Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Government You Deserve

You know, it’s funny.

Funny ironic, not funny ha ha.

When I write something that calls for reason, for compromise, for listening to both sides of the debate  (whatever the debate might happen to be at that particular moment), I get more vitriolic mail, push back, and negative comments, than when I pen something far to either side of the political spectrum. 

Now, to be fair, I get hate mail no matter what I write, even if it’s about coffee shops, or auto maintenance, or kittens  who fart bacon scented sunshine and rainbows – and there’ll always be at least one guy who agrees with what I wrote but hates how I wrote it and writes to tell me what a pompous ass I am. 

And to be completely fair, I do get a marked increase in supportive correspondence from folks close to America’s political center as well.  But  when I write something people perceive as an attack on one side or the other, such as the America post, it gets shared all over the social media sphere. America and its two follow-up posts were shared over a hundred thousand times on Facebook alone, and continue to generate a  minimum of a thousand pageviews a day from sites like StumbleUpon. While it’s true that I had to close the comments under America because airlocking the trolls became a fulltime job, I got a lot more email that said, “HA! I can’t wait to show this to my jerk of a [coworker, friend, relative, spouse, gerbil, etc].” 

But write something about compromise, and people are almost embarrassed to share it.  I got a number of requests to share and repost the previous article, So, You Hate The Debt Deal, but not nearly as much as for the more partisan posts.  Now, I admit to the possibility that fewer people shared the post simply because they didn’t like it, didn’t agree with it, thought the writing sucked big hairy donkey gonads, and didn’t think it was worth inflicting on their friends or enemies – though if history is any guide, a lot of people pass along things they dislike just to irritate the people they also dislike. 

What puzzles me, and prompted part of this post, was the number of folks who emailed to say, in essence, “I agree with the spirit of your article, but there’s no fekkin’ way I can share this with my friends or my enemies because they’ll think I sold out…”

And that seems to be the general opinion in the larger political conversation too. Conservatives think John Boehner sold out.  The TEA Party thinks most of their representatives sold out.  Liberals think Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi sold out. And everybody thinks President Obama sold out.

As I was sitting here reading through my email and trying to decide if I wanted to write a post on this subject or just hit “Select All/Delete” and then pour myself another slug of Jameson’s, I came across a note from reader Norman Rea.

Norm asked me what I thought about an opinion piece that appeared today on CNN.  It’s column written by Colonel Paul Yingling, US Army.  The Colonel is no stranger to those of us who served and continue to write and read about the military. Yingling is no armchair officer,  he served five combat tours (three in the Gulf War, and two during the current conflict), and somewhere between deployments he earned a Master’s in International Studies, taught at West Point, and managed to graduate from the Command and General Staff College and School of Advanced Military Studies. 

And then, in 2007, as a Lieutenant Colonel, he took on the General Corps.

And if you don’t think that takes some big huge Oysters, you don’t know a damned thing about the military.  Yingling penned an article called “A failure in Generalship” which appeared in the Armed Forces Journal and where he made a strong case that the US Flag Officer Corps needs a serious reboot – which is where I first heard of him and started avidly reading the good Colonel’s stuff.  Here’s a quote,

the intellectual and moral failures common to America’s general officer corps in Vietnam and Iraq constitutes a crisis in American generalship

Intellectual and moral failures. 

Jesus Haploid Christ.

If you think that went over well with the Four Stars, you’ve probably imbibed more Irish than I have tonight.  Yingling is about as popular with the general officer corps as wet bird shit on dress blues, most especially because he committed the unforgivable sin of being right.

And yet –  and yet – he was still prompted to full bird colonel after saying that and much worse, which is as much a statement on the the correctness of his words as his action was a testament to his moral courage.

Today, he is assigned to the George C. Marshall Center in Germany where he is a professor of Security Studies and the deputy director of the Program on Terrorism and Security Studies.  Listen, seriously, you don’t get that job unless you really, really know history, global politics, religion,  law, demographics, current events, domestic and international military matters from bottom to top and sideway in all directions – along with about half a dozen other disciplines.

So, as I said, this guy isn’t any slouch, when he speaks, you should listen – I didn’t say you had to agree, I said you should listen. Carefully. Those generals, as pissed as they were, did. And still do.

In the article that appears today on CNN, Yingling takes on yet another General – and comments directly on the topic of compromise.

This time it’s Lieutenant General Russel Honoré (ret), commonly called “the Ragin’ Cajin” by his Soldiers and known to America as the Hero of New Orleans.

Honoré isn’t any slouch either, and he’s damned far from being an armchair general.  He’s loud, mean, impatient, outspoken, eats puppies whole and whimpering, and is the kind of guy who kicks ass and doesn’t give a crap what your name is.  Like Yingling, he’s a professor, at Emory and Vanderbilt Universities. You met him in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when he took over military relief efforts following the disgraceful performance of just about every other local, state, and federal authority. 

There aren’t many folks in Louisiana who wouldn’t cheerfully buy the General a beer.

On August 2, Honoré penned an opinion piece for CNN titled “For lesson in shared sacrifice, send Congress to boot camp.” 

