04 May 2012

OPEN AND HONEST DEMOCRACY

UPDATED: 05/16/12 
"If you worked at a place where barely one in 10 people approved of what you did, if you took a six-figure salary for a job that let you go on 'recess' for about 29 weeks of the year, and if you were addressed as 'honorable' for said employment, you might suffer an occasional bout of shame."
That, ladies and gentlemen, is from Timothy Egan's May 3rd Opinionator in the New York Times, "Do Nothings and Know Nothings," excerpted below... (after the jump)
"'In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted,' Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein write in It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, their new book on our dyspeptic politics. 'Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.' 
They describe the GOP as 'an insurgent outlier,' and cite studies that Republicans are now more conservative they have been since, well, the era when women could not vote, blacks could not share the same public space as whites and the income tax was a distant dream of a forward-thinking Republican reformer, Theodore Roosevelt." [sic]
The Republican Party imploded into itself, and into a very conservative entity over the last three years... and no moderate had the fortitude to stand up to people like Blenn Geck and Lush Rimbaugh. 

Anyway... it is refreshing to see more and more people in the mainstream questioning the moral equivalence that is all too often evoked - "the Democrats do it too" - to justify plain old dirty Republican trickery (usually, in order to halt real progress under the Obama Agenda).

Incidentally, you must read this description for the Mann/Ornstein book:

"...while both parties participate in tribal warfare, both sides are not equally culpable. The political system faces what the authors call 'asymmetric polarization,' with the Republican Party implacably refusing to allow anything that might help the Democrats politically, no matter the cost. With dysfunction rooted in long-term political trends, a coarsened political culture and a new partisan media, the authors conclude that there is no 'silver bullet' reform that can solve everything. But they offer a panoply of useful ideas and reforms, endorsing some solutions, like greater public participation and institutional restructuring of the House and Senate, while debunking others, like independent or third-party candidates. Above all, they call on the media as well as the public at large to focus on the true causes of dysfunction rather than just throwing the 
bums out every election cycle. Until voters learn to act strategically to reward problem solving and punish obstruction, American democracy will remain in serious danger."  


This is serious stuff. Appropriately so. And I love the idea of institutional reform

The moral equivalence trick has been SOP for the GOP for a while... but it has been abused under the Obama Age. As Egan's piece explains, it was at the core of the GOP's 2010 victories, particularly in the US House of Representatives.

Here's more from Egan's piece:
"It’s not just the 'appalling spectacle of hostage taking,' as Mann and Ornstein described last year’s budget crises, when Republicans threatened government shutdown and public default in the name of fiscal responsibility. If the House majority were really fiscally responsible they would at least close tax loopholes. But they won’t, because 238 of the 242 House Republicans have taken a pledge to Grover Norquist to never raise revenues, shirking their duty to put country first...
...I would add one other big consideration to all of the above: these people in Congress, and this mess, are the voters’ fault. We put Democrats in control in 2008, and they’d no sooner started to govern when we put Republicans in charge. We get the Congress we deserve, and when Republicans gained 63 seats in the House in the 2010 elections, voters took a chance with a sustained temper tantrum. 
At least in 2010, the insurgents were an unknown commodity, produced by the faux populism of talk radio and the Tea Party. If this majority is voted back in, we’ll have nobody to blame but ourselves for a democracy that, at this moment, no longer has the will to self-govern."
I'm thrilled to see Egan kicking it back to the voters. Because he is right. It is up to us.

There is an enduring hope that Republicans begin to come to terms with the fact that open and honest debate is the only honorable way to win elections. But before they can get there, the GOP must first figure out who it is. It does not help matters that their standard bearer, Gov Mitt Romney, has been called a  "perfectly lubricated weather vane on the important issues of the day"... by Gov Jon Huntsman (R-UT)... [who later endorsed Gov Romney].

It's a mess. There are important issues that need moral leadership. 

We're good on our side.

The reason their side continues to obstruct and do nothing is because they have no palpable alternatives, at least not yet; and they sure as he11 can't risk allowing the Obama Agenda to be enacted... and to succeed. 

As it states in the book description, "until voters learn to act strategically to reward problem solving and punish obstruction, American democracy will remain in serious danger."

Consider this.

"Endeavour, capture confirmed."

In July of 2009, the Space Shuttle Endeavour performed an intricate docking maneuver with the International Space Station over the Pacific. The shuttle commander had to be within three inches of accuracy to succeed. And he did.

NASA does not deliver precision like that because it feels like it. It is essential to the mission, and to the lives of its astronauts. At the end of this video are the sweet words, "Endeavour, capture confirmed," their "Mission Accomplished" of this particular day.

The Shuttle program would go on for two or so more years of daily missions accomplished, until the economy would push them further down on the priorities list; and then finally into retirement shortly thereafter, leaving America with no space shuttle program.

Since we're on the subject of moral equivalency... I'm left wondering if we shouldn't be expecting the same kind of precision from our lawmakers. People's lives are also at stake here - even without the hazards of space travel.

This entire situation reminds me of Hogan's Heroes,' Sgt. "I see nothing, I know nothing!" Schultz. In the way he embraced ignorance and inaction to mask his ineptitude; Sgt. Schultz seems appropriately allegorical to any discussion about modern American politics.
RELATED


UPDATE: Here is a good piece from Jason Linkins of Huffington Post, "Unconstitutional Filibuster? Let's Do It, Let's Sue the Senate!"


UPDATED: 03/16/2015 - The Washington Post just released a piece about "Merchants of Doubt." Worth reading. It touches on false moral equivalency. This excerpt from the article is so very true.
"According to Kenner, change will come, but not from those shouting at the edges of the argument. Rather, it will grow out of the confused middle, where films such as “Food, Inc.” and “Merchants of Doubt” shine light on hidden, and uncomfortable, truths."