Balkinization  

Saturday, September 23, 2006

On the way to a banana republic

Sandy Levinson

Rick Klein has a story in today's Boston Globe, tellingly titled "Congress in Dark on Terror Program," that notes that almost no members of Congress have the foggiest idea what is actually covered by the new "anti-terror" legislation being rammed through the Congress as part of the desperate effort by the Bush Administration to limit Republican losses in the forthcoming elections. ``'I don't know what the CIA has been doing, nor should I know,' said Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican." This is par for the course. ``'You're not having any checks and balances here,' said Norman J. Ornstein, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. 'It sure doesn't look to me as if they stood up and did anything other than bare their teeth for some ceremonial barking, before giving the president a whole lot of leeway. I find it really troubling.'"

This is not the way a serious legislature would operate, but who really believes any longer that we have a serious legislature? What we have is a dominant party (it is a misnomer to describe the Republicans in the Senate as the "majority" inasmuch as Democratic candidates over the past three elections cycles have received 3,000,000 more votes than their Republican counterparts; the "majority" is an artifact of our indefensiblly apportioned Senate) that operates by the American equivalent of the fuhrer-prinzip, and an "opposition party" that has no discernible backbone, as Mark Graber notes.

Madisonian democracy, r.i.p., since we sure as hell have nothing resembling it now.

Comments:

If the GOP in Congress was trying to show independence from the Bush administration, they did a sloppy-job of it. They have proven once-and-for-all that they cannot be trusted with the power they have, not ever. People need to get off their lazy-asses and wipe em' with a landslide. An entire political-generation needs to be barred-from-office by any means necessary.
 

Ya know, I've about had it.

Since 1970s, I have watched my beloved country slide inch-by-inch, millimeter-by-millimeter, towards a imperial olagarchy. I have fought it every inch of the way (voting, writing letters, protesting, etc), largely to no avail.

This week, it's clear that the democratic republic is most assurdely dead.

November elections? Yeah--between hacked voting machines and massive on-going voter disenfrancisement, you're asking me to believe in the tooth fairy.

I've been casually thinking about seeking employment in Canada. Now, I'm seriously considering it. Granted, there are some civil liberty drawbacks by embracing Canadian citizenship. But at least, as a lesbian, I would be a full citizen--which is NOT the case in the US. The final proverbial nail for me is the current White House resident's embrace of torture, and the erasure of habeaus corpus. Our Congress, both the Senate and House, just rolled over and played dead. Clearly, they're also part of the imperial olagarchy.

Enough is enough.
 

well...

i wouldn't go so far as the "by any means necessary" mode, but the fact remains that this society is getting what it asked for. in the last presidential election, regardless of how poor a compaign john kerry ran, prior to election day, when you went out on the streets and spoke to the average joe, most were for kerry. on election day, these people stayed home, while the neo-con base came out in droves.

i can easily see the same thing happening again. i point to my otherwise intelligent friends who tell me that they can't stand bush, can't stand their congresmen, etc., but won't go out and vote, because they think it doesn't make a difference. i also take fault with other friends who go out and vote without knowing what they voted for. there are actually (alot of) people in this country who vote for candidates that when they stop to think about, they do not agree with, even a little bit. they vote for these people because their spouses or their clergy told them to. that's nuts. if you think they are not out there, think again, i know many of them and that's what they tell me they base their vote on. when you raise actual issues with them, it turns out they are shocked that they voted the way they did.

i agree that the democrats fail miserably in staking out clear positions. you can't run simply by saying "i'm not them", especially since the neo-con base is being rallied again. the dems need to stake out clear positions a la the conservatives "contract with america" and stick to them. more importantly, the disaffected public needs to get off their collective keysters and get to the ballot if they really want change.
 

phg,

Real change (for the better) will only happen in the United States if we move away from this wretched two-party system.

The conservative movement in the United States has effectively moved the Democratic party so far to the left that it's a joke to even call the Democrats liberal or progressive.

But right now we have no alternative and are likely to not have one. Just look at the barriers Ralph Nader has faced in his runs for the White House. He was not allowed in the national debates, he was prevented from even being on the ballot in many states by the Democratic party.

The system is rigged.

Why We Worry
 

understand the way you feel, chris. as my father would say, step one in making rabbit stew is to catch a rabbit. politically, step one in changing the system is getting to the ballot box and electing those who you feel would vote in congress along the same lines as you would.
 

calugg,

Please leave! Since the democractic republic is dead, there's no use for you anymore. bye bye. Hail the "Imperial Oligarchy"

For the rest of you, the democrats problem isn't with "getting out their message." The dems haven't won a majority of the vote in a Presidential election in 30 to 40 years. The only dems that have a possibility and that do win - run as centrists.

So, obviously, much of the US rejects your positions, as evidenced by elections and polling - to think otherwise is a futile exercise in self-delusion.

You all should despair.

p.s. you all crack me up.
 

Hmmm. Did Sandy rewrite this post? It seems different from what I remember from earlier today...
 

Thank God Madisonian democracy is dead. Madison was a homosexual deist; his legacy richly deserves death. Our Holy Leader's insistence on use of Excruciation is Godly and proper. Your commentary is Satanistic and foul. Good day to you, Sir!
 

All humility is false humility I know. And you express the condescension of the football star for the teacher whom he knows has no power over his future. But then why are you be here? Why aren't you at Patterico? I'm sure you'd find friends there.
Why do you want the respect of those for whom you keep saying you have no respect?
This is too easy son.