The piece begins with,

Like most veterans, the men and women who have worn our nation's uniform to defend this country, I am furious with and disappointed in the state of indecision that plagued Washington these past few weeks…”

Then the general goes on to talk about shared sacrifice, shared vision, and shared purpose.  He opines that everything America military men and women fought and died for these last two centuries is at risk because our national leaders do not share a sense of common purpose.  Specifically Honoré says,

“They have failed to live up to their oath of office, to protect and defend the Constitution and the United States of America. Instead they strike partisan poses they hope will be remembered during their next campaigns. This isn’t leadership, it’s play acting. And we should all be disgusted.”

Boy, those thoughts sound damned familiar to me, except that I used the word “treason.”

On this point, General Honoré and I are in complete agreement.

But then he goes on to say:

It’s time to get draconian. […] I mean it's time to load our elected officials on troop planes and send them to Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Put them in tents with no air conditioning, have Army drill sergeants teach them teamwork and physical sacrifice. When they recognize their responsibility to the people of America, they can return to D.C., their upscale restaurants, and military plane trips, as though they were royalty.”

You know, I can’t say that I don’t completely understand where the General is coming from with that statement. 

And I can’t say that I don’t feel the exact same rage and disappointment and disgust, because I do.

As a career military man, myself, I can certainly understand the impetus.  Our military, no military, is a democracy.  We move together with a shared sense of mission, of purpose, of dedication, of sacrifice, of camaraderie and teamwork, of service.  We know who answers to whom and where we fit in the grand scheme of things and how things work.  Orders are given and the mission gets done

One of the things that we career military often find repulsive about civilian life is that it’s messy. It’s chaotic.  It’s disorderly. Civilians don’t follow orders and they grow their hair long and they dress like hobos and they slouch around and they’re lazy and they talk back and they do whatever the hell they want to do and you can’t stop them even if they’re doing something fatally stupid. They place themselves above others. They refuse to work together. They’re opinionated and not shy about expressing it. It makes us insane.  Not a day goes by that I don’t have the urge to start barking orders at you damned greasy civilians (never mind that I am now a damned greasy civilian myself), and sometimes I even give in to that impulse.  Sooner or later it’s probably going to get me a fat lip – or another fat lip, to be more correct.

We in the military often look upon the appalling self-centered self-involved self-serving shenanigans of Washington with something more than a little akin to contempt.

And so I can certainly say that I agree with spirit of General Honoré’s frustration.

But it is here that we must disagree.

Yingling says specifically that taken at face value, Honoré is advocating no less than a coup d’etat.

I disagree, sort of.  Or rather, I don’t think Yingling goes far enough. I think that taken at face value, Honoré’s suggestion of a military and political re-education boot camp for government officials is military fascism.

Oh relax, I’m certainly not calling the General a fascist.  Only an idiot would do that.

Just like only an idiot would call Robert Anson Heinlein a fascist for writing Starship Troopers (required reading at the US Military Academies by the way).  But there are damned few military folks who don’t have at least some sneaking suspicion that Heinlein’s military/service orientated government wouldn’t be a better way to do business (note: that in Troopers, one of the professors responsible for indoctrinating young citizens into the military dominated society says very specifically that their method of government isn’t the best, or superior, or even preferred – it was just the one they had.  That was Heinlein speaking. People tend to miss this paragraph, hence the persistent accusations of fascism).

No, I’m not calling Honoré a fascist.

What I am saying is that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. 

Constitution aside, how long do you think it would take, if we rounded up all the members of Congress and sent them to military style boot camp in Mississippi there to be indoctrinated by Army drill sergeants until they learn ‘teamwork and physical sacrifice,’ before Senators and Representatives and the President started awarding themselves medals and wearing military garb?  Before they all start thinking alike. Before the natural checks and balances of differing opinion and debate are removed?  Before the very pitfalls outlined by Colonel Yingling in A Failure of Generalship become evident? In his response, Yingling asks who decides when those prospective leaders are sufficiently reprogrammed? When have they learned enough to place service and the nation above self? Who decides that? The President? The military? The Generals? Ye gads!

Go down this road and sooner or later, you’re going to end up with military fascism. Probably sooner.

Even if it didn’t, lead to fascism, America as we know it would still be doomed.  Doomed to stagnation and uniformity.  The military is structured the way it is for very good reason and it works very, very well for us – but every single time somebody, including military folks, has tried to run a country in this manner, it is an utter disaster. 

This is, in microcosm, the immigration argument – and why building a wall around our culture is stupid and counter-productive. 

Change, dynamic interaction, chaos, are the very things that spur innovation and vigor and initiative and generate vision – the very vision that can, indeed, give our country, and the world, a true sense of shared purpose.  

Like Colonel Yingling, I suspect that General Honoré didn’t really mean what he said.  He’s a passionate speaker and writer, something I’m quite familiar with, prone to florid bombast and hyperbole – which doesn’t mean the rage and frustration he expresses is any less valid in any way.  Yingling speculates that the General is really “lamenting the partisan rancor in Washington when compared to the discipline of America’s military force.”  I suspect this is correct.

