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July 25, 2008

Comments

I think the problem with libertarians is that they don't have a natural place is our politics. On one side they fit with liberals and on the other side they fit with conservative. It's a radical ideology in that sense.

I disagree with your statement that Democrats are embracing progressivism. After all, Mr. Obama has been shifting towards the center. Of course, it all depends on what you mean by 'progressivism'.

Rdldot:

.... which is, itself a direct consequence of our two-party system. Which is, in turn, a result of structural elements in how we elect our representatives. Which we could change with systemic constitutional reform, but that won't go anywhere because of our two party system, which...

The Circle of Life is fun!

I'm inclined to agree with Erasmussimo, and find this a puzzlingly stupid phenomenon with a generally razor-sharp campaign. Obama built his successful primaries campaign in significant measure by mobilizing an audience often talked about but seldom reached - people with sympathetic values who hadn't felt it worth their while to be politically active. These people exist, and so do lots more like them.

The swing voter that Obama's campaign is reaching for now does not exist, at least not in any significant numbers. It is by now a well-established fact that while there are a few percentage of likely voters who talk about being open to Democratic concerns, in practice there are people who'll end up voting Republican and a small population of people so profoundly muddled that they can't be reliably recruited by any kind of logic or morality. Obama is trading a real audience he's relied on successfully in the past for a chimera of the Washington establishment.

It seems like a lot of liberals and leftists are going to vote for Obama because he's still less bad than McCain. But the Democratic Party has really seriously blown its institutional chance at enthusiasm and activism from folks much left of the DLC. He's tossed off a significant source of donations, and money and effort will instead be going to groups both inside and outside the party that will pressure it from the left. It is, of course, not news that Obama is a very moderate sort of Democratic - in many ways, a natural liberal Republican except that the Republicans decided to purge that option from their party. But he started off working with and using the liberal spectrum well, and is now making unluck for himself.

The media talk about Obama's "luck" for a simple reason: to a man they couldn't imagine having done anything differently than the Bush/McCain/GOP conventional wisdom, despite its obvious disconnect from empirical reality over the last several years.

It doesn't take a genius or a gambler with a fistfull of rabbit's feet to predict that the Iraqis want us to get the hell out of Iraq and have been looking for the first opportunity to tell us so. Who could have guessed that the Iraqis would have noticed Bush was a lame duck before either the American media or the Dems in Congress? All it took from Obama was a decent pair of eyes and the confidence not to get played by the endless mau mauing of the Beltway establishment. Having never looked beyond their own navels, those folks just can't believe that such judgments could be the result of anything but pure luck.

Some of us libertarians are indeed very radicalized by the Bush years. Truthfully, I'm not terribly comfortable in the radical role, as I've admitted in several recent posts at Unqualified Offerings, but that is another tangent for another time.

However, the libertarian camp includes a fair number who have been apologists for the crimes of the Bush years. Barr used to be one of them. Maybe he has just been radicalized by stepping back and looking at what's going on and realizing the magnitude of it, but I'm not convinced. There's something I don't trust about him. It's not that I want to be a purist and purger and punish heretics trying to reform, but the Bush years have made me jaded.

I am very surprised by Bruce Baugh's assertion that the American body politic has bifurcated into a bimodal distribution with little in the middle. It certainly confutes what I have been reading about voter behavior. If true, it would signal the end of American democracy; a bimodal distribution of citizens is a precondition to civil war.

I disagree with your statement that Democrats are embracing progressivism. After all, Mr. Obama has been shifting towards the center.

Obama hasn't shifted toward the center--he was always there. I shake my head in wonder at the bloggers in particular who felt betrayed by some of Obama's choices in the last few months, because none of them should have been surprising.

That said, Obama is not all Democrats, and while the Congressional Democrats could certainly stand to be more progressive on a lot of issues, they're better than they were 10 years ago, and after the fall elections, should be better still, because we're electing progressive replacements to the people holding those seats in many places.

"The swing voter that Obama's campaign is reaching for now does not exist, at least not in any significant numbers."

Maybe, but are you sure? Is it possible that such people seem fewer in number to us than they actually are because they're not the sort of people who talk politics much, or care about politics much, and thus rarely or never show up for political discussions, particularly online?

Yes, I'm aware of at least a few of the studies you have in mind, but are the number of swing voters that insignificant?

"It is by now a well-established fact that while there are a few percentage of likely voters who talk about being open to Democratic concerns, in practice there are people who'll end up voting Republican and a small population of people so profoundly muddled that they can't be reliably recruited by any kind of logic or morality."

Where do people such as, say, Slartibartfast and OCSteve fit in? And by that question I don't mean those two individuals, since two people alone isn't an interesting number to discuss, but I very much mean people like them.

Erasmussimo: Actually, I'm asserting that there's a genuine American middle well to the left of acceptable Washington discourse. Disclaimer: what follows is a gross simplification, as any one-dimensional axis must be, and is intended only as a generalization.

Take a scale from 0 to 100, where 0 is extremely right-wing in the sense of the modern conservative movement, and 100 is left-wing in the sense of something like the western European norms - national health care, more government support for labor, wide-reaching safety net, much smaller military role, and so on. On this scale, I think that the Republican Party's leadership runs from about 0 to 15 or so. The Democratic Party's leadership goes down to 10 and up to perhaps 25, with challengers within the party taking stands that might go as far up as 50. The American public, on the other hand, keeps expressing support for policies that would run from about 25 up to, I dunno, 75 or so.

The "swing voter" that pundits like to talk about is part of the very low end of the spectrum. It's entirely within the War Party's boundaries of acceptable discourse, and if the Democratic Party were actually an opposition party, that niche - a chunk of space from from about 12 to 18 on this notional scale - would all belong to the Republicans. The Democrats could have access to a much larger constituency, except that their leadership shares too many fundamental values with the Republicans. So an actual majority of the country goes completely unrepresented by anyone except persistent lone voices and a bloc of Democratic representatives opposed by their own leadership and simply not large enough to mount many effective challenges.

The suppression of public voices on major issues is a long-standing thing - as old as mass media, in fact. Its practitioners are getting better with time, particularly with discoveries like "Hey, if we simply never acknowledge shame, most of what our critics say just doesn't matter."

Polling routinely shows that the American people at large would like us out of Iraq, would like to see leaders held accountable with investigations, impeachments, and trials, would like to see good health care available to all, and on and on. Most Americans aren't yet comfortable with the idea of a lot of things Europeans take for granted, but they're drifting in that general direction thanks to the accumulated excesses and miseries of American socio-economic organization. It's just that the governing establishment would prefer to wish that all away, and tries to make bumps and dips in about a quarter of the spectrum I describe the whole story.

Gary, You think there are people like them? I think they are pretty unique and also different from each other.

I suppose you could cast them as conservatives who are fed up with the misuse of the Republican party. There should be a large number of such people. My bet is that most of them will try to get the Republican party to clean up its act, rather than moving to the Democrats.

To court them seriously would require embracing Conservatism. i can't see how a progressively based party can do that effectively.

My sense is that these types are stuck between "more Bush" and "at least not like Bush".

Gary: Okay, in a country the size of the US, every voter group exists somewhere, or at least it's safe to assume they do until proven otherwise. :)

Let me disentangle some threads.

First: A significant chunk of those who identify themselves as independent voters do in practice vote most of the time for one party's candidates. They may move in rare cases, but they're better thought of (I think) as affiliated with the party they usually support.

Second: A separate significant chunk of the "swing vote" is made up of chuckleheads. These are the people who vote on the basis of haircuts, or support George Bush because he's in favor of national health care, or whatever - ignorant and/or irrational, and very hard for any sane campaign to reach, which means that in practice they'll end up going to whoever's most willing to pander.

Third: It looks to me like the Republican Party's now getting a large fraction of those sympathetic to its agenda to vote for it, while the Democratic Party has a lot of loose support that doesn't translate into votes because potential voters don't get motivated enough to do something about it.

Looking at ObWi regulars, Slarti's in the category of people I wouldn't make any serious effort to reach with a campaign. He's willing to disagree with a lot of Republican junk but not to really oppose it, so nearly as I can tell. OCSteve is one I would campaign for, but I'd also say, "Steve, right now the price of competent law-abiding government is some policies you won't like. Take this as a transitional time, and if a chance to really reform the Republican Party comes along, no hard feelings if you decide to go with them instead." And while I'd make the effort, I wouldn't be stunningly surprised if Steve were to decide that the price is more than he's willing to pay. Honest people can disagree about that kind of thing in all good will.

Meanwhile, here's all these other folks who'd like to vote Democratic, if it were more like the 2006 rhetoric in practice, whom the party leadership mostly seems to find as distasteful as Republican leadership does. I admit to having essentially zero sympathy for what the Democrats call centrist, so I'm not in a very good position to make any suggestions about how to reach out to non-voters with views like mine or my parents. "Scrap your pathetic corporate and media toadying and get back to a robust liberalism" is obviously not going to win over a centrist campaign. But I sure do wish that more Democrats would do just that, and I'll be donating to help support those who do. I think that of those folks who make up the non-voting half of our population, many more are amenable to such a message than lie in the realm of the triangulators.

(I do think that there's a worthwhile audience for pre-Goldwater conservatism, something more Eisenhower-ish in flavor, but that there's currently no effort to reach them and they aren't especially recruitable for Democratic candidates. If I saw the Republican equivalent to Blue America emerge, though, I'd toss them a donation too.)

Bruce: Steve, right now the price of competent law-abiding government is some policies you won't like. Take this as a transitional time, and if a chance to really reform the Republican Party comes along, no hard feelings if you decide to go with them instead.

That’s pretty much exactly where I am at – so you’re a pretty good campaigner. ;)

Seriously, as I mentioned a few times, I’ve taken my conservative values and stuck them up on a shelf for 4-8 years. My hope is that a few years in the wilderness will do the Republican Party a lot of good. Hopefully, in order to make a comeback some day, they’ll have to jettison the religious extremists and the rest of the nuts.

However, if a viable Libertarian Party should emerge in the meantime, I’d go with them and never look back.

Bruce,

You posted some good analysis and I see a lot to like in it, but these two parts raise a question in my mind:


I admit to having essentially zero sympathy for what the Democrats call centrist, so I'm not in a very good position to make any suggestions about how to reach out to non-voters with views like mine or my parents. "Scrap your pathetic corporate and media toadying and get back to a robust liberalism"

...

