Nancy Pelosi Hugo Chavez
Speaker of the House
Nancy Pelosi
Venezuelan President & Dictator
Hugo Chavez

 

Yesterday, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, refused to allow an up-down vote on the passage of the Columbian Free-Trade Agreement (HR 5724) as authorized under the Presidential Fast Track Authority. Speaker Pelosi has instead modified House rules, ex post facto, so that the vote required by the fast-track provisions can be circumvented.

This despite the fact that the House Democrats have repeatedly, through more than 250 consultations with Columbia, insisted on and won additional language in the trade agreement forcing Columbia to provide more protection for trade unionists in the country — in the past it has been open season on organizers, though through no fault of Alvaro Uribe, the President of Columbia. Thank FARC. President Uribe has, in fact, worked to reduce this violence and has delivered impressive initial results, reducing violence by more than 80% since 2002. This is also an agreement which Charles Rangel, Chairman of the House Ways and Means, and Bill Clinton support, as does President Bush. It is good for the United States and good for Columbia. Even Hillary Clinton’s staffer Mark Penn is^H^H was working towards this bill’s passage.

The standard media drivel is that this is the work of the labor unions in the United States, but, as with all things political, the phrase ‘cui bono’ comes to mind. 90% of Columbian goods arriving in the United States are duty free and the balance are subjected to very minimum tariff. US goods in Columbia are assessed a 35% tariff, which would be eliminated as part of the Trade Agreement. This means that companies producing goods for Columbia would be more price competitive, be able to sell more goods (in what apparently is a pending recession), and would be able to hire more union labor to produce the goods. In other words, this trade agreement is a good thing for the labor unions. The unions do, however, make a good smoke screen. What is going on under the smoke should give any American a case of the chills.

Nancy Pelosi, acting in her persona as Secretary of State, visited Damascus last year and presented the House position on national policy. It was argued at the time that this was technically treason and in fact has been previously prosecuted as such under the Logan Act of 1798. Clearly, Speaker Pelosi feels that it is in the interest of the House to establish foreign policy.

In light of the evidence of other Democrats (Kennedy D-MA) making arrangements with Hugo Chavez, perhaps more is going on here than meets the eye. Could it be that the real reason for dumping the Columbia Trade Agreement is that Pelosi has made a deal with Chavez to attempt to weaken Columbian President Uribe. It’s no secret, since a suitcase full of money and computer files revealed that Chavez is bankrolling and providing strategic intelligence to FARC.

Should all this be suprising? No. The anti-war left did it to Cambodia, stiffing our Cambodian allies after we pulled out of Vietnam, at a cost of about 1.7 million deaths at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. They are seeking to do the same in Iraq when we know Iran is actively seeking to destabilize the Iraqi government. What consequence is Columbia against sad examples of this magnitude?

Not supporting Columbia, especially when President Uribe has compromised so much at the request of the Democrats in the House, is as shameful an act as been seen in a decade.

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Sometimes it takes somebody to step back from the tactical morass of the pending primaries and presidential elections and take a look at the significant issues. I am referring to actual decision trees that must be traversed to establish policies that affect the United States, as opposed to emotional and class-divisive issues that are used for political short-term electoral positions.

Now political pundits will say that there is nothing other than the tactical political position — after all, the goal is to get elected and you can’t resolve real issues if you aren’t in a position of power or authority. But candidates mired in the short term tactical issues — addressing irrelevancies for a point here or there against their opponents — can become intellectually bankrupt of vision. Then, even if elected, they cannot address the real issues, or perhaps have compromised their political capital to the extent they are totally ineffective.

By and large, I want to address issues that can be managed in some concrete fashion, not issues that parties believe should be managed. Party issues that are litmus test issues, such as abortion, cannot have a resolution in the current political system. 40% of people oppose abortion, 40% are “pro-choice”, and the rest either don’t care or have mixed positions. Given this distribution, any executive is not going to be able to generate a policy that has an immediate impact on the United States. One might be able to create an environment where one position or another might be enabled in a future act, but such environments are very fragile. The issue of stem cells is a case in point — for all the posturing, the issue became irrelevant when Japanese scientists persuaded ordinary skin cells to transform back into undifferentiated stem cells (and with the added benefit that they were donor specific.)

So enumerated below are some issues and my tags:

AbortionAbortion — (easy since I’ve already addressed it in brief) Doesn’t matter. Can’t be resolved in the current system. Trying to make this a plank is a waste of time. Yes, there are moral and ethical issues on both sides and the current treatment is inconsistent and there are deep feelings on both sides. Doesn’t matter. Irrelevant.

ImmigrationImmigration — The United States needs to get its act together here. We have two contradictory processes at work that need to be reconciled. Our food supply is dependent on manual labor imported from outside. To increase the pay scale to the point compatible with a job an American Union Worker would take will increase the cost of food. Economically we are chained to cheap imported labor. The presence of people in the country who exist outside the legal system creates massive economic costs, yet it still somewhat to our benefit to educate and care for a certain number of these people — the cost of not doing so may be greater still.

Further, much of America’s growth is due to legal immigration, its innovation due to contributions from immigrants. From the technological and innovative point of view, why would be want to train and educate students from other countries, and rather than employ them here with a H1B, send them back to India, or China, or Pakistan where they can use what we have taught them to develop competing businesses.

The current set of immigration policies are horrible with no consistent underlying vision or plan. We need to restore the United States to that land of opportunity that calls people from all walks of life to participate in achieving their dreams, and makes them want to be legal participating citizens in the American democratic process.

The Plank: Recognize that America is built on immigration and adjust policies to reflect this fact. Increase or eliminate H1B visa limitations. Devise a guest worker program as a means to satisfy our current economic dependency while at the same time requiring such workers to exist within our legal framework (i.e., valid driver licenses, auto insurance, immunizations, etc.). Finally, enforce the subsequent laws.

BusinessBusiness Investment — The current governmental bureaucracies (both State and Federal) have created an environment where investment is going elsewhere: London, China, Russia. Our policies and laws like Sarbanes-Oxley have made the hurdle of listing in the United States financially onerous. The FDA has made developing new drugs near-impossible with the result that corporations are being fined millions of dollars for reporting their research protocols to doctors (off-label touting is a crime); deciding drugs need not be approved because existing drugs are already available (competition anyone?); and generally making the process so complex and lengthy that the evil pharmaceutical companies have to charge an arm and a leg to break even of the research and development. The Justice department obtains some of its own budget from the fines levied in actions. (oops)

These, and many more government bureaucracies have to be checked, reduced or eliminated. The government can and should regulate commerce so that the playing field is level, but by and large, issues such as who can compete should be left to the market to decide.

The sub-prime/securitization/derivatives financial liquidity crisis is providing another opening for government to over-regulate. The market is already sorting out (in the British SAS sense of the phrase) the people who were stupid. Banks are moving assets back to their balance sheets. Hedge funds are unwinding and assets are being marked to real market value. Government interference here is what created the mess. Let’s not multiply the problems.

The plank: The Government’s role should be to provide transparency. Hold hearings, investigate processes and systems but without moralizing and demonizing the industries. And then do nothing while the system, now aware of the problems, corrects itself.

In general, any law passed by Congress establishing a regulatory or oversight mission (and its associated bureaucracy) needs a sunset provision and a requirement for periodic review to determine whether its still needed. Establish a goal to cut by 10% annually both the budget and employee count of every major department. (The Jack Walsh method.)

TaxA Rational Tax Policy — The current situation is not sustainable. The class-based tax warfare must stop. Now we have the situation where the top 1% of the country’s earners pay 39% of the Federal income tax; and that 60% of the people pay less than 1%, if any. And what do we hear from Congress: “Taxes need to be more progressive.” and “We can’t have executives making $30 million dollars.” and (of course) “We have to ensure that the rich pay their fair share.” So what occurs when 0.1% of the earning population pays 99% of the income tax? What happens if they get pissed off and leave? (oops!)

Also, it is unconscionable that a PhD in accounting and mathematics, let alone a typical citizen can’t read their tax return instructions. The entire system (and the IRS) needs to be abolished and replaced with a simplified taxation system that requires no more than one page to fill out. And keep Congress out of it. Their attempts to “fix” things got us into this mess. Remember the AMT, supposedly legislated to insure that 140 people who paid no tax forty years ago, never ever got a free pass again? And now 30 million Americans have to figure their taxes twice and pay because they are now “rich”!

The Plank: Set up a commission to oversee the collection of taxes — ten members max — like the Fed. Make any revision to the code require a supermajority of 80% Congress. Make it flat or at most two tiered with no exclusions. Most people would pay a higher rate just to not fill out the forms ( or pay their tax accountants to do it for them — they would save money.) Dump the AMT, eliminate capital gains tax or any reinvestment double taxation. Simplify — forbid social reform and manipulation via taxation.

WarThe War in Iraq — Doesn’t matter. We are there, we can’t leave until its stable. Why beat a dead horse. We kill more teenagers on the highways than in the armed forces. Fix foreign policy and this will go away. Irrelevant

Foreign PolicyForeign Policy — Which one? The White House, The State Department, The Trade Office, the CIA?

The Plank: Downsize the bureaucracies and reduce the competing agendas. Let’s get some consistency in the message America sends to the rest of the world. Like Patrick Swayce in Roadhouse: Be nice, be nice, be nice until it’s time to stop being nice. Let’s treat Russia and China and other countries with respect and some understanding that they have legitimate concerns. America, for better or worse, is a superpower and is likely to remain so.

Castle RomeoNuclear Proliferation — Doesn’t matter. The first world knows this through detente. The third world has to learn. And it’s not as if we can really do anything about it — any physics grad with some practical engineering experience can do it.

Few alive today have an understanding of the effects of these weapons. If a state uses one against another state, that state is toast. Self-correcting problem. Irrelevant.

JudicialThe Judiciary — At first I was going to assign this a ‘doesn’t matter’ but I rapidly came to the conclusion that it does in the long term. Two things:

Any president should have the right to select and should have the expectation that his selection be confirmed unless there are really significant problems with the choice. By problems, I mean competency, legal and qualification problems, not fundamental philosophical differences. When the people select a president through an election, they are (hopefully) voting for a vision and a philosophy and they expect that that vision will have its day in the sun. Selecting like-minded people is an executive’s prerogative. This includes judges and attorneys-general. This is part of the implementation of the vision (and philosophy). Using the confirmation process as a weapon deprives the People of the United States of their choice of a vision. Conflicting visions each deserve a chance so confirmation should be competency-driven instead of philosophically-driven.

Since certain judicial positions are life positions, judicial appointments establish long-term trends and enable conditions for follow-on legislation by establishing the interpretative environment for that legislation. When the judicial system is strictly constructionalist, this does not matter, but whenever judges use their authority to bypass legislative strictures, and have become ‘activists’, different concerns arise. For those who believe that certain positions are warranted and have an intrinsic value independent of that determined by the will of the people (as expressed by a majority of the legislative body), judical activism is a key component in achieving these positions. Consequently, judicial appointments become critical in preserving this channel of change, and this is reflected in the acrimonious confirmation process of today.

I note in passing that a conservative position of strict construction with regard the the US Constitution is not inherently an adverse position. At most it is a neutral position with respect to ‘active change’. At most, supporters of changes currently enabled via judicial activism have only to assure that their laws pass Constitutional muster. Of course, the entire reason for judicial activism is not for reviewing laws, but for circumventing the legislative process in the first place. If they could get their laws passed, there would be no need for judicial activism. This activism is also not the exclusive province of the left. In the early 20th century, laissez-faire courts blocked Federal regulation of interstate commerce on the basis of the ‘santity of private commerce’, an appeal beyond any reasonable Constitutional interpretation.

The Plank: Confirm presidential appointments on the basis of competency and not philosophy. Develop policy to prevent and avoid judicial activism. Let the process work by confirming presidential selections, and let Democracy work by reducing judicial activism.

[Many thanks to AOC for his erudite analysis and review.]

Despite the insane and mathematically challenged ramblings of some of my colleagues, Hillary Clinton is still losing, and badly. The end result of her marginal victories in Ohio, Texas, and some County which likes to think it is a state, on March 4th was a mere +6 net gain of delegates. Given that Obama was leading at the time by over 100 delegates, you’ll excuse me if I don’t see Hillary as a serious challenge to Obama’s lead. Add to that the fact that Obama won a +7 net gain of delegates in Wyoming and Mississippi, which not only erased her progress, but pushed her further under, and it is pretty clear that Hillary is getting into deeper and deeper delegate trouble.

Given Hillary’s continued failure to achieve any measure of real success in this primary, one cannot help but notice the extreme arrogance of her suggestion that Obama become her VP. Excuse me Hillary, but you are losing. You don’t get to offer the current front runner second place. Maybe expecting an ex-Republican state swapping hussy like Hillary to have some class is a bit too much to ask, but this kind of audacity manages to dive under even my low opinion of Hillary. It’s no wonder that black voters are turning from her in droves. She is basically asking Obama to move to the back of the Democratic bus.

This latest arrogant misstatement by Hillary just serves to further emphasize the fact that if the Democrats want a snowball’s chance in hell to win the 2008 election, they will need to give Obama the nomination. Hillary has shown us that she cares nothing for the will of the people, the democratic process, or even common decency. Top this off with the fact that she is despised and hated by a large portion of the body of Democratic voters, while McCain is actually pretty well liked by the same voters, and a Hillary vs. McCain match-up is a clear recipe for a Republican victory.

No, no, no, no, no. That was not a great celebration of African-American history. That was a celebration of American history. —Barack Obama, when asked about a celebration of the place of the March on Selma in African-American history. (Taken from Andrew Sullivan’s blog, May 24, 2007.)

It is like a finger pointing away to the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory. —Bruce Lee, Enter the Dragon (1973)

I hate to break it to you all but, unless things shift around quite a bit in Ohio and Texas real soon now, the first female president is not going to be one Hillary Rodham Clinton, nominally of Chappauqua, New York. We’ll just have to wait until later in the week to find out.

Is this unjust? Nope, it’s just how things worked out given the Clinton campaign’s manifest deficiencies in management, though she and many of her followers seem to think so. Numerous articles, such as this one by otherwise uber-angry feminist Maureen Dowd, point out:

Liberal columnists have waged battle on the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times and other major media outlets about her (compare, oh, Frank Rich to Paul Krugman), or, among readers on Stanley Fish’s blog. Many of the comments note something to the effect of “I went through the first wave of feminism and so I know where she’s coming from.” In my view, the fact that HRC comes from that first generation is precisely the problem.

One of the reasons that Obama has been so successful is that he’s not viewed as “in your face” about being black. He’s a politician who happens to be black, in an odd, decidedly non-traditional way which is itself part of his broader appeal. Jesse Jackson, lest we forget, ran for president twice and won primaries, several of them, in both 1984 and 1988. He was a serious candidate, but I don’t believe anyone really thought he was going to win. Eddie Murphy did a really hilarious skit on this on the now-classic “Delirious.” (Sadly no Youtube of it alone I could find… but check out this.) The problem is that Jesse Jackson came out of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Obama is obviously the most successful of this new breed of black politicians who has benefited enormously from the civil rights generation, who protested so that, now, Obama doesn’t have to. He got to have a conflicted mental life as a young man but, ultimately, went to Columbia and Harvard Law—Ivy League bastions of white privilege not all that long ago—and succeeded at both places on his own terms. This is to the good, whether you plan to vote for or against him. (As I have clearly stated before, I’m pro, but that doesn’t mean I slavishly hold to all positions, e.g., I’m dubious of the NAFTA pandering.)

Over ten years ago survey researchers Paul Sniderman and Edward Carmines’ Reaching Beyond Race noted this point. To put their book in a nutshell: Most white people (and many others) simply don’t recognize highly racialized or genderized claims as legit, but politicians who make universal claims can do quite well. Many self-identified liberals were quite conflicted about race issues. For instance, need-based arguments have markedly more play than ones that are perceived through the lenses of race. Obama figured out a way to “reach beyond.” I bet he paid attention to the late Harold Washington, Mayor of Chicago from 1983 to 1988, who, despite coming up through the system back in the old days seemed to understand that as mayor he had to represent everyone in Chicago, not just his tribe. Harold Washington was a ground-breaking figure and his model would be very alive in the mind of an observant young man coming to work as a community organizer in that time period. Other black mayors like Tom Bradley (mayor of Los Angeles in the 80s) figure similarly. Colin Powell is another example of a trailblazing post-Civil Rights-era statesman, and someone I’m sure was looked at carefully. He’s Jamaican by ancestry, grew up in New York City, and came up through the post-segregation Army, where there’s only one color, green. He too doesn’t fit the old black politician idiom and, therefore, could move past it. Ditto for Condi Rice. There are others, e.g., Harold Ford, Jr., Jesse Jackson, Jr., and Michael Steele. All of these men have been successful at being politicians who happen to be black, not the other way around. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana seems to be analogous, though he’s obviously not black, but of Asian Indian descent. The fact that the good ol’ boys even recognize that he’s not black, or don’t care… that’s progress. None of these people are perfect but that’s unfair, holding real flesh-and-blood people to a “George Washington and the cherry tree” standard no one could possibly meet.

So my guess is that the first female president—whoever she might be, Republican or Democrat—is in her ’30s to ’50s right now. She was a girl through the feminist struggles and, unlike HRC (to say nothing of figures such as Gloria Steinem), she’ll have internalized from an early age the fact that women don’t have to bow and scrape to men, can be successful on their own terms, etc., in a way that the older generation simply hasn’t, indeed probably can’t. Mom burned her bra back in the day so that daughter doesn’t have to. Indeed, unlike mom, daughter wouldn’t even feel a need to torch her brassieres. While some more militant types simply can’t see this, if they were thinking clearly they’d realize that transcending previous generations’ struggles, realizing that some parts were crucial, others should be dropped as mistakes, and others simply don’t matter anymore is exactly the point. The first female president will probably have a law background (most politicians do, for better or for worse) and may be serving in a state legislature or some other such elected office as we speak. In other words, she’s going to be someone like the current AG of Illinois, Lisa Madigan. (In no sense should this example be considered an endorsement. Other examples would be welcome in the comments.) The long and short is that she’ll be primarily a candidate who happens to be a woman, not a woman candidate, and that will be all the difference in the world. Social change isn’t instant. It takes a while for old habits of mind to die—largely through attrition of those holding those habits of mind as time works its woe.

It’s somewhat a pity that our presidential system puts excessive focus on one office: Women have joined the ranks of corporate CEOs, senior leadership in the academy, senior leadership in government, state governors, the leadership of the House and Senate, and so on. The path is just like that taken by other groups before them… over the course of generations. Welcome to the future. It’s not a color- or gender-blind utopia populated by super “Race Man” or, the obvious parallel phrase “Gender Person”, but that’s good, not bad. It’s a damned sight different—better in many ways—than things were forty years ago, and anyone who doesn’t see that needs to look around.

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My thanks to comments from Angry Immigrant, Angry Overeducated Catholic, and Angry Political Optimist, who markedly improved the language of this post. Remaining flaws are, of course, my own.

