Category Archives: Political science

Here’s what I mean when I say I’m a ‘centrist’

I’m trying to blog smarter by converting long comments into separate posts. Here’s the latest.

In this case, I had — in the interest of using words economically — referred to myself as a “centrist,” as I frequently do. Both Bud and Harry Harris took exception to the reference.

I replied

Dang, dang, dang! I wrote this somewhat involved, extremely insightful comment a little while ago on my iPad, and lost wifi in the middle of saving it. Let me see if I can reconstruct…

Of course I’m a centrist, to the point that the term has meaning (more on that in a second). I’m an adherent of the postwar governing consensus, the area that Clinton and Blair tried to get us back to in the 90s. I disagree with those who would pull us way from it.

That said, “left,” “right” and “center” are fairly silly terms. I really don’t HAVE a comfortable place on the artificial left-right continuum, and trying to place me, or anyone who THINKS about issues rather than buying them off the shelf prepackaged, on that line can present problems. But since I’m not “left” or “right,” “center” is a convenient term to use.

It’s also convenient because I am for CORE values, not those on the fringes. Here’s what I mean by that…

Government is about solving problems together, or at least efficiently providing those basic functions that we have general agreement government should handle. So I’m interested in areas where the parties overlap, not the areas where they pull away from consensus. We need to identify and build upon those areas where we can work together. And if we get good enough at that, maybe we can branch out to some of the tough subjects.

For that reason, I generally don’t like dealing with Culture War stuff, and get upset when it looks like an election is going to be about such things. Bud says, for instance, he assumes I “still advocate” for traditional marriage. I wasn’t aware I HAD been advocating on that subject. At all. He also mentioned Blue Laws. At one point some years back I made a gentle, passing reference to the fact that opposition to blue laws is one of the sillier overinterpretations of the 1st Amendment’s Establishment clause. Having a sensible agreement to have a day without commerce and hustle-bustle is hardly thrusting a particular form of religion on anyone. It’s just a gesture to basic human sanity. And I say that whenever Doug and Bud bring it up, which they do a LOT, because such a sensible suggestion is DEEPLY offensive to their libertarian reflexes. But I can’t recall advocating or campaigning for such. The most I’ve said is that it’s a shame to see such a life-calming custom go away.

Seriously, when I start campaigning for something, everyone can tell. (See: Confederate flag.)

But back to my point — I don’t see it as productive to invest a lot of political capital in those things, because the fights over them drive us apart and make it harder to agree on the things that should be easy.

The problem these days is that the parties and associated interest groups have polarized us so much that the area of consensus has gotten smaller and smaller.

Bud thinks this is a GREAT year. Well, in a couple of ways it is, but not the ways he thinks.

First, among thoughtful, informed participants and observers, there’s a greater willingness to step out from the stupid left-right, Democratic-Republican dichotomy and consider candidates on their merits. Once people do that, you see the Bushes (whom Bud despises so much), Graham, Sasse, Romney, et al., distancing themselves from Trump or opposing him outright. The latest encouraging manifestation of that is Meg Whitman declaring for Hillary, and the formation of a PAC to encourage Republicans to vote for the lesser of two weevils.

Sure, there are still plenty of Republicans out there who think this is a normal, left-v.-right election and anyone who would support anyone but Trump is a liberal Democrat and therefore the enemy. But I prefer to celebrate the people out there who GET IT.

Also, with Trump as their standard-bearer the GOP has so abandoned the flag-and-country ground that the Democrats were able to co-opt it and position themselves as the party of traditional patriotism last week. In other words, the Dems celebrated the things that used to unite us all, rather than just concentrating on differences (the usual Identity Politics and class warfare stuff).

Of course, this deeply offended the centrifugal forces of our politics, who want to see us fly apart. For instance, Gen. Allen’s speech offended both the military-hating portions of the left and the Democrat-hating elements on the right.

But these are positive developments, to a “centrist” like me…

allen

‘Smoke-filled rooms’ would have been a blessing in 2016

smoke-filled-room-02

On a previous post, one of our regulars (Bart) made a reference to “smoke filled room politics” that was, as usual when the phrase comes up, somewhat disparaging.

I’m going to run against the grain here, although I’m not claiming this as an original thought by a long shot…

This is the year in which we could have used some “smoke-filled-room politics.” We wouldn’t have been in nearly the fix we are in.

First, we absolutely would not have Trump as the GOP nominee. It would never have come even close to happening. Nor would Cruz have ever been a possibility. Had GOP leaders been able to meet behind closed doors and choose the nominee, we’d have ended up with Jeb or maybe, if the party elders had wanted to be bold and reach out to a new generation, Rubio. Or if they’d deadlocked and we got really lucky, John Kasich.

Kasich. That would have been great. And Jeb or even Rubio wouldn’t have been bad at all. Nightmare averted.

The difference on the Democratic side wouldn’t have been nearly as dramatic. Hillary would still have been the nominee (unless the leaders, worried about her baggage, had prevailed upon Joe Biden to accept their nod). But… and this is not a difference to sneeze at… Bernie would never have been a factor, even for an instant. Most of us would probably still not know his name, unless we were into trivia. And the impact of that? Hillary would not have been pulled to the left, and she’d be running a far more solid, viable general election campaign reminiscent of her husband’s embrace of the Third Way in the 90s.

So we’d be better off all around. We wouldn’t be staring into a black hole of despair on the Republican side, and the Democratic candidate would be more appealing to a broader swath of the country.

But perhaps you disagree…

On the binary paradigm in U.S. politics, with a digression on ‘false equivalence’

Here’s another case in which I got carried away with a comment response, and decided to turn it into a separate post.