(I do think that there's a worthwhile audience for pre-Goldwater conservatism, something more Eisenhower-ish in flavor, but that there's currently no effort to reach them and they aren't especially recruitable for Democratic candidates. If I saw the Republican equivalent to Blue America emerge, though, I'd toss them a donation too.)

My question is: what is the difference between the squishy corporatist centrism which you decry in the current Democratic Party, and the antedeluvian Eisenhower-ish conservatism that you profess a degree of nostalgic admiration for? Because from a policy standpoint the two of them strike me as fairly similar to one another.

On a larger note, I think one of the answers to the conumdrum you've brought up (liberal/progressive policies poll well but we don't really have a true liberal/progressive party in this country, at least not by European standards) may be in exploding the single-dimension axis that for sake of simplicity you are working with and looking at policy preferences as an n-dimensional space.

In the latter case, it may turn out that a majority of voters project on to the "liberal" end of a 1-dimensional political axis, but the more complex policy preferences of many of these voters as individuals extend in more conservative directions on other axes of policy, on a policy-by-policy basis. Which then poses for each voter a dilemma - what matters to you the most? A voter may have liberal preferences on 6 issues and conservative preferences on only 2 issues, but if the latter 2 are what they prioritize the most, then that will tip their voting decision over to the GOP even though they may poll well from a liberal policy standpoint.

In other words, what are the breaking-point issues for voters, and how many voters are favorable to liberal policies but not in a highly commited way which tip them over come election day - essentially you have an Atheists-In-Foxholes problem with getting voters to translate support for liberal policies into voting for liberal candidates.

The GOP has never really been all that pro-libertarian, but they’ve really rubbed libertarians’ noses in it lately. Torture, spying, Patriot Act – the GOP has been ostentatiously anti-libertarian in the Dubya years.

I think this is far-fetched. Yes, there are libertarians like thoreau who are in this group, but AFAICT very few liberatrians have found much to criticize in the Bush policies you list. Most are fine with them.

The issues libertarians seem to get worked up about are taxes, regulations, guns, and motorcycle helmets. I haven't read too many who give a rat's patootie about habeas corpus, torture, unlimited expansion of executive power, etc. In fact, I'd argue that they are more likely to support these policies than oppose them.

Bernard, I too have met some people who deem themselves "libertarian" whose views are as you describe. This is why I doubt there will ever be a viable Libertarian Party.

However, I also know a few whose libertarian leanings stem directly from strong allegiance to limits on government power and the right to dissent.

Here is a link to a speech Bob Barr gave at the 2004 ACLU Membership Conference. It may surprise you. Richard Clarke also spoke. The session title: "Balancing National Security and Liberty: Keeping America Safe and Free."

AFAICT very few liberatrians have found much to criticize in the Bush policies you list. Most are fine with them.

The issues libertarians seem to get worked up about are taxes, regulations, guns, and motorcycle helmets. I haven't read too many who give a rat's patootie about habeas corpus, torture, unlimited expansion of executive power, etc. In fact, I'd argue that they are more likely to support these policies than oppose them.

Evidence?

I've been involved with the LP in two widely differing states over the past few years. Your observations have absolutely no connect to reality.

"Obama hasn't shifted toward the center--he was always there. I shake my head in wonder at the bloggers in particular who felt betrayed by some of Obama's choices in the last few months, because none of them should have been surprising."

Hi from Dubai airport. ;) (Scary that I now know my way around...)

I think the 'left, right, center' stuff doesn't describe American politics all that well now. For one thing, the genuine left is not represented at all. More to the point, I think the present situation is more like: there are conservatives (in the current political sense, not the 'like to conserve stuff' sense, or the more traditional 'in use maybe 40 years ago' sense. As a result of several decades of pushing a pretty specific and somewhat bizarre agenda and enforcing intellectual conformity, they have gone somewhat insane (allegedly small government people supporting vast expansions in executive power? "X is not with us on waterboarding"?? odd quirks like denying the existence of anthropogenic global warming). Some people are with them to this day, and they are greatly aided by having spent the same several decades convincing people that liberals, or basically anyone who doesn't agree with them, are deeply, deeply scary.

As best I can tell, the overwhelming majority of basically pragmatic policy people have deserted them -- people who would have been unaffiliated a decade ago, and are now praying for a Republican defeat, not because they are liberal, but because at the moment, the Democrats are the only party that is basically pragmatic and sane, as opposed to captured by ideologues.

Non-policy people -- some, as noted above, make up their minds on idiotic grounds, but I think a lot are basically OK with Democratic positions, those being, at the moment, your basic centrist pragmatism, but are still worried about the Democrats themselves, as a result partly of the Dems' own problems, but very largely as a result of several decades of Limbaugh et al telling them stuff about us that Is Not True.

So my sense is: if people weren't worried about the Democrats and their effete defeatist ways, we'd win in a landslide, for reasons that have very little to do with us and a whole lot to do with the GOP having run off a cliff. But Democrats face what is, I think, a standing disadvantage: a whole mother lode of distrust.

Wrt Obama in particular: I think he's a pragmatist above all, though a pragmatist with a genuine concern for people who tend to get left out. I don't think he's tacked as far to the center as people think -- some of his 'tacks' were nonexistent (e.g., on iraq), and others were things that bugged some liberals because they sounded wrong (e.g., faith-based stuff: here the key is no discrimination in hiring and services, and he respected that absolutely.)

I was disappointed, in particular, by his FISA vote. But there it wasn't because it was 'too centrist', it was because I thought he had stronger views about the issues in question.

I definitely think that the Republicans have made their own bad luck, and that it is not some sort of weird fluke that things are going Obama's way, abroad. The world is not wholly unpredictable.

I agree in part with two points made in this thread -- with Incertus that Obama always took more centrist positions than people assumed and with TLTiABQ that there is a problem with a one dimensional axis in describing his and the voters' politics. As to Obama's positions, his verbal bows to centrist positions were the reason I voted for Edwards in the CA primary. But I have come to believe that it is his understanding of the need to recognize multiple axes, the "What's the Matter with Kansas?" issue, and his experience in how to form coalitions from his organizing days that lead to the elements of his campaign that are off-putting to fed-up leftists like myself.

If you examine his positions, he consistently tries to, in Quaker terms, look for "that of God in every man". That is, to puzzle out the parts of opposing positions that he can honestly agree with, as a way to reach out to opponents and bring them into his coalition. By looking at what he actually has said on the issues troubling his supporters on the left, such as Hilzoy's point about support for faith-based initiatives, I believe you can see he isn't caving. While it is emotionally satisfying when a candidate takes a hard line on issues, I believe Obama's approach is likely to lead to a better outcome. Initially, of course, a larger coalition will help him and other Democrats get elected. But by trying to honestly include the areas that are meritorious in opponents' views, he will govern more effectively.

Evidence?

I've been involved with the LP in two widely differing states over the past few years. Your observations have absolutely no connect to reality.

Evidence?

It's true I'm not up on LP politics. My evidence comes from reading blog posts and comments by people who claim to be liberartarians - some on Volokh, some on Marginal Revolution, for example, very occasionally some others. Most of them seem to be quite happy with Bush policies in general, especially in the "anti-libertarian" areas Publius talks about.

There may well be those in the LP and elsewhare who are different, but I think my point has plenty of connection to reality.

"Take a scale from 0 to 100, where 0 is extremely right-wing in the sense of the modern conservative movement, and 100 is left-wing in the sense of something like the western European norms - national health care, more government support for labor, wide-reaching safety net, much smaller military role, and so on."

It seems worth pointing out that this still doesn't get us anywhere near the norm of almost all European countries or most countries around the world, where the actual Left -- various communist parties, and other less-mixed economy socialistic parties -- parties are represented in their Parliaments.

Examine, for instance, for a moment, the range of represented political parties in India. Or Israel. Or Greece. Or in the European Parliament.

This is why it's so weird when conservatives talk about the "extreme left" in America. The "extreme left" are people like....

... this, this, and this.

Actual leftists. Not liberals. Not mixed-economy Labour types. Not Scandanavian anodyne vanilla socialist mixed-economy types.

But in the U.S. they're practically zoo creatures, save for a few bookstores in some of the larger university towns, a few tiny campus groups, a few collections of senior citizens, some small numbers of dimbulb ANSWER types, and a tiny smattering of followers in a few large cities. That may or may not be for the best, but they're the actual leftists.

"I do think that there's a worthwhile audience for pre-Goldwater conservatism, something more Eisenhower-ish in flavor"

It helps to recall that the conservative and right wing of the Republican Party -- not yet so much calling itself "conservative" very consistently -- despised the hell out of the communist/leftwing (as they saw him) Eisenhower. The Birchers thought Eisenhower an actual communist, or at the very best a communist dupe, and the Taft wing also only lived with Ike kicking and screaming and with grave doubts and discomfort. Nixon was a bridge between those two groups, and if Eisenhower hadn't coopted him would likely have been more part of the Republican opposition/right-pressure wing than the Establishment.

I tend to find that there isn't a lot of in-depth knowledge of what the Republican Party was like prior to Goldwater out there with many of the current generation of political activists/pundits, so it often seems to get subsumed as some sort of fuzzy and homogenous concept of "like Goldwater and Buckley," and that's just not really the case much at all.

I'm afraid I'd have to argue that "pre-Goldwater conservatism, something more Eisenhower-ish in flavor" is sort of semi-contradictory, though perhaps better described as "Rockefellar Republicanism," with a swing towards Eisenhower, who did regard himself as a conservative -- just not a reactionary. But he was simultaneously opposed by the reactionaries and in bed with some of them them, particularly in foreign policy (the Dulles Brothers and both Luces were fairly reactionary, though not to the point of the truly crazed Birchers, or, say, Curtis LeMay). To get a better understanding we'd have to start going into a lot more detail about the various splits in various areas of Republicanism at the time, the various flavors of anti-communists, the various flavors of Big Business Republicans, the various flavors of Small Town Republicanism, the genuine small government conservatives, the paranoid branches, the semi-liberal Wilkie leftovers, and so on, in a lot more specificity. It gets complicated.

"My question is: what is the difference between the squishy corporatist centrism which you decry in the current Democratic Party, and the antedeluvian Eisenhower-ish conservatism that you profess a degree of nostalgic admiration for?"

We're all using pretty squishy and vague terms here, but I'd say "not much," if I understand what you both are talking about more or less correctly. A lot of it is simply "conservative" in the utterly generic and vague sense of "not all that controversial centrist and comfortably supported by comfortable members of the corporate establishment, and members of the not-particularly-political upper-middle-class/lower-upper-class in their suburban enclaves."