However, here’s the problem: there are going to be plenty of folks who read the Hero of New Orleans’ words and take them at face value.  I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest to see this idea right alongside the balanced budget amendment on the TEA Party’s agenda - just as there those who seriously think  the government vaguely outlined in Starship Troopers is a great idea.  To quote Larry Niven, yet another great science fiction writer, there is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.

Colonel Yingling goes on to talk about the Constitution and about its chief architect, James Madison (Yes, that is correct, the Constitution was not, in fact, written by Thomas Jefferson as so many Americans apparently believe, including the writers of last night’s episode of Franklin & Bash. But I digress. And I still love F&B).  Yingling quotes the Federalist Papers, specifically Federalist 10 and Madison:

There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes and the other, by controlling its effects. There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving every citizen the same opinions, the same passions and the same interests.  It could never be more truly said than of the first remedy that it was worse than the disease. Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an ailment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish for the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency."

I would argue that there is a third method of reducing the mischief of faction.

The same method I’ve advocated here on Stonekettle Station many times and as recently as in the previous post, to wit: if you want a better republic, then you need to start with better citizens.  Rather than repurpose shoddy material, as General Honoré suggests, rather than shape it into a new mold by force, I suggest that you start by choosing better ingredients.  Get educated. Get involved. Vote with your mind, with reason, instead of your heart. If you’re a card carrying member of a political party, if you vote straight ticket every time, then you’ve given up your freedom. Become a registered Independent, make the bastards work for your vote.  Encourage others to do the same.  Get involved. Speak up. Speak out. Do not stand idly by while extremists take your country away from you.

If you see your neighbors as the enemy,  it should come as little surprise when your elected officials do likewise.

If you have no respect for the opinions of others, it should come as little surprise when your elected officials have no respect for you.

Like Colonel Yingling, I take issue with General Honoré’s assertion that he speaks for “most veterans.”

And I must respectfully disagree.


  1. Hooo Rah!

    Yeah, I grew up on Heinlein and Asamov as well. Probably explains a lot of things about me.

    And I am an Independent who will never join a specific party. Ever.

    And I join you in the belief that much of Congress's action's lately could be labeled treasonous.

    Dang, we got a lot in common.

    I don't drink whiskey though,(except on really cold nights in hunt camp), but I'm raising my glass of red to you and Col Yingling. Clink.

  2. Claudia DubersteinAugust 5, 2011 at 1:06 AM

    In my State Independents are not allowed to vote in Primaries. So much for the ingredients.

  3. I'm a Democrat instead of a Green because I prefer to pull on a rope that's attached to something if the tug-of-war is what decides whether or not I eat. Not that I'm entirely fond of some of the more vapid Green ideas either.

    For too long Americans have been rich enough to cultivate the belief that ignorance and political detachment is acceptable. Well, reality holds all the aces and elections have consequences.

    People will have to learn this for themselves; the hard way. Observation seems to be failing them.

  4. I'm mad enough to abandon traditional party politics altogether. It's gotten to the point where it doesn't matter whether you're a Republican or a Democrat or and Independent, because the same special interests have bought and paid for all of them.

    I have therefore signed up with Americanselect.org. Their candidate (who already has enough signatures to be on the ballot in California, whoever he or she is) will have been chosen by a series of online national primary elections, and will have a running mate of the opposite party. It's not a tested system, but if it works it could help break the stranglehold that special interest money has on our political system, so I think it's worth a shot.

  5. I'm with the General, but I don't think they do basic at Leavenworth anymore.

  6. Okay, could we send them to a Challenge Camp at least? You know, as a part of their orientation process. Okay, okay, how about morning calisthenics?

    Unknown, well, originally we did have the VP as the second highest vote getter. That didn't work out so well. With the redefinition of the VP's roll in the past 20 years (started with Dan Quayle of all people) I'm not sure that having a VP of an opposition party would work so well.

  7. Here's something to remember, Warner: A number of folks in congress have been to boot camp, and then went on to serve in the military. John McCain served 22 years, a little less than me.

    Didn't seem to help much.

  8. DesultoryPhilippicAugust 5, 2011 at 9:33 AM

    I grew up in a very politically conscious home. My father was a registered Republican and my mother a registered Democrat. They did this purposefully since North Carolina only allowed those registered within the two parties to vote in primaries. They were always Constitutionally conservative, but leaned more socially progressive. They researched the candidates and did their homework. They asked serious questions: Is this candidate looking out for the best interests of our district, county, state, the US? Who are they beholden to? What is the upshot of this candidate's policy? They taught me well. I'm a registered Republican in Georgia, now. Only because Georgia is the same as North Carolina: you have to be a member of a specific political party to vote in primaries. I vote for the best candidate available in general elections. If a candidate uses his/her spirituality as a basis for their political ideology, I vote for the other guy. I have NEVER voted a straight party ticket. The idea is abhorrent to me.

    OK, that preamble out of the way.

    I fear for this country. I am terrified for the future my very intelligent, hard-working daughter will face. When the majority of people in this country vote based on what their pastor tells them; when the majority of those in power would rather run this country, and the world, off a cliff rather than compromise; when the majority of the American people would rather "teach the controversy" rather than teach the SCIENCE; we're screwed. Totally and completely hosed. I can only hope the checks and balances in our Constitution and form of government will slow the pace of the majority rule destroying this nation.

