Setting policies by means of SuperPACS

A case-study in contemporary policy-setting.  The Republicans put off Hispanics, which is arguably demographic suicide.  So how to change the anti-immigration stance associated with the party?  Reason? Discussion?  Debate?  Coming to a consensus?  No.  Start a super PAC that will give money to pro-immigration Republicans and sponsor primary opponents against Republicans who vote the wrong way.

Prominent Republicans are launching a new super PAC they hope will help begin repairing the political damage left by years of anti-illegal-immigrant rhetoric that has dominated GOP primaries and alienated crucial Hispanic voters.

The organization, to be called Republicans for Immigration Reform, aims to undermine what organizers call the “extremists” who have pushed party nominees to stake out far-right positions such as opposing a pathway to legalization for millions of illegal workers, students and children.

Even before it raises money and establishes target races for 2014, the group’s organizers told The Washington Post, it will help smooth the way for wavering Republican lawmakers to vote next year for an immigration overhaul. Such a measure suddenly gained momentum last week after GOP leaders watched President Obama’s dominance among Hispanic voters help carry him to an electoral college landslide.

Spearheading the group is Carlos Gutierrez, the Cuban American commerce secretary under President George W. Bush. He is joined by Washington lawyer Charlie Spies, co-founder of the pro-Mitt Romney super PAC Restore Our Future, which, illustrating the very trend that the new PAC aims to thwart, aired some tough ads during this year’s primaries accusing Romney’s rivals of supporting “amnesty” and being “too liberal on immigration.”

“There’s currently only energy on the anti-immigration reform side, and we want to be able to provide some cover for Republicans that vote in support of an immigration reform approach,” Spies said.

Spies and Gutierrez declined to cite a fundraising goal, but both enjoy close ties to corporate America, which generally favors looser immigration laws. A super PAC can accept unlimited donations. Spies’s pro-Romney group raised $142 million for the 2012 campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“This is not small ball,” Gutierrez said. “We’re serious, and we are going to push the debates on immigration reform to a place where I believe the Republican Party should be in the 21st century.”

via New super PAC hopes to give cover to pro-immigration Republicans – The Washington Post.

Let us bracket the issue of immigration reform and whether Republicans need to loosen up on the question and make major efforts to attract Hispanics.  I myself agree that something on this order needs to be done.  So let’s not talk about that.  Let’s discuss this method of forming policy and making laws.

On any issue, we can now expect a SuperPAC to fund one side and probably another SuperPAC to fund the other side.  (I am not disputing their “rights” to do so.  Let’s not talk about that either.)  They work by rewarding, threatening, and punishing lawmakers with money, using campaign contributions–given, withheld, or given to an opponent–as a means of coercing support of a legislative agenda.

Doesn’t this replace democracy with plutocracy, so that money becomes the actual means of governing?  This strike me as a step beyond simply raising money for a campaign.  As we have seen, raising and spending money will not necessarily win you an election.  You get special interests making contributions but that may or may not determine how a lawmaker votes.  This tactic, by contrast, seeks to determine which candidates can run for office in the first place and fixes their position on an issue, which is determined not by the give-and-take of a rational process but by the SuperPAC that has quite literally bought their vote.

Balance of powers vs. balance of parties

In his column on attempts to the reform the filibuster, Ezra Klein points out that the Founders built into the Constitution a balance of competing arms of the government that would check and balance each other.  What we have now, however, is a system of competing political parties that check and balance each other.

It’s true the Founding Fathers wanted to make legislating hard. That’s why they divided power among three branches. It’s why senators used to be directly appointed by state legislatures. It’s why the House, the Senate and the president have staggered elections, so it usually takes a big win in two or more consecutive elections for a party to secure control of all three branches.

But the Founders didn’t want it to be this hard. They considered requiring a supermajority to pass legislation and rejected the idea. “Its real operation,” Alexander Hamilton wrote of such a requirement, “is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of government and to substitute the pleasure, caprice or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent or corrupt junta, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority.” Sound familiar?

The Founders also opposed political parties — though they went on to start a couple — and couldn’t have foreseen how highly disciplined parties would subvert the political system they designed. Instead of the branches competing against one another, as they envisioned, we now have two parties competing uniformly across all branches.

via Is this the end for the filibuster?.

Parliamentary systems require political parties.  The leader of the majority party becomes the Prime Minister.  Such forms of government work best when there are a number of parties that can then form coalitions and alliances.  I suppose our political parties were copied from those of England.

America’s constitution, however, does not require parties, and our national founders warned against them.

What would happen if we were to abolish all political parties?  As it is, the role of parties in elections has shrunk considerably with SuperPacs and independent campaign fundraising.  Why not turn that into a virtue?

Individual candidates and politicians would still form factions, caucuses, and interest-groups.  But these alliances would be fluid, varying from issue to issue.  There would still be individuals who ran as conservatives, liberals, and other ideologies in the legislature, and there might be organizations that supported them.  But a  Senator with libertarian sympathies could vote with  liberal colleagues on drug laws and conservative colleagues on free market issues.  Pro-life coalitions could include both religious conservatives and social-justice liberals.