The policy/political equivalent of mushy green peas and mashed potatoes: bland as it gets, so a radical policy proposal is school uniforms and small tax deduction tweaks, and maybe more money for bridges and police.

"The issues libertarians seem to get worked up about are taxes, regulations, guns, and motorcycle helmets."

I propose a new heavy tax on motorcycle helmets, which are to be mandatory for every citizen, regardless of what they drive or own, but you get a tax break for every gun you own, and a triple tax break for every criminal you shoot in the course of their committing a felony. Will that help?

Also, extra points if you run over the felons with your motorcycle.

For one thing, the genuine left is not represented at all.

for those of you youngsters, I wager our leader hilzoy is talking about advocates for public transportation; low-income, high density housing; and education for anyone who wants it regardless of household income--not about identity advocates who run the Democrats now.

We advocates for the poor had run the show until all that non-sense about a tapestry.

Eugene Robinson made a good point yesterday about this idea that Obama’s been “lucky” lately, with events shifting his way on Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. Obama, Robinson points out, made his own luck. He made the right choices on the big issues, and events are now vindicating him.

If I could extrapolate a bit, I think the whole “you make your own luck” observation is a good way of thinking about third parties too.

you’re half right, publius: the libertarian impulse is driving away from the Republicans.

But Libertarians are not going anywhere in particular. They’ve been profoundly discredited by global warming. See SUV sales.

Enough is enough. Our duty to honor and respect the claim that nature, including society, has on us is not negotiable.

So my sense is: if people weren't worried about the Democrats and their effete defeatist ways, we'd win in a landslide,

no, the Dems are not farther ahead because of their defeatist ways. Clinton took us beyond that.

People are worried about the Dems domestic agenda, basically good people are worried about the extent to which PAC’s representing Women, Minorities, and Unions are going to write law.

The laws they are inclined to write are antithetical to what white, working people over 40 believe in, evidently. See the most recent WSJ poll.

But Obama knows it. And the New Yorker articles only confirms that Obama owes nothing to identity PAC’s.

Over the next three months, we can expect him to persuade us of as much.

I say he wins by 8 points.

I'll personalize this, because I know more about what I'm thinking than about what a lot of others are thinking.

I care a lot less about this election than I did a few months ago.

I never thought Obama would throw off his suit and leap into the skies as Liberalman, champion of the kind of policies that led to unparalleled well-being in generations gone by. But his record on matters of open governance, both in Illinois and Washington, led me to believe that he wouldn't be Capitulationman too, selling out basic liberties and safeguards when the Washington concensus whined enough that it was sooooo important.

Well, so much for that hope.

He still gives great speeches. I respect that. (I'm not being flippant, either. Do y'all have any idea how sick I get sometimes listening to the absolutely incompetent droning and rambling that constitutes most representatives' speechmaking? Good rhetoric and delivery matter in rousing enthusiasm and focusing effort. They are every bit as much tools of governance as the content of legislation.) And his organization. But I can't respect the aims of his candidacy anymore, nor can I trust him. I can only hope he doesn't fall a whole lot more steps in the direction of giving the Republican part of the War Party everything it wants.

He's stopped being a good candidate when it comes to my values and priorities. McCain is an awful, horrible, absolutely unacceptable one, so there's a long way beneath Obama yet. But darn it, I wanted something other than "the price that must be paid to keep things from getting worse even faster". And I don't think it was actually necessary to throw people like me out the window in pursuit of other folks' approval.

Bruce, besides the FISA vote, what makes you feel that he has stopped being a good candidate?

Here's another complicating factor (IMHO, etc.) - our politics is a compound of arguments over policy, and arguments over sectional and cultural identity. In some ways the alignments and coalitions regarding culture have been more stable and persistent than the policy issues of the day and the ideological frames we use to make sense of them.

Who today is worked up about the economic and political dominance of the Big Railroads and arguments over what freight tariff policy should be? On the other hand, an adherant of the Know-Nothing movement from the 1850's would have no difficulty adjusting to fit into our politics today.

Ideology and cultural identity are the yin-yang of our politics, and they wax and wane in strength. IMHO we are entering a period of ideological incoherence, where neither party holds positions which are internally consistent or make much sense if you try to view them as a unified whole (to some degree this has always been the case, I mean in a relative sense - i.e. more so than in the mid 20th Cen.)

As I see it, the last 70-80 years have been a period when the two parties switched places with each other in terms of their cultural and sectional bases. The GOP today are the heirs of the Democratic party of Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forest, and the Democrats have inherited the mantle of Lincoln and the industrializing Yankees of the 1860's. Look at an electoral map of the mid 19th Cen vs. today, and the similarity is striking but the colors have flipped.

How did this happen? It began in the early 20th Cen. with the Democrats under Wilson and FDR using ideological appeals to poach from the home base of the previously dominant GOP, expanding the geographic and cultural range of the Democrats in order to break out of their southeastern regional ghetto. Nixon and Reagan returned the favor in the late 20th Cen., taking Dixie away from the Dems.

With the elections of the early 21st Cen. this process of regional and cultural musical chairs has now more or less gone to completion - New England is almost entirely blue, and the Southeast is deep red.

Ideology was crucial to defining both parties during this process, because neither one possessed a stable and well defined sectional and cultural base - those things were in flux, so ideological guideposts were needed to keep track of who stood where. I think that may no longer be necessary if the parties now settle into a stable identity pattern; ideological contrasts may fade as they become less necessary to defining the political parties.

Note that I am not saying that there will be no ideological contrasts between the two major parties and no arguments over policy, but rather that the degree of ideological coherence between their various preferences from issue to issue will decline, so that both parties will come to have a jumbled up mix of ideas from issue to issue which defy easy categorization along a single axis of left-right, and which contain numerous contradictory elements.

Just look at the fights over DHS, FISA, big government vs. little government, and other "Libertarian" issues. What I see right now is a mixed up mess where neither party has an overriding ideological framework to act as a polar star to guide them by in sorting out these issues. Instead they are sort of making it up as they go on an issue by issue basis.

I was disappointed, in particular, by his FISA vote. But there it wasn't because it was 'too centrist', it was because I thought he had stronger views about the issues in question.

FISA is probably the one place where liberals have a legitimate gripe about Obama's shift. Personally, I was disappointed but not aggrieved, largely because I live under the cynical assumption that we're being spied on a lot more than we even suspect, and that any legislation is little more than window dressing at this point.

My question is: what is the difference between the squishy corporatist centrism which you decry in the current Democratic Party, and the antedeluvian Eisenhower-ish conservatism that you profess a degree of nostalgic admiration for? Because from a policy standpoint the two of them strike me as fairly similar to one another.

In the fairly crucial area of tax policy, the mainstream politicians of the Eisenhower era were radical leftists compared to the entire political spectrum of today. The top marginal income tax rate back then was something like 91%. We can't even imagine that now--it seems like some alien, Communist or Swedish absurdity, guaranteed to wreck the economy, even though we remember those days as a time of happy prosperity and the 1980s conservatives always (with considerable cognitive dissonance) spoke of it as a halcyon era. Obama's not proposing anything within a light-year of that and people are worried that he's a radical redistributionist. I don't think most people even realize how profoundly the conservative movement changed American attitudes toward what the government could do with money.

The thing about the FISA vote is that it's not just one thing, so to speak. Of all the reasons I have supported Obama, his attention to openness in government operations has been right up at the top of the list - his push for videotaping interrogations in capital cases and for recording the race, sex, and age of people stopped for traffic violation, his work for fuller access to pending legislation, and like that.

In one fell swoop we get continued authorization for really blatantly unconstitutional activity and the denial of any future efforts at investigation, let alone accountability, and the condoning of legislation made in secret and thoroughly withheld from public scrutiny. Oh, and the explicit violation of a clearly worded promise, without anything like an effort at explaining or justifying it. It's lot of badness in one place. There are other concerns of mine, but this one issue brings far too much together.

(The #2 concern for me is probably his advisors. I have always believe that you can and should look at who's got an official's ear, because they'll end up having an impact. I don't like or trust a lot of the folks Obama's listening to, and many of them strike as likely to encourage more imperialism abroad and callous neglect of needs at home.)

bemused, obviously I'm not Bruce, but Obama's making nice with Senator I-Own-The-Voting-Machines-That-Got-Me-Elected Hagel suggests an unpleasantly pragmatic approach to the problem of riggable elections, and his announcement via an adviser that there aren't going to be any wideranging investigations and prosecutions of crimes committed by government officials under the Bush administration, strongly suggest that far from being for "change we can believe in", Obama's the candidate for business as usual.

Admittedly, that still makes him better than 8 more years of McSame.

Even though I'm not Jesurgislac (thereby preserving symmetry), I agree that Democrats' general capitulation on election procedure stuff is very important and very dangerous. I believe in the power of simple active measures: show that the stuff you want to do is working. A lot of talk about vote manipulation gets lost in convolutions of "well, you can't prove this" and "even though this is a physically impossible result we don't know anyone actually meant harm by it", and so on. I propose active compliance: show that the vote was conducted in a sound and secure manner, or void the results by default and let those who think it was fair prove it.

Obama's no worse than the Democratic herd on this set of issues. But it would have been consistent with his record to be better.

Notice that none of this constitutes an implicit argument that Obama should lose, or McCain should win. Obama remains the necessary choice for anyone who cares about America's well-being. It's just that he's showing less and less sign of being interested in helping on the core challenges of our time, and that we will again be settling for the one likely to do less harm. Which sucks, and I'm tired of it, and on days when the depression looms large makes it hard to give a lot of hoot about any of it.

If I had to pick a single worst Obama advisor, it might well be Cass Sunstein, for reasons Glenn Greenwald explains, in an update at the end of that post. I've dickered with Sunstein on Crooked Timber and elsewhere, and his contempt for what I think of as essentials of representative government always angered me. The idea of his having Obama's ear terrifies me.

Take a scale from 0 to 100, where 0 is extremely right-wing in the sense of the modern conservative movement, and 100 is left-wing in the sense of something like the western European norms - national health care, more government support for labor, wide-reaching safety net, much smaller military role, and so on. On this scale, I think that the Republican Party's leadership runs from about 0 to 15 or so. The Democratic Party's leadership goes down to 10 and up to perhaps 25, with challengers within the party taking stands that might go as far up as 50. The American public, on the other hand, keeps expressing support for policies that would run from about 25 up to, I dunno, 75 or so.