    55% of Americans think that the world is 10,000 years old? Are you freaking jserious?!? The raw materials for creating great citizens include critical thinking skills and intelligence. Those raw materials are seriously lacking in this country.

    Where are the voices of outrage? Why are these ideological idiots not called out on the national carpet and ridiculed for the inanity of their policies and ideas? Yeah, there are some, but the majority of sane Americans are silent. Well, except for you. Shout it loud, Brother! More voices like yours need to be heard. Sometimes I feel like a Who in Whoville. Just one more tiny voice will open the cloud of irrationality and folly.
    Yeah, got have the country we deserve. And by our silence, we actively participated in its demise.

  9. As a long time reader, first time commenter, let me start by saying that I enjoy your columns immensely and frequently repost them to great effect. I particularly like your columns exhorting us to reason and compromise.

    As for this column, well done! Here's my quibble with registering Independent, however: you don't get to vote in primaries, and that's where the problem really lies.

    As a rule, people who vote in primaries tend to be the passionate wingnuts, the "silent majority" tends to stay home.Primary turnouts have been below 20% for the past ten years [1]. So to win a primary, you have to appeal to the extremists on your particular side of sanity. By the time the general election rolls around, you get the choice of the lesser of two great wingnuts.

    Throw in the cynical gerrymandering of congressional districts over the last few decades and you don't even get a choose of wingnuts.

    Registering as an independent in a state with closed primaries just means abandoning the process to the extremists.

  10. Aside from the points you mention, Jim, I'm afraid I have to add this criticism of General Honoré's proposal: it's exactly the kind of thing that gives us civilian lefties varying degrees of squick about the military in general and what we often perceive to be the military mindset and culture.

    It's not out the hardship or hardwork that does it, or what I suspect military people tend to (mistakenly) see as softness: a lot of us civilian lefties who have issues with the military are the same people who have been in the Peace Corps or, if it were magically 1937 again, would have been getting on freighters going to Spain to join the Lincoln Brigades. The issue isn't hard work or getting hands dirty, the issue is conformity, the issue is that many of us share an instinct to say "fuck you" to somebody who's yelling at us, even if it's for our own good. I'm not saying that every liberal with soft hands would be a fascist-killing war hero under the right circumstances (I refuse to kill a man on a principle I know JTS and others think is misguided--could I be an ambulance driver if it were '37 again?); and a lot of us probably are lazy or craven (like a lot of people on the right). But boot camps aren't our scene, maaaaan, they're totally harshing our collective mellow.

    I realize you address the conformity issue and critique it resoundingly well. I just wasn't sure if you knew how it looks to a lot of us. And I'm pretty sure General Honoré doesn't know (or maybe he doesn't care). But the thing is, and the reason I bring it up is, we have this long-standing divide between the civilian left and the military (especially the military right) that ranges from mistrustful appreciation on one end to outright hostility on the other, and if you want to know why, well, General Honoré's piece is an example of why, sorry. It takes it for granted that there's this one viewpoint and one way of serving or understanding service. I mean, I'm not really disagreeing with the General's opinion of our elected leaders; on the other hand, why send them to Camp Shelby instead of sending them to a Peace Corps camp in Botswana or, for that matter, making them work 100 hours of community service in a nursing home in their home state.

    Indeed, a more fundamental problem than the Congressional members' inability to show teamwork together is probably that they don't remember who or why they're serving at all: the teabaggers demonstrated plenty of teamwork--with each other--what they, and to be fair, most of their non-teabagging professional political peers, don't display is an understanding that their bickering was really over whether disabled people would get their SSI checks on the 3rd and that while they were bickering, FAA employees were essentially donating their time to keeping the nation's airways running. I.e. I'm not sure the problem is a lack of understanding of the meaning of "teamwork and physical sacrifice" so much as it's a basic disconnection from the people waiting to be fed at the other end of the legislative sausage grinder.

    Anyway, my civie bleeding heart two cents.

  11. California just revamped our voting districts with a citizen's commission. The cries of outrage from both sides (but mainly Republican) makes me think that they got it reasonably right.

  12. P.S.

    I was favorably impressed by Colonel Yingling's response to the General, by the way.

  13. Jim, you constantly amaze me.

    Outstanding post, Warrant.

    And while I sympathize (deeply) with the General, I'm glad he's not out there making policy.

  14. @Eric,

    ...General Honoré's piece is an example of why [...] It takes it for granted that there's this one viewpoint and one way of serving or understanding service

    This is exactly correct, and one of the things Yingling criticizes the general corps for. Once you become a general, there are few folks indeed who are willing to tell you when you're wrong or when you're acting like an asshole. And those folks tend to get fired pretty damned quick indeed, Yingling is an exception. This directly fosters a viewpoint of "it's my way or the highway" and "I'm always right." General Honoré doesn't care what you think, because you haven't earned his respect and likely will never earn his respect because you don't see the world the way he does - therefor you are not only wrong, but inconsequential.

