democrats – which is that article four of the fourteenth amendment of the constitution states that:

“[T]he validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”

Secretary Geithner and all of the pundits who want to extend the limit without making tremendous future cuts, claims that the president doesn’t need congress to do this because to refuse to extend the limit is questioning the “validity” of the debt. This is, of course, preposterous (this year’s word of the year for me to describe absurdities and the like). How not extending a limit which the branch of congress responsible for setting the limiting, has already set, could possibly be invalidating a debt, makes no sense. Congress would not be taking any action at all, merely letting the limit they set stand. To suggest that a limit on debt was the same thing as invalidating a debt - that’s right up there with saying bombing Libya isn’t an act of hostility.

Of course, my motto (one of them, anyway) is Democrats and Republicans/conservatives and liberals deserve each other. During the Bush administration the Democrats in the majority were filibustering Bush’s judicial nominations. Dick Cheney threatened to use what was termed the nuclear option back then – ruling from the seat of the president of the senate that the senate had no choice but to give an up or down vote on presidential nominees, which would therefore take the filibuster weapon out of the Democrats hand. Of course, the Democrats whined about it as if they would never do such a thingwere they in the majority. There was a compromise struck at that time so it never got that far. But you notice now that the Democrats have the majority, it has stopped Republicans from filibustering Obama’s appointments or Democrats from now complaining about it. Hypocrisy in politics is not only a two way street, it is a two way traffic circle. 

Which all brings us to the usual Eisenberg Uncertainty Principle (modeled on the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle for quantum mechanics illiterates). Without trying to make too close an analogy with its model - you can analyze politics from two different perspectives with clarity, but you cannot foresee which, or if either, will come to pass with any certainty.

Nevertheless, we can certainly make some educated guesses. No impeachment over the hostilities in Libya (unless something horrific happens to us) and eventually, there will be a debt limit agreement, probably in the next month.

The most holy president of the United States

I love quoting this bit from Sam Harris’ The End of Faith:

“Of course, religious moderation consists in not being too sure about what happens after death. This is a reasonable attitude, given the paucity of evidence on the subject. But religious moderation still represents a failure to criticize the unreasonable (and dangerous) certainty of others. As a consequence of our silence on these matters, we live in a country in which a person cannot get elected president if he openly doubts the existence of heaven and hell. This is truly remarkable, given that there is no other body of “knowledge” that we require our political leaders to master. Even a hairstylist must pass a licensing exam before plying his trade in the United States, and yet those given the power to make war and national policy – those whose decisions will inevitably affect human life for generations – are not expected to know anything in particular before setting to work. They do not have to be political scientists, economists, or even lawyers; they need not have studied international relations, military history, resource management, civil engineering, or any other field of knowledge that might be brought to bear in the governance of a modern superpower; they need only be expert fund-raisers, comport themselves well on television, and be indulgent of certain myths. In our next presidential election, an actor who reads his Bible would almost certainly defeat a rocket scientist who does not. Could there be any clearer indication that we are allowing unreason and otherworldliness to govern our affairs.”

Even if you reject every other conclusion of his book, and regard what he describes as positive, you have to give him credit for knocking the truth out of the park on it.

There’s a reason I bother to quote him here. Every once in a while, some polling group like Pew or Gallup asks if Americans would vote for an otherwise qualified member of a minority group or similar question. Gallup has been asking these questions for a long time.

The good news is that Americans now largely accept most minority groups, more or less, anyway.

94% of Americans would vote for a black president.
93% for a woman.
92% for a Catholic or a Baptist.
89% for a Jew or for a Hispanic

but . . .

76% for a Mormon
67% for a gay or lesbian
and my favorite – only 49% for an atheist.

The statistics are interesting for many reasons. First, who’d have thought that blacks would be the highest rated of all these groups. Second, are there really still 7% of people who would not vote for a qualified woman? I'm guessing these are rarer older people. The numbers for religious minorities are almost encouraging even if there are a substantial number of people who are so biased they would not vote for a Jew or a Catholic, etc., because it shows that somewhere around nine out of ten would.

The Mormon problem? That’s more than one in five who say they wouldn’t do it and that’s discouraging. However, it is interesting. My guess is that it’s because some Christians just have a problem with the whole Angel Moroni thing and that Mormons call themselves Christians.

Liberals undoubtedly believe they are more open minded than conservatives when it comes to religion and race. Conservatives dispute it, but I think some half-heartedly. However, what can’t be disputed is that while only 20% of Republicans wouldn’t vote for a Mormon, 27% of Democrats wouldn’t. There may be reasons for that I am not considering, but I suspect if Mitt Romney was running as a Democrat, these numbers might be reversed. It is also likely that if Romney actually wins the nomination, these numbers will drop a great deal over all. It happened when JFK ran. Gallup polls tell us that the year before Kennedy’s election, ’59, a full quarter of Americans (22% Democrats, 33% Republicans and 18% independents) claimed they would not vote for a Catholic. A few months before the election it dropped to 21% and about 6 months after his election, it was only 13 percent.