This is completely absurd. In the first place, your "100" represents not a political movement, but a political state. Europe has a very different baseline for politics than the United States, but what you describe is simply the state of politics there, not the actual positions of European political parties.

Then, your assessment of the two American parties is absurd. Aside from the smaller role for the military, your description of "100" is almost certainly something that the majority of Democratic politicians would enthusiastically support. What in that formulation would Russ Feingold or John Conyers disagree with? How can you possibly say that the most left-wing national Democratic elected officials are three times closer to the politics of, I don't know, Pat Roberts than they are to those of Gordon Brown?

This description, in essence, is totally incoherent. You describe "100%" left in terms of a markedly centrist vision that would be agreed upon not only by European Social Democratic Parties, but by the mainstream of the Democratic Party here, and by most center right European political parties as well. Then you say that the Democrats are actually at 15, with no basis.

The Democrats aren't perfect, God knows, but this idea that they're somehow markedly to the right of the political preferences of most Americans is ridiculous.

In the fairly crucial area of tax policy, the mainstream politicians of the Eisenhower era were radical leftists compared to the entire political spectrum of today. The top marginal income tax rate back then was something like 91%.

This is a reason to pine for the days of Eisenhower conservatism as opposed to the current Democratic Party?

Beyond that, I'm just going to say that, other than the FISA issue, I don't particularly see Obama moving to the right on any actual issues. He has been rhetorically moving to the right, by striking somewhat more conservative poses on various issues. But he really hasn't particularly moved to the right on any particular issues (again, with the one exception of FISA, which I agree was unfortunate, but whose passage should be blamed not on Obama, but on the House Dems).

As to whether swing voters exist, this seems like nonsense. There's obviously about 20% of the electorate whose vote is not completely determined ahead of time. And, it's worth noting, convincing one of those people to vote for you is worth the same thing as convincing two people who wouldn't otherwise vote to vote for you.

Beyond that, I just find this constantly repeated idea that there's some vast left wing majority in the American electorate just waiting for a candidate who's left wing enough to inspire them to vote is just absurd. It has not been borne out by any election, ever. Obviously, candidates can inspire better or worse turnout (and all signs at present point to much, much better Democratic than Republican turnout this year), and, in general, better turnout overall tends to help the Democrats, because they have more marginal voters. Nonetheless, there is just no evidence to suggest that there's a large contingent of people who aren't voting because the Democrats aren't left wing enough. Certainly there is no evidence to suggest that such a group is twice as large as the group of people who are open to choosing either candidate.

What Bruce Baugh said in his 3:17, 3:48 and 3:59 posts. With these posts, Bruce really came very close to expressing just what I am/have been feeling. I am sad to lose my enthusiasm for Obama, although he certainly still has my vote, but the FISA vote did just that and for all the reasons that Bruce states. The idea that Obama would bring more openness to government and more respect for the constitution and the three branches of government has long been at the top of my list of concerns. Just sad.

It's really too bad that, after this election cycle, no one will be interested in redirecting this dissatisfaction with Obama into fundamental change in the two-party system. Yes, I know it's daunting because it's been this way for so long, but it wasn't handed down from God to Moses on Mount Sinai, and it wasn't enshrined in the Constitution by the Founders.

Obama faces an unremitting onslaught of attacks on his patriotism and even on whether he is an American. Democrats in Congress have stated that they plan to take up Fisa issues again in the new Congress. They will be in a much better position then, with a Democratic president and a wider margin in the Senate.

The assertion that he won't bring more openness to government and more respect for the constitution is something I can't understand from the facts as we know them.

I shake my head in wonder at the bloggers in particular who felt betrayed by some of Obama's choices in the last few months, because none of them should have been surprising.

While agreeing that many of the recently-discussed Obama choices should not have been surprising, I don't think it's fair to include the FISA example among them. That involved a direct betrayal of a specific promise, so civil liberties advocates had every right to be surprised, angry, and disappointed.

If I had to pick a single worst Obama advisor, it might well be Cass Sunstein, for reasons Glenn Greenwald explains, in an update at the end of that post. I've dickered with Sunstein on Crooked Timber and elsewhere, and his contempt for what I think of as essentials of representative government always angered me. The idea of his having Obama's ear terrifies me.

I haven't had a lot of experience with either of them, but I saw the two of them on Democracy Now earlier this week, and Greenwald came off to me as, well, small and petty, like the kind of guy who is unwilling to acknowledge the merit of any point other than his own. Maybe I just caught him on a bad day.

I simply don't believe the Democratic leadership when they promise more action on anything once they have more power. They already have more power than Gingrich ever did - they're just not using it well, if they mean to oppose Republican initiatives. But their willingness not just to surrender but to cooperate suggests to me that in fact most of the leadership isn't much bothered by it.

I turn at this point to Jesus' parable of the talents. The Democratic leadership hasn't been faithful with what's been given into their care so far, but they want me to give 'em more. I am skeptical. What reason is there to believe, based on actual legislative effort, that they actually want to deal with this stuff? It's not Republican efforts at blocking important measures that get slapped down, it's the attempts at constitutional defense from fellow Democrats. Where are the well-coordinated efforts to turn out the party vote en masse, to punish defectors to the Republican agenda, the filibusters, the anything? Brave words away from votes do not count, because in the end it is the votes that make the laws.

(Okay, votes make the legislation that Bush will then ignore and/or deliberately trample on. Of course investigating any of that could have been a high priority and wasn't, too.)

Incertus, I don't think Greenwald is at anything like his best in real time, and wish his friends would tell him so. It's the journalism where his qualities work to best effect.

(Oddly enough, the first comparison that comes to mind here is Patrick Buchanan, whose best writing is way, way more articulate and interesting than he's ever sounded to me in speeches.)

John, in answer to your argument that the US is "just naturally" a more right-wing country than the rest of the developed world, I'd note that historically, the first Labour government to gain power in the UK with a solid majority, came in 1945. The General Election of 1945 was quite literally revolutionary: and it was so, most contemporary observers agree, because of the fortunate* combination of a very large number of voters who, after six years of war, wanted change - and a party of political activists who wanted to bring about the change the voters supported.

The US has never had that combination of circumstances in the 20th or 21st century. No war fought by the US in living memory has ever directly affected more than a small proportion of the population - even the Vietnam war had trivial numbers casualties** compared with the size of the US population, and no civilians directly affected unless they chose to be so.

I think one obvious reason Obama was - is - a popular candidate is that he presented himself as a candidate for change to a population that, in large numbers, wanted change. That it's become clear he is in no way a candidate for real change - suggests either that Obama never did understand exactly why his favorite campaign slogan won him so much support - or else, that now he's the presumptive Democratic nominee, he can quite cynically afford to ignore the people who were enthused by his campaign, because he knows they'll vote for him anyway, and he can get on with business as usual.

What would happen if a candidate who really did want to change US politics were to run, and won? Could such a candidate win? The Labour Party spent fifty years, two generations, building itself into a party that could take and hold power when the opportunity of 1945 came.

Obama was never going to be a revolutionary candidate, but it looks like he's not even interested in trying to pull the US rather more towards the center - to govern as the majority of the voters want: he's running to the right. But that's not surprising: that's where the money is, and since elections are riggable, it doesn't matter where the voters are.

*I consider it fortunate: because of it, I got to read the blackboard at school. Without my free NHS glasses, replaced for free every time I broke them - which was often - I'd have spent large chunks of my primary school years simply unable to read whatever it was the teacher was writing on the blackboard. Thank you, Aneurin Bevan.

**I mean, compared to European casualties in WWI or WWII, or Vietnamese casualties in the Vietnam war. Obviously to the individuals and families directly affected, no injury or death is trivial.


It's really too bad that, after this election cycle, no one will be interested in redirecting this dissatisfaction with Obama into fundamental change in the two-party system. Yes, I know it's daunting because it's been this way for so long, but it wasn't handed down from God to Moses on Mount Sinai, and it wasn't enshrined in the Constitution by the Founders

If Kevin Phillips is on the money, binary opposition between a Monarchist party and a Parlimentary party can be traced from contemporary American politics all the way back to the English Civil War of the 1640's, and more tenously even further back than that. So in that sense, our two party system is older even than the Constitution.

Good luck uprooting that oak.

I'm not saying it can't be done, just that the past occasions in our history when a third party got going were times when one of the two major parties suffered a major implosion and rapidly went extinct, as a result of which the two party system almost immediately re-established itself. This binary configuration seems to be a very powerful attractor (in a chaos theory sense of the word) in our political culture.

bemused: They will be in a much better position then

Aside from the minor fact that none of the telecoms companies engaged in criminal actions over the past 8 years can be prosecuted, and will have a President who doesn't believe they should be prosecuted - no matter who won the election.

The assertion that he won't bring more openness to government and more respect for the constitution is something I can't understand from the facts as we know them.

The facts as the rest of us know them are that when he had the opportunity to vote to defend the Constitution and bring more openness to government, a position he'd earlier claimed to hold, he voted the wrong way.

So I'm not sure what facts you're looking at, but it seems perfectly clear to me. You may hope that Obama will behave differently once he's elected, but that's not based on the facts, but on faith.

I agree with That Left Turn about prying open space for a viable third party in the US. Drastic change within one or both existing parties actually has precedents, several of them - within living memory of some of us, in fact.

ThatLeftTurnInABQ - the only thing that seems to change a two-party system is to change the system of first-past-the-post-wins-the-lot elections. In the UK, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland all have proportional representation to elect representatives to their regional assemblies (or Parliament, in Scotland).

The problem in the UK (which I bet is echoed in the US): the party in government could introduce proportional representation, but never wants to after it's just won an election, got a comfortable majority, and can hope* for 8-10 years government without let or hindrance. Bringing in PR would lose those 100+ majorities that enabled both Labour and the Conservative party to reign unchecked.

*May not, but can always hope

As has happened repeatedly over the last year, reading Bruce Baugh's comments is the eerie experience of seeing my exact thoughts written down, with the frequent bonus of them being expressed much more clearly and calmly than I'd do.

Thanks.

Ditto to what Bruce Baugh has said throughout this thread.

I haven't been at all disappointed by Barack Obama because I never expected much from him. The only real flip flop has been on FISA, and I think it's much more likely that his primary-season objection to telecom immunity was the pander/cave in (to the Democratic base) rather than his eventual vote in favor of FISA. All his other positions suggest a comfort and support for the military-industrial-surveillance complex. Why should we expect him to be progressive on this issue?