This morning, Phillip observed:

Also, important to remember that parties have been born, fragmented, and died during the course of American history. The fact that we’ve had “Democratic” and “Republican” parties as the two main parties (even as each one’s identity has changed radically over time in many ways) since 1856 has made us forget that a little bit. Perhaps we are seeing the real fragmentation of the Republican party, an upheaval in the two-party system unknown for a century and a half.

Some of this may be attributed to the unusual nature of Trump as a candidate himself, but the wave he sits astride will not vanish with his probable defeat this November. The GOP will not go all kumbaya after this election, whether Trump loses narrowly or loses by a “yuge” margin.

It was a trenchant, relevant comment of the sort we expect from Phillip, and it got me going along these lines…

We’ve had these two parties for so long not because of anything special about these two particular parties and their respective, shifting platforms.

It’s about having two parties, period.

It’s about the binary paradigm. It’s about the fact that we decided some time ago that we had to have a dichotomy. Left and right. Winner and loser. Up and down. Black and white. American League (boo!) and National League. You get two choices, and that’s it. There are only two teams on a football field — there are no players out there wearing a third uniform, or no uniform at all — so why should politics be any different? Isn’t football the perfect analogy for life? (I may never fully extricate my tongue from my cheek after typing that.)

We’ve decided there have to be two parties. It doesn’t much matter how those two parties define themselves, or what they are called. We’re used to Democrat and Republican, so we stick with that. It’s convenient. We don’t care enough about the particulars of parties to try to start new ones, and besides, starting new parties means you might temporarily have three or four before they are winnowed back to two, and that’s contrary to the whole idea of the game.

Worse — and this is particularly maddening to someone who engages in ideas in the public sphere and despises both options — if you reject one option, tout le monde automatically places you in the opposite category. Because you’re not allowed other options.yinyang

And to digress – yes, my horror of being accused of adhering to Option B when I criticize Option A leads me often to make a point of noting that the same problem, or a problem of equal magnitude, exists with Option B. Hence the “false equivalence” that drives some of you to distraction. Except that it’s not false. I really mean it. It’s just that bringing up the fact may seem forced or out of place to you, no matter how elegantly I try to put it. You Option B folks wish I’d just point out the oh-so-obvious faults of Option A without gratuitously picking on your team. Sorry, but I’ve been conditioned to making a particular point of placing myself outside both camps to avoid confusion.

To digress from the digression: Interestingly, Option B in this analogy is pretty much always the Democrats. Y’all notice that? It’s usually, if not always, my more liberal interlocutors who complain of the “false equivalence.” A search for that phrase yields comments by Bud, Kathryn, PhillipSCL and Tim. Not a conservative in the bunch. OK, not all of those accusations of “false equivalence” are aimed at me, but usually they are. SCL provides a particularly good example:

Honestly, you are the king of false equivalence. Have you EVER written a piece, going back to your editor days, that you didn’t try to fit into that “both sides are at fault” template? I’m not a member of either party, but you’re wrong to say the blame for this one lies anywhere other than 100% with the SCGOP….

I wonder why that is — that it’s usually, if not always, liberals/Democrats. I have a couple of theories. The first is that, as holier-than-thou as the Republicans can be, it’s Democrats who are more fully convinced of their own virtue, and of the other sides’ failings. So they are outraged by observations that challenge that. Does that strike you as true? Perhaps not. Here’s my second theory: That Democrats/liberals agree with Republicans/conservatives in seeing the media as liberal, and it particularly irks Democrats when they see a media type going out of his way to lay Democrats’ sins alongside those of Republicans. They feel that he’s letting down the side, breaking an unspoken pact. No? Well, offer your own theory.

Or maybe it’s just that I seem to make more of a point of it when I’m describing Republicans’ failings and feel the need to stick in the Democrats’, as opposed to vice versa — being particularly sensitive to that “y’all are all liberals” meme. And therefore, the Democrats are more likely to notice it…

It was at this point that I decided to turn this into a separate post. Your thoughts?

Recommended: Kagan on ‘how fascism comes to America’

This piece, in The Washington Post this morning, is eminently worth reading. The headline is “This is how fascism comes to America.

We’ve see the term “fascist” applied to Donald Trump and his supporters before now, but Robert Kagan explains quite clearly why that is not mere hyperbole. Fascist movements tend to be light on policy specifics and more about the personality around which they coalesce. They are less about what they are for, and more about what (and who) they are against.

The situation in which we find ourselves keeps reminding me of the title, if not the substance, of a Hemingway short story, “A Way You’ll Never Be.” The current state of our nation’s politics seems more suited to other countries and other times, not to us. And yet here we are, the way we never thought we would be.

An excerpt from the Kagan piece:

But of course the entire Trump phenomenon has nothing to do with policy or ideology. It has nothing to do with the Republican Party, either, except in its historic role as incubator of this singular threat to our democracy. Trump has transcended the party that produced him. His growing army of supporters no longer cares about the party. Because it did not immediately and fully embrace Trump, because a dwindling number of its political and intellectual leaders still resist him, the party is regarded with suspicion and even hostility by his followers. Their allegiance is to him and him alone.mussolini

And the source of allegiance? We’re supposed to believe that Trump’s support stems from economic stagnation or dislocation. Maybe some of it does. But what Trump offers his followers are not economic remedies — his proposals change daily. What he offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence. His incoherent and contradictory utterances have one thing in common: They provoke and play on feelings of resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger. His public discourse consists of attacking or ridiculing a wide range of “others” — Muslims, Hispanics, women, Chinese, Mexicans, Europeans, Arabs, immigrants, refugees — whom he depicts either as threats or as objects of derision. His program, such as it is, consists chiefly of promises to get tough with foreigners and people of nonwhite complexion. He will deport them, bar them, get them to knuckle under, make them pay up or make them shut up.