    Generals, Admirals, with few exceptions, all seemed to be stamped out of the same mold, because for all intents and purposes they are. That mold works very well for the military, providing that the world (and military threat) doesn't change, or changes very slowly. Flag officers are inherently ultra conservative (in the cautionary sense, not necessarily the political sense though that tends to follow).

    Congress and politics are 180 degress opposed to this viewpoint, which is why generals tend to make bad politicians but excellent dictators.

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  16. General Honoré doesn't care what you think, because you haven't earned his respect and likely will never earn his respect because you don't see the world the way he does - therefor you are not only wrong, but inconsequential.

    Yeah, and I get that; what is frustrating is that General Honoré would then probably be aggrieved that whatever appreciation I have for his service is more-than-tempered by a mutual disrespect and dismissal of the General as a blowhard. And the fact that I have any appreciation at all makes me an easygoing, temperate moderate where the military is concerned.

    I'm not particularly concerned or galled over the fact General Honoré isn't likely to agree with me on any number of issues. My ego doesn't really care about his respect much one way or another. What is of concern is that there's a very short limit to how much time I'm going to spend bothering to talk to the General when I'm pretty well convinced he's not going to listen. And respect is, after all, a mostly two-way street; my personal tendency is to start out giving someone respect on credit (to abruptly jump metaphors), but to cap that line if it isn't returned and close the account altogether if I decide it's undeserved. And when lots of us civies do that (I started to say leftie civies, but it occurs to me that conservatives like those in the Bush administration merely paid lip service to listening to generals)--as I was saying, when lots of us civies do that, Generals like Honoré wonder why nobody listens to them and get frustrated (and let's also take it for granted that when civilian and military leaders stop listening to each other and respecting each other's fields of expertise, it's bad for everybody, regardless of personal frustration levels).

    In short, at some point there's a communications breakdown that does nobody any good. General Honoré's mind looks like it might be closed, and, much as I hate to admit it, that might lead to mine subsequently being closed as well. If I'm in an elected office (not gonna happen, but hypothetically), how much time am I going to waste banging my head against somebody's fixed position before I decide to just go around him? Hell, if I'm just a voter, how seriously am I going to take his policy concerns when I go to the polls when he feels I'm inconsequential? At best I'll ignore him--at worst I may leap to the conclusion he's some kind of cryptofascist looking for his junta, and a fat lot of good that probably unfair leap does anybody at the end of the day.

    Two more cents, I suppose.

  17. Claudia -- I'm a registered Independant and in Mass. we have to declare which party we are voting in for the Primary. But, when leaving the polling place, I just tell them to make sure I'm still an Independant.

    Jim -- I understand what you're saying but I also need to point out that not everyone comes out of the military thinking the same. Look at Kerry and McCain, both served in the military, yet, they have very different political ideas. I know many former military who are very conservative. I also know many who are pretty liberal.

    I initially like the idea of boot camp for the politicians, but, as you noted, it's probably something that wouldn't be as good in real life as it sounds on paper.

    Also, I just need to note that while I am an Independent, I pretty much always vote Dem. As a women who is very concerned about women's issues, I just cannot bring myself to vote Republican and this current crop of misogynists in Congress is certainly affirming that. By the time you add in the environment, civil liberties, etc., there's really not much I have ever found to agree with in any Republican. Sorry. :-)


  18. I was one of the people that disagreed with your last post - not because I don't feel that compromise is important, it is - but because I do not see the debt deal as a "compromise". In fact, I see the debt deal as doing nothing (beyond raising the debt ceiling) except kicking the can down the road. We will be right back here in September when the Congress critters come back from their vacation arguing what to cut in the budget before the Government shuts down the first of October. Then we will be right back here in Nov or Dec when the Super Congress stymies.

    Further, I had a problem with your analogy (and still do). You brought it up in this post. My problem with your analogy was that the founding fathers were attempting to do something beyond jsut getting elected/re-elected. There is no evidence that the majority of our current crop of "representatives" do see beyond re-election. Boot camp is certainly not the answer and I certainly don't expect all the representatives to want to move in the same direction. What I do expect, though, is that they need to be representing their constituants, not their re-election chances.

    Yes, we need better voters. I would like to think I am a better (at least more informed) voter. The question is (and remains), how do you get better voters? How do you convince someone that they need to pay attention when paying attention can often be cripplingly depressing?

  19. General Honoré doesn't care what you think, because you haven't earned his respect and likely will never earn his respect because you don't see the world the way he does - therefor you are not only wrong, but inconsequential.

    Sadly, I think that statement can be generalized out to precisely what is wrong with politics in the United States.

    The Conservative Christians believe they have a mandate from god, and so don't have to listen to what anyone else says. The Tea Partyers believe they have a mandate from history, so they don't have to listen to anyone else.

    And those of us on the left? Well, all I can do there is quote Will Rogers: "I don't belong to an organized political party. I'm a Democrat."

    I think the biggest fault on the left is that we are so damned willing to listen to the other side and compromise that any "core beliefs" are watered down to pablum.

    I catch myself doing it at times (though a whole hell of a lot less in recent years). I don't want to be offensive. I don't want to be unintentionally hurtful. I want to be fair.

    Well, fuck fair. I'm more than willing to settle for just.