But though there have been few flip flops, there's plenty to dislike about Obama: his utterly inadequate (non-)universal health care plan; his sabre rattling toward Iran; his support for escalating the war on Afghanistan; his endorsement of the so-called War on Terror; his support for the Scalia-wing of the Supreme Court's dissent on capital punishment for rapists; his utterly conventional "centrist" economic and foreign policy advisers, and so forth.

The best argument for Obama remains what it's always been: he's a clearly lesser evil than McCain (and was, IMO, also a slightly lesser evil than Hillary Clinton).

(Incidentally, if you haven't read Adolph Reed's recent anti-Obama rant, you should. I agree with much of it, though I don't share his total rejection of lesser evilism, at least in the short run.)

Jes,

Yes, I agree - "first-past-the-post", or as we here in The States usually call it "winner-take-all" (which has nice ruthless Social Darwinian* sound to it) imposes a large structural barrier which maintains the 2 party system and is unlikely to ever be dismantled due to the Iron Law of Institutions.

On the other hand, from a purely selfish US centric point of view, it is kind of hard to argue with the results. We got an Empire out of it (courtesy of a political consensus locked in place by the 2 party system), and look what happened to yours!

:-)

*Does anyone else interested in US politics appreciate the irony that the political party which supports Creationism (vs. teaching Evolution) is the one advocating the more nakedly Social Darwinist policies?

But his record on matters of open governance, both in Illinois and Washington, led me to believe that he wouldn't be Capitulationman too, selling out basic liberties and safeguards when the Washington concensus whined enough that it was sooooo important.

Well, so much for that hope.

I think that's rather premature, but I could certainly be wrong, and be being over-optimistic and naive, without doubt.

"In one fell swoop we get continued authorization for really blatantly unconstitutional activity and the denial of any future efforts at investigation, let alone accountability, and the condoning of legislation made in secret and thoroughly withheld from public scrutiny. Oh, and the explicit violation of a clearly worded promise, without anything like an effort at explaining or justifying it."

What I don't quite follow is why all this gets dumped on Obama, rather than across the entire set of Democratic Senators who voted for it. His one vote wouldn't have made any difference beyond symbolically -- which importance I don't discount, but still, it only goes so far.

Don't get me wrong, I'm in as much disagreement with it as you are, and am gravely disappointed in Obama for his vote, but I'm not clear why I should see it as the one defining moment of who he is and how he would/will govern as President. It's just a single vote, important as it is.

And I think who is President will have tremendously more affect on who gets spied on and how than whether Obama could have somehow made another FISA bill possible, singlehandedly, last month, which it doesn't seem as if he possibly could have.

"If I had to pick a single worst Obama advisor, it might well be Cass Sunstein, for reasons Glenn Greenwald explains, in an update at the end of that post."

I keep reading Glenn's links and finding them not particularly well described by his descriptions. I've read this interview with Sunstein several times before, and I just reread it all again, and I'm sorry, but while there are soundbites that can be made to sound alarming, in totality, I just don't find it alarming. Maybe I'm overly deaf and complacent, of course.

"It's the journalism where his qualities work to best effect."

It's my perhaps entirely incorrect impression that Glenn Greenwald has been getting considerably more over-wrought in recent months, and more and more and more prone to overstating, and more and more prone to seeing anyone who questions anything he says as One Of The Enemy.

ThatLeftTurnInABQ:

I'm curious, do you (or anyone else) happen to know if most of the world's multi-party, PR democracies evolved from a period of first-past-the-post? I really don't know, but I'd be interested in learning.

It's certainly true that FPTP has a long and storied tradition in Anglo countries. As Jesurgislac notes even the UK is using PR in some institutions, whereas here AFAIK it isn't used above local elections like the Cambridge, MA, City Council.

Glad to help, Nell. The truth is that I'm banging off the walls in outrage, frustration, sadness, and outright depression, but trying to channel it into something useful.

Gary, nobody else is the Democratic nominee for president, and therefore none of the other traitors to their oaths of office will have such potentially vast power on such things come November.

I have elsewhere mentioned my support for efforts to challenge such Democrats in primaries and to keep pressure on them throughout each term from groups outside the party structure.

I think one obvious reason Obama was - is - a popular candidate is that he presented himself as a candidate for change to a population that, in large numbers, wanted change. That it's become clear he is in no way a candidate for real change - suggests either that Obama never did understand exactly why his favorite campaign slogan won him so much support - or else, that now he's the presumptive Democratic nominee, he can quite cynically afford to ignore the people who were enthused by his campaign, because he knows they'll vote for him anyway, and he can get on with business as usual.

Jes, your error here is in thinking that Obama's goal is the kind of change that you're looking for.

I think that the key to understanding Obama's politics is that he's fundamentally committed to a national reconciliation at this point. It's the common thread running through everything he's done in politics; it's apparent in his '04 convention speech, it's apparent in his books, and it's been apparent throughout this campaign.

He's been willing to drive the wedge between the Bush Administration and voters where he believes that Bush has betrayed the principles of the people that voted for him. And those disjuncts aren't exactly rare. But he's been assiduous about avoiding positions that will have the tendency to polarize the country after he's been elected. He seems to genuinely want a reconciliation -- that's the rationale behind avoiding "triangulation," behind his race speech, everything.

I don't have much doubt that he would pursue investigations of the previous Administration where there have been cases of clear wrongdoing (which seems pretty likely, frankly). However, he's simply not going to push on matters that further drive the wedge between the "left" and the "right."

He's trying to deprive the right of their ammunition. He made that clear before he was excoriated for the "bitter" comment -- he thinks (rightly) that the manufactured "god, guns, and abortion" issues pushed by the right are red herrings. Hence his position on faith-based organizations, Heller, and late-term abortion (which he pushed at about the same time). His positions there aren't new and they're not what they've been caricatured as by the left or the right -- on faith-based organizations, for example, there's pretty substantial leftist constitutional-law scholarship in favor of Obama's position (Lawrence Sager is a good starting point).

I think it's clear that Obama's approach is going to make some people on the left angry from time to time, because many are aching for a just retribution against the abuses of the Bush Administration. It's an understandable goal, but that's not Obama's political game. To the extent that he's a candidate for change, his game is to try to eliminate polarization and defuse the Rove get-out-the-base 51% strategy. Frankly, I think it's the right political move. And I think it's more consistent with liberal values than the retribution mentality.

Obama's goal isn't, as Jes says, to "take and hold power." It's to engage in an inclusive politics. It's not leftist, but it is liberal. You might not agree with it, but it's not hypocritical and it's not some sort of big trick. It's just not what some people want.

"That it's become clear [to me] he is in no way a candidate for real change"

Fixed.

Adam: "He's trying to deprive the right of their ammunition." And this is a fool's game. The right invents ammunition routinely. The movement conservative machine isn't appeased by anything except total victory for their obsessions of the moment and total lack of accountability for any harm done by pursuing them. That's all. And Obama - like all the rest of the Democratic Party's members of Congress - really, really ought to know that by now. I feel about this very much as I did about Democrats who let themselves get suckered into supporting Bush/Cheney's war on Iraq, except more so, because that was a one-time thing and this is a matter of fifteen years' immediate experience plus about four decades of relevant run-up.

I am now pretty much too thrashed to write anything more coherent than a lot of invective and howling. So I'm going to go off and do something more relaxing.

I'm curious, do you (or anyone else) happen to know if most of the world's multi-party, PR democracies evolved from a period of first-past-the-post? I really don't know, but I'd be interested in learning.

That's an excellent question, why I don't know and would also love to find out.

I'd speculate that proportional representation is more characteristic of direct democracies, whereas the US and British system are showing their age as early modern democratic systems constructed during a period when the ruling elites did not trust the howling mobs of common people and set up institutions of indirect representative rule instead. Part of the point of proportional representation is to reflect the range and diversity of popular opinion, something which indirect system aren't really concerned with.

I also suspect that proportional rule systems may reflect the cultural influence of feudal system with multiple overlapping centers of authority, which may explain their popularity in Continental Europe vs. Britain and the US where that style of polity was either destroyed earlier (i.e. during the British Reformation and subsequent wars of the 17th Cen.) or never really took hold to begin with.

As a personal aside, lionizing Glenn Greenwald over Cass Sunstein -- "If I had to pick a single worst Obama advisor, it might well be Cass Sunstein, for reasons Glenn Greenwald explains, in an update at the end of that post" -- is just nonsense.

I'm sorry, but that position betrays either bias or total ignorance. Sunstein's a brilliant constitutional-law scholar whose contributions to liberal thought over the last couple of decades essentially put him in a class by himself. Greenwald is a smart legal scholar and a decent pundit, but that's about it.

Seriously, did anyone even read the links on that Greenwald post? He's citing a couple of posts by Big Tent Democrat / Armando from TalkLeft (not exactly a giant of legal thought by any stretch of the imagination) whingeing about Sunstein's positions, and criticizing Sunstein for marrying Samantha Power, who's a well-respected liberal thinker in her own right, and one of the leading voice for taking a stronger position against genocide. That's not a well-reasoned critique, that's petty whining being levied at Sunstein solely because he's friends with Barack Obama.

I'm not really putting that out there for the sake of discussion. Just as a heads-up to anyone taking that position.

Incertus: I saw the two of them on Democracy Now earlier this week, and Greenwald came off to me as, well, small and petty, like the kind of guy who is unwilling to acknowledge the merit of any point other than his own.

I usually read the transcripts of DN rather than watch, and that's how I took in the episode with Greenwald and Sunstein. In the written version, Sunstein came off as, well, condescending and dishonest. Greenwald simply directly challenged the truth of Sunstein's characterization of the FISA bill, citing reasons.

I grant that he did a better and more detailed job of that on his blog than on the show, because even in the relatively expansive environment of Democracy Now, there's not much time for marshalling evidence. Hence, always on the teevee, those who smile and blandly assert falsehoods are at an advantage compared to those who don't do either.

It's a neat trick to anticipate the opponent's lies, rebut them with a rapid-fire yet comprehensible collection of facts, and do it all while appearing genial and unruffled. Not everyone can pull it off, although most people can improve with practice.

Bruce: I feel about this very much as I did about Democrats who let themselves get suckered into supporting Bush/Cheney's war on Iraq, except more so

Bruce, I understand your criticism and I don't think it's misplaced, but it's different from the argument that Obama has somehow betrayed the left by not trying to push certain wedge issues. The strategic argument is different from the hypocrisy argument, and that's the only distinction I was trying to draw.