I know it will be said, political parties are inevitable.  And, arguably, they once were.  But what do political parties do now in the age of the internet, political action committees, open primaries, and grass roots activism?  They serve as the gatekeepers of who gets to be on the ballot in the presidential campaigns.  But their political conventions have become mostly irrelevant.  Surely another mechanism could be put into place, such as a series of primary elections, beginning on the local level and continuing onto the state, regional, and national levels.  Couldn’t this re-vitalize our democracy and our representative form of government?

The Petraeus sex scandal spreads

General David Petraeus’s affair with Paul Broadwell, which led to his resignation as head of the CIA, became known when Ms. Broadwell sent threatening jealous e-mails to another woman, Jill Kelley, whereupon the FBI began its investigation.  Now it turns out that Ms. Kelley was exchanging e-mails with the current head of military operations General John Allen, Petraeus’s successor.  Gen. Allen insists that he had no affair with Ms. Kelley, but the 20,000-30,000 pages worth of e-mails they traded have been described as the equivalent of “phone sex.”

What is going on?  For one thing, 30,000 pages of e-mail over two years breaks down to 41 messages a day.  Didn’t Gen. Allen have anything more to do than trade e-mails–of whatever nature–with a civilian?  Didn’t he have a war to fight?

The two previous commanders in Afghanistan before these two were ousted.  General Stanley McChrystal, was fired because of an undisciplined drinking party with some Rolling Stone reporters.  And the commander before him, Gen. David McKiernan, was fired, though apparently for differences in strategy from the Pentagon rather than for personal failings.

Oh, yes, lest we think these are purely personal vices unconnected to these men’s professional duties, investigators are reporting that they have found classified material in the possession of Ms. Broadwell.

What happened to military honor in the top brass?  Or, at the very minimum, military discipline?

 

Paula Broadwell photos: David Petraeus’ mistress discovered lying low in DC | Mail Online.

Reforming the Senate

Ezra Klein reports on efforts in the Senate to reform the filibuster rule in the Senate:

The problem with a president promising to “change Washington” is that the presidency isn’t the part of Washington that’s broken. The systemic gridlock, dysfunction and polarization that so frustrate the country aren’t located in the executive branch. They’re centered in Congress. And one of their key enablers is Senate Rule XXII — better known as the filibuster.

Filibusters used to be relatively rare. There were more filibusters between 2009 and 2010 than there were in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s combined. A strategy memo written after the 1964 election by Mike Manatos, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Senate liaison, calculated that in the new Senate, Medicare would pass with 55 votes — the filibuster didn’t even figure into the administration’s planning.

There were more filibusters between in the 111th Congress (2009-2010) than in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s combined. (Data: Congress.gov, Graph: Ezra Klein)

Today, the filibuster isn’t used to defend minority rights or ensure debate. Rather, the filibuster is simply a rule that the minority party uses to require a 60-vote supermajority to get anything done in the Senate. That’s not how it was meant to be.

And it’s not how it has to be. The Constitution states that each chamber of Congress “may determine the rules of its proceedings.” And this week’s election has provided fresh evidence that the Senate, at least, may be preparing to remake its most pernicious rule.

Chris Murphy, the incoming Democratic senator from Connecticut, couldn’t have been clearer: “The filibuster is in dire need of reform,” he told Talking Points Memo. “Whether or not it needs to go away, we need to reform the way the filibuster is used, so it is not used in the order of everyday policy, but is only used in exceptional circumstances.”

Angus King, the independent senator-elect from Maine, said, “My principal issue is the functioning of the Senate.” He backs a proposal advanced by the reform group No Labels that would end the filibuster on motions to debate, restricting filibusters to votes on actual legislation. The group also wants to require filibustering senators to physically hold the Senate floor and talk, rather than simply instigate a filibuster from the comfort of their offices.

via Is this the end for the filibuster?.

The problem, in my opinion, is that the filibuster has become just a procedural matter to be invoked at will–basically, a threat to filibuster–so as to require a 60-vote supermajority on Senate actions (60 votes being the number of votes required to shut off debate).  I think the filibuster should be returned to its earlier days of glory, in which a Senator had to stay on the floor speaking for as long as he could to delay action, just like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

But, as part of filibuster reform and perhaps more importantly, I would like to reform the Senate so as to restore the importance of floor debate.  As it is, when you go as a visitor to our nation’s Capitol and sit in the Senate gallery, typically, nothing is happening.  Virtually no Senators are present.  The chair presides–a position constitutionally given to the Vice-President and potentially conveying real power and responsibility, but now that task is delegated to a revolving cast of members.  A few individual Senators are reading statements to be entered into the Congressional Record, mainly for the benefit of their constituents.  There is some back-and-forth debate on bills, but it is mostly canned and pro-forma, with few senators in a position to be persuaded, or even, usually, in attendance.  Only when a vote is called do the Senators as a whole enter the chamber.  Virtually all business is conducted in committees, rather than on the floor.  On the whole, though, what was once called “the world’s greatest deliberative body” does little collective deliberation anymore.

