Trouble in Paradise

Bob Woodward: The story is dry. All we’ve got are pieces. We can’t seem to figure out what the puzzle is supposed to look like. John Mitchell resigns as the head of CREEP, and says that he wants to spend more time with his family. I mean, it sounds like bullshit, we don’t exactly believe that…

Deep Throat: No, heh, but it’s touching. Forget the myths the media’s created about the White House. The truth is, these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.

Bob Woodward: Hunt’s come in from the cold. Supposedly he’s got a lawyer with $25,000 in a brown paper bag.

Deep Throat: Follow the money.

Bob Woodward: What do you mean? Where?

Deep Throat: Oh, I can’t tell you that.

Bob Woodward: But you could tell me that.

Deep Throat: No, I have to do this my way. You tell me what you know, and I’ll confirm. I’ll keep you in the right direction if I can, but that’s all. Just… follow the money.

—W. Mark Felt, Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post as dramatized in the motion picture “All the President’s Men” (1976).

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

When Winston Churchill let forth this bleat, used since then as a club to answer any critic of a democratic system of government, he was, as leader of the opposition Conservative Party in 1947, defending the right of a wholly undemocratic body, the House of Lords, to delay the effect of legislation the Lords opposed. The reason the Government had decided that it had enough of the Lords, was its interference in the Government’s efforts to help the British economy recover from the ravages of the recently ended war. The Lords (and Churchill) believed, naturally, that what the Government was doing amounted to socialism.

He did not suggest that the Prime Minister was not born in Britain and was actually from Kenya, however.

The form of “democracy” we have established on these formerly British shores is, of course, a Republic, where we elect people to represent us in legislative bodies. It has not always worked very well, though, because the people elected, seeking their own re-election, are loathe to agree to anything that might anger a potential voter. The result, frequently, is mush.

There is, for instance, something about the phrase Missouri Compromise, that makes people far removed from the events of those days, believe it to be a tribute to representative government because opposing ideas were somehow muted by an agreement that, while not pleasing everyone, resolved the issue of the moment. Of, course, nothing could be further from the truth.

The half baked and almost absurd Compromise was actually enacted twice by Congresses unable to to resolve the vastly different views of slavery and what the federal government could do about it. Since no problems were actually solved, it led to even more friction and did nothing but delay the only way we could come up with to resolve those differing opinions: an insurrection by one side against the other which we have come to call The Civil War.

As we cut to our times, we make a slight detour to a United States Supreme Court opinion, as destructive to our country as of its other disasters (Dred Scott—which held the Missouri Compromise to be unconstitutional among them). This one was called Buckley v. Valeo and, rather than repeat anything previously posted under this name, you are respectfully referred to, for instance, this.

For now, let’s just look at one portion of this decision and consider how much it has exacerbated Congress’ built in and long established inability to resolve the conflicts among us. When, after watching how an incumbent president could pervert the electoral system and then cover it up and heeding Director Felt’s then anonymous admonition to follow the money, Congress was able to muster enough bipartisan outrage to reform the way we conduct our elections, the Supreme Court held it, as with the Missouri Compromise, was unconstitutional. Under the First Amendment, the Court held:

So long as persons and groups eschew expenditures that in express terms advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate, they are free to spend as much as they want to promote the candidate and his views….the First Amendment right to “`speak one’s mind . . . on all public institutions'” includes the right to engage in “`vigorous advocacy’ no less than `abstract discussion.'” New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S., at 269 , quoting Bridges v. California, 314 U.S. 252, 270 (1941), and NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S., at 429 . Advocacy of the election or defeat of candidates for federal office is no less entitled to protection under the First Amendment than the discussion of political policy generally or advocacy of the passage or defeat of legislation.

It is argued, however, that the ancillary governmental interest in equalizing the relative ability of individuals and groups to influence the outcome of elections serves to justify the limitation on express advocacy of the election or defeat of candidates …. But the concept that government may restrict the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment, which was designed “to secure `the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources,'” and “`to assure unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people.'” New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, supra, at 266, 269, quoting Associated Press v. United States, 326 U.S. 1, 20 (1945), and Roth v. United States, 354 U.S., at 484 . The First Amendment’s protection against governmental abridgment of free expression cannot properly be made to depend on a person’s financial ability to engage in public discussion.

That last sentence deserves special emphasis since the over thirty years since then has shown how ridiculous it was and remains. The supposed First Amendment right to flood campaigns with money has exacerbated the power of those with money against those without to an extent President Nixon would have welcomed. The Court took the Watergate reforms and turned them into a ratification of what Nixon had wrought. Put the government for sale to the highest bidder and the most conservative candidate will almost always win unless they out forward someone who is overwhelmingly incompetent (see George W. Bush, a discovery made by the electorate about six years into his presidency).

It is little wonder then, that polling shows a huge disconnect between David Gregor, the rest of those who feed off Washington and the nation as a whole . In D.C. the recession is over and the economy slowly recovering. There is no need for further governmental stimulus, to these people, and, to the contrary, government spending must be reduced even if it puts more burdens on people counting on the social safety net.

In the rest of the country, though, the recession is such that everyone knows at least one person who lost his or her job, went through what unemployment benefits there were and now just stares into space, trying to figure out the next move. 60 Minutes told us how this was effecting a generation of children , but the widely viewed program barely made a ripple in the self-obsessed world of those who have spent the several weeks since then debating and arguing about more cuts in social programs.