I may be too much of an asshole for this place, but you're too much of an idiot.
 

Re "Humblestudent": I did indeed omit one word (before "notes" in sentence one) because it didn't make much sense. I should have read my draft more carefully. I commend "Humblestudent" for such extraordinarily careful reading, but I assure him/her that nothing else was changed.
 

For what it's worth: I'm in the minority, I suppose, in thinking that it's perfectly appropriate for a blogger to edit his or her posts without always noting the edits. It makes life easier -- post, read, edit. I do it often.

Of course, to the extent there is a substantive change of real consequence, a restructuring that would confuse readers coming back to re-read, or a change made in response to a substantive criticism, that should be noted. (I do that a lot, too.)
 

D. G.

I'm assuming your post was directed at me. If so, I'd recommend making your points properly before banding about smears like "idiot".

Try making a sensible point and then I'll respond. My posts may be filled with hyperbole, but at least they have nuggets of fact and argument.

You seem to think you have a "gotcha moment" when you ask why I want the respect of those here. Well, I have plenty of respect for most of the posters here - just not a few. Further, I can care less if the other posters respect me or not. So, um yah, you got me...
 

Sandy,

I didn't mean to imply you had any ill motive. The post read differently and I wasn't sure why.
 

There are all sorts of counter-majoritarian elements to our Constitution (judicial review comes to mind); the apportionment of the Senate is one that the founders most certainly intended, that everyone (I mean everyone, even the majority of Americans who didn't go to college) understands, and that has a defensible purpose in a federal system. By what possible justification could Prof. Levinson refer to this particular counter-majoritarian element, out of all of them, as "indefensible"?
 

There are all sorts of counter-majoritarian elements to our Constitution (judicial review comes to mind); the apportionment of the Senate is one that the founders most certainly intended, that everyone (I mean everyone, even the majority of Americans who didn't go to college) understands, and that has a defensible purpose in a federal system. By what possible justification could Prof. Levinson refer to this particular counter-majoritarian element, out of all of them, as "indefensible"?

Probably because Madison and others fought vehemently against it in the Convention. Here's Madison on one of many occasions:

“Mr. MADISON expressed his apprehensions that if the proper foundation of Government was destroyed, by substituting an equality in place of a proportional Representation [in the Senate], no proper superstructure would be raised. If the small States really wish for a Government armed with the powers necessary to secure their liberties, and to enforce obedience on the larger members as well as on themselves he could not help thinking them extremely mistaken in their means. … It had been very properly observed by [Mr. Patterson] that Representation was an expedient by which the meeting of the people themselves was rendered unnecessary; and that the representatives ought therefore to bear a proportion to the votes which their constituents if convened, would respectively have. Was not this remark as applicable to one branch of the Representation as to the other? … He enumerated the objections against an equality of votes in the 2d. branch, notwithstanding the proportional representation in the first. 1. the minority could negative the will of the majority of the people. 2. they could extort measures by making them a condition of their assent to other necessary measures. 3. they could obtrude measures on the majority by virtue of the peculiar powers which would be vested in the Senate. 4. the evil instead of being cured by time, would increase with every new State that should be admitted, as they must all be admitted on the principle of equality.” Madison’s Notes of the Federal Convention, July 17, 1787. Similar, in some cases impassioned remarks, can be found Id. at June 28, 29, 30, July 5, 7, and 9.

Then, in Federalist 62, Publius simply conceded that this aspect of the system was indefensible and accepted it as a necessary compromise:

"The equality of representation in the Senate is another point, which, being evidently the result of compromise between the opposite pretensions of the large and the small States, does not call for much discussion. ... But it is superfluous to try, by the standard of theory, a part of the Constitution which is allowed on all hands to be the result, not of theory, but "of a spirit of amity, and that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable.'' A common government, with powers equal to its objects, is called for by the voice, and still more loudly by the political situation, of America. A government founded on principles more consonant to the wishes of the larger States, is not likely to be obtained from the smaller States. The only option, then, for the former, lies between the proposed government and a government still more objectionable. Under this alternative, the advice of prudence must be to embrace the lesser evil; and, instead of indulging a fruitless anticipation of the possible mischiefs which may ensue, to contemplate rather the advantageous consequences which may qualify the sacrifice." Emphasis added.
 

Prof. Field, that proves rather too much: are you saying that Madisonian democracy has been dead for 217 years? That wasn't quite the tone of the original post.

In any case, contractual agreements such as those Publius describes are defensible purely as such, and (under some political theories, anyway) require no further justification.
 

Prof. Field, that proves rather too much: are you saying that Madisonian democracy has been dead for 217 years? That wasn't quite the tone of the original post.

I'm a mere lawyer, not a lofty professor, though I appreciate the compliment (?).

No, I don't mean that at all. I mean something more limited, namely that Madison's system never was implemented. His "republican remedy" (Federalist 10) really depended on proportional representation in the Senate. Madison fought so hard against the Compromise because it undermined the essential premise of his vision. What we've had is, perhaps, a handicapped version of the democracy he had in mind.

You asked originally why Prof. Levinson could use the word "indefensible" to refer to the Senate. Madison, at least, thought it was; that is pretty good justification for the term.

In any case, contractual agreements such as those Publius describes are defensible purely as such, and (under some political theories, anyway) require no further justification.

I agree, as did Publius (rather ungraciously). The key point raised by Prof. Levinson is whether that compromise is worth re-visiting in light of republican theory. Madison's repeated comments at the Convention leave me with no doubt that Madison himself would jump at that opportunity.
 

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