That this tough-guy, get-mad-and-get-even approach has gained him an increasingly large and enthusiastic following has probably surprised Trump as much as it has everyone else. Trump himself is simply and quite literally an egomaniac. But the phenomenon he has created and now leads has become something larger than him, and something far more dangerous….

You should go read the whole piece. Share it with others. It’s important that everyone, or as many people who are able, understand what is going on, and that it has nothing to do with Republicans and Democrats and the usual games they play. This is serious.

Legislators, stop telling local governments what to do

Wow, how many times have I said that over the past quarter century?

Actually, it’s easier to count the number of times I’ve been heeded by our solons at the State House. It’s somewhere around zero.

Through most of its history, South Carolina basically didn’t have much in the way of local government, especially on the county level. Our system of government was set up to serve the slaveholding class of big landowners, who didn’t cotton to bases of power other than their own. Consequently, rather than have separately elected county government, county legislative delegations ran things on that level. Today, 41 years after the Home Rule Act, we still have vestiges of that in the Richland County Recreation Commission, and those counties where the legislators still name school board members.

Supposedly, we empowered local governments with passage of the Home Rule Act of 1975, but lawmakers have remained jealous of their prerogatives on the local level, and continue to lord it over the governments closest to the people — that is, the governments that ought to know best the needs and values of their own communities. Remember several years back when lawmakers tried to keep Columbia and other municipalities from banning smoking in public accommodations? They only backed down when the Supreme Court made them.

Here’s where I could go off on another screed about subsidiarity, but I won’t. Or maybe just a bit…

I will state the basic idea: Governmental decisions should be made by the smallest, least centralized level that is competent to handle the matter at hand.

So… if the people of a given community want to allow anyone who says he or she is of a certain gender use the restroom consistent with that identity, that person should be allowed to do so.

And if communities that care deeply about marine life want to ban plastic grocery bags, they should be allowed to do so.

Lee Bright thinks otherwise. He’s wrong.

_PRvi0k9

Jay Lucas

Speaker Jay Lucas, whom I respect a lot more than I do Lee Bright, is also wrong on this point — although his position is more defensible. He has a plant in his district that makes such plastic bags, and it employs a lot of his constituents.

You might not think that’s a defensible position, but I disagree. It’s an essential feature of representative democracy that all voters should be empowered to elect representatives who stand up for their interest (although one always hopes that the larger public interest should prevail).

It’s not inherently wrong for a lawmaker to stand up for jobs in his district. That doesn’t mean the other 169 have to go along with him.

No, the problem isn’t that the speaker is protecting jobs; it’s that he’s telling people who live in communities other than his how they should arrange their local affairs.

One could of course argue that under the principle of subsidiarity, balancing the economy vs. the environment is more properly a state rather than a local matter. And that makes some sense.

But I tend to see this more as a part of a long and disturbing trend in South Carolina.

Once, parties provided a hedge against excesses of direct democracy. No more…

I enjoyed seeing, in The Washington Post today, a Muslim from birth and son of an Islamic scholar explaining the American political system to Donald Trump, and other “real” Americans who are as confused about it as the Donald is.

I refer to Fareed Zakaria’s weekly column. An excerpt:

Having recently discovered how the nomination process works in the Republican Party, Donald Trump is furious. “They wanted to keep people out,” he bellowed. “This is a dirty trick.” In fact, Mr. Trump is right on the first count and wrong on the second. Political parties do have mechanisms to “keep people out.” But far from being a trick, they are the crux of what makes parties valuable in a democracy.

Fareed Zakaria

Fareed Zakaria

Clinton Rossiter begins his classic book “Parties and Politics in America” with this declaration: “No America without democracy, no democracy without politics, no politics without parties.” In a large and diverse country, to get things done, people need devices to navigate the political system, organize themselves, channel particular interests and ideologies, and negotiate with others who have differing interests and views. Political parties have traditionally played this role in the United States. And they have often played it as a counterweight to the momentary passions of the public.

At the heart of the American political party is the selection of its presidential candidate. This process used to be controlled by party elites — mayors, governors, legislators. In the early 20th century, an additional mechanism was added to test a candidate’s viability on the campaign trail: primaries. Still, between 1912 and 1968, the man who won a party’s presidential primaries became the nominee less than half the time. Dwight Eisenhower was chosen not by primary voters but in a complex, contested convention.

1968 was the year things changed….

… and not for the better. That was when the Democrats, and then the Republicans turned toward letting primaries decide.

Which was when the parties lost the one characteristic that made them useful — providing the service of vetting candidates so that total whack jobs didn’t show up on the November ballot.

I remember the late David Broder waxing nostalgic about what parties had once been, and he hoped, could be again: entities that asked candidates the key question of “Who sent you?” — meaning, what reliable person or people vouch for you? The problem he was lamenting is that too often, the answer had become “I sent myself.” Which is how you get socially dysfunctional egoists such as Trump — and Ted Cruz — threatening to take the GOP nomination.

My response to that was that to the extent parties played that vetting role in the distant past, there was no sign they were prepared to play it now. And as I said then and now, the evil parties do greatly outweigh any slight benefit they still provide.

Anyway, I thank Mr. Zakaria for providing this small history lesson to people like the caller I heard on NPR this week who wanted to know why convention delegates had any say in the nominating process….

 

Something for Doug: Abramoff backs term limits

Doug should enjoy this.

It came along with the following release from U.S. Term Limits:

Jack Abramoff Backs Term Limits in New Video

The man once known as “America’s most notorious lobbyist” is speaking out in a new video for congressional term limits. Jack Abramoff now says “Congress will never be fixed without term limits” in a video produced for U.S. Term Limits’ “Term Limits Convention” campaign.