Their audience are no longer voters who will likely vote predictably the way they are told to by those whose money is critical to the re-election of the “Representatives” and Senators who might otherwise see things differently than they do. The President hinted at this the other day when he described the pointedly piggish “Ryan plan”—hailed within the beltway and its followers as the epitome of courage and manliness—and said, instead,

I don’t think there’s anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill.

This was met by those feeding off the Valeo trough as rude and offensive: as if the President showed up at one of their fundraisers wearing a tee shirt. But they will win this argument, because it is not an intellectual battle to determine what is right and wrong among conflicting ideas. It is, instead, day to day preening to impress those with money to give them more so that they can stay in office longer. And the words campaign finance reform, they tell us, are the three most boring words in the English language. That should be so, but it appears to be that way, at least from here.

They were defeated in 2008, but they were carrying their not so bright President, unmasked and naked, and he brought out a groundswell that overwhelmed their natural advantages. Maybe the Governor of Wisconsin will do the same in 2012. They have little chance of picking up the White House given the personality driven nature of those campaigns but a decent chance of controlling both houses of Congress. By now, even the most monarchistic among us have noticed that a President, unlike a pre-20th century king or queen, has little hope of making a dent in the agenda that truly faces us, when Congress is a wholly owned subsidiary of people with completely different ideas.

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12 thoughts on “Trouble in Paradise

  1. cmaukonen

    Huey Long knew this in the 1930s. He wound up opposing FDR because he thought FDR did not go far enough with the New Deal.

    FDR was scared of him because Huey Long was a socialist and had a strong following.

    Those on the right fully believe that they have a right to be as rich and powerful as they damn well please and more than a few on left think so as well. In essence they believe they should be king and dictator.

    Personally I have little use for either group. Left, right or otherwise for I do not believe in the leader concept.

    All leaders be they presidents, corporate CEOs, Prime-ministers or what not become robber barons and thieves.

  2. cmaukonen

    Huey Long believed that government should protect and uplift its most vulnerable citizens and provide opportunity for everyone, regardless of race or class. He broke the monopoly on power held by the ruling elite and their corporate backers and transformed Louisiana politics.

  3. cmaukonen

    “Corrupted by wealth and power, your government is like a restaurant with only one dish. They’ve got a set of Republican waiters on one side and a set of Democratic waiters on the other side. But no matter which set of waiters brings you the dish, the legislative grub is all prepared in the same Wall Street kitchen.” – Huey Long

    “It is relatively simple to gauge as to when a political leader becomes effective, you know a politician is about to make a major contribution to the commonwealth when they have an “accident” or just happen to come across a lone nut with a gun. John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert F Kennedy, Nick Begich Sr, Hale Boggs and Paul Wellstone were all about to become effective.” — L. A. Winans

  4. Barth

    Huey Long was, also, one scary person. His alliances with the Glen Beck and Bill O’Reilly of the day, Father Coughlin, and Gerald L.K. Smith revealed him, to anyone who wondered, to be a guy who would ride whatever was available in a quest for what amounts to a dictatorship.

    His offspring, Senator Russell B. Long was as responsible as anyone for the failure to enact significant civil and voting rights legislation under they passed in the aftermath of President Kennedy’s death.

    1. cmaukonen

      As you well know, or should, I am not a supporter of the bold faced lie that is call the Free Market System.

      It is designed solely to provide a free ride to the rich and powerful and hell for everyone else.

  5. cmaukonen

    Why I have little use for Obama and the rest in Washington.
    “President Obama asked if he were troubled by the executives from bailed-out banks and corporations paying themselves millions in salaries and bonuses had this to say, “First of all, I know both of these guys (Jamie Dimon of JPMorganChase who got a $ 17 MILLION bonus & Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs who garnered a $ 9 MILLION bonus). They’re very savvy businessmen. And I, like most of the American people don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That’s part of the free market system”.

    Except that this success and wealth comes on the backs of everyone else.

    Simple SOB.

  6. Barth

    Yes, Mr or Ms cmaukonen, you make me so sad every week. You want to live in your own world. This week your “down with the free market system and with the President for supporting it” message also includes paens to the would be dictator Huey Long who used the patois of populism to amass enormous power and then consorted with the likes of Coughlin and Gerald L.K. Smith.

    You and the Kingfish are very certain you have the answer that has eluded the rest of us. Campaigning against free market capitalism, whatever degree of myth it may be, will not win any meaningful support and will, with any success at all, bleed off enough progressives to allow the forces of reactionary politics to win every election.

    But at least you will always be right.

    1. cmaukonen

      Any clown who still supports our current capitalistic system is no better than the banksters who have ripped us off.

  7. With every age these same things are argued incessantly. They move with an unpredictable life of their own like the fields of wheat waving in the winds on our great plains. Both of these leave me in awe. I guess that’s because I don’t really understand either one.

    Apart from the frustration this isn’t a big deal. Nobody else has a reliable formula for predicting which way and how fast the wind blows or what makes people tick. It’s clear we’re not near figuring this out.

      1. Well C, I think if this was just about money we might have figured it out by now. No it’s not just about money. Across all of history, while many have died in wars for riches, an equal number have died because of the beliefs of religious zealots. Here in the U.S. we have both in play.

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