31 March 2011

'Liberal' Interventionism

As the bombs began falling in Libya, the newest issue of Reviews in American History reached my mailbox. The quarterly collection of critiques of current scholarly works isn't usually where I find timely commentary, but the March issue includes Andrew Bacevich's review of a new study of "the cultural foundations of American internationalism" in the late 19th century. The author, Frank Ninkovich, traces our internationalist, interventionist impulse to a "liberal" culture that emerged during the Gilded Age. From readings of elite opinion-making journals of the period, Ninkovich retrieves a prescient theory of egalitarian globalization that overcame a prior isolationism. As befits a scholarly journal, Bacevich, who is often found denouncing American foreign policy in the pages of The Nation and The American Conservative, is gently merciless toward Ninkovich's thesis. The author's indiscriminate use of the "liberal" label, Bacevich writes, "leads him down a path in which liberalism itself becomes increasingly devoid of content. To classify everything as liberal is to reduce liberalism to a sort of ornament, attached to views to endow them with respectability, but signifying little of substance." Worse, to call the Gilded Age "liberal" is flat out inaccurate if the word means what we think it does. Gilded Age America, Bacevich reminds his readers, "was a fundamentally racist society," and that racism extended beyond American borders to endorse imperialism rather than any equality of nations. For Bacevich, "liberalism" is a virtually useless historical term. In the realm of foreign-policy historiography, it's used as the alternative to what Bacevich calls "the fiction of American isolationism" in order to "sustain the increasingly implausible notion that liberal internationalism provides the interpretive key to understanding modern American statecraft." Liberalism, according to this mythology, was what motivated Americans to "shoulder the burdens of global leadership" beginning with the Spanish-American War in 1898. Ninkovich's book is apparently designed to support this worldview, but Bacevich puts the book down "more than ever persuaded that liberalism explains next to nothing about the evolution of American diplomacy." This is a relevant observation at a moment when we're supposed to be seeing a truly liberal internationalism in practice in the skies over Libya. Militant liberalism as practised by the current President is concerned only with humanity, with preventing a massacre of civilians, not with mere national interests. It cultivates a more egalitarian internationalism in which the U.S. is but one and not the first among equals. And at least some Americans really do seem to believe that there is something qualitatively different and superior about Obama's Libyan adventure, despite the obvious opportunism and arbitrariness of the project. It is not a principled intervention if the principle asserted or implied is not applied consistently, and there are too many variables of convenience involved this time. But as Bacevich writes, the "liberal" label -- applied here to the President if not to his handiwork -- "merely covers over contradictions, smooths off the rough edges, and justifies the otherwise unjustifiable. When it comes to power and the purposes to which it is put, liberalism is the lipstick that we apply to make things look pretty." Referring to the period studied by Ninkovich, Bacevich says that "those interested in the real deal will want to give commercial acquisitiveness, empire and exceptionalism-run-amok a second look." These might not be the exact objects before us now in Libya, but today as in the past those interested in the real deal need to give the whole thing a second look.

30 March 2011

The New Political Class

For years, Americans have been warned about the existence of a "political class" that has a vested interest in a constantly-expanding government. The political class consists of those people who've made a career of politics, and expect to make their living through politics, having (allegedly) no other practical experience in life. Term limits for elected offices are advocated with the idea of preventing the entrenchment of a political class. With limits in place, it's supposed, elected officials will come straight from the people, as it were, and (more importantly) straight from the private sector. Such people are assumed to be more sympathetic with the people's (i.e. the private sector's) concerns and sensitive to the ways in which government adversely impacts those concerns. They are the ones who seek office, not for self-aggrandizement, but to do principled work to benefit the nation. By embracing the Tea Party movement, many novice and veteran politicians advertised themselves to the electorate as just such principled people, the antithesis of a political class. Now, however, anticipating a federal government shutdown, the U.S. Senate has passed a bill denying pay to Congress as long as the government remains unfunded. In answer, it seems, many of the virtuous freshmen in the House of Representatives, those boasting of their spartan lifestyles, are crying, "Show me the money!" Republicans may protest this characterization, noting that they've included language denying themselves pay in a "prevention of shutdown" appropriation bill they hope to get through the House -- but you see the problem. They'll agree to the concept of going without pay should the government shut down, but only so long as Democrats prevent the government from shutting down by accepting Republicans' spending cuts. Denying pay apparently has to be done through positive legislation, but the Republicans want to pass it as part of a bill that would prevent them from going without pay. The Democratic legislation seems to say, "we should all take a financial hit if we can't reach a compromise," while the Republican version seems to be, "we would have taken a hit if the other side didn't cave in to our demands." Some of the Republicans are reportedly pleading poverty, explaining that they've taken leave from their ennobling private-sector work to serve the people in Washington. Perhaps the donors who helped them get elected can take up collections for them if things get tight. But perhaps these suddenly impoverished pols will learn empathy for all those who, for whatever period of time, live off politics. If we want worthy people to do this work, we have to make it worth their while while they do it. Otherwise we may as well farm government out to the billionaires -- though that option would have the benefit of removing any ambiguity about who the "elite" and the ruling class really are.

29 March 2011

Oath Keepers founder: 'neither party has any fidelity to the Constitution.'

The way Radley Balko tells it, "When you run down the list of issues the Oath Keepers are worried about, it reads a lot like a bill of particulars from the American Civil Liberties Union....And yet the group is a frequent target of the left." Balko interviewed the founder of Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, for the new issue of Reason magazine. Some of his questions imply that Rhodes bears some responsibility for the left's perception that he's an enemy because of the timing of Oath Keepers' founding, while Rhodes blames the apparent misunderstanding on both timing and partisanship. Here are some key excerpts.
Reason: There's one criticism of your group that's similar to those directed at the Tea Parties. You've said that Bush was just as hostile to the Constitution as Obama has been, indeed that most of the worst executive power grabs began under Bush. So why did Oath Keepers spring up only after Obama took office?
Rhodes: I just hadn't gotten the idea yet....But it's true. All of this began or really started to get worse under Bush. That's when you had this wave of unconstitutional federal power....But now you have Obama, who has not only not renounced those powers but has expanded them. He also now claims the power to assassinate American citizens his administration deems enemy combatants with no oversight. That's just frightening.At this point I do really wish I had started Oath Keepers during the Bush administration. It would have been a good test. My guess is that I'd have started with a lot of liberals joining up, and you'd have seen conservatives and neocons howling that I'm a traitor. I think it's just human nature and the cycle of politics. When the left is in power, they forget about the Constitution because it limits what they can do. So they characterize people who stand by the Constitution as reactionary or dangerous. But when they were out of power, they were citing the Constitution all of the time. They were quoting Ben Franklin about sacrificing liberty for security. And it's the same for the right. The Republicans clamoring for the Constitution now had no respect for it when Bush was in power. They thought he could do no wrong.
Rhodes goes on to predict that "when we get a Republican president again, we'll get more members who identify with the left. I do think more and more people are understanding that neither party has any fidelity to the Constitution, and you are starting to see some honest liberals and some honest conservatives who are more willing to criticize their own side while in power."

That prediction may be too optimistic, not because leftists won't regain constitutional scruples when Republicans regain power, but because leftists most likely have an aversion to Oath Keepers as its presently perceived. As Balko notes, "Unlike the ACLU, the Oath Keepers are staunch defenders of the Second Amendment," and that makes them gun nuts in many eyes. But Rhodes insists that Oath Keepers is not intended to carry out an armed insurrection. Instead, he insists, "the entire point of Oath Keepers is to advocate nonviolence. We're telling police and soldiers that if they're asked to do something unconstitutional, or asked to violate the rights of Americans, that they should put down their guns. We just saw this with the Tunisian military, by the way, when it refused orders to fire on protesters."

Oath Keepers' image problem has to do with more than guns, however. While Rhodes, a Yale Law grad, acknowledges Bush's infringements on civil liberties, many other Oath Keepers have objections to Obama that go beyond war-on-terror issues. Rhodes admits that some Oath Keepers are "birthers," while others are "truthers," and refuses to state his own position on either topic. "It just doesn't make sense to take positions on issues that may alienate some of our members and that aren't relevant to our goal," he tells Balko. That's an alarming statement, since its really an admission that facts are irrelevant to the goals of a group supposedly founded on the most scrupulous reading of the Constitution. Rhodes himself may be neither a birther nor a truther, but he's apparently not so strongly convinced of the errors of either group to insist on correcting them. That sounds as if he's willing to tolerate quite probably irrational fears and conspiracy theories among his membership. Balko challenges him on conspiracy theory in a practical context, asking whether Oath Keepers are "most worried about [scenarios that] seem like those that are least likely to happen" while ignoring everyday infringements on constitutional rights like "stop-and-frisk searches, SWAT raids for consensual drug crimes, civil asset forfeiture," etc. Rhodes answers "you start with the most potentially damaging policies, things like internment camps, martial law, detaining American citizens without a trial....These are also the issues where I think it's easiest to build a consensus."