One interesting thing about the prejudice against Mormons – it has remained pretty much the same for the last 44 years. In 1967, 75% said they would vote for one, which is almost exactly the same as now. For over four decades, it has not changed that much, going no lower than 72% and no higher than 80%. And, it hasn’t been like that for all the groups:

             Past             2011   
Woman (’67) 53       93
Blacks   (’67) 53       94
Gays     (’78) 26       67
Atheists (’58) 18      49

Atheists, of course, had been long been stuck in last place. For all the hub bub about gays, far more would vote for a gay than an atheist, even now. The intolerance for those who don’t have a religion is far greater than any ethnic or even most religious prejudice. Gallup has not included Muslim candidates in their polling, but Pew Research found in 2004 that only 38% of Americans would vote for one. But, considering the emotional impact of 9/11, it is saying something that atheists find themselves only 11% better off.

More self congratulatory back patting on the Republican field

I’m still looking pretty good in my predictions on the Republican candidates. Sure, I was technically wrong about Gingrich getting in – I thought he was too smart. But, I was right it wouldn’t go real well. He has almost nothing left. Michael Barone wrote last month:

“{H]is campaign is effectively over, just a month after he declared he was running. There is plenty being written about Gingrich's flaws. His personal life has not been entirely admirable, to say the least. He is prone to hyperbole, to making outrageous statements he cannot defend, to shifting positions without informing allies. He spreads himself too thin, writing counterfactual histories of the Civil War and World War II, making documentaries on subjects such as Pope John Paul II's 1979 visit to Poland, setting up one organization after another.”

Actually, after that, he wrote about what an amazing career Gingrich had. But, I think it is only a matter of time until the former Speaker officially announces he is out or he is seen vacationing with his wife again.

Tim Pawlenty should get the award for “best effort” but his Mike Dukakis level personality hasn’t done him any favors. Frankly, I think he’d be a decent president for the most part, and merely dislike his proclaimed religious biases that so many of his Republican peers share and his recent showing off of his knowledge of Lady GaGa. Two months ago I wrote about the guy with the best nickname in the race – T-Paw:

“A strong possibility but he would not last past Iowa, if he gets that far. Why do I feel a little sorry for this guy? Maybe it’s because he seems to want it so much.”

That still seems right on. Recently, he acknowledged how important the Ames Straw Poll on July 13th is in his mind, which in my mind, was all but acknowledging failure there meant he'd fulfill my predictions about him immediately. Unlike so many others who seem to have almost disappeared from the news like Jon Huntsman and Herman Cain, as examples (which has as much to do with the media as anything else), T-Paw is fighting like crazy, with the only Iowa tv ad out, an Ames Poll website, door to door canvassing and so on.

If Pawlenty wants to stay in, of course, he has to do something, but how much does his precious Ames Poll even mean? How much does Iowa even mean? Let’s look:

In 1979, G.H.W. Bush won the Ames Poll and the Iowa primary. Reagan won the nomination and the election.

In 1987, Pat Robertson won the Ames Poll and Bob Dole won the Iowa Primary. Then, Bush won the nomination and the presidency.

In 1995 Bob Dole and Phil Graham tied in the Ames Poll. Dole went on to win Iowa and then the nomination. But, he lost the presidential run to Clinton.

In 1999 G.W. Bush won all of them.

Then in 2007, Romney won the Ames Poll, Huckabee Iowa, McCain the nomination and, of course, Obama the whole enchilada.

In other words, with the exception of 1999, you win the Ames and you pretty much lose everything else. In fact, if you win Iowa, you lose.

Good luck, T-Paw. In the mid-June Des Moines Register poll, Romney snared 23% to T-Paw’s 6.7%. Romney brought in 18 mill recently just for the primary and T-Paw can use only a fraction of the total 4.3 mill he brought in for it. Does this sound possible yet for T-Paw? No. No-maw T-Paw. Go home, please. I'm starting to cringe.

I have to admit, I have been a little surprised that Michelle Bachmann has done as well as she has (whether or not it is really due to her “sex appeal,” as one of T-Paw’s staff members said). Much of the gaping hole that Palin’s non-entry into the race has left, has been filled by her. Tea Partiers and conservatives love her, not just because she is in sync with them policy-wise, but because she seems to have the guts to fight, something they are not sure that Romney has. And, she has nearly drawn even with Romney in Iowa, polling 22% to his 23% in June.

With Bachmann, there is at least a scenario in which you can see her smacking Romney around a bit. If she wins Iowa and he wins New Hampshire as expected, she might still pummel him all over the south starting in S. Carolina (nobody cares about the Nevada caucus). Not that I’m predicting a victory for her, as she is still running way behind Romney in national polls, not to mention the still unannounced Perry and she is running fairly even with Palin. Still, if they don’t get in, that would increase her numbers dramatically.

Unless Perry, who is an unknown factor gets in, I really don’t expect this to be much of a drawn out contest like last time. The last one standing against Romney has a chance, but only if it happens early enough. But you can’t expect candidates to cooperate with each other. Sabotage is more like it.

But, Perry is the wild card now, the one we are watching. If he comes in, everything changes in a way that it didn’t with Huntsman, and even in the way it wouldn’t if Palin came in (and she won’t), for more than a few weeks anyway.

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .