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Thursday, September 15, 2005

A Republic, If You Can Keep It

Listening to the introductory overtures to the confirmation hearings for John Roberts is to be immersed in the contrasting obsessions of how the main American political sects relate to the Constitution.

The right approaches every comma with the utmost reverence, asserting full-tilt that great men like Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin meant exactly and only what they said. This strange assumption essentially means that these intelligent, innovative people suddenly took leave of their senses and decided that human achievement and intellectual development had peaked in 1787.

In many ways, that's not an entirely unfounded assertion. Have you ever watched Street Smarts?

And from the left, Roe v. Wade is some sort of totemistic catch-all for reducing a complicated set of social mores and jurisprudential principles. One might start to think that the most pressing issue we face as a nation is ensuring the absolute right for thirteen-year-old girls to get abortions without parental consent, though they have not a single other right accrued to persons of majority age, like voting, driving -- or indeed, agreeing to any other medical procedure. In fact, if that girl were to, say, steal a car to get to the clinic to get that procedure without her parents' knowledge, and get in a wreck and kill someone along the way, there is every chance that the parents would be held legally liable for damage. Does that make sense to you?

In the meantime, far more important rights such as the Fourth Amendment -- which directly affects the entire population -- go unmentioned while they get gutted like a trophy fish. You wanna right to privacy, look at your Fourth Amendment. The War On Some Drugs has rendered it all but non-existent -- the cops could get the wrong house number, kick your door down, and accidentally shoot you in a drug raid. Too bad, so sad.

Or look at how eminent domain just got twisted like a corporate pretzel. Your house could get yanked for a strip mall now, not just a freeway or a school. Corporate developers are licking their chops over the recent Kelo decision.

Call me crazy, but I'm a lot more concerned about those issues, than whether teenagers get rights they're really not emotionally equipped (hence the foundation of statutory rape laws) to handle. Yet I've heard nothing of the sort from my dear DiFi thus far.

And the most recent major ruling, with the most potential to damage our system, may be this one handed down just last week by a federal appeals court:

In a victory for the Bush administration, a federal appeals court ruled Friday that the government can continue to hold indefinitely an American accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb."

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously to reverse a judge's order that the government either charge or free Jose Padilla, who has been in custody for more than three years.

"The exceedingly important question before us is whether the President of the United States possesses the authority to detain militarily a citizen of this country who is closely associated with al-Qaida, an entity with which the United States is at war," Judge J. Michael Luttig wrote. "We conclude that the President does possess such authority."


Look, if there's evidence showing that Padilla intended to do what he supposedly plotted to do, then present it. Present it in a secret tribunal, if it's relevant sensitive info that could tip our hand.

But to abrogate the right to due process -- the backbone of our judicial system -- on the say-so of the executive branch is what they do in banana republics. This is fucking stupid; either charge the guy already or let him go if you got nothing on him.

Then again, maybe Bush feels this gives him an actual bit of kinship with Lincoln. You be the judge -- or, perhaps Luttig will, since coincidentally or not, his name has been in the hopper for a prospective SCOTUS nomination for some time. And he hates Roe, for starters; pretty much any curb to authoritarianism or religious nannyism, for that matter.

This Survey USA poll confirms what everyone already knows about the pro-life/pro-choice demographics. The attempt to gut Roe v. Wade along the "states' rights" argument should be a non-starter; either abortion is legal or it isn't. Women in Utah have the same rights as women in New York, do they not?

I haven't heard a single leading Democrat frame this argument in such obvious terms, and for the life of me, I have no idea why they're not doing it. Such a tack might enable them to get on with more pressing subjects. It's nice that they all know how to make it look and sound like they're doing something, but it'd be even nicer if they did something.

So strap in for an exciting week or so of esoteric minutiae like "original intent" and "stare decisis" and "penumbra", and keep in mind that the main goal for the people who selected Roberts is that he fill the Rehnquist role for the next thirty years or so.

Which makes me hope that the teenage daughters of the values voters get a nice visit from the stork soon. Payback's a bitch.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree, the democrats are in an awful disarray. Probably a good deal of them are still caught in the thought dynamic of identity politics and the early '90s liberal agenda. Some other must be hostage to interest groups like Naral, etc. At any rate, they're missing the forrest for a few irrelevant trees, while fascism is crreping under their very noses.