Rhodes denies that he's promoting his own interpretation of the Constitution as the exclusively correct one. "It isn't really about me coming down from the mountain with tablets inscribed with what orders you should and shouldn't obey," he says, "But there are some core principles, things that should never happen, and things that the government should know we will never allow to happen." He believes that it's every American's responsibility to "start thinking about the Constitution," while soldiers and police need to realize that "their first loyalty is to the Consitution and the rights of American citizens. Their first loyalty shouldn't be to their commanding officer." His is a radical refusal of deference to political authority. "Some have the mistaken idea that you're always to enforce the law -- leave it up to the politicians, lawyers, and judges to figure out what's wrong after the fact," he tells Balko, "That's not what the Founders intended." True for some, perhaps, but in the absence of a constitutional prevision for vetting laws before they're signed, there seems to be some need for deference pending an "after the fact" appeal to the Court that has emerged, since 1803, as the ultimate arbiter of constitutional law. If that seems to put armed forces in an uncomfortable spot, the remedy should be some form of nonpartisan judicial preview rather than the anarchy inherent in Rhodes's recommendations. If Rhodes is confident that there is a correct reading of the Constitution, he should be confident in delegating that reading to some recognized and accountable authority. But if he has no faith in any delegated authority's ability to interpret the Constitution consistently and conscientiously, he may as well give up on the document itself.

28 March 2011

In defense of 'fiat money'

According to unorthodox economist William Mitchell, America's two-party system conceals an oppressive "neoliberal" consensus that dictates austerity measures during recessions on the zero-sum assumption that government spending and the taxes that make it possible drain financial resources from the job-creating private sector. Writing in The Nation, Mitchell dismisses the logic of austerity as a myth founded on the false assumption that state debt is the same as private debt. The difference, he insists, is that "the government can never run out of money." Mitchell credits deficit spending with keeping economies from collapsing completely during the Great Depression. The idea was only discredited, he argues, when it was wrongly identified as the cause of the inflation that began in the 1960s and accelerated during the 1970s. This association was congenial to the "personal responsibility" conservatives who emerged in that era. They preferred to see unemployment, the minimization of which once justified deficit spending, as a matter of, of course, personal rather than social responsibility, while arguing that governments had the same responsibility as individuals to live within their means. Mitchell's argument that state debt is different and less burdensome than personal debt will certainly be the most controversial part of his article, because he claims that governments, in effect, have a "get out of debt free" card.
When British Prime Minister David Cameron said that the government deficit is just like credit-card debt and that Britain was facing bankruptcy, he was invoking the false neoliberal analogy between national budgets and household budgets. This analogy resonates strongly with voters because it attempts to relate the more amorphous finances of a government with our daily household finances. We know that we cannot run up our household debt forever and that we have to tighten our belts when our credit cards are maxed out. We can borrow to enhance current spending, but eventually we have to sacrifice spending to pay the debts back. We intuitively understand that we cannot indefinitely live beyond our means. Neoliberals draw an analogy between the two, because they know we will judge government deficits as reckless. But the government is not a big household. It can consistently spend more than its revenue because it creates the currency. Whereas households have to save (spend less than they earn) to spend more in the future, governments can purchase whatever they like whenever there are goods and services for sale in the currency they issue.
Mitchell describes what is usually and pejoratively called "fiat money," currency that purportedly has value only because the government says it does. While many economists and politicians recoil from the idea, Mitchell embraces it, arguing that fiat money actually makes government borrowing unnecessary. Governments still do it, apparently, for the same reason Alexander Hamilton advocated a funded debt in the first place: to give wealthy people a stake in the nation. As Mitchell puts it, "public borrowing provides corporate welfare in the form of risk-free income flows to the rich because it allows them to safely park funds in bonds during uncertain times and provides a risk-free benchmark on which to price other, riskier financial products." Rather than putting ourselves deeper in debt to people who seem to believe that we really do have to repay them, Mitchell would have us print money without limit -- and, presumably, make everyone we deal with accept it. Countering the charge that deficits are inflationary, Mitchell argues that they're inflationary only when the economy is already running at full capacity (which for him means full employment), because under such conditions the public would already be spending as much money as they want. Recessions are exactly the time to run deficits, on the assumption that they'll stimulate production, job creation and spending. Mitchell acknowledges that what he regards as generation of neoliberal brainwashing makes his logic difficult for contemporaries to understand. I know that I have at least one problem with his ideas. Mitchell's model seems to require what we might call a sovereign vacuum, an environment in which the state's will is unchallenged and non-negotiable. Mitchell's rosy scenario depends on a degree of national sovereignty that some troubled European countries lack because they've surrendered some control over currency. The U.S., Mitchell claims, is under no such constraint. But is that so? In an increasingly globalized economy, one has to wonder. Will foreign countries accept that the dollar has whatever value the U.S. government says it does? It seems that they'd have ways of voting with their feet if they disagreed. Their opinion might also find expression in higher prices for imports and higher costs for American tourists around the world. Can the dollar remain the preferred currency for global trade if it doesn't have any "objective" value? I have my doubts. I'm more convinced by Mitchell's arguments for the other benefits of deficit spending, but I wonder whether those benefits would be compromised should his assumptions about the universal acceptance of fiat money be proven wrong. Mitchell has only renewed an argument as old as the republic about inflation and the volume of currency. Governments have always been torn between the need to create opportunity by making a circulating medium as widely available as possible and the pressure from entrenched wealth against any measures that threaten to reduce the value of their own property. This dispute may really be the essence of all "liberal" vs. "conservative" divides in American politics, and it may belie our alleged collective commitment to equal opportunity, so long as creating opportunity is seen as subverting existing wealth. It's possible that Mitchell himself considers the issue as simple as it was to either side in 1787, and if so, that may be a crucial fault in his analysis. But if he's right that today's two-party system has effectively suppressed this fundamental debate in favor of a neoliberal consensus -- the paradoxical label for the domestic counterpart of neoconservative foreign policy, -- then that's further proof that the American Bipolarchy isn't doing its supposed job.

States' Rights = Limited Government? A historical note

An assumption underlying support for states' rights against the federal government is that the smaller the scale of government, the smaller its scope and the less intrusive it will be. It's taken almost for granted that individuals and their enterprises would be more free were the balance between state and federal power restored to something like what the Framers envisioned. The Framers themselves may have thought differently. Here's an intriguing observation from John Brooke's fascinating new book, Columbia Rising: Civil Life on the Upper Hudson from the Revolution to the Age of Jackson. By exploring the evolution of "civil society" on the home turf of Martin Van Buren, the main inventor of the Democratic party, Brooke promises to say something important about the envisioned role of parties in civil society. For now, here's Brooke on "states' rights" before the Constitution.
While the Clintonians [the "popular" and anti-federalist faction in 1780s New York] were suspicious of a powerful and activist national government, they believed in a powerful and activist state government, closely responsive and attentive to the needs of the people at large. To the end of a distributive improvement, the Clintonians in 1784 moved comprehensive legislation to rebuild roads and bridges, in 1786, after years of struggle over paper money, to establish a series of county loan offices that would make public loans on the model of colonial land banks, and in 1788 to pass a comprehensive restructuring of county and town governments....[I]n the post-Revolutionary decades the numbers of people looking to government for distribution, for improvement, and for police were hugely multiplied, to the extent that they might reasonably see a public good in their collective private interests. The republican structure of Clintonian governance worked to emphasize the collective over the private, turning the state's tradition of distributive politics to the purposes of a revolutionary settlement.(p 57-8; emphasis added)
If Clintonian New Yorkers opposed the "consolidation" of power in a stronger federal government, it was at least in part because they feared that the federal authority would not allow them to take many of the steps described above. It was the same in other states, especially in the north and especially when "popular" governments took steps to protect poor debtors from creditors or increase the money supply. From this perspective, it was the federal government that represented limited government because it constrained the states from taking many such steps. If perceptions have changed since then, that's probably because the states' rights position has been identified with the southern stance, according to which a state is ideally the guarantor of peculiar property rights or social customs, usually having to do with race, against the objections of a federal majority. But states themselves are conservative bulwarks of limited government only so long as parties favoring limited government, i.e. limited infringement upon perceived property rights, control them. When that's not the case, "conservatives" have looked to the federal government and especially the Supreme Court, as they did 100 years ago, when the Court could be depended upon to strike down state laws favoring workers against employers. Through American history, there's been no consistent equation of more local with more limited government. Instead, powerful interests have played state against federal, siding with one or the other depending on which level of government was most threatening. While the handful of ideologues advocating the "nullification amendment" I wrote about earlier this month assume that theirs is an inherently conservative measure in behalf of limited government, history teaches that they are probably wrong, and that their proposal, on the longshot chance that it becomes the supreme law of the land, could someday empower liberal or progressive states to overturn the dictates of a conservative Congress or President. Then you'll hear howls for federal supremacy just as you hear howls for state supremacy now, but in either case it's really a call for the supremacy of entrenched wealth by any means necessary.

25 March 2011

The Miami-Dade Recall: the power of wealth in non-partisan politics

It took a Cal Thomas column today to alert me to a potentially significant political event that took place in Florida last week. On March 15 the mayor of Miami-Dade, Carlos Alvarez, was recalled from office by 88% of the vote. The event has received relatively little attention from the national media, based on my own experience, and that's most likely because the recall was, apparently, a non-partisan event. Alvarez is reportedly registered as a Republican, but won two mayoral elections as a "No Party Preference" candidate, presumably on the Bloomberg model. Likewise, the recall effort can only have cut across ordinary party lines, considering how many voters repudiated Alvarez.

