April 20, 2012

Obama, Romney & Ruth Bader Ginsburg

(Okay, it's #1,000, but I've always preferred the everyday to the special celebration.  Special celebrations are merely annoying distractions from the more interesting aspects of everyday life.)

I saw my first "Anybody But Obama" bumpersticker right here in my chic-Lib county yesterday.  It was cleverly done.  In the lower right-hand corner was a tally sheet.  The left-hand column was headed "Promises Kept," and beneath that was "0."  The right-hand column was marked "Promises Not Kept," and beneath that heading were tally marks adding up to about 30, as far as I could tell on quick perusal.

I imagine the Obama Campaign is doing a lot of internal polling, now that they know (for certain) that Mitt Romney will be the GOP candidate.  Not that anyone in America ever had any real reason to doubt that the media would ultimately insist on an Obama-Romney runoff.  The electorate at large can only focus and talk about those candidates given visibility by television shows.  Romney and Obama have The Look that plays well on TV, whereas candidates like Santorum (geeky, weird), Gingrich (chubby, snide) and Ron Paul (elderly, cranky, wheedling voice) don't work as TV characters.

So Central Casting has narrowed down our American Idols to the two obvious choices.  But back to the Obama Campaign, and their internal polling: Pretty soon Nate Silver at the New York Times will begin giving us the real story on how this titanic contest is going, but I suspect the Obama people are pretty nervous.  It's not a good sign when a bumpersticker such as the one I saw shows up in a county which is so Orthodox-Progressive.  It's jarring, and it means that people now feel safe to admit the truth: Obama has been a huge, epic disappointment.  Obama's base is essentially limited to (a) Democratic operatives, (b) public employee unions and (c) minority pressure groups.  It's difficult to conceive of an actual Independent being genuinely excited about reelecting Barack Obama, and yet Independents are the cohort, we are told, who decide modern elections.  Essentially, all those Americans who hate both political parties but feel they need to participate in our Game Theory Politics to avoid a more-evil outcome.

Obama will not have the "Hope & Change" shtick this time around, and since his signature accomplishment, Obamacare, was actually borrowed from Mitt Romney, that's probably not a good thing to boast about (especially since most Americans hate it anyway).  Obama's foreign policy is identical to that of the Bush/Cheney regime, only more unconstitutional and warmongering.  Obama runs an opaque administration with a fetish for State Secrets and has compiled a terrible record on civil liberties.  Obama coddles the banks and his anemic Attorney General, Eric Holder, never lifts a finger to enforce the law against big campaign donors.

The Onion ran a hilarious piece in the latest issue about the Obama campaign's decision to tone down the slogans from "Yes We Can!" to "Some Stuff We Might Try, But It Probably Won't Work."  Amid all the commentary about the implacable hostility of Republicans to Obama's "initiatives" that we have heard over the last three-plus years, and the rest of the excuses,  the American public still has trouble avoiding an uncomfortable (inconvenient even) truth: Obama just isn't very effective.  Don't know exactly what the problem is.  Hard to put your finger on it, exactly.

The intrepid bumpersticker guy probably knows that in our Game Theory Politics his position (Anybody But Obama) is equivalent to "Let Romney Win."  Indeed, the bumpersticker was in red, white & blue (get it?).  This could be a clever Romney tactic in areas where overt advocacy for a Republican is just unthinkable (where I live, e.g., or West L.A. or most of Manhattan).  It's a hip way to seem aloof from politics.  Bringing us to the question: what happens if Romney is elected (and there is a pretty fair chance he will be)?

Three words:  Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the ailing and elderly Supreme Court Justice.  If Romney is elected, he will choose her sucessor during his first term, and then regardless of which side of the bed Justice Anthony Kennedy gets out of a particular morning, the Supreme Court will be firmly conservative and Roe vs. Wade will be overturned. As I have written before, the effect of a Roe reversal is not the immediate outlawing of abortion; it is a return of the sovereignty of the individual states to decide the issue of criminality.  It's possible that certain Blue States (California, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Oregon, Washington) will retain the right as under Roe.  Each of these states will become a kind of abortion Reno, at least for a while.

Otherwise, I don't think the changes will be momentous.  America's slide toward Banana Republicanism is already well underway, and a new President (or a second term for the old one) can't do much about that.  I've just been disappointed that Obama never tried.