What Adam said.

Glad to help, Nell. The truth is that I'm banging off the walls in outrage, frustration, sadness, and outright depression, but trying to channel it into something useful.

Bruce,

There are times when I get so royally pissed off by contemporary politics that I can't think straight.

If you have that same problem, my advice is the same as what I said to Gary in the open thread - go do some deep-time subject reading.

Some of these things don't really matter that much in the larger view, and for the rest, well it really is getting better, it's just frustrating because the pace of change is slow and hard to see on the time frame of a single human lifetime. But if you step back and survey the broader historical landscape, then there is a lot to be grateful for and cause for optimism concerning our future.

Even on the time scale of our own lives, look at how much things have changed. Go read Nixonland and while in those pages try to imagine a mixed race candidate being the front runner in a POTUS general election, regardless of policy positioning. We aren't the same country any more.

Being a progressive means believing in the possibility, desirability, and likelihood of "making progress", which is to say that those who come after us will live in a better world than the one we inherited from our ancestors. I'm optimistic on that score, but also enough of a realist to restrain my impatience so that it doesn't turn sour and curdle into anger or despair.

Go read Nixonland and while in those pages try to imagine a mixed race candidate being the front runner in a POTUS general election, regardless of policy positioning.

Seconded! An incredible book, but set some time aside for it. I picked it up at the same time as Guns of August, which took less than two days, and I'm still only halfway through Nixonland. That was about three weeks ago.

Okay, I meant "what Adam said at 05:51 PM."

But I can't say that you might not be right about this, too, Bruce: "Adam: 'He's trying to deprive the right of their ammunition.' And this is a fool's game."

My own depression makes me both unsure and lacking in any confidence in my opinion anyway.

I am just sure that Obama will be infinitely better than McCain, probably better than Bill Clinton was, and I'll take it from there with what we can do about pressuring him and the Democratic Party on more once he's in office, if we can only make it that far. I've only got strength enough to focus on one battle at a time, myself. I'll all for putting pressure on Obama to Do The Right Thing, otherwise, and in general, and probably most specifics.

Adam: I think it's clear that Obama's approach is going to make some people on the left angry from time to time, because many are aching for a just retribution against the abuses of the Bush Administration. It's an understandable goal, but that's not Obama's political game.

Indeed, that's clear. The problem is, if you're right and Obama's political game is about allowing the crimes committed by the Bush regime to go uninvestigated and unpunished, then the US will continue downward with each new Republican President: the criminals may be out of power under Obama, but this will be a temporary setback only.

To the extent that he's a candidate for change, his game is to try to eliminate polarization and defuse the Rove get-out-the-base 51% strategy.

If your deduction is correct, then he's a fool who's learned nothing from the past eight years. But I think more likely than Obama's a fool, that his "change" is purely metaphysical, moral, handwaving, rhetorical - whatever you like. Just not any actual change.

@Adam: It's just dishonest to associate Greenwald with Armando's comments about his marriage to Samantha Power, when he's specifically citing Armando's documentation of Sunstein's own public statements that contradict his self-description as a critic of expansive executive power.

Bruce B. is correct; for the last eight years, Sunstein has been much more of an enabler of the worst of the Bush regime abuses and defender of the "liberal" elite media consensus against the rabble.

This isn't a contest of who is the most distinguished scholar, but a public discussion in which it's important to be clear and honest about who holds what policy positions, and how that matches up with what the country has needed and needs going into a new administration.

Sunstein's position on accountability for the crimes of the past eight years is unacceptable. Greenwald has been more honest and factual in this discussion, as well as having the correct position on the substance. No one's "lionizing him over Sunstein" on the basis of their whole careers, who they're married to, or anything else that's irrelevant to this discussion.

People who expect a pass on the basis of their brilliant career for dishonesty and careerist trimming in the present moment are expecting too much.

If your deduction is correct, then he's a fool who's learned nothing from the past eight years.

Actually, correct that: a fool who's learned nothing from the past 40 years.

It's just dishonest to associate Greenwald with Armando's comments about his marriage to Samantha Power, when he's specifically citing Armando's documentation of Sunstein's own public statements that contradict his self-description as a critic of expansive executive power.

Glenn is the one who made that comment in his post, right after he cites Armando:

On a side (though not entirely unrelated) note, the aforementioned Obama friend, Cass Sunstein -- protector of Bush lawbreakers, advocate of illegal Bush spying and radical presidential powers, and fierce critic of blogs as "anti-democratic" -- earlier this month married beloved Obama foreign policy adviser Samantha Power. It's amazing how these sorts of circles always end up being so cozily closed."
I think that's pretty low.

No one's "lionizing him over Sunstein" on the basis of their whole careers, who they're married to, or anything else that's irrelevant to this discussion.

Again, the only "reasons" in that post are links to Big Tent Democrat / Armando, who frankly couldn't argue his way out of a wet paper bag. The criticisms are flatly bad, and I agree -- Glenn's better than that.

But even granting that Greenwald is correct w/r/t to FISA (and I'm open to that argument), calling Cass Sunstein Obama's "worst" advisor on the basis of the "reasons" in that post (which was the initial argument made above) is, again, nonsense.

Adam, see here, here and below, yesterday evening.

"I'm sorry, but that position betrays either bias or total ignorance."

That's unfair; there are plenty of other, admirable and thoughtful, reasons to take a different view and have a different perspective, even if one doesn't share that perspective. And Bruce is nothing if not knowledgeable and thoughtful. Ditto Nell. Whenever they disagree with me it makes me think that much harder about how wrong I might be.

Even if I eventually still think I'm right. :-)

House impotence hearing or whatever it was
Please elaborate -- are you making fun of it because of the silliness of thinking about holding Bush accountable, are you making fun of it because it will not hold Bush accountable when that's what you truly, madly, deeply want, are you making fun of it because it's not part of Obama all the time narrative, are you making fun of it because you figure your readers agree with you and why not, or what?

Will dutifully check back at least once a month to see if there's an answer.

I do think that there's a worthwhile audience for pre-Goldwater conservatism, something more Eisenhower-ish in flavor, but that there's currently no effort to reach them and they aren't especially recruitable for Democratic candidates.

Isn't that the DLC? The Ike wing of the Republicans wasn't isolationist, wasn't racist, it tried to hit the Main St/Wall St balance, it believed in good government, that reforms are useful and necessary and that government can do good. It would never have occurred to those people to think that "I'm from the government and I'm here to help" is a punch line of a joke. It was not cynical about government nor manipulative.

Progressives may rightly scream that the DLC has too much power in the Democratic Party, and that the Democrats haven't been pushing reform. But DLC folks are better as friends than enemies to the progressives.

Gary, thank you for the links. I tried to confine my criticism to that particular post and Glenn's complaints about Sunstein marrying Power. I really think that's an unacceptable argument.

Ultimately, I obviously agree with Sunstein, but as I said I'm not really interested in the discussion that would be required to investigate how, e.g., Armando is completely wrong in his characterization of Youngstown and Quirin and how those cases delimit Executive Power, nor why it's problematic for Glenn to be citing Orin Kerr in support of his FISA position. Maybe some other day.

I'm simply pointing out that (a) that linked post doesn't have "reasons" in it; and (b) the claim that Cass Sunstein is Obama's "worst" advisor -- particularly on the basis of the "reasons" in that post -- is empty polemic, and both Greenwald and Sunstein deserve more respect than that.

That said, apologies to Nell and Bruce for any invective on my part. They are indeed both very thoughtful people and I meant no disrespect.


The problem is, if you're right and Obama's political game is about allowing the crimes committed by the Bush regime to go uninvestigated and unpunished, then the US will continue downward with each new Republican President: the criminals may be out of power under Obama, but this will be a temporary setback only.

..
Actually, correct that: a fool who's learned nothing from the past 40 years.

Jes,

So who exactly was prosecuted for the crimes committed by the British during the Boer War, notably including the invention of the concentration camp? I can't recall that anybody was held to account. Was nothing learned? Does that mean that the next 4 decades of British politics was a total waste, a retrograde disaster? If so, then how did that Labor govt. manage to get elected in 1945?

In other words, the question of whether prosecutions will occur seems to me to be only one of a host of issues and I personally don't subscribe to a monolithic view of whether things are good, bad or otherwise, both with regard to the Obama campaign specifically, the US politics of the Iraq War the GWOT more generally, and pretty much everything else.

YMMV, as always.

"are you making fun of it because it will not hold Bush accountable when that's what you truly, madly, deeply want,"

I'm reasonably sure, from reading Publius' posts for some time now, that that's what he means.

I could be wrong.

I didn't read all the way down the thread, but just responding to the early posts with a bit of personal experience:

I've been making phone calls for several weeks from the Obama HQ in Columbus, Ohio, the swing city of the swing state. These are pretty much calls to see who people are currently leaning toward and what issues they think are important. Obviously there aren't a whole lot of people who really talk to telephone pollsters, but as a charming kid fluent in policy issues and the campaign, I get more than most.

Anyways, from that sample (and admittedly the plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data') there are a LOT of undecided centrist voters out there. Remember that emotion and image (plus meta-image of the party) makes a huge difference in most people's voting decisions. Even if you get a high percentage to agree to a fairly left-wing position on an issue, they may dislike their image of a candidate who has those positions on all or most issues. In individual polled policies our country may be farther to the left, but I think emotionally we are a very right-wing country in many respects.

Let's also remember that because some of the issues mentioned - ie investigations and trials of Bush Administration members or impeachment - aren't talked about much, people aren't hearing anyone bother to really discuss it. So they haven't heard and seen how polarizing it would be, what it would look like, what the problems would be etc. The politicians may just know that, outside the liberal blogosphere, once it started in all its grimy details, such a process would be much less popular.

Great stuff. Bruce and Adam seem to represent the two poles that I keep going between. To Adam, I'd just suggest that the price of progressivism is eternal vigilance, to swipe a phrase. The center of gravity, if you will, of American politics has always been (post WWII) corporatist in form. To Bruce, I'd suggest that the American polity has only been a powerful force for good when it has been moved by aspirational goals, and has done less well when the president has not had that as the foundation. While I share a lot of thoughts that you have expressed about Obama, I see (or hope) that his actions are to establish the aspirational foundation. I tend to think that many of the things that have to be done are going to require some actual pain on the part of Americans, and without that aspirational foundation, it just won't be possible.