As to this country being a republic, hm... I don't know what to think about that. Why would a republic need 700 military bases ABROAD and enough nuclear arsenal to vaporize the earth several times over? Second, how could you have anything but a nominal republic when a good deal of the electorate is slumbering away in Suburbistan, and about 23% of them don't even know who the vicepresident of the country is? You can only have a republic worthy of its name if the citizenry is truly involved in relevant politics (and that's more than just showing up every four years to cast a ballot). Third, I seem to remember conservatives like William F. Buckley and Irving Kristol writing, in the late '90s, about what should be the direction to take the American empire next. I mean, THOSE guys didn't have any doubt that the States are now an empire of global reach, and the fact that a democratic republic might not go along with their plans of American greatness did not bother them in the least.

A democracy in decay led by a a strange oligarchic coalition of corporate crooks and megalomaniac dreamers of empire is staring us in the face. The one question worth pondering may be, when did the US cease being a liberal democracy--how far back in time should we go to find that out. Maybe this will give us some insights into what to do next.

--Marius

Anonymous said...

I'm a foreigner, but, if I remember correctly, wasn't it the same revered Jefferson who thought the American people should vote for a new Constitution every 20 years or so? For "one cannot ask a grown man to wear a small boy's clothes", he said, or something to that effect. Certainly, THEY (the Founding Daddies, I mean) didn't think their attempt at a framework law wasn't the ultimate achievement in political wisdom, a sort of nation-making Word of God incarnate, or sump'thin'. But today's "originalists" seem to think so, and I just haven't seen that much opposition to that cray idea in the realm of public discourse. Certainly, there's Cass Sunstein, but he's 'just' a don at UChicago. For your average American, that's not good enough--intellectuals have virtually no standing here, and are thought to be mainly obnoxious pricks. Had Sunstein been a dimwitted preacher from the wildernesses of Bumfuck, he'd probably get more attention for the very simple idea he's trying to convey: societies evolve, and an 'original' list of rights and liberties may have to be dramatically revised, expanded, and reinterpreted to suit the needs and lives of a society dramatically different from the small, bucolic place that was the US two centuries ago. Moreover, why should anyone feel bound by a law in which he/she did not have any input at all, which is the basic principle of any democratic society. What the hell's so difficult about that?

--Same

Heywood J. said...

Well, we're nominally a "democratic republic", a.k.a. "representative democracy". Obviously, the current reality is much different, with oligarchic corporate interests controlling vast swaths of the mechanics of information gathering and distribution.

And we've clearly gone quite a ways down the road toward hegemony, hence the bases and the arsenal. Keep in mind that many of the Buckley/Kristol types are aware of empire, of course, but they propagate the idea for a fairly logical reason.

The premise is that the nation-state paradigm is at that point in its evolution where, among the competing factions and empires, there will be a dominant one, a hegemon. Their point is simple -- if there is to be a hegemon, better it be us than the Chinese (Russians, whatever).

There is some truth to that notion, I think, but the current gang plays it out as if it's a game of Risk. Everything's a roll of the dice, and then scooting a piece of plastic around a board. These people, unlike the Cold War realists, don't think about any of the implications in the real world -- logistics, diplomacy, outmaneuvering your opponent with something other than muscle and gall.

Whatever one's feelings about the principle of hegemony, the worst part about this gang is the practicality of their actions -- their sheer incompetence has accelerated the decline of America's hegemony by at least a decade, and strengthened China's ascension by about as much, for a net loss of 20 years. That's pretty goddamned bad.

So now we muddle on in a dangerous dance of encirclement with China, but they're holding all the cards. They'll just kick back and let us flip McMansions to each other for a few more years, and then start yanking the chain when they want to re-incorporate Taiwan, for starters. Or maybe their economy drops below the 9% average they've had for ten years running. They have to be careful; if they pulled the rug out from under us right now, their export revenues would suffer greatly. But they are quielty cultivating other markets for their wares, securing access to oil (Sudan, Iran, Canada, and Venezuela), and sitting on their hedge fund of US T-bills. Someday the bill will come due.

And yeah, meanwhile the retard Dummycrats and their identity politics groups sit there and whinge, "But what about abortion?". Idiots.

You're right about Jefferson; though all the Founding Fathers were of course landed gentry with one eye on keeping the rabble from fucking things up for everyone, Jefferson was much more of a Rousseauvian than Adams or Hamilton were. Adams was pretty open about wanting an aristocracy to mind the herd and steer them in a direction, where Jefferson and Paine were more inclined to trust in the people.

And the Constitution strikes a nice balance of that, for the most part, of allowing self-governance without devolving into a tyranny of the majority. The difference is in the way information gets gathered and processed now. Marketing weasels have been dragooned by politicos into mobilizing the ignorant into doing their dirty work. Thus you have chumps trudging to the polls for the express purpose of registering their disapproval of gay marriage, while the empire -- and thus, their precious Way Of Life --crumbles before their very eyes.

