Balkinization  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Would a serious country place John Boehner two heartbeats from the Presidency?

Sandy Levinson

Under the current Succession in Office Act, the Speaker of the House would succeed to the Presidency in case something happened to both the President and Vice President.  Akhil Reed Amar makes an interesting argument that the Act is unconstitutional, though this has been disputed by Seth Barrett Tillman.  But although the constitutional question is surely of interest to constitutional theory buffs, it is near-irrelevant to most people.  For them, the question is (and perhaps should be) the wisdom of some of our institutions rather than their pure legality.  As almost everyone on this list knows, I think that a lot of our Constitution is stupid (or worse), but the point is that the relevant provisions--such as, for starters, delaying Inauguration until January 20, which would have placed us, yet once more, in the position of having an even more terminally dysfunctional government had Mitt Romney been elected about six weeks ago but had no legal authority for yet another month)  being without a truly functioning government--raise no "legal questions" as such.

So, even assuming that the Succession in Office Act, contrary to Amar's analysis, is constitutional, it is still terminally stupid, both in theory and in raw, brute fact.  The theoretical objection comes from the fact that changes in party control of the White House should be by election, not by the vagaries of sickness (or assassination), and with some frequency in recent years the Speaker has been a member of the Opposition Party (Gingrich, Hastert, Pelosi, and now Boehner, most recently, though, of course, all Republican Presidents since Hoover have faced Democratic Speakers for most or all of their presidencies).  There is also the fact that whatever the skill set required to be Speaker, there is literally no reason in the world to believe that it overlaps substantially with the skill set required to be President, especially in the heightened circumstances that such succession would be occurring in.

But then, of course, there is the particular Speaker himself.  Would anyone on this list, Democratic, Republican, Tea Party, or whatever, list John Boehner as anyone that any rational person/republic would consider as President?  I regard this as a rhetorical question, but I'll be genuinely interested if even the most oppositionist regular discussants take up the cudgels for Speaker Boehner.  (I'm not really interested in hearing any rhetorical displays about whether Speakers Pelosi, Wright, or O'Neil, among others were any more qualifies.  I want to know who, if anyone, would breathe more easily if John Boehner became President of the United States--unlike, say, Secretaries of State Powell, Rice, and Clinton, who would all have been next in line under the old Succession in Office Act repealed in 1947 in a fit of "democratic abstractionism" because Harry Truman and others thought it desirable that the President be an elected official rather than someone merely nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate (though this was precisely the position of both Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller, the only two "beneficiaries" of the 25th Amendment process adopted in the aftermath of JFK's assassination).  He appears to be, by all accounts, an uncommonly provincial person.  If he has ever traveled abroad, for example, there is no record of it in the New York Times stories I was able to call up.  (A golfing excursion to Scotland doesn't really count.)  If he has ever read a serious book on economics, I'd be more than a bit surprised.  He seems to be a classic party hack, totally unfit to represent our country in serious negotiations (unlike, say, even Mitt Romney, who one has to presume is more intelligent and thoughtful than the absolutely egregious persona he opportunistically adopted in order to win his ultimately worthless nomination). 

Note that this is one time I'm not blaming the Constitution for this particular idiocy of the American political system; indeed, Amar argues that the Constitution, correctly understood, would protect us from the spectacle of a Boehner presidency through succession. 

We could have a separate discussion, incidentally, about whether Pat Leahy should be three heartbeats away.  I don't think that Succession by the President pro Tem of the Senate makes any more sense than Succession by the Speaker (and would be just as unconstitutional if one accepts Amar's argument), but at least Leahy, by all accounts, is still fully functioning, unlike such recent potential presidents as Strom Thurmond and Robert Byrd.  One can understand why the Senate has adopted a seniority rule to designate Presidents pro Tem, but it is just one more piece of evidence that members of the Congress simply do not see any duty to think of the Succession in Office Act and its implications with the slightest bit of seriousness.  It's all very discouraging.

Comments:

I am at a loss to think of why Boehner or any Speaker of the House is somehow not presidential timber. Well there was Hassert, a total cipher, but even he was easily as qualified as W.