According to Abramoff, term limits would reduce special interests’ influence in Washington by disrupting their relationships with long-serving incumbents.

“When I was a lobbyist, I hated the idea that a congressman who I had bought with years of contributions would decide to retire,” Abramoff says. “That meant I had to start all over again with a new member, losing all the control I had bought with years of checks.”

Abramoff’s comments debunk the arguments made by anti-term limits politicians, who’ve long claimed that lobbyists like term limits.

“Career politicians often smear term limits by claiming lobbyists are for it,” said U.S. Term Limits President Philip Blumel. “But the opposite is true. Whenever lobbyists get involved in a term limits campaign, all of their money goes to the side trying to prevent, weaken or abolish term limits. That’s why we’re glad Jack Abramoff is speaking out.”

Abramoff’s video closes on this note, as he warns “if you want to see pigs screeching at the trough, tell them they can’t stay there forever. There’s no trough as dangerous as the one in Washington.”

The ex-lobbyist volunteered his opinions and was not compensated by U.S. Term Limits. His remarks will be used to raise awareness for the Term Limits Convention, a new campaign to term limit Congress using an Article V amendment convention.

The campaign, launched in January, requires 34 state legislatures to pass bills calling for term limits on Congress, before a convention can be called to propose a congressional term limits amendment. Florida was the first state to pass the resolution but several others are considering it now.

Watch the Abramoff Video here.

Of course, it doesn’t change my mind. I still have problems with telling the voters who they can and can’t re-elect if they so choose.

There are good arguments in favor of term limits — ones that I find more persuasive than Abramoff’s “everybody’s a crook like me” thesis. For instance, it might increase political courage — representatives daring to do the right thing, rather than the popular thing so they can get re-elected.

Most people who favor term limits think it would be a way to bind elected officials more to the popular will. They have it backwards. It could free them from slavish adherence to the popular idea of the moment. And that could be a could thing. It could also be a bad thing, if it freed pols to do something unpopular that was also a terrible idea.

But in any case, I remain unconvinced, and mostly for the reason that drives Doug the craziest: I believe that experience is valuable in public service, just as it is in every other field of human endeavor. And a mindless mechanism that would throw out the very best representatives along with the very worst is not a good idea.

Quote of the day, from Edmund Burke

“The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please; we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations.”

Edmund Burke

Edmund_Burke2_c

Burke

I found that quote today at the top of a Washington Post column headlined, “Trump is the demagogue that our Founding Fathers feared.”

You should go read that if you need reminding of why our republic was set up the way it was — for that matter, why our Founders chose a republic, as opposed to (shudder) pure democracy.

As for Burke — one of these days I need to read more about him. I don’t know as much as I should about the politics in Britain at the time of our Revolution. For instance, I have trouble understanding how he could have been the father of modern conservatism when he wasn’t even a Tory.

I read that he was for American independence and Catholic Emancipation, and that he opposed the French Revolution. I’m with him on all those…

 

What’s with all this anti-Establishment nonsense? (Harrumph.)

Society needs an Establishment: Benedict Cumberbatch as "The Last Tory," Christopher Tietjens, in "Parade's End."

Society needs an Establishment: Benedict Cumberbatch as “The Last Tory,” Christopher Tietjens, in “Parade’s End.” A very steady and dependable fellow…

It’s really gotten ridiculous. This anti-establishment impulse on both the left and the right (to the extent such ephemeral things actually exist) has gotten almost as absurd as it was in the ’60s. (Remember “Never trust anyone over 30?” And if you are old enough to remember it, how childish does it sound to you now?)

The Establishment is that which gives shape and order to the world. It anchors us in a safe-enough environment that it makes free expression and innovation possible. You don’t have time to invent or build a business or dream in a state of nature; you’re too busy keeping your next-door neighbor from killing and eating you. A free and dynamic country needs an establishment, a core of steady folk who cling to such essential values as running a country of laws and not of men, who maintain police forces and military strength and courts and streetsweepers and keeping the Social Security checks coming so that the rest of us can get on with our lives without having to look over our shoulders and preparing to fight every second.

And the thing is, such an Establishment is nonideological. You don’t need ideology to keep things running. The postwar consensus regarding our role in the world kept us focused on containing the Soviets, whether we were led by Democrats or Republicans, and it worked. That’s why I am so encouraged when I see continuity in the essential field of international affairs when the White House changes hands. Sure, it’s frustrating to him that Obama hasn’t been able to close the Guantanamo prison, but it’s reassuring that he sees the same challenges in doing so that his predecessor did, and his successor may.

So I’m impatient with these people who make “Establishment” out to be a curse word.

I got to thinking about this the other day when I read a piece headlined, “What is the dreaded ‘establishment,’ anyway? It depends on who’s talking.

Across the board, people are running against the supposed Establishment, even Hillary Clinton. And sometimes this takes really ridiculous forms — such as when members of the Democratic Party Establishment had a cow when Bernie Sanders made a simple, honest observation:

The Democratic Party, which has seen its progressive wing grow as conservative white voters have bolted, has discovered its own family argument. On MSNBC, Sanders grouped the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood into an “establishment” that the grassroots needed to challenge. Both groups rejected the term immediately, as if Sanders had called for their offices to be demolished and replaced by Chick-fil-As…

Planned Parenthood is an entrenched institution within the Democratic Party every bit as much as, say, teacher’s unions. That’s one of the big reasons why I am not a Democrat. And because it is so holy to Democrats, because they are all required to genuflect before it, because their visceral response is to fight tooth and nail against any threat to it, it has become part of the larger Establishment. How else to explain its federal funding, which continues in the face of anything and everything thrown at it?