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ObFascism Tag: “Next to Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock, Leni Riefenstahl was the most technically talented Western film maker of her era.” —Mark Cousins, The Story of Film. Proof that Fascism had its feminist icons, too! 😉

It’s looking more and more like the campaign of HRC believed their own “inevitability” line and didn’t bother to plan past Super Tuesday. Tell a line long enough and you start to believe it yourself and stop thinking about what you might need to do if your “inevitability” turns out not to be so inevitable after all and the opposition doesn’t cooperate by playing their assigned role of loser. There’s a name for this problem: Victory Disease. Believe it or not, the Wikipedia page is pretty solid, so I’ll quote it for you (with some slight edits):

The signs are:

  • Arrogance, overconfidence, and complacency,
  • Use of previously victorious patterns of fighting, and not developing new tactics to anticipate enemy advances,
  • Stereotypes of enemies, underestimating enemies,
  • Ignorance of contrary intelligence or refusal to recognize it.

While the winning side grows complacent, arrogant, feeling invincible, the enemy adapts. Military disaster ensues. While “victory disease” does not automatically foretell failure, it is a strong indicator. The term applies outside the military world.

The deep irony is that HRC and her team got a heck of a case before any actual victories.

This should sound familiar: It’s essentially the Donald Plan (Rumsfeld that is) for post-invasion Iraq. But, as he said famously at the time “it would be weeks, not months.” Now he was right about formal large unit operations but that doesn’t change the misleading nature of the quote, which was widely believed to mean “just like Desert Storm,” i.e., no long occupation, no big bill, no casualties, etc. We all know how well that turned out. Lots of people whose jobs it is to know better were telling the then-SecDef and those above him that things were going to be trouble. The invasion could have been more difficult than it was but it was not seriously in doubt. The post-invasion, on the other hand…. Well let’s just say that such things are complicated and cannot be left for improvisation. You need a plan for what happens when things don’t go the way they should.

Well HRC has fallen into the same trap. Her campaign’s been noting things like the fact that the Texas delegate allocation rules are arcane and perverse. Well, that may be, but one would presume that it was her campaign’s job to find out about such things and plan for them, rather than whinge about it down the line. And she’s one to talk about arcane and perverse rules manipulation, what with changing her mind on the Florida and Michigan primaries. Again, she’s got a fig leaf of a point but was only pro these states when it looked like it was going to be good for her. Before that, who cares? She agreed to—but then reneged on—having her name removed from the ballot.

Whether this was simply due to carelessness or some other motive I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. The message of the 2000 election is that victories based on “strategery” and procedural tricks executed by one’s partisans who have multiple relationships undermine the legitimacy of the election. Sound familiar? They need to be avoided and the system upheld, i.e., be both fair and seem to be fair. Clearly the Florida and Michigan issue is a problem and, most likely, the best thing to do is to hold a caucus after the last scheduled primary. Given how chaotic this primary season has been, it’s not at all clear if it will be worthless or amazingly relevant, so by trying to push to the head of the line Florida and Michigan may well have gotten what they wanted by boosting their relevance. That would be a bit perverse, too, but poetic justice deserves its own poetic justice now and then.

Other things:

  • Speeches don’t put food on the table. Oh really? (I suppose it’s true since the presidential pension would be quite sufficient.)
  • States and voters “don’t count.” (See “Rove” and “base”.)
  • A senior staffer really known for loyalty above anything else who spent more time watching soap operas in her office, burning through money, and then famously said “screw this, Joey doesn’t want me!” when her son asked for his Dad before bedtime when things got bad. Or maybe we’re just lead to believe she said that? And if so, what does it say about HRC’s “people”? That they will stiff her when the going gets tough? That HRC can’t discipline her staff appropriately? All of the above, most likely, but an inability to appropriately discipline staff—particularly those who are longtime friends with demographically appealing bios—sounds pretty familiar too.
  • Rampant playing of the “two for one” card while still talking about being “her own woman,” i.e., trying to have it both ways. (At least this one is new.)

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see some kind of superhero in Obama, or McCain, for that matter. They’re both more stirring than HRC, but ultimately I’m enough of a realist to know that every president steps in the doggie doo eventually. Were he to become president, I’m sure BHO would have his share of scandals in his administration. One of the virtues of a long campaign is show just what kind of person you are when you step in it, and by that score, HRC isn’t showing up too well.

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ObFascism Tag: Look up some of Hitler’s famous quote about how well Operation Barabarossa would go: “Bolshevism will collapse as a house of cards.”