Jes states: "Aside from the minor fact that none of the telecoms companies engaged in criminal actions over the past 8 years can be prosecuted, and will have a President who doesn't believe they should be prosecuted - no matter who won the election." The FISA legislation prevented telecoms from being sued over their breaches, it had nothing to do with criminal prosecution. Secondly, the actual import of the immunity was to preclude descovery in these civil suits, as the telecoms likely had indemnification against damages in their contractual agreements with the government already. So the question is whether you believe that information about Bush Administration violations of privacy will be exposed after Bush is no longer in office. I do believe that Obama as president will cooperate with Congressional investigations and subsequent legislation on this issue.

LJ gets it. To be clear, it's not that I'm not a bit uneasy with a few of Obama's positions, either, particularly on FISA. But I'd like to think that I have some understanding of where he's coming from, and I do believe that he's a fundamentally good person -- like, say, Al Gore -- and I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I'll have lots of time to worry about Obama being "just another politician" once I know John McCain's not going to be President.

Were he not who he is and were this a different election, I'm not sure I'd be on board with the strategy. Were we running Gore, Kerry, or even Clinton, I would probably think differently. Were this the 2004 election, were we not following up on eight years of a poisonous national politics, maybe I wouldn't feel the same need for reconciliation.

Look, of course we should all be on the lookout for political hedging: inclusive, liberal governance demands that vigilance and participation no matter what. But I'm tired of turning on every Presidential candidate we put forward based on backhanded accusations that "all politicians are the same" -- to a lesser extent Kerry, but most certainly Al Gore.

I'm also tired of the endless litmus tests -- there's always some issue on which the candidate is accused of being insufficiently aligned with orthodoxy, and that becomes the psychological hedge for holding back, over and over again. But after the face, on every issue where the candidate didn't try to reach across the aisle, they'll be accused of being out-of-touch with some key constituency. And if it wasn't FISA, it'd be something else.

Again, that's not to say that there aren't always perfectly good reasons to doubt. But we're not there yet. Damnit, Obama is a talented guy, and we're not going to get another chance to shoot the moon like this any time soon. If he can pull it off, we could put a stake through the ghosts of Goldwater and Nixon, and we'll have done something world-changing. That's a legitimate goal and calling it facially hypocritical just doesn't feel right.

Personally, I think "change" isn't about retaking power and punishing and perpetuating the retributive cycle -- it's about changing the landscape and the rules of the game. You can disagree on particular issues, you can question whether the rules can be changed or if the game is irrevocably rigged, but the stance itself is not hypocritical. It's a legitimate question of strategic approach, and I strongly disagree with the constant accusations of bad faith being made on that basis.

@Adam: I'm not invective-free myself, and I apologize for the 'dishonest' charge wrt GG mentioning Sunstein's marriage. I had the window with Greenwald's post open on my desktop from yesterday when I first read it. At that time it ended with the story about NPR coverage of Chris Carney's reaction to the Strange Bedfellows ad running in his district. Given GG's predilection for updates, I should have refreshed the window before responding. (I wish, by the way, that bloggers who make a regular thing of updates would adopt a convention of attaching a date and time to them.)

But, that said, I cannot find the quote you cite (the one that ends with "cozily closed"), shortly after the citation of Armando or anywhere else. Are we talking about the same post? On the page I'm looking at, GG's sole reference to Sunstein's marriage to Power comes at the end, in the update, and says something much milder and more defensible, clearly in reaction to commenters who argued that Sunstein was not speaking for Obama or is not that close to him or the campaign:

Sunstein -- both due to his relationship to Obama and, independently, to his new marriage -- is one of the most inside of Obama insiders.

Also, I simply cannot agree with this from you, unless we're referring to different Greenwald and/or Armando posts:

that linked post doesn't have "reasons" in it.

Armando's post 'What Egregious Crimes?', linked by GG, does indeed give reasons for asserting that Sunstein, contrary to his self-description now, has supported some of Bush's worst abuses, military tribunals and the warrantless communications intercepts. GG and Armando both cite Sunstein's own words, in a 2002 American Prospect article and on the Hugh Hewitt radio show in 2005.

I really don't see that either of those citations are affected by your or anyone else's interpretations of Quirin etc.; they were arguments by Sunstein in support of the Bush administration's actions and its justifications for them, support he now appears to want to wish away.

Adam: Were this the 2004 election, were we not following up on eight years of a poisonous national politics, maybe I wouldn't feel the same need for reconciliation.

Why do you feel the need to "reconcile" with the people who made the past eight years poisonous, and who will - on past performance - make the next eight years poisonous, too?

What, exactly, is "reconcilement", offered by Democrats, supposed to accomplish?

Personally, I think "change" isn't about retaking power and punishing and perpetuating the retributive cycle -- it's about changing the landscape and the rules of the game.

What "retributive cycle" are you talking about? The pattern over the past 40 years has not been one of retribution, unless you mean retribution by Republicans against Democrats for winning elections: it has been one of Republican Presidents and their executive committing crimes in office, being forgiven their crimes once out of office (or in the case of George H.W.Bush, forgiving himself), and getting back into power to commit worse crimes.

To change the landscape and the rules of the game, the next President must change that pattern. If Obama intends, as his adviser has said, to follow the usual Democratic pattern of refraining from investigation or prosecution of past Republican crimes, that's just following the pattern: if Obama gets in, that just means the criminals who worked for the Bush administration got away with it - and can spend the Obama administration carping, obstructing, and slandering Obama, probably impeaching him for Presidenting While Black sometime in 2011.

It's a legitimate question of strategic approach, and I strongly disagree with the constant accusations of bad faith being made on that basis.

Well, it's either bad faith or it's ignorance of anything that's happened in US political circles prior to 2000.

"(I wish, by the way, that bloggers who make a regular thing of updates would adopt a convention of attaching a date and time to them.)"

Damngraffaluting. It can be crucial information to understanding what a blogger did or didn't or should or shouldn't have known when they posted.

"....has supported some of Bush's worst abuses, military tribunals and the warrantless communications intercepts."

No, it doesn't. Not without a hugely misleadingly overbroad definiton of "supported."

"GG and Armando both cite Sunstein's own words"

Yes, and those words most definitely do not support the claim that Sunstein "supported" those things. Said some things that weren't attacks on them, yes. "Supported," not so much. There's about ten miles of excluded middle in there, which Sunstein's words actually fall into, on issues that are fairly complex, and to reduce this to bumper-sticker summaries is simply unimpressive and to me unconvincing in the extreme. As I said yesterday.

"I really don't see that either of those citations are affected by your or anyone else's interpretations of Quirin etc"

But that's the only substance that Armando offered; if one isn't "affected" by the core argument, what is one affected by? Simple assertion? The whole post rests on Quirin.

And I don't see disagreeing about Quirin as in any way indicating any kind of larger stance on Presidential power; I just don't. Have you read Quirin? It's pretty damn narrow.

ThatLeftTurnInABQ: So who exactly was prosecuted for the crimes committed by the British during the Boer War, notably including the invention of the concentration camp? I can't recall that anybody was held to account.

Quite.

Was nothing learned? Does that mean that the next 4 decades of British politics was a total waste, a retrograde disaster?

Yes.

I have to admit I've tried to type this paragraph several times over now, because, dude, over the next 4 decades, Britain fought two world wars and lost an Empire, and those are only the top three on the "retrograde disaster" list, and it's kind of hard for me to understand someone who looks at the years 1902-1942 and doesn't seem to notice that.

Americans, eh.

"Why do you feel the need to "reconcile" with the people who made the past eight years poisonous, and who will - on past performance - make the next eight years poisonous, too?"

Because that's not what he's talking about. He's talking about the large numbers of low-information, low-politically-interested, traditional voting supporters of Republicans; he's not talking about the crazed freaks who make up the hysterical rightwing blogosphere, and the leadership of the Republican party, and their ilk. Imagining that all Republican voters are of the latter ilk is simply ignorant, as well as dangerously foolish.

Voters for one party are not homogenous with the worst crazies and most evil leaders of that party. They just aren't.

"If Obama intends, as his adviser has said, to follow the usual Democratic pattern of refraining from investigation or prosecution of past Republican crimes"

And yet that's not at all anything Obama has either said or indicated he'd do; you're just making that up -- okay, in traditional Jes fashion, exaggerating in your imagination like crazy, and then confusing your imaginary version with reality, and writing as if your version is Just Truth Everyone Has To See, or they're acting in bad faith.

retaking power and punishing and perpetuating the retributive cycle

What "retributive cycle" exactly?

Like all the "punishing" visited on the Iran-Contra criminals by the Clinton Administration? What exactly are you referring to here?

Are you suggesting that investigations and impeachment into the Bush regime's crimes would be motivated by payback for the right wing's effort to impeach Clinton? Or that to seek accountability would be seen as payback? (by who, except Republicans?)

Because if it's wrong to seek accountability through the constitutionally provided process for a long list of serious crimes involving harm to hundreds of thousands of people, while the same process is just fine for lies about sex with a series of women, then let's just ditch the possibility of impeachment forever.

If it's not going to be used in the face of torture, wars of aggression based on lies, politicization of the justice system, and illegal government spying on U.S. persons unconnected in any way with terrorism or crime, then what crimes could possibly be great enough to justify it?

By the way, publius, your reference to the "impotence hearing" raised the same question in my mind that Thomas Nephew asked. So if you could clarify, it would be welcomed.

Nell, we were referring to different posts. :) In this thread, I think the discussion of Greenwald and Sunstein was introduced by Bruce in this comment, which links to this Greenwald article which I was quoting at the end. The links you and Gary provide are not as horrible.

FWIW, I was also referring to Armando's discussion of Quirin in the post linked from the comment I was discussing, which is juvenile. His issue with Quirin in the post you link is basically correct (and Sunstein is wrong), but it's also painfully self-evident post-Hamdan. I disagree with Sunstein, but he was talking in 2002, pre-Hamdan, and not with the benefit of hindsight, which I think makes a big difference. YMMV.

The quote from Sunstein via Hewitt doesn't strike me as particularly egregious, and it doesn't make much of a legal argument. He basically just says we shouldn't get into a tit-for-tat cycle, and I think that's a fair point.

What "retributive cycle" exactly?

The Nixon-Goldwater-Buchanan ploy of dividing up the country and playing to the "little guy" on race, of painting effete liberals as out-of-touch, of running on morals, god, guns, and abortion, by taking real economic issues off the table. LeftTurn's mention of Nixonland is right on the money here.