So yes, there are aspects of the Establishment I don’t like, and would change. But even if I could weed out such elements, I would still see the need for the Establishment overall — the ongoing, continuing, consistent core of people and institutions who know how to keep the wheels turning — because you can’t have a civilization without it.

Sir Humphrey in "Yes, Prime Minister." Politicians come and go, but the Establishment endureth...

Sir Humphrey in “Yes, Prime Minister.” Politicians come and go, but the Establishment endureth…

Do you get any EXTRA rights if you get 100 on a citizenship test?

100 percent

As anyone who does get 100 percent on a U.S. citizenship test knows, the answer to that question is “no.”

Although at the moment, that seems particularly unfair to me.test screen

Yes, you guessed it! I just took a citizenship test I saw promoted on the Christian Science Monitor site, and I crushed it — got all 96 questions right! (I did it while eating lunch, by the way, not when I should have been working).

And yeah, I know I shouldn’t be gloating at the expense of yearning, wannabe Americans who have to sweat over this test, but, hey — I am humiliated almost every week by the Slate News Quiz, which not only asks esoteric questions but is timed (timed tests always rattle me), so I need these little boosts now and again. (And yeah, I know we’ve done the citizenship thing here before, but I found it fun to take it again — and, you know, crush it again.)

If you take it, you will find it’s pretty easy for anyone who keeps up with this blog. In fact, a little too simplistic now and then. For instance, note the question below. None of the answers is precisely right, since the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t, in the strictest sense, “free the slaves.” As Lincoln well understood, it took the 13th Amendment to do that. But it’s pretty obvious that the simple answer that is sort of right beats out the others, which are all totally wrong.

So don’t be afraid. Take the test. I’m sure I’ll be far from the only 100 percent…

emacipation

Why not ask SLED to investigate deputy’s actions?

UPDATE: Sheriff Lott called me this afternoon, and he has a pretty good explanation for why he went with the feds first. Later tonight, I’ll write a new post about it

I said this in a comment earlier, but I think it’s worth a separate post…

So Sheriff Lott has fired the deputy involved in the Spring Valley incident.

But here’s something I want to know, and would have asked Leon had I been at the presser: Why go straight to the FBI? Why not invite SLED in? Or, I don’t know, the statewide grand jury.

Yeah, I know, even though he’s my twin and all, Leon may not be as enamored of subsidiarity as I am. But why immediately buy into the cliche that NO ONE in SC can be fair and objective about this; we have to bring in the feds?

As Harry Harris said in a comment yesterday: “SC seems to be the one state that has reacted to most of the police excessive force revelations in a sound manner – prosecuting and disciplining the officers involved.” Leon’s immediate firing of this deputy demonstrates that — unless it just demonstrates a Pilatesque desire to wash his hands, and I don’t think that’s the case.

I would have given the SC system a chance to work. If the feds wanted to do a civil rights investigation on a parallel track, nobody’s stopping them.

But I just don’t get why, in this case and previous ones, Leon doesn’t want to turn to SLED…

Yeah, that’s what I always say about term limits

An argument against term limits, not for them.

An argument against term limits, not for them.

On the day of the Democratic debate, ThinkProgress had an essay headlined, “The First Democratic Debate Is Tonight. Too Bad The 2 Most Qualified Candidates Are Banned.”

When I saw the Tweet promoting the item, I clicked just out of morbid curiosity to see who else in the world they thought should be on the stage that already included the marginal O’Malley, Webb and Chaffee. I imagined it being someone to the left of Bernie Sanders, this being ThinkProgress.

But… again,this being ThinkProgress… their “two most qualified candidates” turned out to be… Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

And I found myself granting them the point, to a certain extent.

Not that I want a third term of either man (if only for their own sakes — I saw how the job aged them, and those extra terms killed FDR), but I’m always glad to see someone willing to challenge term limits.

Now if you’re going to have term limits, I suppose the chief executive would be the office to be thus limited — for all the cliche reasons such as preventing the development of a de facto monarchy and so forth.

But as the piece notes, the timing of the 22nd Amendment was pretty weird, and a little hard to accept as being at all about good government. The Republicans who had just gained control of Congress rammed it through shortly after the passing of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had shut them out of four elections in a row.

At almost any other time in history, one could have made a somewhat credible argument for limits that didn’t involve crass partisanship. But not at that time. Roosevelt’s was one of the most successful presidencies in our history. His time in office was a sustained argument against limits, not an argument for.

But set aside Roosevelt and partisanship. In general, limits are of dubious value for these reasons stated in the piece:

Term limits, moreover, come at a high price. They lock the most experienced potential executives out of office. They periodically place untested leaders in power who may not have the seasoning necessary to handle difficult issues that arise early in their term. They increase corruption by shifting power towards lobbyists. And they strip voters of their ability to make their own decisions. If the American people actually are uncomfortable with a third Clinton or Obama term, they have an easy solution: they can vote for someone else.

Yeah, I know. The 22nd Amendment is here to stay. But some of those same arguments militate against acting to limit other offices. Which is why I’ve used some of them in the past…

Of course Graham voted for Lynch, and good for him

When I saw the Post and Courier headline, “Loretta Lynch confirmed as attorney general today; S.C. senators split,” I didn’t have to read further to know that Graham had voted “aye,” and the other guy did the knee-jerk GOP thing and voted against.

That’s because of what Lindsey Graham says, believes and lives by — the principle that elections have consequences. A president gets elected, he should get to pick his team. The Senate should only refuse to confirm if the nominees is obviously, clearly unqualified — not just because the nominee might not share the senators’ respective political views.