The recall campaign was the handiwork of Norman Braman, a billionaire owner of a chain of car dealerships. Thomas notes that Braman had voted for Alvarez in a previous election, but broke with him over, among other things, Alvarez's alleged use of public money to build a new stadium for the Florida Marlins baseball team. Thomas doesn't mention that Braman himself was once co-owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, but from what I've read, he did nothing at that time that'd expose him to charges of hypocrisy now. Before he bought into the Eagles, Braman opposed using public money to build a stadium for the Miami Dolphins back in the 1980s. Alvarez defended the expenditure by calling the stadium a resource for the community, and claimed that it would be financed mostly by tourist taxes, but voters in many sports towns have long questioned why taxpayers should subsidize presumably wealthy franchises in any way. A wave of raises for city employees certainly didn't help Alvarez's cause, either.

Critics of Braman (who should be distinguished from defenders of Alvarez, who are apparently very few in number) claim that his recall efforts were personally motivated because he favored a different mayoral candidate the last time Alvarez was elected, and because the recall was not as sweeping as it could or (some say) should have been. Some observers dismiss him as just another taxophobic crank, but the success of the recall suggests that there was more at work among voters than mere taxophobia. If there's cause for concern in Braman's victory, it shouldn't be over what he's done, but over whether only people like him can do it. Thomas writes as if all Braman needed to do was start a website, but I have to presume that there was massive advertising in favor of the recall. I can't help asking whether, if everything else was the same but Braman was Alavarez's pal, the latter would still be mayor today. In the actual case, which is being portrayed as Republican-vs-Republican, no one (presumably) could depend on a major party's fundraising apparatus to advance an agenda. Under such conditions, a billionaire's activism proved decisive. Thomas is untroubled by this. Without saying so explicitly, he argues as if billionaires like Braman are the first (or last) line of defense against "socialism in function if not in name." While Braman acted within his rights as a citizen, he clearly had a head start over other like-minded citizens in any attempt to influence the public agenda. I would be more encouraged by the news from Florida, though the virtue of recalls may still be subject to debate, if I could believe that the same thing could have happened without a billionaire's backing. If it can't, then recall, which has been touted for more than a century as an enhancement of democracy, might prove to be the opposite.

23 March 2011

Young libertarians and the Republican temptation

The new American Conservative (May 2011) addresses some of the implications of this year's contentious CPAC conference, where Ron Paul won a presidential straw poll and his followers heckled Dick Cheney. John Glaser reports on a Republican backlash, including the purging of Dr. Paul from the board of advisers of Young Americans for Freedom, the senior student organization for conservatives. At the same time, Glaser observes new institution building among young libertarians and weighs the possibility that they'll break permanently out of the Republican orbit.

Libertarian opinion leaders are all for that. Nick Gillespie of Reason magazine calls the GOP "a party that is totally bankrupt, literally, figuratively, and spiritually" and warns that it's Republicans who must adapt to a changing political culture. They must "become more libertarian or die," he says. A generation that grew up with George W. Bush as the Republican poster boy is naturally alienated from the GOP even if it shares Republican views on many issues. For some young people, the issues where Republicans and libertarians don't share views could be deal breakers. The vice-president of Students For Liberty states bluntly that "young people don't care about the social-conservative issues," while Gillespie proclaims the existence of an "existentially libertarian" generation who should reject the idea that they have no choice politically but to support the Republican party.

The SFL president tells Glaser, "Older generations may try to classify us by the bipartisan dichotomy through which they understand the world, but this just reflects their misunderstanding of who we are. We're more interested in advancing liberty than being restricted by the structures that others impose upon us." Admirable sentiments, but at most they can be but partly true. As long as libertarians define themselves as anti-statist, and as long as there exists a powerful party identified as statist, there will be a temptation to make common cause (or merge) with the next strongest party in order to save themselves from statism. While some libertarians now feel that "both sides, and Republicans in particular, suppressed and tried to rout the limited-government tendency," many may still believe that the GOP remains the strongest, if not the most reliable bulwark of limited government.

For their part, Republicans interviewed by Glaser express confidence that young libertarians will "grow up and become conservatives." Their comments hint at the essence of present-day Republicanism. Ron Robinson of the pro-GOP Young America's Foundation predicts that libertarians will come around once they "learn we have real enemies in the world" and realize that "some personal choices...lead to a destructive and unsustainable lifestyle." In harsher terms, Young Americans for Freedom denounced the Paul supporters at CPAC as an "anti-defense, anarchist fringe." With great gall, one Republican radio talker claimed that libertarians were more greedy than Republicans, and "amoral" besides. From this testimony, libertarians, along with the rest of us, can infer that the Republicans are the party of American militarism and a hegemonic, paranoiac foreign policy, and the party par excellence of repressive moralism. The question for the future is whether these Republican tendencies will repel libertarians toward full political independence, or whether fear of the Democrats or statism in general will keep them under the GOP thumb.

Glaser briefly hints at an increasing political polarization in the years to come. Alongside increased libertarian assertiveness, he notes poll results showing that larger numbers of young Americans affirm "that the government can and should solve social problems" and want it to spend more on health insurance. Even more faintly, he hints that at least some of today's young libertarians may end up tomorrow's liberals if, as Gillespie allows, many of them believe in "giving free money to everything." Hard core libertarians may scoff at such sentiments, but the day may come when more self-styled libertarians question whether the sacred market is really the best vehicle for maximizing the personal freedom of choice that they supposedly value the most. The thought might seem mad from a two-party viewpoint, but the more that libertarians resist the Republican temptation, the more Republicans should expect to be maddened by unorthodox thinking, and the more libertarians will come closer to actual freedom.

How to start a 'progressive Tea Party?'

The new issue of The Nation features an interesting exchange on its letters page regarding an article Jonathan Hari published last month on the UK Uncut movement. Hari offered UK Uncut, which staged sit-ins at Vodafone stores to protest the company's tax-evasion, as a model for a "progressive" or "left-wing" counterpart to the American Tea Party movement. Responding to Hari, Sally Kohn comments that UK Uncut doesn't provide "a credible organizing model" for the hoped-for counter-Tea movement. Kohn sees no evidence from Hari's article that UK Uncut has the "comprehensive political vision" of the Tea Parties. While UK Uncut is against tax-dodging (and gained support even on the British right for that principle), Kohn questions whether it stands for anything besides taxes. "Unlike conservatives, US progressives have long been hobbled by their lack of a vision on this and other issues," she writes.

Kohn also draws a distinction between "mobilizing" and "organizing." The Vodafone sit-ins may have been effective mobilizations, but they don't prove to Kohn that UK Uncut is engaged in "a more sustained process that builds individual and group power to identify goals and engage in sustained action to achieve them," i.e. organizing. A "positive long-term vision" is essential to organizing, but Kohn doesn't see it in UK Uncut.

Hari replies harshly, claiming that his original article has all the answers the apparently obtuse Kohn is looking for. UK Uncut, he explains, is for "preserving and extending the welfare state that has been built up by centuries of activism and preserving all the things we value about our country...by making the people who crashed and trashed our economy finally pay their share.

"Isn't that a positive vision?" Hari asks, and the objective answer has to be: yes and no. It's certainly an agreeable vision, but I think I see Kohn's point that there's something reactionary rather than progressive about the agenda as Hari expresses it. While he talks about "extending" the welfare state, his main concern seems to be with holding on to what "centuries of activism" have achieved. I can also see her paradoxical point about the Tea Parties. While their agenda can also be described as reactionary in any sense of the word, the radicalism with which some express or advance that agenda gives the impression at least of movement if not progress. Kohn makes clear that she regards the TP agenda as "odious," but she also envies their audacious radicalism, and it's clear that she misses a similar yet more progressive radicalism in UK Uncut.

On the other hand, Kohn may be more of a romantic than a radical. Demanding that everyone pay taxes probably isn't the most romantic or radical of battle cries, and there's something essentially establishmentarian about such a call. While the Tea Partiers seem to be the ones saying, "another world is possible," Kohn doesn't hear that typically progressive demand in UK Uncut. For her, a focus on taxes may be a distraction from radical reform of the entire political order -- the sort of "transformational" thing she thinks the TPs are after but UK Uncut is not. But there's no automatic trade-off between one demand and the other. From Hari's account, UK Uncut took a pragmatic and popular approach in targeting Vodafone, because resentment of tax evaders crosses ordinary party and ideological lines. Kohn questions whether there'll be a long-term ideological benefit, but ideology isn't necessarily the sine qua non of an effective or even transformational political movement. Ideology might actually get in the way of such a movement if the movement's object is to get people out of their conceptual boxes and recognize common interests that ideology often obscures. Polemics won't determine the utility of UK Uncut or its proposed US Uncut counterpart. If it works, then it's right, but it has to be given a chance. If it fails, then let the critiques begin.

21 March 2011

The Nullification Amendment

Today's Albany Times Union prints a letter to the editor from Eric Retzlaff of Schenectady, one of the local Tea Party Patriots. Retzlaff writes to endorse House Joint Resolution 46, introduced by freshman Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.). The resolution would amend the Constitution to give a supermajority of states the power to nullify acts of Congress. Sponsored solely by Griffith, it's been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it's likely to go nowhere unless Tea Partiers like Retzlaff start making more noise for it.

Griffith seems to be a typical Tea Partier with a special beef against the EPA's allegedly unjustified interference with mining interests in his district. Retzlaff is unhappy with the federal government's power to " block America's development of all its energy resources." Each seeks a remedy in giving states power to veto federal law. Griffith's proposal is more ambitious than the nullification doctrine identified with John C. Calhoun. While Calhoun asserted a single state's right to obey a federal enactment it deems unconstitutional, but didn't assume that the state could compel Congress to back down, Griffith seeks a mechanism through which two-thirds of the states would compel Congress by making allegedly unconstitutional enactments null and void.