April 18, 2012

Next Stop, Tehran

I found this exchange last month between Jeff Sessions, Republican Senator from the great state of Alabama, and Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, rather telling and instructive on the state of unconstitutional procedures currently in vogue in the U.S. of A.  I don't recall any news coverage of the colloquy, of course; it must have happened around the time that George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin were dominating the airwaves, or maybe Kim Kardashian had a butt implant go all wrong.

Whatever the reason:  Jeff Sessions, with his slightly inbred look and Yoda ears, presents something of a quandary for me.  He's a former district attorney and is actually pretty good at asking questions, a skill not usually found in serving members of Congress.  Plus, I noticed during the Alberto Gonzales scandal that he was actually, dare I say it?, pretty principled when it came to picking holes in Alberto's obviously perjured testimony.  He clearly did not like the politics that controlled hiring and firing at the Justice Department during the Bush/Rove regime, and Sessions was probably as instrumental as anyone in driving Gonzales from office in 2007.  Of course, as a Republican he is required to participate in many of the standard lunatic orthodoxies of the GOP, but that's to be expected.

Panetta, on the other hand, has always seemed to me the Democrats' version of Dick Cheney.  A reliable functionary and apparatchik who can be counted on to carry out the policy of any president he serves, and in fact Panetta has held many of the same jobs which Cheney held: Chief of Staff, Secretary of Defense, a member of Congress, etc.  Like Cheney, he seems more industrious and can-do than particularly bright or creative.  As you know, I also believe that Panetta got his start playing the pharmacist on the old "Dobie Gillis" series, although I cannot find this on Panetta's Wikipedia entry.

The phrase "Kabuki Theater" gets overused in our cliche-ridden MediaWorld, but this hearing might be aptly described in just such terms.  The question is whether Sessions is in on the fix, or was genuinely "breathless" over the unconstitutionality of Panetta's described approach to war authorization.  As a legal matter, there isn't much to talk about.  Panetta is talking absolute nonsense.  There is no "international" authority for a president to take the country to war, so it doesn't matter what NATO says or wants, and it doesn't matter whether our "international partners" want our help.  These considerations (international cooperation, defense of an ally) might be motivating factors, but the constitutional law remains that only Congress has (a) the authority to declare war, or (b) authorize the use of military force under the War Powers Act of 973, which is Congress's way of sidestepping its obligations to commit the country to war (a sidestepping dance it has performed since 1941, ridiculously enough).

Sessions obviously knows the law, and he reminds the members of the panel (which included Panetta and some top military brass) that they know it, too.  Nevertheless, it is fascinating to watch Panetta refuse to meet Sessions eye-to-eye, and to remain obtuse and opaque in his answers to very clear, well-posed questions.  Panetta does not give an inch, continuing to repeat his message-control mantra that the president has the unilateral right to protect and defend this country, and that "international" considerations guided the president's response in some relevant but not clearly-defined way.

The hearing nominally was supposed to concern Syria, and whether President Obama was going to go off on his own again, as he did in Libya, seeking neither a declaration of war under Article I of the Constitution (obviously, no president ever does that anymore) nor an authorization from Congress, which Bush at least did with respect to Afghanistan and Iraq.  I think, however, that this hearing, and Panetta's canned, robotic resposes, were really about Iran.  A decision has been made by the Obama Administration to attack Iran with its "international partner" Israel and maybe members of the Arab League (such as Saudi Arabia, who do not like the idea of a nuclear-armed Iran, to say the least), and Congress is going to find out about it when the world at large finds out about it.  If the hearing were really about Syria, Panetta would not need to dig in so deeply.  Enforcing a no-fly zone or running bombing runs, as in Libya, is no big deal to Congress, and they've already demonstrated they're completely asleep at the switch and will demand no accountability from Obama for his violation of his oath of office.  That sort of legal nicety is not even talked about anymore, let alone enforced.

But Iran?  That's the Big Persian Enchilada, and it's a hole card Obama wants to keep face down in the event he needs an October Surprise to get him over the hump against Romney  Remember that Bush was reelected in 2004 with a real majority (as opposed to 2000) even though by that point the American electorate knew the war in Iraq had been launched on false pretenses.  Just the fact of being at war probably worked greatly in Bush's favor, a fact obviously not lost on Obama.  And yes, the American electorate is that stupid. 

So no contradictory testimony from Panetta was going to be recorded at this hearing, try as Sessions might to make sense of what he was hearing.  The law is an ass, as Charles Dickens wrote.