The flaw is with Presidentialism itself. No human is qualified to be President of the ungainly empire that is America.
 

Got that right! The Presidency has evolved into something approaching a term limited dictator, and nobody is fit to exercise power like that.

Sandy, a serious country wouldn't put Obama zero heart beats away from the Presidency. A scarcely vetted at all legislative zero with no policy accomplishments to speak of, and no executive branch experience. The idea that he was Presidential material was a joke.

A serious country wouldn't put Biden one heart beat from the Presidency. Possibly the stupidest member of Congress, every time he opens his mouth he disqualifies himself for public office. A classic example of choosing your VP as life insurance.

Yeah, I'd breathe more easily were Boehner in the Oval office. There are a number of causes the President is fond of, and I loathe, which I doubt he has any interest in pursuing. He's a non-entity, to be sure, but unlikely to declare himself entitled to usurp powers explicitly granted the legislative branch, such as the power to declare war, (Libya) or enact legislation. (The Dream act.)

Presidents have little capacity for good, the best you can hope for them is to not do too much damage during their terms. I much prefer a non-entity who understands his limits, than a narcissist who is determined to leave a mark.

The nation will be a different place after 8 years of Obama. A better place? No, not so much.
 

Bo(eh)ner's real qualification for the "bronze" is the result of tanning salons. Consider the recent "Bo(eh)ner's Boner" with his Plan B. OOPS!

Perhaps single-issue-Brett was happy with the 8 years of Bush/Cheney that left America with the 2008 Bush/Cheney Great Recession. Was Bush a term-limited dictator or just a sock puppet for his #2?

Oh those terrible demographics! What is an angry white voter to do? Brett's:

"The nation will be a different place after 8 years of Obama. A better place? No, not so much."

suggests what? If not so much a better place, then what? Bo(eh)ner? Perhaps it's a matter of ungovernability. But take a peek at Brett's inance comments on Sandy's preceding Part II post on ungovernability.

 

Brett

It's true that compared to most other President's Obama had relatively little major achievements (though I seem to remember reading in the WaPo that they were roughly equivalent to Lincoln's, not that I think his in-office work is remotely in that league), but in this day and age 'outsiders' are in, insiders are reviled.


 

Sandy set himself up for Brett's all too easy shots on the comparative qualifications of the current POTUS and VP.

However, I believe Sandy's contention was that the Sec State is somehow better qualified than the Speaker to be President because of party loyalty.

Sandy, would you feel the same if this were 2007?
 

Obama has shown himself to be calm, intelligent, reality minded and competent as President. One can oppose him for ideological reasons, but "serious" people find him quite acceptable, even if they didn't vote for him. This includes various 'serious' other nations out there, including our allies.

As to Biden, like Bush, the fact he says a few stupid things is a rather "unserious" reason to target the guy. I found the "Bushisms" in Slate rather childish after awhile.

Biden had thirty years of Senate experience. Before the Iraq War (II), he was one of the more sane voices. I have no idea how he was "possibly the stupidest" member of Congress. We are talking some really moronic people here. That is a rather "unserious" comment too.

Brett's continual dyspeptic viewpoints are duly the above is not just that. They are wrong on the merits. Obama was very well "vetted" over the years. He had more than "zero" legislative experience. Brett knows this but exaggerates for some reason.

Anyway, yeah, Boehner is not someone many of us would like, but I'm reading a bio of Millard Fillmore at the moment. I think we can survive. B. in fact seems like safer than other possibilities given he isn't a true believer but would likely compromise in the face of reality.

The third in line probably should be Secretary of State, even if back in the day Federalists didn't like Jefferson.

At least, Pat Leahy now is the head of the Senate. A spring chicken relatively speaking.

 

I'm sorry ... Obama is allegedly a "legislative zero" whatever that means. As a state legislator, he wasn't a "zero" while yes he had limited experience in the Senate. But, the term is vague enough to mean various things. After all, what are McCain's big accomplishments there? One was not exactly something Brett would see as a net positive.