While I haven't found any statements from Griffith explaining his resolution, Retzlaff refers back to Thomas Jefferson to legitimate Resolution 46. He invokes the 1799 Kentucky Resolutions, authored by Jefferson to justify the state's refusal to enforce the Alien and Sedition Acts. As Retzlaff notes, Jefferson (who had no hand in drafting the Constitution) described the Union as a "compact" of states. In Jefferson's view, by the nature of a compact the states retain an irreducible sovereignty as parties to the compact, and are not "united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government." In forming the Union the states only delegated certain powers to the federal government under terms set in the Constitution. Jefferson believed that the several states retained a sovereign right to determine if the federal government had exceeded its constitutionally delegated powers.
[T]he government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; but that, as in all other cases of compact among powers having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress.

The Supreme Court, presumably, can't play the role of the "common judge" because it's part of the federal government, though the Court later claimed that role for itself by striking down acts of Congress. Jefferson presumably believed that the Court was as much a "creature" of the Constitution as Congress, and thus equally "subject as to its assumptions of power to the final judgment of those by whom, and for whose use itself and its powers were all created and modified." If the analogy applies, then the states are higher authorities on the Constitution than the Court, and the federal government would have no right of appeal to the Court should states nullify its laws. As Jefferson writes, "every State has a natural right in cases not within the compact, (casus non fœderis) to nullify of their own authority all assumptions of power by others within their limits: that without this right, they would be under the dominion, absolute and unlimited, of whosoever might exercise this right of judgment for them."

Jefferson fears "unlimited submission" and "absolute and unlimited dominion" should federal supremacy be conceded. Not yet envisioning a judicial check on legislation, his worst-case scenario was a united front of all the branches of the federal government, with a judiciary arbitrarily confirming the arbitrary acts of the legislature or the executive and leaving the states with no hope of appeal until the next national election, if then. His were typical fears of the first federal generation, when the Constitution and government seemed most fragile. His friend James Madison, who did help write the Constitution, shared many of Jefferson's fears and wrote a concurrent set of Virginia Resolutions around the same time. Decades later, however, Madison came out against Calhoun's doctrine of nullification. Had experience mellowed his anxieties, or had age reduced him to complacency? Let historians decide.

But let's not blame Jefferson or Madison for Griffith and Retzlaff. There's one crucial difference between the Kentucky Resolutions and H.J. Res 42. For Jefferson, the time to nullify came when Congress overstepped its constitutional bounds; nullification was meant to be a statement on the unconstitutionality of a federal law. Griffith's resolution sets no such condition on state action. A constitutional opinion may be implicit in a nullification resolution, but a strict construction of Griffith's proposed amendment would deny any state obligation to back up its action by constitutional argument. From what I see, states could nullify laws "or executive regulations" for any reason they pleased. Arguing for Griffith, Retzlaff invokes constitutionality while discussing Jefferson, but claims that Resolution 42 could be used to nullify merely "detrimental" laws or regulations. His opening complaint against Obama makes no constitutional case against the President's alleged obstruction of resource development. Executive regulations, one can infer, are to be nullified not because they're unconstitutional, but because states and their residents find them inconvenient. Jefferson hoped that nullification would serve as the states' principled defense against arbitrary power; Griffith seems willing to grant states an arbitrary power to veto federal enactments with no principle attached.

Americans are touchy about "submission" and "dominance." Those words might not have been as loaded in Jefferson's time as they are for some of us today, but they do make the fears of many Founders more vivid now than they might be otherwise. Many of them knew what slavery looked like and acknowledged, on some level, that it could happen to them. For the same reasons, many of them knew what arbitrary power looked like, and believed that its practice could be widespread. Today, many of us worry more for our own personal sovereignty than for the states we live in, but the fear is largely the same and it isn't surprising that it might seek the same theoretical remedies that Jefferson reached for. All along, the problem with these fears has been their subjectivity, their blending with fantasies and paranoia. The answer isn't to tell people not to worry about arbitrary power or to coo that it can't happen here. Nor is the answer a purely reactive measure like nullification. As long as most of us think of government -- not just federal, but state and local as well -- as someone else doing something to us, many of us actually will be governed by fear. We might be better off once we believe that all government is self-government -- unless we can't even submit to ourselves.

18 March 2011

Sociability, Ideology and the Privatization of Experience

Michelle Cottle's essay on the need for greater congressional sociability, which I commented on earlier this week, picks up on a theme that is being played a lot lately. From David Brooks' The Social Animal to Tina Rosenberg's Join the Club, writers are reasserting society's dependence upon sociability, people's willingness (or need) to be with and define themselves in relation to other people. Brooks, according to early reviews, argues that the emotional ties that draw us together are a stronger cohesive force than the abstract reason favored by intellectuals and ideologues alike. Rosenberg argues in favor of a benign "peer pressure" in collective ventures through which teamwork improves each person's individual effort. In both cases, I suspect, there's an unspoken yet implicit critique of an anti-social individualism that has grown more intractable the more social media have allowed us all to retreat into personally-constructed affinity-based virtual communities. The great worry is that society is balkanizing into homogeneous subcultures, leaving people increasingly ill-equipped or ill-inclined to deal easily with others who think or act differently. I've done that worrying here several times myself while contemplating a worsening privatization of experience. In the past I've blamed the apparent trend on marketing imperatives and a cultural aversion to solidarity among capitalists, but I also like to believe that I've tried to be careful not to turn it all into a vast right-wing conspiracy.

Elaine Tyler May doesn't share my reticence. She was last year's president of the Organization of American Historians, and her presidential address appears in the latest Journal of American History, while a shorter version can be found here. May describes a right-wing assault on the very notion of public life that dates back to the Cold War, when any trend that seemed to tend toward collectivism was suspect. In May's account, Americans increasingly defined themselves in contradistinction to Communists as essentially individualistic people. At the same time, fears of Communist conspiracy, supplemented by fears of rioting and urban crime, drove many Americans to adopt a bunker mentality with a seemingly greater emphasis on personal gun ownership and the need to defend one's home from attack than ever existed before. May links this to a bias in favor of families building their own fallout shelters rather than rely on supposedly "collectivist" municipal facilities. She contends that, by adopting an ideological imperative to do things themselves, Americans grew more alienated from and distrustful of one another, to the point in the 21st century when many readily acquiesced in the excesses of the Patriot Act while resisting movements for greater democracy -- which for May means greater equality and inclusiveness -- as threats to individual liberty.

To my mind, May consistently overstates the extent to which this trend was an ideologically-driven agenda. There's nothing inherently right-wing or conservative, for instance, about preferring owning your own home to living in an apartment complex, yet May suggests that there is. She also sees some implicit conspiracy behind Americans' growing fear of crime. Since that fear is irrational in the face of the low probability of any person becoming a victim of violent crime, May assumes that the fear was manufactured to further a political agenda, specifically Richard Nixon's. We should remember, however, that many Americans believe that they can win the lottery. Once they began to see urban violence regularly on the news, they could easily imagine it happening to them despite the actual odds against it.

Most importantly, May betrays her own ideological bias by looking to the right for all the sources of today's anti-social individualism. It should be self-evident to any objective observer that the trend has at least some roots in an anti-conformist rebellion identified broadly with the country's cultural left that continues today in any celebration of difference as an end unto itself. In our desire not to be held accountable to the village elders or gossips, many of us have come close to denying accountability to anyone, the law aside. For every person who doesn't want to be held accountable to a bureaucrat, there may be another who doesn't want to be held accountable to the neighborhood, the extended family, etc. While our grandparents may have had a legitimate complaint about the terms of accountability that prevailed in the "conformist" Fifties, mutual accountability itself is part of the essence of democracy. Ideally, it's through democracy that we negotiate the terms of mutual accountability. Unless we all agree to be answerable for any behavior that has or might be seen to have a social consequence, democracy may never live up to its potential to improve life for all its members. Will greater sociability restore our sense of mutual accountability, or at least remind us of our obligation to listen to each other? Perhaps. Some hope that practical experience will break down ideological and other prejudices. That might happen, but the test, if it comes, may also determine whether ideology can harden hearts and minds to the point where sociability and collective endeavor become impossible. Given the imperative necessity of collective endeavor at this point in global history, we'd better get the test over with sooner rather than later.

17 March 2011

The UN delegitimizes Khadafi

With two of the veto-bearing members abstaining, the United Nations Security Council has authorized the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya, asserting for itself the prerogative to protect the civilian population of a country from the country's ruler and at least theoretically constraining the ruler's sovereign right to suppress an insurrection. Endorsing the vote, the French foreign minister has called it a revolutionary moment in global affairs. That may be so if the move is as unprecedented as the comment implies, but it will be truly revolutionary only if it comes with a commitment to apply the empowering principle with absolute consistency. Unless the UN deals with every subsequent civilian-endangering internal conflict in the same manner, all today's vote proves is that Col. Khadafi is a profoundly unpopular man. He must be, if Russia and China, normally defenders of unconditional national sovereignty against all moralizing objections, have acquiesced in such an allegedly precedent-setting measure. Admittedly, the UN has not committed itself to overthrowing Khadafi, and to my knowledge it has not explicitly challenged his standing as the ruler of Libya. But the Security Council vote clearly makes Khadafi less sovereign than his peers, if it has not implied that no nation can suppress rebellion by all means necessary. If that was actually the world body's intention, it could say so more clearly, and I might respect its action more. Please take none of this as an endorsement of Khadafi's government of his country. I have no special desire to see him continue in office. My concern is that the Security Council has acted arbitrarily, for reasons cynical or sentimental, rather than taking a real step toward effective and principled world government. The world may cheer it for doing so now, but it may not the next time.