As he said following the vote:

I also believe presidents should have latitude in picking nominees for their Cabinet, and Ms. Lynch is well-qualified for the job. My goal is to have a Republican president nominate the next Attorney General so we will not be forced to choose between Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch.

He’s not the only one who says this. John McCain says the same. But Graham practices the principle more consistently. (Graham voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court; McCain voted against.)

And of course, he’s right to do this. It shows he understands the proper roles of the president and the Senate under the Constitution.

If you want someone else for the job, work to elect someone else president. But if your candidate loses, you don’t spend the next four or eight years sulking and obstructing the process of governing.

We’re lucky that one of our senators understands that, and in fact understands it more thoroughly than most people in Washington.

This way of carving up the GOP is too simplistic

Chris Cillizza and/or Aaron Blake of The Fix (the piece is double-bylined, but keeps saying “I”) tell about a “prominent Republican consultant” who says that Ted Cruz is the most underrated potential presidential candidate in the GOP field, and has as good a chance as Jeb Bush.

Of course, he’s challenged on this, and he explains:

Think of the Republican primary field as a series of lanes. In this race, there are four of them: Establishment, Tea Party, Social Conservative and Libertarian. The four lanes are not of equal size:  Establishment is the biggest followed by Tea Party, Social Conservative and then Libertarian. (I could be convinced that Libertarian is slightly larger than Social Conservative, but it’s close.)

Obviously the fight for the top spot in the Establishment lane is very crowded, with Bush and possibly Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker leading at the moment. Ditto the Social Conservative lane with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson and Rick Santorum all pushing hard there. The Libertarian lane is all Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s but, as I noted above, it’s still not that big.

Which leaves the Tea Party lane, which is both relatively large and entirely Cruz’s. While Paul looked as though he might try to fight Cruz for supremacy in that lane at one time, it’s clear from his recent moves that the Kentucky senator is trying to become a player in a bunch of lanes, including Social Conservative and Establishment.

So, Cruz is, without question, the dominant figure in the Tea Party lane….

You’ll note that these four “lanes” closely tracks the four “camps” our own Bud set out a couple of days ago, minus the disapproving value judgments. Except that Bud didn’t give libertarians their own camp, and instead threw in his own favorite punching bag, the “warmongers.”

The thing is, all such models oversimplify.

The unnamed consultant gives libertarians their own category, but describes it as the smallest. I think that’s totally wrong — I definitely think the category’s bigger than the Social Conservatives (which was huge in the early ’90s, and still pretty big into the ’00s, not as much now).

What he ignores is that a huge number of the Establishment group is also libertarian, and most Tea Partiers are VERY libertarian — it might be their chief characteristic, the myth of the hardy self-sufficient individual who doesn’t need Big Government or Big Business or anything larger than himself. Don’t Tread On Me.

In fact, to a great extent, the Tea Party is a subset of the libertarian group, which currently dominates in the GOP.

As for the groups overlapping — remember what I said the other day: Mark Sanford is (sort of) an Establishment type of libertarian the Club for Growth type, while Nikki Haley is a Tea Party, Sarah Palin type of libertarian.

So I think that guy got it wrong…

Here are some basic, immutable truths about SC politics. Now, someone please, please go prove me wrong…

I was inspired by this piece by Chris Cillizza of The Fix, who was in turn inspired by this John Harris piece in Politico., headlined “The Dark Art of Political B.S.”

For much of my career writing political opinion, I have been told by various people that I shouldn’t keep banging my head against walls and expecting the impossible, because things are just a certain way, and they’ll always be a certain way.

Except that things do change. They do. As Cillizza writes:

“Current trends never continue indefinitely,” Harris write. “Politics especially is an infinitely fluid process, refreshed continually by new issues, new circumstances and, above all, new voters with different generational perspectives. Politicians are intelligent people, whose ambitions naturally orient them to accommodate change and find a way to prosper in it.

The central contention of Harris’ piece is that modern politics — cable TV, Twitter, You Tube and all the rest — moves at a pace that makes predicting anything beyond the next few days virtually impossible. And that fact makes the entire political media industry — which prides itself on seeing around corners — on shaky ground even when at its best. “A lot of what political journalists write as we try to divine larger meaning from election results involves a whiff of bovine byproducts,” writes Harris.

He’s right.  And I’ve become more and more convinced of that fact the longer I have been writing about politics….

Presidents always lose seats in their second midterm election. Until Bill Clinton in 1998. Senators don’t get elected president. See Obama, Barack. The South will always be solidly Democratic. There will be no white Democrats in the Deep South in the 114th Congress….

Things that were never going to happen, happen. The Berlin Wall is an absolute barrier, until one day it just comes down. The IRA and the Brits will never reach a peace accord, until they do. Nixon is the most implacable anti-Communist, until détente and ping-pong diplomacy. Hitler and Stalin have a non-aggression pact, until they don’t. John Kerry voted for it before he voted against it. Barack Obama holds the firm belief that “that marriage is the union between a man and a woman,” until he doesn’t. Mark Sanford is a dedicated family man, until, you know.

Black people have to be drawn into majority-minority districts for black candidates to have a chance, because they can’t get elected at-large. Until Tameika Devine, Steve Benjamin, Tim Scott and Barack Obama.

To cite one very recent change close to home: Even though it was the one constitutional office that it made the least sense to elect, adjutant general was the one elective office that wasn’t ever going to switch to appointive. That’s because adjutants general continued to dance with the one that brung them, and their subordinates always followed their lead, and the Legislature and the rest of the electorate went with what the Guard wanted. And then, we get an adjutant general who favors reform, and bang! Things change.

