Submitted for your consideration

The Congressional election just two weeks away will lead us down one of only a few possible paths.  If the Republicans who control the House and the Senate maintain their majorities in both chambers, there’s no reason to think that they will then choose to start exerting more constitutional authority as a counterweight to President Trump’s apparent on-going violations of constitutionally-mandated behavior of a government official, or have any new political reason to begin to seriously challenge or even oppose their party’s leader.  If they lose control of both houses, the Democrats would take command of the constitutional machinery that could restrict the president’s future activities and investigate or prosecute some of his apparent past crimes.  If the GOP loses control of just one chamber, life will get more confusing…more confusing than it already is, and that’s saying something.  Despite polling which shows less than half of the country approves of the president’s performance in office, the outcome for November 6 is unclear.

It’s no great pronouncement to say that American politics is polarized today, which by the way is not the same as having two major political parties with different opinions about the means to achieve goals…or which have completely different goals.  As they say on the Internet, I’m old enough to remember when having opposing beliefs or values from other people did not mean that I was good and pure and true and a Real Loyal Patriotic American and that they were stupid and evil and dishonest and corrupt and traitorous.  How’d we get from there to here?

Submitted for your consideration: the October 25th edition of The Daily, the podcast of the New York Times, which explores the premise that the 1994 midterm elections—in which the Republicans gained 54 seats in the House of Representatives to take control for the first time in 40 years—holds the seeds to the political divisiveness that rules the day today.  Give it a listen: host Michael Barbaro talks with opinion writer Jennifer Senior about the 1994 midterm elections, which she covered as a reporter, and she interviews former congressman Vin Weber, a Republican from Minnesota who left Congress in 1993 but whose friendship and political alliance with Newt Gingrich made him a behind-the-scenes force in the 1994 elections which resulted in Gingrich becoming speaker of the House.

Without question, Gingrich and the GOP played a clever political game to maximize the party’s gain of seats beyond what is usual for the party out of the White House.  They focused on wedge issues—they created the term “wedge issues,” I think—which were successful that day, and which have been driving wedges in our lives ever since.  Whether or not the politicians were sincere in their stated belief in the positions they advocated can be argued, but as a tactic it worked beyond their expectations.

Was it a good thing to have done?  Did Republicans of 1994 do the country a disservice in opening a rift in civil society that’s only gotten worse in the years since?  Good questions to consider, I think…

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The most clear-eyed social critic and political analyst in America

Noodling around in my email files looking for something to write about, but nothing stood out or snagged my interest.  You say I should improve the stuff I keep in my files?  I say, apparently you are correct.  It’s not to say that there’s nothing going on in the world—fercryin’outloud, the president just pushed the White House merry-go-round again by firing the head of the Veterans Administration Affairs and giving the job to a doctor with no experience running anything like the second biggest department the U.S. government; a porn star and her lawyer are running rings around the big bad businessman and his lawyer, while 61% of Republicans surveyed think Donald Trump is a good role model for their children—but today I just don’t have the spark to go into that again.

Turns out I don’t have to, because there’s somebody much better at it who’s rarin’ to go:

“[Trump] brings out the dark side of human beings for his own purpose, which is himself. And if it’s not pointed out and people don’t stand up and point it out, it will become commonplace, and it’s not the world that I want to live in.”

Ladies and gentlemen, my nominee for the straightest-talking social commentator and political analyst on two feet, Gregg Popovich, the head coach of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.

Before facing the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night, Popovich, who has shared sharp criticism of Trump, was asked more questions about societal issues than basketball during his nearly 11-minute media availability. Popovich explained in detail why he continues to speak out.

“It becomes a priority of what’s more important. I think we have a situation where we’re going backwards, at least as far as race is concerned and it has to be pointed out,” Popovich said. “Our current president hopes to bore us to death with all these new issues day after day after day that keep him in the news. You can talk about one comment or scandal after another and it becomes commonplace, forgotten about and we don’t even know what’s going on behind the scenes, like what’s happening to our environment and health and all this sort of thing. All the laws that are kind of sliding and all the people who are being removed and being replaced. Like scientists being replaced by politicians.

“We take our eye off the ball, and he’s great at it,” Popovich continued. “He brings out the dark side of human beings for his own purpose, which is himself. And if it’s not pointed out and people don’t stand up and point it out, it will become commonplace, and it’s not the world that I want to live in.”