16 March 2011

Should politicians be more sociable?

Writing in the current Newsweek, Michelle Cottle draws a correlation between gridlock in Washington D.C. and the capital city's "social retardation." Her article is another lament for those long-gone days when Republicans and Democrats got together for drinks after debating, though she doesn't go so far as to argue that drinks are necessary to loosen up partisanship. She insists, however, that "the fine art of legislating works best when those charged with negotiating the fine print enjoy solid relationships built on trust, respect and a general sense of comity." For the sake of argument, let's agree with her and concede that these relationships are harder to form across party lines today. Why is that? One reason Cottle stresses heavily is an increasingly "bifurcated existence" for congressmen. More of our representatives, especially in the freshmen "Tea Party" caucus, have left their families at home to live a spartan existence in Washington. As a result, they have less interest, Cottle assumes, in socializing in the manner popular back in the Sixties and Seventies. She quotes a congressman who warns that when "your emotional life is back in the district, [and] all you're doing is legislating,...it becomes all about the winning."

Whatever the consequences for sociability, this spartan impulse of the TPs may be one of the few admirable things about them. While some ideologues may overstress the dangers of a "political class," we can probably all agree that too much capital sociability could alienate a representative from the feelings and interests of his constituents. Luxury and other temptations of power should be avoided. Cottle herself notes that a generation of sex scandals has dampened old-school sociability independently of any ideological hardening in recent times. Those scandals have whipped many Americans "into a fury at the thought of politicians and aides swanning about schmantzy cocktail parties instead of tending to the people's business." Is that so bad?

Cottle complains that the President is part of the problem. Many observers initially expected him and the First Lady to restore Kennedyesque glamour to Washington. Instead, he has proven relatively aloof, which may prove either that he takes his job seriously or that he shares the allegedly prevailing disdain for bipartisan mingling. On this score, Cottle and the Democrats she interviewed compare Obama unfavorably to Bill Clinton, the arch-schmoozer. Sociability in Washington is apparently at an even lower ebb than during the Gingrich years, since Clinton could still get along with Trent Lott.

If there's a link between less sociability and less compromise, can more sociability solve it? I have my doubts. With each generation after 1964 the party bases have grown more ideological, and their representatives have grown necessarily more partisan. In the past, most politicians saw themselves primarily as representatives of their constituencies and their economic interests. Interests are more easily compromised and reconciled, and are more readily subject to a sociable sort of horse trading, than ideologies are. At the same time, governing according to "special" interests is in greater disrepute than ever, since that's the stuff of earmarks and the pork barrel. Meanwhile, a generation of talk radio and blogs has left chips on everyone's shoulders. There's a presumption of mutual hatred that might be overcome somewhat if legislators partied more, but overcoming such suspicions won't necessarily make ideological compromises any easier. Having everyone go to mixers is no substitute for reducing the role of ideology in practical politics. While breaking up the two-party system would most likely help that goal along, a more important and arguably more sociable step might be to restore some legitimacy to interest-based politics. The object shouldn't be to enable more pork-barrel spending, but to make compromise more likely on the individual level and to individualize legislators so that they're not automatically identified with the monolithic irreconcilable enemy. Our problem today is that the two parties can't seem to deal with each other. Individuals might have more luck, and might have a better time in the bargain.

15 March 2011

'Structural Crisis in the World-System:' Can American politics adapt?

Immanuel Wallerstein is a Yale professor and historian of "world-systems." In his learned view, the modern "world-system" characterized by capitalist economics and American hegemony has been in a state of "structural crisis" since about 1970, while a crisis in global politics dates back to a few years earlier. Wallerstein sums up some of the findings of his newest history in an article for Monthly Review, a Marxist journal. He notes that workers under capitalism tend to benefit most, in trickle-down fashion, when one firm or group of firms enjoys monopoly or virtual-monopoly control over specific sectors of the economy. When inevitable competition reduces the monopolists' profits, as happened when American dominance was challenged by recovering or developing economies around the world, capital loses interest in manufacturing and seeks greater returns from financial speculation. Unemployment results in the leading countries, while wealth simply shifts from one location to another rather than generating truly global growth. This sounds like a broadly accurate description of the last forty years.

Wallerstein's comments on politics are possibly more provocative. On this front, the crisis began with the various uprisings of 1968, which were as much rebellions against a discredited "Old Left" as they were protests against conditions in the capitalist world. Wallerstein sees the "Cold War" as a period of actual effective collusion between the West and the Soviet bloc, with neither force seeking a decisive confrontation. Left and Right, at least in the eyes of the "New Left," had become "avatars of centrist liberalism" that could no longer accommodate the demands of minorities and other marginalized peoples who, in turn, no longer saw their concerns as subordinate to those of the Old Left, whether defined as Marxist, Big Labor, etc. As this happened, a "conservative right" (apparently not a redundancy) rebelled against the centrist compromises of nominally conservative establishment parties.

While Wallerstein's account seems a little Eurocentric ("1968" is still seen as a movement rather than an event across the Atlantic), I wondered whether its uncertain applicability to American history could itself explain something. What seems most different about the U.S. is that, while the splits described by Wallerstein were clearly visible, they had no structural or institutional consequences. On the Right, the "Reagan revolution" against "Rockefeller Republicans" fits Wallerstein's model. On the Left, the closest or most prominent approximation of Wallerstein's New Left was the McGovern movement in 1972. In neither case, however, was the split a schism. McGovern's dissident Democrats chose to take over the party, as did Reagan's dissident Republicans. Neither group could take over, however, without some kind of compromise with the existing establishment. That couldn't help but obscure the extent to which voters' alternatives had changed and limit the extent of the change itself. While Wallerstein contends that the political crisis, in the long run, has left the world with a choice between the hierarchical "spirit of Davos" and the egalitarian "spirit of Porto Allegre," the Republican and Democratic parties don't embody that choice. Because New Left forces tried to take over the existing "left" party, or else were marginalized, the "spirit of Porto Allegre" has no strong voice in the U.S., while "Davos" is well known as someplace where the Clintons go. Had New Left elements resisted the imperatives of Bipolarchy forty years ago, there might be a creditable party on the ground in solidarity with whatever Porto Allegre stands for -- Wallerstein himself admits that priorities are mixed on that front.

Wallerstein notes that economic uncertainty during a structural crisis "pushes popular opinion both to make demands for protection and protectionism and to search for scapegoats as well as true profiteers." That looks like a good description of populism without using the confusing word. Uncertainty drives extremism, not to mention polarization, "push[ing] both national and world political situations toward gridlock." Hoping to steer the "spirit of Porto Allegre," Wallerstein advises a short-term focus on minimizing economic pain for the weakest, even if that means accepting unnamed "lesser evils." In the "medium term," there must be victory for Porto Allegre or Davos. Wallerstein thinks his side will be helped by serious but inclusively egalitarian intellectual analysis and by the cultivation of a decentralized "alterglobalization" of "multiple autonomies," each achieving self-sufficiency and its own universalism.

Americans will be handicapped by a tendency to identify the Democratic party with progressivism even if it comes nowhere close to the ultimate spirit of Porto Allegre, unless a clear alternative voice can emerge. Fortunately, Wallerstein suggests that crisis conditions actually improve the chances for alternate visions.

The one encouraging feature about a systemic crisis is the degree to which it increases the viability of agency, of what we call “free will.” In a normally functioning historical system, even great social effort is limited in its effects because of the efficacy of the pressures to return to equilibrium. But when the system is far from equilibrium, every little input has great effect, and the totality of our inputs—made every nanosecond in every nanospace—can (can, not will) add up to enough to tilt the balance of the collective “choice.”

So if not now, when?

14 March 2011

An American misanthrope: 'Boohoo the poor.'

You aren't going to find the misanthropy at the heart of America's "personal responsibility" ethic phrased as starkly but printably anywhere else as it is in a letter to the Troy Record written by one Monika Bove.

Boohoo the poor. In this blessed country nobody has to be poor.Stay in school, go to night school, get a job, get two jobs, get married, then have babies but only if you can support them.Never mind the millionaires, they don't owe you anything. Never mind the government. The government doesn't have money other than what they squeeze out of working people.I don't get a pension and I don't want to have to pay for yours. I pay for my own health insurance, you pay for yours.Get rid of Obama and his ilk — get rid of anybody who wants to get you dependent on government hand-outs. Those hand-outs come with a steep price tag.

Given that many Americans don't think it desirable to pursue full employment, Bove is probably wrong; some of us will probably have to be poor for that reason alone. Add to that number all those who'll remain poor despite working the two jobs Bove recommends. Is her remark an admission that many jobs in this country fail to pay a living wage? If so, it also shows her moral indifference to that regrettable fact. Moral indifference is the overall theme here, though Bove would certainly insist otherwise. Her morality, however, leaves out any sense of mutual obligation or even a mere commitment to life. Neither millionaires nor Monika Bove are obliged to keep people alive. Pay your own way through life or die is Bove's moral code. If we lived otherwise it'd hurt her somehow, it seems. It'd clearly offend her moral sense, such as it is.