  20. Really enjoying and learning from the recent posts and discussion: thanks all.

    Some questions from this side of the pond:

    -do your Congressional term lengths have an effect on how long-term the decisions being made are? It seems like nobody is never up for re-election.

    I think I understand the reasons behind the system - close connection with the electorate and continuation of govt, but I'm not sure it's working that well.

    What would be the likely effects of:
    - increasing Representatives' term lengths?
    - totally repopulating the Senate every six years rather than sloughing a third of every other year?

  21. @Kenneth,

    I should have been a bit more clear in that post. I think the debt deal is a shitty deal too. I don’t know that I’d go so far as to call it a “Satan Sandwich” but I certain think Congress failed in its duty.

    However, given the circumstances I think it was the best compromise that could be expected – which is like saying that being torn apart by lions is slightly less painful than being nailed upside down to a cross. But, again, given the circumstances, I think it was the best that anybody could have expected.

    Which, of course, takes us to the circumstances - which was the real point of my post. The "crisis" was manufactured bullshit brought on by petty little extremists who think (as Michelle noted) that they have some god given mandate to screw the rest of us and who will not compromise even if it brings the country to ruin. I find it highly ironic that these TEA party assholes are the ones who scream loudest about fascism, and yet are fully willing to dictate to the rest of us by force. And that's my point, or one of them anyway, those extremists are only in office because they were put there by voters. It’s not the TEA party members of congress who are holding us hostage, it's the idiots who voted for them and threatened them with recall and primary challenges during the debate if they compromised.

    As you said, how to do we get better voters? I have some ideas, but one size doesn't fit all, despite what folks like the Good General might think. And we'd have to start with the definition of "better." Hence we have the system we have, just as Mason envisioned, and we have the congress we have. Now, we can wish for something else and operate in that make believe land, or we can operate in the battlespace as it exists. I chose the latter, and thus my contention that the deal was the best you could expect, given the circumstance.

    My unspoken point in this post was: if you don't like the circumstances, then change them. I'm fully aware of the primary restrictions many states lay on independent voters - I live in such a state. And I’m a registered Independent. We need to change that, change the primaries, change the laws and regulations that prevent us from voting for who we wish. This was precisely my point when I said that if you allow a political party to dictate your choices, you've given up you freedom. In America, you've given up your most fundamental freedom, the right to choose your government.

  22. Nick from the O.C.August 5, 2011 at 1:33 PM

    Eric wrote --

    Hell, if I'm just a voter, how seriously am I going to take his policy concerns when I go to the polls when he feels I'm inconsequential? At best I'll ignore him--at worst I may leap to the conclusion he's some kind of cryptofascist looking for his junta, and a fat lot of good that probably unfair leap does anybody at the end of the day.

    The thing of it is, most voters will simply defer to the General because of his undeniable sacrifices and service to the country. They won't critically assess, they'll just accept.

    I think U.S. history can provide a number of examples where that's been the case.

  23. @sibusisodan

    To a lot of us Americans, it seems just the opposite. I.e. members of congress are always campaigning for reelection.

    The original idea behind the length of the current terms for the various members of our electorate were, as you surmise, to foster a closer connection between government and the people. If I were a cynic, I’d say that it instead fosters a closer connection between political parties and money (i.e. special interests).

    There’s been an increasing discussion in America about term limits. I lean in that direction myself. HOWEVER, recent election of TEA party members, who have sworn to only serve one term, has demonstrated a pitfall with that idea: i.e. somebody who doesn’t have to worry about re-election has no compelling reason to listen to his/her constituents and can pursue his/her particular agenda without regard for the ire of the citizens. Increasing the term lengths has similar issues. I think systems could be put in place to mitigate this problem (periodic votes of no confidence, for example, with real and immediate consequences).

    As to the likely effects of totally repopulating the Senate every six years: in one word, chaos. A senate of peaks and valleys, given to the crisis of the moment when elected and the stability of continuity removed.

  24. To a lot of us Americans, it seems just the opposite. I.e. members of congress are always campaigning for reelection.

    - That's what I meant - too many double negatives in my post. But, yes, I could not fail to disagree with you less.

    -Re: Senate chaos, fair enough. I guess I don't have a clear idea of how crazy the Senate is relative to the House. Are they more in touch with things?

    - I wouldn't advocate term limits for Congresspersons, but I wonder if an increase in the term length for the House would help a little? Either that or try to make campaigning for reelection a less expensive business (somehow!).

  25. For better or worse, the Senate was designed for longevity--it's the upper house in the Constitution, and under the Constitution as the Founders conceived it, was supposed to represent the states, not the people.

    I mean, it's easy to overlook the fact, but the Founders were, by and large, elitists, not populists. They didn't trust the rabble and they thought the unwashed mob was fickle and easily led astray. (Hm.) So they gave the elected body representing the unwashed mob and rabble the power to initiate legislation but then gave the Wise Old Men and Vested Interests the power to approve that legislation, ratify and act upon it, and to judge it. (Well... in the latter case, actually, they didn't do that at all, but the SCOTUS yanked that power for itself during the Jefferson administration and nobody has looked back.)