I’d like to see the Senate strengthen the quorum rules so as to require senators to be present while the Senate is convened.  They could still do committee work.   There could be fewer actual sessions.  But the whole genius of legislative government depends on  the wisdom of a collective group as opposed to that of atomize individuals and we are in danger of losing that in the legislative branch.

Grandmother cops

A reminder that  people can be kept in line (and tyranny enforced) not only by fear but also by niceness.

China’s authoritarianism has many faces, but rarely does it appear in the friendly, grandmotherly guise it has taken over the past week, as thousands of older women have shown up on the streets of the capital, their vigilant eyes eager to ferret out the smallest signs of trouble.

These graying, smiling, energetic women are the most visible sign of the 1.4 million volunteers enlisted to squelch protests, crimes and anything else that could embarrass the ruling Communist Party during its sensitive once-a-decade transition of leadership. . . .

the embodiment of the velvet-glove approach is the collection of older women who turned up last week eager to be sworn in as “Capital Public Security Volunteers.” In all, about 1.4 million security volunteers are at work in Beijing during the party congress, according to state-run media.

“Our duty is to guard our homes and streets and create a deterrent,” explained Zhang Liling, a 68-year-old woman with deep dimples, as she stood with a handful of other women to watch their street corner on the eastern side of Beijing.

After a morning spent with Zhang and others, it is hard not to acknowledge a particular ingenuity to the idea of harnessing the inherent nosiness among some members of this demographic.

Retired with time to spare, the women come to the job with an already highly developed penchant for gossip and zero hesitation about posing prying questions. Throw in free windbreakers and red arm bands that indicate their special status, and you’ve got an instant army of eyes and ears.

“I feel it’s my duty to take on this mission,” said a proud Bao Mianfeng, 62, a former teacher and party member. “No one forced me or any of us into this. It’s something we are happy to do.”

A successful party congress, Bao explained, means “a stronger and more prosperous country.” A stronger country means “one step closer to a well-off society.”

There is something fierce in how she says this, so full of conviction. But it is disorienting, too, hearing her warmth and sweetness in discussing the vital mission of blanket security.

via With a friendly face, China tightens security – The Washington Post.

Working through the five stages of grief

Dana Milbank, while crowing over President Obama’s re-election, says that Republicans are going through the 5 stages of grief:

Denial. “I think this is premature,” Karl Rove protested on Fox News election night, after the cable network, along with other news outlets, correctly projected that President Obama had won Ohio — and therefore the presidency. “We’ve got to be careful about calling things.”

Bargaining. “We’re willing to accept new revenue under the right conditions,” House Speaker John Boehner offered Wednesday, shifting his budget negotiating posture before reconsidering the next day, but “the president must be willing to reduce spending and shore up entitlement programs.”

Depression. “If Mitt Romney cannot win in this economy, then the tipping point has been reached,” Ann Coulter said on Laura Ingraham’s radio show. “It’s over. There is no hope.”

Anger. “We should have a revolution in this country,” tweeted flamboyant mogul Donald Trump, who had served as a prominent surrogate for Romney. “This election is a total sham and a travesty.”

Acceptance. Uh, well, there hasn’t been much of that yet.

via Dana Milbank: Republicans working through their grief – The Washington Post.

Well, let’s work on that last one. First of all, remember that the Democrats were going through the very same depression with the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004.  They too were worrying if their party would survive, if they could ever win the hearts of an American majority again, if they needed to give up their liberalism and become more like Republicans.  That was for the president just before this one.  And now the Democrats have re-elected their guy and are as triumphalistic as 2004 Republicans.  And now look at those woe-begone Democrats and those crowing Republicans.  The pendulum swings, the wheel turns, and fortunes keep changing.

Furthermore, those of us who believe in limited government should also believe in the limited importance of government. True, this election will mean that government will get stronger and, perhaps more concerning, that the general public wants it to get stronger. But our country is too big and complicated to control or even to figure out.  Attempts to control and to figure out everything and everyone invariably fail, making for new political opportunities.

Yes, conservatives will have lots to resist.  Republicans will need to regroup and address their failures.

But this election surely doesn’t mean the end of America, as I have been hearing.  The government as presently constituted does not prevent us from going to church, enjoying time with our families, having a good meal, reading an interesting book, or exercising other facets of our humanity.  We are far, far from state totalitarianism, and if you don’t think so read up on life in the former Soviet Union or present-day North Korea.

Christians in particular should cultivate some perspective from a much-much bigger picture.  However you voted–and I  recognize that some Christians are overjoyed with this outcome that others are mourning–I invite your meditation on Psalm 146, the whole thing, an exploration of whom we must trust including for things we think are political:

Put not your trust in princes,
    in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
    on that very day his plans perish.

 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord his God,
 who made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
    who executes justice for the oppressed,
    who gives food to the hungry. . . .

The Lord will reign forever,
    your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the Lord!  (Psalm 146:3-7)


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X