It sounds monstrous stated so baldly, but millions more think like Bove. I don't doubt that people like her have struggled in life, but their struggles somehow leave them without sympathy for others whose struggles are harder still, and incapable of imagining alternatives to every woman struggling for herself. Their only satisfaction, it seems, comes in seeing themselves as superior to someone rather than imagining everyone as equals. What it'd take to shake that arrogant complacency is hard to say. Whatever it is, it'd probably be worse for those worse off than Bove, which makes me wonder whether it's worth wishing for.

Libya, Bahrain and double standards

Troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council of states are entering the island kingdom of Bahrain to restore order after weeks of sporadic unrest. That is, the Persian Gulf Sunni states are supporting the ruler of Bahrain, one of their own, against a dissident population with a Shiite majority. At the same time, at the GCC's prodding, the Arab League has called for international intervention against the Libyan government, declaring Col. Khadafi's government illegitimate and urging the imposition of a no-fly zone to prevent Khadafi from suppressing the uprising in the eastern portion of the country. There's a double inconsistency at work here. Most obviously, as noted by the Financial Times, the GCC confers legitimacy upon Libyan dissidents, but not upon their Bahraini counterparts. There are plenty of reasons for this, from Khadafi's longstanding reputation as a troublemaker to the Sunnis' fear of Shiism and Iranian influence. Secondly, the GCC is willing to flex its muscle in Bahrain but wants others to wage war on Libya.

The Sunnis are simply practising realpolitik. They see instability in Bahrain as a threat to their security, while Khadafi has always been expendable and denouncing him sounds good abroad. If they manage to persuade NATO to suppress the Libyan air force, the West will be too preoccupied to notice or care about what happens to dissidents in Bahrain or in Saudi Arabia itself. Unfortunately, the GCC seems to be acting within its rights in Bahrain under its organizational charter, rather like the "Holy Alliance" of European monarchies who helped one another quash revolts in the early 19th century. In Libya, Khadafi can only depend upon himself and, according to many reports, whatever mercenaries he can hire. Judging his case in purely moral terms, he probably deserves to fall, but a similar judgment might render Bahraini sovereignty forfeit. Morality, however, only forms a basis for a foreign policy of aggression. Consistency requires respect for sovereignty across the board or support for rebellion across the board. But since it's much more difficult to argue that all rebellions are equal than that all sovereignty is equal, civilized nations should err on the side of sovereignty, even if the consequences are uncivilized within sovereign borders. The only acceptable alternative to such resignation is to establish an effective world government capable of deliberating objectively, rather than according to realpolitik, in each case of local factional conflict. The Sunni states of the Persian Gulf have shown no such objectivity or consistency. Any American who wants to cite the GCC's or the Arab League's pleas for intervention against Libya as justification for should take care not to share the Sunnis' hypocrisy as well as their alleged concern for the Libyan people.

Update: So of course Christopher Hitchens views the Arab League declaration as a blank check for Western intervention while making no mention of the GCC's repressive exercise in Bahrain. Hitchens is in a state of perpetual personal war against tyranny, though I'm sure he feels he can do tyrants more damage with words than with weapons. I hope his cancer is in remission so he can have no excuse for not putting his own life on the line before he puts anyone else's at risk.

13 March 2011

Do public employees have rights?

It's old news by now, but the Wisconsin Republicans figured out a way, by removing any appropriation of money from the bill stripping public-employee unions of their collective bargaining rights, to get it through the state senate without the quorum that had been denied them by the Democrats' flight to Illinois. The Democrats intend to challenge the constitutionality of the law, but I doubt they'll succeed. Meanwhile, organized labor vows revenge -- some too literally and personally for the federal government's taste -- but seems content to wait, not counting whatever recall efforts are under way, until next November. That is, they intend their revenge to be political, and they probably intend the Democratic party to be their instrument. That strategy strikes me as clueless. The unions must realize that their intimate alliance with the Democrats at least partly explains Republican hostility toward them. At the same time, it reflects a blind faith in Democrats that is probably unjustified. In our imminent age of austerity, public employees err in placing their faith in either major party. It's only a matter of time before Gov. Cuomo of New York or one of his Democratic peers elsewhere decides that cracking down on public employees would be both pragmatic and, alas, popular. What may be needed, alarming as it may sound to the rest of us, is a party of the bureaucracy, a labor party with public employees at its core but a commitment to restoring a sense of common cause to workers in public and private sector alike. For such a group, electoral politics should be practised alongside old-school labor militancy. It should not wait until next year to take action against its enemies. To wait until then to reassert its rights is a virtual capitulation to Gov. Walker. If the new law is such an offense as workers claim, it should be resisted now, and not exclusively through electoral channels.

Part of public employees' problem right now, I suspect, is that the rest of the public perceives them as part of the "political class." Just as there's hostility to the notion of "professional politicians" making a permanent living through elected offices, that hostility has probably bled over to color public employees as a parasite class, people assumed to make more than they're worth by exploiting politics while "we the taxpayers" suffer. It's as if we think no one should make a career of public service, as if public service can only corrupt a person, especially if that person gets some uppity sense of entitlement, some notion that he should get more than a minimal wage from a penny-pinching public. Maybe we should have rotation in office in the bureaucracy like we have in elected offices to keep most Americans happy, so you never have to give a public worker a raise. Since a desire to perform public service is probably suspicious, perhaps public workers should be recruited from the general workforce after the manner of the old military draft. They could be placed under quasi-military discipline, with collective bargaining out of the question once and for all. Maybe prisoners can do some of the work.

Do these modest proposals strike you as absurd? Maybe you'd rather concede that public employees have just as much right to make a secure living, and as much right to negotiate for decent working conditions, as other workers. Perhaps you'll allow that they shouldn't have less rights than other workers just because they work for taxpayers. You might even begin to think that quality of service should count more than cost, considering the essential work many public employees do. Don't you want the best public service possible? Doesn't that require incentives to attract the best people? Or do ordinary Americans share the sentiment once associated with one of the most hated American capitalists, who once said simply, "The public be damned!" The problem with such lofty thought is that the public isn't simply some "sector" of society. The public is all of us, and if you damn the public "sector," you damn yourselves, as time is sure to tell.

11 March 2011

The power of nature

Overheard at the office today:

"I saw some footage from Japan. Those waves, the size of them, sweeping everything away....There's no way man can change the climate of this planet...."

Long ago, events like today's earthquake and tsunami would fill our ancient ancestors with superstitious awe. Apparently, they still do.

The politics of American decline

This week's Time magazine cover-featured a point-counterpoint on the proposition that America is in serious decline. Arguing the affirmative is Fareed Zakaria, a CNN talking head and center-right pundit. Zakaria is a naturalized American citizen who has argued in the past that the rule of law is a higher priority than democracy for developing or post-authoritarian nations. For Time, he explains that by choosing to become an American he's a true believer in American ideals, but at the same time doesn't accept American institutions as God-given, perfect or unalterable. This becomes relevant as he focuses on the American political system as a major factor in the country's economic decline.

Zakaria believes that fiscal retrenchment is necessary, but warns against cuts to those investments in infrastructure, education and innovation he considers essential to reversing American decline. He fears, however, that American politics is biased against the future and long-term planning.

[W]hy are we tackling our economic problems in a manner that is shortsighted and wrong-footed? Because it is politically easy. The key to understanding the moves by both parties is that, for the most part, they are targeting programs that have neither a wide base of support nor influential interest groups behind them. (And that's precisely why they're not where the money is. The American political system is actually quite efficient. It distributes the big bucks to popular programs and powerful special interests.)....It's not that our democracy doesn't work; it's that it works only too well. American politics is now hyperresponsive to constituents' interests. And all those interests are dedicated to preserving the past rather than investing for the future. There are no lobbying groups for the next generation of industries, only for those companies that are here now with cash to spend. There are no special-interest groups for our children's economic well-being, only for people who get government benefits right now. The whole system is geared to preserve current subsidies, tax breaks and loopholes. That is why the federal government spends $4 on elderly people for every $1 it
spends on those under 18. And when the time comes to make cuts, guess whose programs are first on the chopping board. That is a terrible sign of a society's priorities and outlook

While this suggests a flaw in the American approach to democracy, Zakaria also cites cultural and historical factors handicapping the country today. He suggests that Americans have grown complacent over their superiority while the economy and bureaucracy have grown "sclerotic" during decades without any apparent need to adapt. Contributing to the complacency and sclerosis is a stubborn but perhaps not peculiarly American chauvinism infecting all political factions.

Any politician who dares suggest that the U.S. can learn from — let alone copy — other countries is likely to be denounced instantly. If someone points out that Europe gets better health care at half the cost, that's dangerously socialist thinking. If a business leader notes that tax rates in much of the industrialized world are lower and that there are far fewer loopholes than in the U.S., he is brushed aside as trying to impoverish American workers. If a commentator says — correctly — that social mobility from one generation to the next is greater in many European nations than in the U.S., he is laughed at. Yet several studies, the most recent from the OECD last year, have found that the average American has a much lower chance of moving out of his parents' income bracket than do people in places like Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Canada.

Still, Zakaria hopes that political reform would allow the government to overcome the people's biases. "We have a political system that has become allergic to compromise and practical solutions," he writes, yet "At the very moment that our political system has broken down, one hears only encomiums to it, the Constitution and the perfect Republic that it created." It's too easy for small factions or even individuals to obstruct necessary measures, he complains, while the overlapping bureaucracies of city, county, state and nation inevitably cause waste. "We have a political system geared toward ceaseless fundraising and pandering to the interests of the present with no ability to plan, invest or build for the future," he continues, "And if one mentions any of this, why, one is being unpatriotic."