We'll see how much they give a shit about gay people when there's no living wage to be had anymore, at least not with just one job. It's heading back in that direction, and once that housing bubble bursts, we're screwed.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Heywood, I haven't seen your reply early enough to respond to it, but I'll hurry to drop a few lines in response (gotta go back to homework in axiomatic set theory for tomorrow). So, in a very compressed manner, here goes:

[1] Given the (supposed) democratic nature of this country, you can't go ahead and start working at becoming the world's next hegemon without at least the semblance of a public debate. Shouldn't you consult your people (again, the only source of political legitimacy, according to the Constitution) about whether they feel like taking over the heavy burdens of empire? But I guess consulting the populace with regard to important foreign policy decision hasn't been the custom in the States since perhaps National Security Directive 67/1950, the official start of the Cold War;

Also, why does the States have to join the competition for hegemony, anyway? if I remember correctly, Britain and France were already world powers when this country was taking its first staggering steps onto the stage of history, but virtually none of the Founding Daddies were envisioning a global imperial role for the budding republic. All they wanted was good commercial relations and peace treaties with the great European powers. It was Andrew Jackson and Teddy R. who started dreaming of empire for America. But, since we like to bow down in reverence at the silk-stockinged men of 1776, shouldn't we also take their foreign policy program seriously? Wasn't the avuncular John Adams who said, America does not go abroad in search of monsters to kill?

[2] rumours of China, Russia or India becoming a world hegemon are greatly exaggerated (kinda like the threat of Saddam's weapons, clearly an artificial bugaboo for any foreigner with minimally trained eyes). Russia is economically down the shithole, with negative demographics, a demoralized population and a collapsing infrastructure. It's only high oil prices that currently keeps them afloat. Being a hegemon requires money, which they don't have, or the ability to wield the nuclear sword, which they've lost. Similarly, China is still in its economic infancy, and will be for a while to come. Don't forget that, despite them holding a hefty amount of American T-bills, they have 1.3 BILLION people to feed, clothe, educate, and provide healthcare to. That's more than 4 times the population of this country. Moreover, the fact that they've had 7 to 9% economic growth for almost a decade will not prevent their economy from overheating and coming to a grinding halt, like Japan's. Don't forget, they're just about to learn capitalism (it will take them a while; they're already squandering money buying awful companies, just like the Japanese did in the 1980s; plus, their banks have a shitload of bad loans, which will come back to haunt them, as they do in Japan these days). Also, China is inward-looking, and has no desire to become the world's hegemon. Of course, they'd like to extend their sphere of influence in the region (Vietnam, the 2 Koreas, Laos, Cambodia, etc., and maybe Taiwan), and the US will have to make some painful concessions, but then who appointed America to be SE Asia's hegemon in the first place?

[3] Being the hegemon isn't just "hard work", as a certain chimp from Crawford likes to say, but you have to be willing to incur the frustration and wrath of everyone under your dominance whenever anything goes wrong--because they expect you to fix everything; after all, you're in charge. And of course you won't be able to do that, and won't be able to keep your worse imperialist tendencies in check. And that can only be a recipe for trouble. Look at the scorn Britain is met with in her former colonies, and look at the malaise and amertume the collapse of the British Empire has wrought at home. Do you want the same thing in America, for half-a-century, or so? Isn't the ongoing hand-wringing over Vietnam (and the coming one over Irak) enought for "the soul of the nation"?

Finally, what's wrong with a multipolar world? Russia can have its own backyard (they already have, and it's hard work clearing the brush in it); China and India can have one, too, and will compete with Japan over that. The European Union does a really good job of extending the carrot of membership and bringing about peace and prosperity in new regions at the same time; and America can have its own (restricted) sphere of dominance, if they insist on that. But the current administration wants to dominate all: the Middle East, to keep its Hummers humming along; South-East Asia, God knows for what reason--maybe historical inertia? --and all of the Western Hemisphere, to prevent it from ridiculous dangers, like being taken over by godless Commies like Hugo Chavez.

Above all, I don't see a simple question being asked these days in the American media (well, there's a shocker!): the European Union ensures a more than decent standard of living for most of its citizens, including excellent social services (it's true that their unemployment is higher, but they have better benefits, and statistics in America exclude its prison population, which is pretty high). And they don't need military bases and nuclear submarines all over the world to do that. They don't need to spend 500 billions a year on military matters, plus countless billions on foreign wars to have a stable, prosperous, democratic federation of decent countries. Now, why can't the United States do the same, and save a shitload of money in the process?

--Marius

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