    The teabaggers remember at least part of that--many of them want to repeal the Seventeenth Amendment. What most people have forgotten, teabaggers included, however, is that the Seventeenth Amendment was ratified precisely because the concept of the elder deliberative body broke down before the first American century expired and the Senate had turned into something of a spoil for state politics--give me a zillion bucks for my gubernatorial campaign, and I'll make sure they're calling you "Senator" before you know it. It just didn't work--like quite a lot of the Constitution, sadly.

    Do you know what the solution is? It isn't term limits or finance reform (which the SCOTUS has made impossible in any case). The solution is to suffer loudly and try to make the best of a shitty, broken, unworkable system. (My cynicism, can you tell I haz it?) Because that isn't the actual solution: the actual solution is a Constitutional convention to rebuild the founding document from scratch the way the French do every few decades; problem is, there probably isn't any way to keep the yutzes from fucking it up--if we tried to rewrite the Constitution tomorrow, we'd probably end up with the United States Of Jesus with mandatory gun ownership for the mentally ill or something along those lines, instead of, say, a functional parliamentary democracy or something similarly appropriate.

    In any case, re: term limits, Americans don't really want them. If they did, they wouldn't need to impose them, because they'd just boot their incumbents during primaries, wouldn't they? No, they want term limits for the other guy's representatives, not the person they've voted for in six consecutive elections. Besides which, there's a baby/bathwater problem: it would be inevitable that, along with those corrupted by inertia, you'd be getting rid of someone experienced and wise who's actually a credit to his or her office (that's possibly why you voted for them in six consecutive elections, right?).

    Or, sort of conversely, maybe it's the other guy's representative you're happy to see in office. I mean, I may not be too happy with much of my home state's delegation to Congress, but Barney Frank's recent Playboy interview reminded me of why, despite his obvious faults and problems and things I disagree with him about, overall I'm kinda glad those people up in Massachusetts keep re-electing him over and over again. I suspect that any one of us could think of somebody--perhaps not our own representative--who we're glad has been holding a fort for thirty-plus years. Just thought I'd point that out.

  26. Eric, great thoughts, thanks! I realised after blithely commenting far and wide about the Senate, that the Upper Chamber in my own dearm homeland is actually currently pretty much unelected. So not quite sure you should listen to anything I say on the topic!

    A Constitutional Convention would be a whole bundle of fun.

  27. @Jim, Now that I understand. Luckily, I live in Montana, where you don't have to declare a party and you choose to vote in either primary (independants are kind of ignored here). Also, being in Montana, I have seen the effects of term limits and there are good and bad to say about them. We are about to loss one of the most popular Governors we have ever had due to term limits. On the other hand, idiots are limited in how long they can "represent us".

    As far as the neverending cycle of re-election, a couple of ideas. As it stands now, a Congressman gets full retirement after his first term. I think it should be a vote of the people. If they represented the majority well, they get retirement. If not, well, they should have done a better job. Further, I think term limits can work (they work pretty well here even if we are going to lose Schweitzer).

    Getting the voting populous involved, though, I am still at a loss in how to do that. Some have suggested better education but since education in the US is not what it was even 20 years ago, I am not sure that would work at all. I do like the idea of passing laws preventing people from having to declare a party, though.

  28. I agree, Jim. But, damn, I'd love to see John B. go through boot camp. With a burr cut. Would he cry? I did.....

  29. "They didn't trust the rabble and they thought the unwashed mob was fickle and easily led astray."_Eric

    The California initiative process has proven them to be right. Because California citizens have voted for a number of mutually contradicting initiatives the state is more or less ungovernable.

    The rabble will vote for any damn thing and damn the consequences down the road. They will vote for free beer and blowjobs and then scream to high holy hell when their own sons and daughters are drafted to provide. Then they will get in the b.j. line.

    We have representative government for a reason.

  30. I disagree with General Honore'. Congress does not need a session of boot camp. The GOP already does quite well at marching in "goosestep lockstep", as I recently told my 10-term Tea Party-caucasing (sp?) Republican Representative. Looking back at the last several major pieces of legislation, many Congressional votes were purely along party lines for the Republicans. (I mean Representatives, not Senators.) Far from needing more training, they need to stop marching in step.
    While I lament that the Democratic Party in Congress cannot get their acts together, they at least speak and vote in a range that mirrors the range of views of their constituents. It's infuriating to me when a piece of legislation I favor does not pass due to "defection" from a blue-dog or whatever conservative Democrat... but I cannot demand that he stop voting his conscience. The Republicans, however, even have a derisive name for that (RINO = Republican In Name Only). Democrats may be nearly as corrupt as Republicans, and none of them are perfect, but I get the idea that you can reach a compromise with the Democratic party. I'm not sure the same is true any more for the Republican Party. It used to be the case that the best major, important pieces of legislation were passed as compromises between D's and R's. That does not seem to be the case any more.
    How do we both resist the call for uniformity AND stop a group which does march together in goosestep lockstep from taking over? Unfortunately, I don't know.
    My guess is getting involved in political discourse should be the first step. Vote. Write to your elected representatives, even (or especially) to ones who hold an opposite point of view. Elections are decided by about 40% of eligible voters. That means a bare 21% of eligible voters can decide the course of the country.
    Secondly, vote for better public education. Not wasting money on standardized tests, but more teachers and more books for kids. (The best schools have the lowest pupil:teacher ratio and the most resources. Go figure.) Given that about 6% of people think there was no moon landing, and believe all sorts of other crazy conspiracy theories, the least educated and most credulous among us have the ability to strongly swing elections. (Somebody voted for G.W.Bush in 2004, Sarah Palin in 2008, and similar folks in Minnesota keep voting for that loon Michelle Bachmann.)
    Third, urge your local representatives to change the way Congressional district boundaries are determined. In most states, the goal is "safe" districts, where one party has a lock on an area. A balanced district (D, R, Ind.) will more likely get a representative who tries to represent everyone, not just please the 11-12% of the total electorate who vote for him in a primary. (Primary turnouts are much lower than general elections, so I may be over-estimating.)
    Finally, instead of griping, especially in a comments section of a blog (even a great blog like this one), get off of your backsides. Stop vegging out on cable TV and the internet and get involved in your community. (Not Jim Wright, you just keep on writing. Making people think is a rare talent these days.)