Oh, and Bobby Harrell will never be made accountable for his mishandling of campaign funds, because he’s the speaker.

Never say never. Because things change.

With that in mind, I’d like to make a few absolutist statements about South Carolina, in the hope that I will in short order be utterly humiliated for having been so wrong. Here goes:

  • The Republican majority in the Legislature will never take down the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.
  • Nikki Haley and her allies will never see how absurdly irrational and harmful it is to South Carolina to refuse Medicaid expansion.
  • We’ll never see the ridiculously large numbers of school districts in South Carolina reduced, because it’s always in the interests of lawmakers to protect the status quo in their home communities.
  • The promise implied in the recent Supreme Court decision in favor of poor school districts will never be realized, because powerful suburban white Republicans will never devote the kinds of resources that are needed to poor, rural districts.
  • South Carolina taxpayers will continue to support the more than 500 unnecessary, duplicative little governments called “special purpose districts,” because most people don’t know they exist, and the districts themselves are too good at political self-preservation.

Maybe you have some eternal verities of your own you would like to toss onto the trash heap of history as well. Be my guest…

What’s wrong with our politics? It’s the parties, stupid!

In The State today, there’s a column by Clive Crook of Bloomberg News that takes issue with Francis Fukuyama’s assertion that we are plagued by “too much democracy,” arguing that it’s more accurate to say, “The problem isn’t too much democracy; it’s too much politics.”

He elaborates:

You don’t measure the quality of democracy just by asking whether the politically engaged have voice, or by counting their opportunities to influence outcomes (for good or ill), important as those metrics may be. Democracy is also supposed to work for the disengaged. In that respect, this democracy is plainly failing.

America’s political class — candidates, interest groups, activists and their respective groupies in the media — can’t be faulted for lack of engagement. Boy, are they engaged. That’s fine, of course. (It would be even better if they were as interested in public policy as they are in the political contest as blood sport, but that’s another matter.) Outside that bubble, however, views of politics run the range from boredom to despair. And a main cause, I’d submit, is popular disgust with that very political class. More politics doesn’t necessarily get you more democracy, much less better democracy….

But when people say there’s “too much politics” in our, well, politics, they are confused. There’s nothing wrong with politics, per se. Properly understood, it is the set of mechanisms whereby human beings manage to live with each other, and when it’s working properly, it enables them to work together to get things of mutual benefit done.

Most of the time, when people say “politics” with a disgusted tone, they refer to contentiousness for its own sake. They refer to political actors working not to achieve something of benefit to the society, but trying to gain advantage for themselves and their own narrow ideological group.

The problem is that “politics” has come to refer to public affairs engaged in as a sport, in which there are only two sides, they are sharply separated, and one must win while the other must lose.

The system is rigged against those of us who would like to see change. Not by some class of insiders or by money contributed by a “one percent.” It’s rigged by the parties and their affiliated interest groups, who have set things up so that sensible ideas with broad, consensus appeal don’t have a chance.

Their most obvious mechanism for accomplishing this is the one mentioned in my last post: reapportionment. Every ten years, the algorithms have gotten more sophisticated, and so it’s child’s play for the party in power to draw, for instance, one super-safe Democratic congressional districts, and six others in which a Democrat will never have a prayer.

And so we have elections that are not elections, because our courts have held that incumbent protection (which really amounts to party protection) is an acceptable aim of reapportionment. So the only elections are the primaries, and they are geared to produce the most extreme, the most “pure,” expressions of the brain-dead ideologies that each party professes to embrace.

So is there any wonder that the rest of us are fed up, disillusioned?

What we need isn’t less politics; it’s more politics — the kind in which anyone has a chance to make his or her case in a fair election. We don’t have that now.

Arrrggghhh! Sheheen ad appropriates one of Haley’s most clueless tropes

Doug Ross brought this to my attention with the words, “You’re not going to like this… Sheheen using Haley-speak to bash Haley.”

Boy, was he right.

As I said just yesterday in a comment on the importance of civics education:

… I’d like our electorate to be sophisticated enough that no one who says “I want to run government like a business” (which shows a lack of understanding of both government and business) would ever get elected. I’d want every voter to understand the basic, profound ways in which government and business are different and SUPPOSED to be different….

The link was to a previous post that referred to how, even back in the days when we used to endorse her for the House, it drove me nuts to hear Nikki Haley repeat that phrase.

So imagine my dismay to see this ad, in which a Sheheen surrogate says, without a trace of irony or suggestion that he is mocking the opposition:

I think government should run like a business and be accountable.

The addition of “and be accountable” is intriguing, and interesting twist. Because one of the chief differences between a business and government is that government is expected to be accountable in ways that a private business most assuredly is not.

So one is tempted to hear that as, “I think government should be run like a business, but still held accountable, like a government.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t mean it that way.

The speaker cites an incident in which the head of a corporation — Target — stepped down when hackers breached credit-card customers’ information.

Well, that’s not a case of someone in business being HELD accountable by anyone other than himself. In government, it’s different. This election is about whether the present governor will be held accountable by the voters. Government has that mechanism, and business does not. Customers of Target do not get to vote the CEO out of office. See the difference?

The fact that voters don’t always vote wayward politicians out of office is one of the messy facts of democracy that makes business owners — who run their own businesses the way they see fit, and see that as the natural way to run anything (when it most decidedly is not the way to run a government in a republic) — think government should run more like a business.

When it shouldn’t.

Unfortunately, most can’t answer this ‘trivia’ question

Still promoting their legislative scorecard, Conservation Voters of South Carolina have been sending out trivia questions to call attention to the data.

Here’s the most recent:

Final Trivia Question (and maybe the most important)

Who is your Senator and Representative and what is their score?