Zakaria himself rushes to embrace the Founding Fathers, noting that they didn't hesitate to scrap the Articles of Confederation after they had been proved a botch in short order. As well, they studied foreign systems of government before drafting and ratifying the Constitution. In Zakaria's words, they "loved America, but they also understood that it was a work in progress, an unfinished enterprise that would constantly be in need of change, adjustment and repair." He comes close to saying that Americans today hold the Constitution in something like superstitious reverence. If that's so, it's because many of us consider it our only bulwark against the sort of arbitrary tyrannical power that would be adopted rashly the moment we abandoned the ancient charter. Whether you canonize the First or the Second Amendment, you're likely to fear that starting over would leave you without whatever protection of your preferred rights the sacred paper provides. Americans have come to believe that the Constitution's counter-majoritarian features are its most important elements, and that the U.S. is good only insofar as it protects minorities and individuals from the "tyranny of the majority." It's likely that many Americans unconsciously identify the Constitution exclusively with the Bill of Rights and those subsequent amendments that increased civil rights while forgetting that the object of the actual frame of government is, as Zakaria notes, a "more perfect union." Too many of us seem now to believe that the only objects of the Constitution are to protect minorities and preserve individual freedom. That belief leaves little room for national interests or purposes. Yet there must be ways to govern more efficiently in the national interest without the silencing of dissent that all Americans dread. People like Zakaria believe that a middle ground is possible. If it isn't, further decline is probably certain, and with it even more suppression of dissent and other rights.

Epilogue: Arguing against the proposition is David von Drehle in an article that could probably have been written by software without human editing. Proposition the first: Americans have been whining about national decline since approximately 1790; that proves that American will never actually decline! Proposition the second: American workers are still more productive than anyone! Never mind that superior individual productivity's side-effect is individual redundancy and systemic underemployment, or that it benefits bosses more than employees. Proposition the third: Americans are just more creative than anybody else, so we're sure to figure something out. Proposition the fourth: Don't begrudge other nation's successes! They're just living the American Dream, whether you are or not. The funny thing is, Zakaria warns us about just this sort of thoughtless optimism in his longer, stronger article. It makes you wonder why Time bothered publishing Drehle's drivel.

10 March 2011

A 'Common Man' writes and blogs

Ric Wells of Wilton is a diligent writer to newspaper letter columns. His latest effort appears in today's Troy Record. In it, he announces his creation of Common Sense Citizens for America, an organization dedicated to the interests of "the Common Man." The letter directs readers to Wells' new blog, www.commonsensecitizensforamerica.blogspot.com, where today's letter is the latest post. Wells intends his group as a home for "fiscal conservatives and social moderates" whose mission is "To re-establish common sense political solutions for our states and nation in accordance with the principles of our Founding Fathers as stated in our Constitution." The "Common Man" letter may clarify whom Wells identifies as his ideal constituents.

The Common Man is in all of us. He and she are the hard working individuals who get up every day and are proud of their work. He and she are 'we.' We love our state and country. We believe in the Constitution. We hate injustice. We hate lies. We are seekers of truth. We are deeply concerned with the direction our state and county are taking. We are God fearing and God loving individuals who live by the Golden Rule. We are loyal to the principles our Founding Fathers have given us. We are everyday individuals who are frustrated in our non-representative form of government. We are the new Vocal Majority.

Not every common man fears God, of course, but it isn't clear whether Wells would insist that we all do so. On an alternative blog under his own name, Wells called Common Sense Citizens an "unknown union" and clarified its professedly nonpartisan nature.

We are tired of special interests, big business and government siphoning the fruits of our labor. We number in the millions and are organizing to reverse the trend of unfair representation. We demand people in office that will lead. We demand politicians with vision. We demand a political structure that will represent us. We are hard working citizens of this state and country that demand common sense in laws, budgets and policies. We are formally organizing to combat the inequities in the political structure. Republicans, Democrats and Tea Partiers are too self-absorbed to recognize the power of the people. We have recognized this fact and will be silent no more. We are frustrated. We are organizing to be represented according to fundamental constitutional principles. We demand to be represented on our terms. We will change the laws for equal representation. We will abolish corrupt fiscal policies. According to our constitutions this state and country belong to us. We are taking it back.

What Wells means by "equal representation," and how it might be implemented, remain unclear. Last fall, demoralized by the prospects for the New York state elections, Wells composed a manifesto defining his political priorities.
For better or worse the time for change in the New York political structure is now. It's time for the people to throw off the shackles of an obstructionist government and take back the power. We must find and elect leaders who are not afraid to represent the majority of the electorate instead of acting like prostitutes to satisfy their money supply. We must elect leaders that will realize higher taxes only drive small businesses away. Tax breaks to large corporations are only made up on the backs of the people. Issue driven politics are short-sighted solutions with no long range plans or goals. Increasing budget deficits only serve to decimate the economic stability of our state. Adhering to mandates handed down by the federal government are unconstitutional if we have no say in the parameters of said mandates. This is just another form of taxation without representation. Not having a balanced budget prepared and passed by April 1st is a direct violation of the New York State Constitution. We need leaders that realize government by the few and for the few is detrimental to all New Yorkers.

Fiscal conservatism is a constant theme in Wells's writings, but he is unconvinced by Republicans' or Tea Partiers' avowal of that principle. Wells' own conservatism on that score doesn't necessarily mark him as a "right winger." On his profile page he includes among his favorite books Rousseau's Social Contract and Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States, neither of which are usually found on conservative bookshelves. Another favorite, however, is The 5000 Year Leap, a reported favorite of Glenn Beck. Wells is no conservative if that means fidelity to an intellectual establishment. Like many an apparent autodidact, he seeks information from authors, like Zinn, who claim to reveal suppressed truths, Zinn's affirming a left-wing reading of history. A construction worker, Wells needs no academic credentials to realize that something's wrong with the country. There are probably millions like him, and that makes him a common man. Whether that means his answers, once he articulates them, are automatically right is another story. For now, it's hard to argue with his profile assertion that "the only way to correct [the] misdirection of this state and country is to express how we feel." That alone won't do it, but we probably can't do without it.

09 March 2011

The King Hearings: McCarthyism, Islamophobia or Necessity?

The hearings on alleged Islamic radicalization inside the United States, chaired by Rep. King of New York, are being compared to the hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee and the committees chaired by Joe McCarthy in the cold, dark days of the 1940s and 1950s. The comparisons are apt to the extent that the hearings past and present blur the distinction between dissent and subversion. While Muslim activists today fear a growing assumption of guilt by religious association with terrorists and insist on a presumption of both innocence and loyalty by their fellow Americans, the real issue, implicit in King's concern with "radicalization," is the right of American Muslims to dissent against American foreign policy and the state of the U.S. in general. In the Forties and Fifties, American Marxists self-evidently dissented from American economic and social policy, and in many cases opposed the country's explicitly anti-Marxist foreign policy. As far as McCarthy and HUAC were concerned, all such dissent was inextricably linked with a treasonous subservience to the Soviet Union and the "international communist conspiracy." It was obvious all along that there was an "anti-Stalinist Left" that had no more love for the Soviets than they did for capital, but the distinction was lost on the investigating committees, for whom any degree Marxism was prima facie un- or anti-American. Today, American Muslims may be presumed to oppose their government's support for Israel and authoritarian rulers throughout the Muslim world, while many probably also deplore the country's perceived moral decline with as much disgust as their Christian, Jewish or Mormon counterparts. Under "war on terror" conditions, with the "enemy" presumed to desire the imposition of a global caliphate of shari'a tyranny, dissent against American policies may be too easily equated with support with the terrorist caliphate agenda. The real risk involved in the King hearings is the likelihood that Muslims' exercise of their constitutional right to dissent will make them objects of suspicion and surveillance. Just as the McCarthyites presumed that any Marxist wanted to make America subject to Moscow, Kingites, if such a group emerges, may presume that any failure by American Muslims to endorse Zionism or American foreign policy in toto proves them to be terrorist sympathizers if not terrorist conspirators.

Joe McCarthy didn't invent this impulse. It dates back at least to World War I, when American intervention in support of Great Britain made traditionally anglophobic Irish and German communities subject to surveillance and vilification. The current Islamophobia in America is reminiscent of that earlier hysteria, since Muslims have as much reason or right to be zionophobic, if you'll excuse the awkward term, as Irish-Americans once had to be anglophobic, and neither group should have had loyalty to a nation it despised made a condition for loyalty to its adopted homeland. The McCarthyite element in the present hysteria is the presumption of conspiracy, though Rep. King probably allows Muslims more opportunity to prove their innocence than McCarthy or HUAC allowed Marxists. As during the Cold War, the best proof of loyalty will probably be a readiness to name names, and foreign-policy dissidents are most likely to be thrown under the bus in such cases.