Also, Popovich said the youth who participated in the “March for Our Lives” rally on last Saturday was encouraging: “They give me hope that I’m actually living in the country I thought I was living in.”

Don’t fall for the argument that Popovich is just a dumb jock or another East Coast liberal who never did anything for his country: he’s from Chicago, graduated from the Air Force Academy with a degree in Soviet Studies, underwent intelligence gathering and processing training, served served five years on active duty.  He’s a guy who knows what he’s talking about, isn’t afraid to say what’s on his mind, and says it in a memorable and entertaining way.  Can’t ask much more than that from your commentators…or your basketball coaches.

Shrub sez…

There’s reportedly an old Chinese curse that your wish for your enemy is that he may live in interesting times.  Even if it’s not really an old Chinese curse, it is a nice bit of irony that’s finding a growing application today in President Bannon’s America.  One example: more people who were staunch opponents of President George W. Bush, and plenty who thought he was/is an imbecile, are finding themselves agreeing with ol’ Shrub as he grows into his post-Washington wisdom phase.  Especially the many folks who read and re-tweeted this short item from New York Magazine.

Effectively dissing Donnie…attaboy, Georgie.

Conductor’s call for boarding: next train to crazytown

The bad news is, more candidates are announcing for the 2016 presidential race in both major parties, which makes it harder and harder from day to day to ignore the pointless noise.  The good news is…OK, there isn’t any good news there.  But I did find a few reminders of the deplorable state of relations between our current president and the radical conservative opposition that we should keep in mind when we get serious about the next election…sometime next year, I hope.

Barack Obama is in the fourth quarter of his presidency but the tone of the attacks against him is as detached from reality as ever: remember, the conservative extremists proudly announced on inauguration day 2009 that their goal in life was to deny him any victories, just because he’s him.  Give them credit for perseverance, I suppose, even as we roll our eyes at their performance.

When the president announced an immigration plan late last year the conservative reaction that he was acting outside his authority thundered down as if an enormous dog whistle had ordered the uttering of talking points.  Never mind that the scripted response was, shall we say charitably, inaccurate; former solicitor general Walter Dellinger wrote in Slate:

Even though the action is breathtaking in scope, there is nothing legally remarkable about what the administration is doing, or the legal analysis supporting it. The announced “deferred action” provides temporary administrative relief from deportation for aliens who are the parents of citizens, or the parents of lawful permanent residents. “Deferred action” is an exercise of discretion in which officials may temporarily defer the removal of an alien. The grant of deferred action in this case will remain in place for three years, is subject to renewal, and can be terminated at any time at the discretion of the Department of Homeland Security. As Eric Posner, who served in the Office of Legal Counsel under the first President Bush, notes, the president “is just doing what countless Congresses have wanted him to do”—setting priorities for deportation enforcement.

That’s not even the most egregious example of the mindless opposition; how about, earlier this year, when Republicans in the Senate took it upon themselves to re-assure Iran—yes, Iran!—not to take the American president too seriously in nuclear arms negotiations.

Perhaps the most outrageous example of the attack on the president’s legitimacy was a letter signed by 47 Republican senators to the leadership of Iran saying Mr. Obama had no authority to conclude negotiations over Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Try to imagine the outrage from Republicans if a similar group of Democrats had written to the Kremlin in 1986 telling Mikhail Gorbachev that President Ronald Reagan did not have the authority to negotiate a nuclear arms deal at the Reykjavik summit meeting that winter.

There is no functional difference between that example and the Iran talks, except that the congressional Republican caucus does not like Mr. Obama and wants to deny him any policy victory.

It’d all be funny if it wasn’t so sad.  Wait, it is funny:

db150524

Thanks, Doonesbury and GoComics.com

Truthiness

Today Stephen Colbert retires “Stephen Colbert.” Since October 2005 Colbert the comedian and satirist has launched “Colbert” the character on a mission to entertain us by shining a light on the hypocrisy and evil intentions of people who profit from pandering to a fear and ignorance in American society that refuses to wilt in the face of truth. In fact, he told us as much on the very first episode (click the pic):

ColbertTruthinessEver thought about what it must take for Colbert to stay in character, and to do it for so many years? This morning I ran across a nice little article that links to a Slate podcast in which Colbert explains—very interesting.