George Washington, Feb. 22, 1732 – Dec. 14, 1799

I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.

Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.

I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn into precedent.

—George Washington (various sources)
 

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George Washington seems a strange choice for this series, which is (after all) about those forgotten greats. How can we include a figure so well known, so omnipresent, and so publicly venerated as George Washington: Founder of the Country, First President, First in Hearts of His Countrymen, etc.?

But fame is as a great a peril as obscurity if our goal is to remember the man and not the legend. And Washington is great precisely because he was a man—a man of his time and class—and not a myth. He was not the flawless saint of the classic “cherry tree” story. He deceived others from time to time (though perhaps only after deceiving himself). He was, at times, guilty of poor judgment, of jealousy, of passionate anger, of greed for wealth that lead to involvement with speculative schemes.

And for all his modest demurements, and socially correct (for the time) public rejections of ambition, he was certainly an ambitious man. One who took considerable pride in the good name he had won through his deeds, and one who could be jealous of his perquisites when challenged.

Indeed, that very ambition is one of the great things about Washington. He was a man who, in Britain, would have been doomed to obscurity by his relatively low birth. At best he might have risen to a modest career in the military, and perhaps eventually earned a minor peerage. But certainly he would not have risen to be ranked among the wealthiest men in his nation, nor risen to a role not only on par with the Prime Minster’s but above it in every way. But in America, his talent for being in the right place, at the right time, with the right plan; his noble good looks and regal bearing; and his upright moral character and sheer persistence allowed him to climb steadily up the ranks of society.

And so this, above everything else, makes Washington worthy of our praise: that after he had risen to the top of the heap, after his enemies domestic and foreign had been vanquished, when he was not only handed the laurel of victory but offered the imperial scepter, then he demurred. He who could have been King chose instead to be President.

And with a firm understanding that everything he did would be immortalized, and that his slightest act might become precedent for the office he held, this very ambitious, talented, and passionate man became the very model of restraint. A man who had bent the efforts of long years to rising in wealth and status now became almost passive, in order to ensure that nothing extravagant or unnecessary would attach to the office he was establishing each day by his actions.

This is not to say that he did not act, he did, and with force, when he felt it necessary. But he realized just how fragile the new nation was, and how fragile its rule of law was. If its first President had been a bad President, all might have been lost. Just as Pompey and Cesear had turned the offices of consul, dictator, and imperator into the trappings of tyranny, Washington could easily have hijacked the Republic and made it his. Not only be the crude method of being declared King, but by subtler methods: undermining Congress through direct appeal, having political enemies quietly eliminated, running for re-election until dying in office.

Any of those methods might have strangled the United States before it grew strong enough to survive them. And Washington understood this deeply, and bent all his intellect and will to ensuring that it did not happen. And he crowned those efforts with his greatest act: voluntarily stepping down and choosing not to run for election, and then lawfully handing over the office to a man who had publicly vilified his policies and privately vilified him. And then he took up station quietly on his farm and refused, largely, to engage in political debate for the remaining years of his life.

George Washington did many great things for this nation, and made many wise pronouncements about matters foreign and domestic. He was a force for moderation between extremes and for patriotism before party loyalty. He would have despised any notion that a man’s political affiliation should be more important than his principles or character. He crafted a foreign policy that sought, and ensured peace for a critical few decades as the country grew. He, and his administration, built many institutions that endure to this day, and without which we cannot imagine the nation.

But none of those were his greatest gift to the United States. His greatest gift was the incredible restraint which enabled him to do much, but not too much. To make sure that the nation would be shaped in We the people’s image and not simply George Washington’s image. And for that, we owe him eternal gratitude.

With due humility, I will take issue with one wise counsel given by President Washington:

We ought not to look back, unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors and for the purpose of profiting by dear bought experience.

I propose that there is another reason to look back, as good as these: to celebrate. Not to dwell in the past at the expense of the future, but to remember past victories as well as past defeats, and past wisdom as well as past error. In that spirit, let us remember our First President, who is truly worthy to be First in the Hearts of his Countrymen!