Like all the "punishing" visited on the Iran-Contra criminals by the Clinton Administration? What exactly are you referring to here?

Isn't that kind of the point? Bush I pardoned Iran-Contra criminals and the evidence languished for four years. The strategy of electing a Republican to follow a criminal Administration is exactly what they're trying to do right now.

Are you suggesting that investigations and impeachment into the Bush regime's crimes would be motivated by payback for the right wing's effort to impeach Clinton? Or that to seek accountability would be seen as payback? (by who, except Republicans?)

Well, first of all, I'm not connecting it to Clinton at all. I'm talking about a reconciliation over the last eight years in particular and moving beyond the Bush Administration as a country rather than trying to impose a new, possibly reactionary agenda as a response to the conservative overstretch. I don't like the sense that this is some sort of just reward or an opportunity to punish when Democrats "take power," which was a specific phrase used earlier.

So yes, I think overaggressiveness would be portrayed as payback, even if not about Clinton. And I think that the evidence that an Obama Administration would mean a free pass for Bush strikes me as questionable -- it's not even facially true with regards to criminal FISA violations, and not at all with regards to a whole litany of other issues.

Heck, even if Obama wins, four years probably isn't enough time to get through everything, and FISA isn't even the worst of it, as you point out. Torture, the Iraq war, and the DoJ stuff all strike me as much higher priorities. A national discussion of Katrina is also high on my list (though that's not necessarily a criminal issue, at least as far as I know). The EPA shenanigans also rate up there.

Put simply, I don't see accountability and reconciliation as mutually exclusive -- I just don't think that there has to be some sort of great reckoning in order to create a realignment, and I see realignment as the priority right now. Again, the accusations of hypocrisy (which you're not making as strongly as others, I admit) are what make me uneasy. To the extent that this is a strategic issue it's a legitimate point of contention.

I'm not saying that there should be a get-out-of-jail-free card for the Bush Administration, but if anyone is really arguing that an Obama Administration would even do that, I find it hard to take that seriously. Even putting aside the relative Obama vs. McCain issue, to read that into anything Obama's done thus far just doesn't seem credible to me.

Thanks, Adam. Different posts is a much more reassuring explanation than "Oh, no, I must be going blind" or "Now he's just making stuff up".

And thus is the frequent Gary Farber request for explicit quoting and links vindicated! If you hadn't quoted the GG passage that offended, we might have argued back and forth for quite awhile. And now that I'm on the second G&T, invective is more accessible... ;>

As for 'tit for tat cycle', see my 9:24pm post.

@Gary: Okay, on reflection I'll grant that 'supported' is going too far. But 'opposed' would be as well. Adam's very point, that Sunstein was taking this (incorrect) line before Hamdan, supports the reservations GG and I and many others have about Obama's and Sunstein's positions: Presumably, if he'd been on the Court at the time, he'd have ruled for the administration.

Adam, it seemed clear in the context of your original comment that "retributive cycle" was a reference to both parties engaging in "retribution", when my objection was based exactly on the things you cite in your response -- that only one party practices this "retribution".

Obviously I misunderstood you, and what you mean by "retributive cycle" was 'electing Republicans'. We're united in being against that, anyway. I'll leave it here for tonight.

Adam's very point, that Sunstein was taking this (incorrect) line before Hamdan, supports the reservations GG and I and many others have about Obama's and Sunstein's positions: Presumably, if he'd been on the Court at the time, he'd have ruled for the administration.

But Nell, if the Court had ruled at the time (2002), they probably would have ruled for the Administration. The progression from Hamdi (2004) to Hamdan (2006) to Boumediene (2008) is pretty clear.

As to Quirin, the Court didn't disagree with Sunstein when they looked to Quirin as precedent in Hamdan. That was just the jurisdictional issue. As long as we're talking hypotheticals, it's possible that had Sunstein considered the application of the Geneva Conventions -- the basis for the ruling in Hamdan -- he might well have ruled the same way. His discussion of Quirin is completely distinct and not exclusive.

only one party practices this "retribution".

Well, it wouldn't be as speculative a question if Democrats ever, you know, won elections. Hrmph.

Was nothing learned? Does that mean that the next 4 decades of British politics was a total waste, a retrograde disaster?

Yes.

I have to admit I've tried to type this paragraph several times over now, because, dude, over the next 4 decades, Britain fought two world wars and lost an Empire, and those are only the top three on the "retrograde disaster" list, and it's kind of hard for me to understand someone who looks at the years 1902-1942 and doesn't seem to notice that.

Americans, eh.

eh, indeed (he says with a smile).

But you've just made precisely the point I was getting at - empires in decline tend to find themselves more than a little bit busy, at which point dealing out justice to malefactors on one's own side is looked at as a luxury we cannot afford.

Now I certainly hope that we don't have to deal with two more world wars and all that other other unpleasantness, but you have to admit that the next US President is going to come into office with a very full agenda - the worst economic decline since the Great Depression, pulling US forces out of Iraq without triggering a politically fatal dolchstosslegende (the next Congressional elections will come in only 2 years, giving Obama and the Dems little time in which to clean up after Bush before being held accountable by the voters), coping with the need to find a way to finance things like health care (which you seldom tire of reminding us we are doing a lousy job of now) while dealing with declining tax revenues due to the recession and a likely explosion in the cost of servicing our existing debt as interest rates rise, the possibility that the US dollar may effectively lose it's reserve currency status rendering it difficult for us to run a large budget defit without triggering hyperinflation, etc.

In an ideal world, it would be nice to have a full accounting made of what was done under Bush, and have justice be served, but I can see how that might be kind of hard to get to what with all the other things which also need to be handled, and which will be a priority for 80-90% of the American electorate rather than just the 50% or so (based on his current very unfavorable ratings) who want something done about Bush.

Which is why I brought up the Boer War as an example - I see a lot of parallels between it and our present engagement in Iraq, both in terms of how divisive each conflict was, how ambiguous the "victory" turned out to be, and where each conflct falls in the trajectory of imperial rise and decline for the two countries.

I can understand why Britain wasn't able to conduct trials after 1902, and for similar reasons I suspect you won't see much on this side of the pond in 2009 either. Sorry about that. On the other hand, if Obama turns out to be the American equivalent of David Lloyd George, well, we could do worse you know.

Also, from my reading of 20th Cen. British political history, I wouldn't call the half century from 1902 to 1945 a retrograde disaster, at least not in terms of the political evolution of the British electorate. That Labor govt. in 1945 (and note that here we're not even counting Ramsey MacDonald) didn't just spring from the body politic like Athena from Zeus for no reason. Something happened to make it possible, in the midst of all of that other history.

So my larger point is that placed in a comparative context your extreme disappointment that the theme of an Obama administration does not look to be "There will be a reckoning" seems a bit over the top.

But then I'm just an easily excitable American - we don't do nuance on this side of the pond.
:->


"If it's not going to be used in the face of torture, wars of aggression based on lies, politicization of the justice system, and illegal government spying on U.S. persons unconnected in any way with terrorism or crime, then what crimes could possibly be great enough to justify it?"

I'd like to be clear for the record, much as my participation has been glancing, that I'm all for impeachment, now or after-the-fact, but most of all for any and all investigations into any and all criminal acts. For the record.

But I don't see any reason to believe an Obama administration is going to squelch investigations, or issue pardons, or give criminal acts a pass.

Naturally, none of us knows for sure, yet, of course. But I don't see any good reasons to jump to that kind of conclusion, and I'm skeptical going in that we'd come to that.

I might easily be over-optimistic, to be sure.

or to put it in much simpler terms:

When I contemplate the aftermath of the Bush administration, I think if Obama is elected he will find himself in the position of an emergency response team called to the scene of a man-made disaster, who have to choose between pursuing the malefactors and negligants responsible, or focusing on clearing the rubble and assisting the survivors. It isn't an easy choice and it would be nice if we could do both, but if a hard choice has to be made I vote for the latter, not the former.

"Presumably, if he'd been on the Court at the time, he'd have ruled for the administration."

From what I know of how Justices approach SCOTUS cases, that seems quite a presumption to me.

Never mind a 'reckoning'. Will Obama at least do some spring cleaning?

Just for instance, it appears that Dubya's flunkies hired a fair number of loyal Bushies into civil-service positions within the DOJ. Some of those moles will not eagerly throw themselves out into the private sector they profess to worship; they will still be in place after the election. Would taking steps to render them impotent (assuming you can't outright fire them) amount to 'retribution'?

-- TP

It seems worth pointing out that this still doesn't get us anywhere near the norm of almost all European countries or most countries around the world, where the actual Left -- various communist parties, and other less-mixed economy socialistic parties -- parties are represented in their Parliaments.

I agree and disagree.

Agree, because Europe has a different political baseline, some social-democratic concepts are pretty much consensus and there are genuine leftists represented in the parliament.

Disagree, because if you take a look at what policies, say, "New Labour" in the UK and the SPD/Green Party in Germany have actually realized, it becomes very clear that they haven't veered far off the global neo-liberal, "centrist" trend, which the US Democrats embody. Both in the UK and Germany the welfare state has been continually attacked and "deregulation" and privatization are the prevalent trends. Blair has backed the Iraq war and Schröder, while publicly opposed to it, hasn't done anything of consequence to oppose it. And while there are some true leftists represented in parliaments and they are not regarded as the bete noire they would be in the US, their actual political power is close to zero.

From what I know of how Justices approach SCOTUS cases, that seems quite a presumption to me.

From what I know of how Justices approach SCOTUS cases, I wish I believed it less...

But regardless -- again, the premise is problematic. Even the liberal justices didn't particularly care about Quirin when they considered it in Hamdan. They ruled largely based on Geneva Conventions obligations, and since Sunstein wasn't even considering that rationale, it's difficult to say how he would have come down. My intuition is that he would have agreed.

"And while there are some true leftists represented in parliaments and they are not regarded as the bete noire they would be in the US, their actual political power is close to zero."

Yes, I wasn't making comparisons to who was in power; I was making comparisons merely to who is considered sufficiently within the acceptable discourse as to make it into the legislature and get enough votes to do so.

It's true that this is due to multiparty Parliamentary systems versus a two-party system, but the difference is still there, and the huge gap between what American Republicans and conservatives call "the extreme left," and what the rest of the world calls "the extreme left" is still there.

But that's all.

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