Deplore the unfairness of it all all you like, but objectivity requires us not to dismiss out of hand the question of whether any group of Americans due to ethnic, religious or ideological orientation has a special obligation to prove their loyalty to their fellow citizens. The King hearings irritate many people, including many non-Muslims, because they target a religious and in most cases an ethnic minority, but the idea motivating them is no different from what might motivate congressional hearings on the militia movement or a militant Christian right. At issue in all such cases, actual or theoretical, is where or by whom lines can be drawn distinguishing radical dissent from subversion or terrorism. Because Islam is a pre-existing category, King's investigation, despite whatever disclaimers he's offered, looks to many like a singling-out of a minority population for "who they are" rather than "what they do." Bigotry is presumed to lurk beneath King's superficial concern with radicalization. But to the extent that Islam is a value system, "what they do" is always part of the equation, and always subject at least to appraisal by the rest of us. American Muslims should be presumed innocent of loyalty to any foreign conspiracy until individuals are proven guilty, but Muslims are no more entitled to a presumption of absolute innocence than any other religious or ideological faction in the country. That is, there should be no inhibition against discussing whether religious commitments can compromise the political commitments necessary to a constitutional democratic republic. Democracy is a matter of mutual accountability. Muslims should not be judged falsely, but that doesn't mean they should never be judged.

08 March 2011

NPR Exec Pranked: Shocking comments on Tea Party!

Pranking folks to elicit embarassing statements isn't something only liberals or progressives do. James O'Keefe is probably the best known prankster on the Right, having tricked some ACORN workers infamously into offering legal advice to a fake pimp a few years ago. Perhaps provoked by the recent pranking of Gov. Walker of Wisconsin, O'Keefe scored another coup recently when he lured a departing National Public Radio executive into meeting with a fake Muslim group he would portray as a front for the Muslim Brotherhood. His object, I assume, was to get the executive to accept or solicit support from the fake Muslims, or to get a statement from him that would prove that NPR was soft on Islamism. The target was wise enough to insist throughout that he spoke for himself and not for NPR. He refused to accept a check for $5,000,000 but did tell the pranksters that he felt Muslims were underrepresented in the news media the way women used to be. In the moment O'Keefe should be proudest of, given the Republican desire to defund NPR, the target declared that his employers would be better off in the long run without federal funding. But the biggest scandal to emerge from the meeting, whether O'Keefe intended it or not, was the news that an NPR executive had dared to speak ill of the Tea Party movement -- had in fact called it racist. Despite the target's disclaimers, NPR itself went into damage-control mode, repudiating his comments. The reason was clear. The prank-induced remarks are sure to infuriate Republicans into making renewed efforts to defund an organization they have always considered ideologically biased against them. The implication is more troubling. A news organization may be punished because an employee insulted a political party off the air.

Once again the Republicans are likely to oppose the funding of opinions they don't like. In their view, no one should be compelled to contribute to an institution if it or any of its members take a political stand contrary to one's own beliefs, or allegedly insulting to them. Adopting this principle consistently, of course, we should all have the prerogative to opt out of taxation, since the country is occasionally ruled by a party obnoxious to us. As far as some of us are concerned, the country is always so ruled. But in electoral politics we are taught, one hopes, to defer both to the will of the majority that bothers to vote and to the traditional prerogative of elected officials to govern according to their own consciences. Whether NPR requires or deserves taxpayer support is a proper subject for debate. But if its mandate is determined to include providing airtime for diverse viewpoints on public issues rather than the mute neutrality Republicans might prefer, they should seek more airtime for themselves if they feel shut out -- not to mention more time for viewpoints to the left of the NPR consensus -- instead of the silence that might make them more comfortable.

Libya and the Interventionist Impulse

In beleaguered Libya neocons have finally found people who take inspiration from the invasion of Iraq. Rebels in the country have reportedly implored the United States to "bring Bush," i.e. intervene on their behalf by attacking the Khadafi government. In the U.S., even some opponents of the 2003 invasion like Senator Kerry are said to favor the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya in order to prevent Col. Khadafi from using air power to reassert his authority. The ruler's attempt to suppress an insurrection will inevitably create a "humanitarian crisis" that will be used to justify a "humanitarian intervention." No government, it would seem, has the right to suppress an insurrection if that means killing civilians. Since embedding forces among civilians is a hallmark of asymmetrical warfare, no government anywhere can probably suppress an insurrection without inflicting "collateral damage" casualties among civilians. If we were to apply the implicit principle universally, it would mean that any government's sovereignty is forfeit once an insurrection breaks out, since the international community cannot tolerate collateral damage in its suppression. Some people might agree with this proposition on the assumption that insurrections would not break out unless governments were in the wrong somehow and had violated their people's rights, thus delegitimizing themselves.

150 years ago, the secession of slaveholding states from the United States portended no less of a humanitarian crisis than is likely in Libya, once the Union government resolved to suppress secessionism by force. Needless to say, the Lincoln administration made it known that it would tolerate neither military intervention on the secessionists' behalf nor any diplomatic recognition of the Confederate States of America. Since Lincoln denied the legality of secession, he regarded it as rebellion. Historical consistency requires Americans to agree that foreign countries have no more right to intervene in Libya than they had to intervene in the American Civil War. Neither the fact that the Confederates were the "bad guys" as defenders of slavery nor the fact that Khadafi is self-evidently the "bad guy" in his own country changes the rules. If nations are sovereign, each must have an inalienable right to suppress rebellion until its failure to do so alters the essential facts on the ground. If the world must be divided into nations, none can be the judge of others' sovereignty unless all are willing to submit unconditionally to the same tribunal. If the immorality of some regimes offends you, your job is to work toward a world government that will set and enforce a single standard for relations between governed and government. To choose particular cases for intervention for merely personal or national reasons is nothing but an act of war.

Right now, the President has probably gone too far already in urging Khadafi to step down, but Secretary Gates has exerted a conservative influence on him against the advice of fellow Democrats like Kerry, while the Republicans lack a coherent position on Libya, each leading figure speaking only for himself or herself. Kerry reportedly fears that another Democratic President will look weak during a humanitarian crisis, as President Clinton supposedly did during the Rwandan genocide. Again, the only correct answer to such crises is not arbitrary intervention by individual nations or coalitions, but more effective world government. Anything else is self-interested warmongering, no matter how selfless the motives seem. Libyans are none of our business unless we are also theirs and everyone else's. Let he who is without sin drop the first bomb.

07 March 2011

2012: Does Republican reticence create an opening for independents?

Suddenly, and without any sharp surge in the President's popularity, Republicans seem pessimistic about their chances of ousting him in next year's national election. Complaints are heard about a lackluster field of potential nominees remaining after several presumed contenders recently talked themselves out of running. Grumbling probably grew louder after Fox News put pressure on Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum to declare whether they were going to run or not. The network has suspended both men for sixty days, within which time each must declare whether or not he'll run. They must state clearly that they won't run, or else they'll lose their jobs, which they would give up anyway as declared candidates. Republicans and outsiders alike have observed that Fox's two highest-profile papabili, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, have been put under no such pressure that anyone outside Fox knows of. Fox News flacks explain this by arguing that Gingrich and Santorum have advanced to a point where the network feels obliged to force a choice on them, while Huckabee and Palin are supposedly much less closer to declaring themselves. The decision seems too arbitrary to be a mere enforcement of appropriate journalistic ethics. It would be proper for Fox to dump any of these Republicans once he or she has declared a candidacy, but that's not the standard imposed on Gingrich and Santorum. They must decide whether to form exploratory committees within sixty days, while Palin and Huckabee, whose celebrity probably allows them to start the groundwork for a campaign much later, get to coast on the Fox News payroll for some reason.

I won't put it past Fox News to try to manipulate the GOP nomination process, but other hopefuls (or hoped-fors) have dropped out without prodding from the network. In these other cases, we may see Republicans facing the unanticipated consequences of their own ideological preferences. While certain officials may say they like their chances better in 2016 than against an eminently vulnerable incumbent, I suspect that more than the Bill Clinton scenario, in which Republican congressional victories in 1994 all but assured his re-election two years later, is weighing on their minds. I think it comes down to money. Under the rules they wanted, and which the Supreme Court gave them, many Republicans are going to find that the game is too expensive to play. The need to fundraise during a presumably competitive early primary season, followed by a still-harder push toward the general election, is probably too daunting for many people who might otherwise take a shot. While the Republican party certainly rejoiced that the Citizens United decision would assure a great flow of corporate money their way, the decision came with no guarantee that any aspirant to a Republican nomination would be flooded with funds. Citizens United empowered the party as a bureaucratic whole rather than individual Republicans and probably makes it more likely that the deck will be stacked against any Republican with insurgent or unorthodox ambitions. Meanwhile, money will most likely make its choice among Republicans long before primary voters get their turn.

Does this apparent slip in Republican morale create an opportunity for a serious challenge to Obama to come from outside the GOP? Whatever Republicans think about the incumbent's abilities as a campaigner and fundraiser, he remains profoundly unpopular among many segments of the population, as does the debt-ridden, allegedly bloated government he symbolizes. While any Republican candidate is probably assured of a large vote as the "only" alternative to Obama, the feeling already stirring that the GOP may not present an adequate alternative to Obama may surge early enough to get people seeking alternative alternatives. Regrettably, the only person currently exploiting this early dissatisfaction is the inexplicable Donald Trump, a living cartoon of wealth whose habit of firing temporary workers at scheduled televised intervals is a lumpen fantasy of leadership and little more. If anyone else hopes to make a move, now is probably the time to generate enthusiasm while the opposition to Obama seems unenthusiastic over its existing options. This is not necessarily the time to seek a leader, but now is the time to start telling people that the Republican party (or the "right" in general, for that matter) is not the only alternative to Four More Years, before the GOP regains enough confidence to insist otherwise. This is the time to start building a movement in a public way, loudly, like the Tea Partiers did, in the hope that leadership will come later -- a year or so from now -- by the people's choice.