Don’t forget-there really is a prize.

Good luck,

Yeah… first, that’s not trivia.

Second, if you think people are going to be able to answer it, think again.

Back when we were doing the Power Failure series, I assigned a reporter to go out and ask people who their legislators were. My point was to illustrate what a rotten idea it was to leave in the hands of lawmakers functions that in other states would be handled by a governor. How do you hold someone accountable if you don’t even know who that person is?

Well, the reporter failed in his task even more spectacularly than I had planned. After days of trying, he had not found a single person out on the street who could answer the question.

About that time, I happened to see on a downtown street a car with the bumper sticker, “Do you know who your legislator is?” I took down the license number, we tracked down the driver, and the story became about this one smart woman who knew and cared.

I’m guessing that the ratio between South Carolinians who know which celebrities got their nude photos hacked and South Carolinians who know who their lawmakers are is probably about 10 to one. And yet these are the people passing the laws we live by…

By the way, Project Vote Smart provides a handy way to find out who represents you.

Maybe the terrorist who killed Foley was a British subject, but there’s no way he was a ‘Westerner’

News reports such as this one challenge our convictions about citizenship and identity in a modern, pluralistic, liberal democracy:

The beheading of an American journalist at the hands of a London-accented extremist prompted deep reckoning among Britons on Wednesday over the particularly vicious role their countrymen are playing in the destabilization of the Middle East.

Security officials in London have been sounding the alarm for more than a year over the large number of foreigners in Syria, with the chief of Scotland Yard telling reporters last week that about 500 Britons are among the thousands of Westerners who have joined the fight….

I’ll confess right now that my first reaction is one that is unworthy of someone who prizes living in a pluralistic society. My first thought is, “That was no Englishman. That was a foreigner who had lived in England.”

But then, I have to correct myself: If Scotland Yard says there are “500 Britons” fighting for ISIS, then I have to take it to me that they hold British passports (I sincerely doubt that the Yard is referring to the old ethnic identity of Briton, as in the people who lived in Albion before the Angles and the Saxons showed up.)

And if they hold UK passports, then they are Brits. They are British subjects, with the same rights and privileges as Sir Paul McCartney or Hugh Laurie or David Cameron. That’s the way it is, and the way it should be. To say they are less English (or less British) than James Bond because they belonged to a culture that made them likely to become Islamist terrorists is to deny what separates us from the cultural fascists of ISIS.

However, all of that said… I still don’t see how they, or the 100 or so Americans among the terrorists, can be called “Westerners.” That implies a cultural orientation, one which these fighters categorically and viciously reject. Western culture is something they are against, presumably. They may hold passports from Western nations, but everything they are cries out against all that is Western — including our pious, correct insistence that legally, they are just as British as Monty Python.

Terrorists such as these challenge our vocabulary. We must choose our words carefully, as we are trying to define a new thing, a thing that if it had its way would kill us all. A decidedly unWestern thing…

Iraq is a crisis for POTUS. So is Ukraine. Ferguson is not.

OK, I sort of said this, in an oblique way, back in this post (which I thought would lead to a great conversation, but which y’all completely ignored).

But I’m going to say it again because I got worked up on the subject over the weekend.

Saturday morning, as we were getting ready to go up to visit Old Salem over the weekend, by way of celebrating our 40th anniversary Sunday, I happened to read this piece in The Washington Post:

President Obama may receive more criticism for vacationing during a crisis

When President Obama emerged after a night of dancing, surf and turf, and partying in Martha’s Vineyard to address rioting and aggressive displays of police behavior in Ferguson, Mo., he said there is no “excuse for violence against police.” But, he added, “there’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests.”

That was enough to anger a group representing police across the country, which argued that Obama ought not weigh in on how the authorities are carrying out their legal duties more than a thousand miles away….

What do you mean, “vacationing during a crisis”? How is what is happening in Ferguson, MO, a “crisis” for POTUS. There’s no way that it is. It’s a state and local matter. If the Missouri National Guard were to fail to keep order there, and the unrest started spilling into other states, it could conceivably become a federal matter. But it wasn’t one when I was reading that on Saturday.

Then, moments later, I read this:

Ukraine forces destroy most of a column of Russian military vehicles, president says

 Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Friday that Ukrainian forces had attacked and destroyed part of a column of Russian military vehicles on Ukrainian territory, a step that, if confirmed, would represent a significant escalation of hostilities between Ukraine and Russia.

Poroshenko told British Prime Minister David Cameron that “the majority” of a column of Russian military vehicles “had been destroyed by the Ukrainian artillery at night,” his office said in a statement. The announcement came as NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday that the defense alliance had seen an “incursion” into Ukraine the previous night….

Now you see, an open shooting war between Russia and Ukraine — that is a crisis that is within the realm of what we have a president to deal with.

A crisis of even more immediate concern — or at least, more immediate involvement — is the U.S. military operations against ISIS in Iraq.

If I were inclined to criticize the president for going on vacation during a crisis (which I’m not), I would moan about him playing golf while American pilots are flying close air support for the Iraqi army.

Because, you know, I respect the division between federal and state and local responsibilities.

Increasingly in our world today, we think that because we see something in the news, thanks to modern communications technology, it is somehow our business — and therefore the president’s business.

But that’s not the way a republic with enumerated responsibilities for government officials is supposed to work.

The first and foremost reason we have a federal government is so that the United States, as one nation, can deal with foreign nations — war and peace, diplomacy, trade, immigration; those sorts of things.

I expect POTUS to concern himself with such things as those. And I expect anyone who wants to be POTUS to concern herself with those things — as Hillary Clinton does, and Rand Paul does not. Just to try again to get you interested in that previous post…