  31. marvelous post Jim. just read it to my dearest friend. told him i love you. he smiled and gave me a kiss.

  32. There is SOME merit in the General's rant,.. not in having Congress attend boot camp when elected, but as in Starship Trooper, serving an enlistment in the Armed Forces to become eligible to run for Congress. Consider the Social Changes we experienced after WWII,Korea and VietNam, with large numbers of American males DRAFTED into the service - most who had never been out of their home countys, much less going overseas. Once you've SEEN what the rest of the world is like, you tend to appreciate our form of goverment, and want to make life better. Are we still gonna screw things up ? you bet, but long term gains will be more likely to happen by MORE of the population experiencing military duty than not - if you don't like people TELLING you what to do, you're sure not gonna vote for people who want goverment in your life. The fact that we've had 3 wars (and counting) with the volunteer Aremd forces, has been a detriment to our political scene, IMHO- the pain of war has been tucked away to a select few, and Americans , by and large, have ignored the horror of war, because "THEY" volunteered to serve. hence the multiple tours, and Bush was able to keep a lid on the wars by doing this- Imagine how long we'd have been there, if there had a been a draft ??? Congress over the past 9 years, has gone along with it, because their voters weren't affected directly by the war, and Corps were making $$ hand over fist. any-hoo, I've always thought mandatory 2 yr enlistment after high school would benefit the country, for the armed forces AND socially.

  33. Re: getting full retirement after one term

    It sure wouldn't be much. Take the average of the high 3 salaries, multiply by 1%, then multiply by the years of service. That's the pension.

    It's been that way since 1987.

  34. I am reading this and "Into the Valley of Death" article at the same time; both articles contributed to my thought process on this response. I have a former high school classmate on Facebook who appears to have gone off his meds, in recent years. He's one of those who remains on my list for sheer entertainment value, as he spouts conspiracy/revolution posts & links in a consistent stream. He is one of those convinced that freedom cannot be preserved in this country without dragging some people into the street & capping them with AK-47s.

    I made the - knowingly, futile - gesture a while back of pointing out that democracy is alive & well in the U.S. He, and every other citizen of age are free to write Britney Spears into their ballot if they feel that she would bring peace & manna to the land of the free. We have the ability to fix our government and, given that we have not, the revolution is pointless; we would be left after his glorious revolution with the same electorate that got us there in the first place.

    American politics has been turned into another 'text-your-vote-to' reality TV show menagerie that we immerse ourselves into when we can't bear watching another minute of CNN anymore. If we feel that our candidates end up selling out, they have had to sell out long before they amass the $100M war chests they need to even begin their campaigns. Media is part of the problem, but they are a business like any else, lining themselves up for the 9-figure media buys they get to air every 2 years. It is purely because we watch it, and fail to look outside the GOP/Democrat/Smattering of Libertarian box, that we have our current government. Worse, many of the people who do think out of the partisan box - like my un-medded friend on Facebook - are too lazy to realize that the power to totally change everything, beginning tomorrow, has lay in their hands all along.

    Hell, unless someone impresses the living shit out of me in the next twelve months, I'm writing Jim's name into my next Presidential ballot - serious no-shitter, Jim, brace yourself - because A. he makes more sense than anybody else I've encountered in the last dozen years and B. it would be petty to vote for myself. (Come to think of it, there must be over 1000 Jim Wrights in this country; I may need to be a bit more specific. This could stretch the Secret Service pretty thin) My point is, if the electorate would turn off the TV long enough to go out to speak to, and listen to people in their community long enough to find one human entity who shares their views & beliefs enough to vote for them without conflict of conscience, we would not have the political problems we do. What we have is an electorate who grumbles when a Presidential debate bumps the week's episode of 'The Bachelor Pad'.

    Lest we wonder why Washington is the reality TV show it has become, reflect on the fact that a democratic government is always going to - by definition - be an image of the population that puts it into office. www.peopleofwalmart.com Meet the people who vote for your representatives. Have a nice day! :)


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