Sunday, October 6, 2013

Republican entrails

I am going to reprint a Facebook piece by my former Maui News colleague Rick Chatenever here. At the end, he asks what readers think. Should you care to tell him, go to his FB page.

Like Rick, I grew up as an outsider (Italian Catholic in Georgia). Rick has spent his lifetime watching and thinking about movies, and I cannot think of a better way for an outsider to obtain insights into mainstream thinking than that. I always thought he understood Mr. and Mrs. Mass American better -- or at least, more sympathetically -- than I did. (Though neither of us watched television; there is a bottom stratum that it takes a strong stomach to dig into.)

I had not thought of the angle Rick presents at all, which is why I am relaying it. There may be something to it, although not, I believe, with Cruz.

Cruz is (as many, many people instantly recognized as soon as he came on the scene) a McCarthy. The key insight into McCarthy is that he was not an anticommunist, or indeed an anti- or pro- anything. McCarthy was a pure power monster. So is Cruz. If the theme of Rick's insight is currying favor to worm one's way inside an establishment, then Cruz hasn't done that.

Many people think Cruz is brilliant, smartest guy in the room. McCarthy came across that way, too; with his tremendous memory of facts (not all his numbers were invented) and events.

McCarthy was brilliant at co-opting an establishment, and so has Cruz been. But McCarthy had no staying power, in part because he was a drunk. It remains to be seen whether Cruz has. But I think Rubio is the smarter politician. Notice how he has kept relatively quiet recently. Unlike Cruz he is not going out of his way to antagonize the main party.

If Cruz and the Tea Party can really take firm control of the Republican Party, then Cruz rakes in all he chips. Clearly, the TP wants to. The invention of the word "to primary" as a verb proves that. But if the old party proves resilient, then Cruz disappears. Less than two years after he reached his peak, McCarthy was refused entrance to a Republican dinner and was found outside on the sidewalk weeping and blubbering.

Should the old party survive, then Rubio will be placed to be its leader. Not a suicide bomber but with some credibility with the salafist wing of the GOP, he will be the uniter. A Reagan, if you will.

Anyhow, Rick's statement follows:

I have a theory.

Keep in mind that my grandparents were Jews from Russia who wound up in Brooklyn in the early 1900s. I myself grew up as a motherless son to an atheist father in Bible Belt Oklahoma in the 1950s. So I know a little bit about wanting to fit into a society where you sense you really don't belong.

Which, I think, explains politicians like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and even Eric Cantor, who are doing their parts to undo American democracy as we know it.

At the risk of being politically incorrect and insensitive, it's all about assimilation. It's about desperately wanting to be accepted by a certain group, even though you know in your heart that they're bigots and bullies. It's wanting to prove yourself one of them.

Barack Obama is your nemesis. He's the one who overcame all the obstacles with almost otherworldly wisdom and grace. You will always hate him for that.

Your, uh, issues fit right into the old-fashioned, more genteel form of country club Republicanism that still can't believe that someone like Barack Obama is the smartest guy in the room  . . .  no matter what room.

Together, you have paralyzed the American political process into a something unrecognizable. Watching a member of the House of Representatives try to bully a female park ranger on TV last week, I found myself thinking he wasn't worthy of wearing that American flag so prominently displayed on his lapel.

This is not what America is all about.

Unfortunately, the discussion is so polarized that my words will only be read by those who already agree with them (and have the patience to read a screenful of words). We can't even agree to disagree any more.

American democracy was born with a pamphlet called “Common Sense.” I think its time has come again.

What do you think?



  1. Yes, yes, we're all stupid racists. Don't you ever tire of hurling insults around?

    American democracy was born with the concept of federalism. That's what I think.

  2. Maybe you aren't all stupid racists, but the leaders of the TP think so. They keep getting caught sending out blast emails of racist jokes to their political mailing lists.

    That's something you don't do unless you are 1) really stupid; or 2) think all the people on your mailing list are as racist as you are.

    Do you define federalism the way John Calhoun did, or some other way? It might make a difference.

  3. More James Madison than John Calhoun.

  4. See, there's room for maneuver.

    But you cited the miscegenation laws. Those were local. it was national policy to do away with them. So evidently both of us are only semi-federalists.

  5. For you, this comment on Madisonianism from "Anthony" at Volokh Conspiracy:

    An assertion well founded in political genius, but illegitimate when claimed by a minority splinter of a faction that opposes generally the program of a majority. Madison himself asserted that the protection intended was on behalf of majority self-government, against illicit control of government by minority (or individual) power. You left that part out.

    There are a couple of other Madison insights from that same number (58) of The Federalist Papers—insights which give particularly relevant context for today's events:

    "Notwithstanding the equal authority which will subsist between the two houses on all legislative subjects, except the originating of money bills, it cannot be doubted that the House, composed of the greater number of members, when supported by the more powerful States, and speaking the known and determined sense of a majority of the people, will have no small advantage in a question depending on the comparative firmness of the two houses."

    How does that compare to the situation we see today? It more-or-less reverses it, does it not? Today's power-of-the-purse advocates are, by-and-large, advocating its use as a minority protection against majoritarian government. Madison, an inveterate majoritarian, is not a favorable cite for that.

    But Madison was also wary of too much enlarging the House, for fear that it might come to be ruled by demagogic foolishness:

    "On the same principle, the more multitudinous a representative assembly may be rendered, the more it will partake of the infirmities incident to collective meetings of the people. Ignorance will be the dupe of cunning, and passion the slave of sophistry and declamation. The people can never err more than in supposing that by multiplying their representatives beyond a certain limit, they strengthen the barrier against the government of a few. Experience will forever admonish them that, on the contrary, AFTER SECURING A SUFFICIENT NUMBER FOR THE PURPOSES OF SAFETY, OF LOCAL INFORMATION, AND OF DIFFUSIVE SYMPATHY WITH THE WHOLE SOCIETY, they will counteract their own views by every addition to their representatives. The countenance of the government may become more democratic, but the soul that animates it will be more oligarchic."

    ". . . . In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority. Were the defensive privilege limited to particular cases, an interested minority might take advantage of it to screen themselves from equitable sacrifices to the general weal, or, in particular emergencies, to extort unreasonable indulgences."

    That last paragraph is uncanny in prefiguring today's crisis, and in anticipating its causes.

  6. I would add, consider the Israeli Parliament and the haredi parties.

  7. I was more focusing on the balance between the State and Federal government. For example, Madison wrote the The Virginia Resolution of 1798:

    "The Virginia Resolution of 1798 also relied on the compact theory and asserted that the states have the right to determine whether actions of the federal government exceed constitutional limits. The Virginia Resolution introduced the idea that the states may "interpose" when the federal government acts unconstitutionally, in their opinion:

    "That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the federal government as resulting from the compact to which the states are parties, as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting that compact, as no further valid than they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that, in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states, who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose, for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining, within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties, appertaining to them.

    Madison was also reasonably moderate and also took the other side to help ensure that the union didn't fall apart completely and I think he should be commended for that as well.