Happy Presidents Day Everyone!

The Soviets loved their “five year plans,” much imitated by other Communist nations back in the day, though often with slight variations like the “seven year plan”. (ObFascism: Five years was too long for Germany: The Nazis had four year plans.) It seems that some Democratic primary voters are touting the “sixteen year plan.” This is a plan dreamed up by people who say things like:

Imagine the possibilities…

  • A generation of progressive leadership in the White House
  • A new era of global cooperation to combat poverty, hunger, and AIDS
  • A lasting commitment to protecting the environment and combating global climate change
  • A new progressive balance of power on the Supreme Court
  • Enough time to begin undoing the damage caused by 8 years of George Bush

In other words, people who are blowing as much sugary sunshine the back door way as a delusional modern progressive can stand without going into insulin shock, in a nice way that makes Barack Obama look Rush Limbaugh-mean.

In a nutshell—which is about all there is here, and it’s one of those disappointing empty peanuts—the Sixteen Year Plan is:

  1. In 2008, HRC runs for President, BHO runs for Vice-President.
  2. In 2012, HRC runs for Vice-President, BHO runs for President.
  3. In 2016, HRC runs for President, BHO runs for Vice-President.
  4. In 2020, HRC runs for Vice-President, BHO runs for President.

This plan, therefore, neatly side-steps that 22nd Amendment, which states that a person is eligible for two terms as President, c’est tout, you’re done. I admit that it sounds “hinky” to me (thanks Abby) and probably violates some constitutional thing or another, but it’s on the edge of plausible, legally. I recall seeing this touted on the Washington Post forum by a poster (not one of the columnists) and thought it was ridiculous then but, it has taken on a life of its own on the intarweb much like other dumbass ideas. It’s the sort of plan that a smart high school civics student might dream up, with no notion of just how amazingly damaging to the all-too-fragile system and the norms that hold the entire electoral edifice up it would be. Such an idea was bandied about on the Republican side in 1976 when they were facing a split convention… Ronald Reagan wisely rejected such a deal, and waited four years to win a legitimate victory. We don’t need plans like this, not after the 2000 election, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, invented notes about George W. Bush’s service record (thin as the real one was), Karl Rove’s shenanigans such as accusing John McCain of fathering a black child out of wedlock in the 2000 South Carolina primary, and whatever other sleazy shit from the pile of digested Alpo from the last several years you want to pick up. No, right now what we need is a nice, clean “by the book” election, not this is freakin’ stupid and profoundly anti-“little d” democratic idea.

It’s wrong but not close to wrong enough to be “so wrong, it’s so right.” No, it’s just plain wrong.

W-R-O-N-G.

W-R-O-N-G.

Never mind the fact that this would be a clear case of “too many chiefs, not enough Indians” (two too many, given the unelected presence of Bill Clinton throughout the whole process).

Never mind the fact that it’s ludicrous to believe it would be a “credible commitment” for whomever went first—Hillary, obviously, given that this is a cheesedick way for wavering HRC supporters to get Obama to back down. Sure, I believe that you’re going to step down after being president, sure. It’s with that property in Florida and the Brooklyn Bridge….

It makes a total mockery of the electoral system and is, in essence, a throwback to the smoke filled room in the worst sort way. And I’m somewhat a fan of the old days of the smoke filled room, but this is pathetic.

It’s the kind of scheme that elected dictators of the likes of Vladimir Putin dream up when political pressure gets high enough that they need to step out of the office. Wait… Vladimir Putin IS ENACTING it!

It’s the kind of thing that shows up in Latin America, cf. Puntofijismo. It might have been OK for a while but lead to the inevitable stagnation down the road that gave the world my buddy Hugo Chavez.

I’m sure Karl Rove got semi-hard when he was hanging in Dick’s secure, undisclosed location thinking about this sort of thing, but then laughed when he realized that one’s never going to the altar with him….

This is America. We can, and should, do better than this pathetic scheme.