Obama fit a certain need particularly given the opposition. He had the overall qualifications for that. So apparently did Bush43, as if a weak governor of Texas with his overall experience and character was eminently more qualified than Obama to be President.

Again, this is not merely about policy. It is the basic idea that Obama and Biden aren't serious people for their roles. That's a stretch.
 

Every time Brett posts I find myself rooting for cancer.
 

There's a reason I didn't vote for McCain. More of a negative number, than a zero, IMO.

I think that a decent scheme would be to let the nominees designate a list of state governors. Executive branch experience, (Obama proves the need for this!) and unlike cabinet members, elected in their own right. It would be decidedly superior to the present system.

I've never said that I *like* the present system for succession. I merely take exception to Sandy's over the top partisan disdain for anybody with an R before their name.

Any member of a given party is going to think that the members of the opposing party are inferior to their own. The kind of contempt that rolls of Sandy sometimes is something different, and much worse.

I presume you're going to that little get together of yours in the capacity of "Exhibit 1", right? Because with an attitude like that, you'd be a good one.
 

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There were many good candidates from parties not my own. Bush43 received certain scorn that his father, Dole and even Reagan (even with the scorn from some) has no received for a reason.

Obama has been a "sane" choice for President and loads of Republicans (some of whom voted for him) think this. As to executive experience, he did better or as good as many who had some. But, as Brett noted elsewhere, he is more radical than the average person.

The state governor proposal is curious though focusing on that does meet with Brett's dislike of the federal government allowed by the Constitution. Being a governor of a state might help but it very well might not. Many good presidents were not governors.

I think SL is over the top at times though at least he's a bit more substantive than our personal potshot machine here. Not helping.
 

"he" being "radical" is in reference to Brett.

For a contrary view, and for a good gift for your Tea Party friends, a contributor here has a book.

Happy holidays.
 

Brett

It's true Obama would have been at the lower end of qualifications when he was elected, but he had at least won state-wide office which cannot be said about several Presidents, including most notably Lincolnf (who had I think even less political experience than Obama).
 

In reality, I don't think Speaker Boehner has ever wanted to be President of the United States. I think he knows his own limitations. Even his hold on the position of Speaker of the House is tenuous at best, with House Majority Leader Cantor being the real power "behind the throne".

@Brett,

As a liberal, I have real issues with our "Milquetoast President", but to say that he is unqualified for the Office of the President is a real stretch, even by the most warped of imaginations.
 

Once we get beyond the question of whether any progressive is qualified to set policy for a republic (or any conservative from the POV of the left), we are left with the qualifications of the man or women to implement policy as president. In other words, is this president a competent CiC and can this president convince voters to support and assemble a coalition in Congress to enact his or her policies.

Obama is an arrogant authoritarian, which has not hampered his ability to serve as CiC, but makes him completely incompetent to democratically enact policy.

Obama has been a basically competent CiC in an international environment where the US faces no substantive challenges. al Qaeda was largely destroyed in Iraq and the Taliban cannot reach any important US interests. The Russians and Chinese have been content to occasionally embarrass the U.S., but have not challenged us.

During his entire political career, however, Obama has never persuaded a majority of voters to support his progressive and socialist policies or assembled a coalition in the IL legislature or Congress to enact them.

Obama campaigns as a moderate and comprehensively misrepresents his policies. In 2008, Obama lied about every element of his Obamacare policies including the individual mandate, taxes, costs and government design of our health insurance. Obama lied about supporting reforms to prevent banks from making subprime home mortgage loans and instead massively expanded government power to take over banks and over every facet of the commercial loan industry. Obama never mentioned anything about nationalizing GM and Chrysler and spending billions to bail out the UAW retirement funds. Obama lied about cutting spending to pay for any new program and instead massively increased spending by $600 billion annually and as a percentage of GDP.

After the campaign, Obama decisively took action where he enjoyed complete autonomy like illegally using TARP to nationalize GM and Chrysler and semi nationalize Fannie and Freddie.

When it came to legislation, Obama never attempted to contact GOP legislators to support his policies and rarely contacted any of the rank and file Democrats. Obama largely delegated legislation to the Democrat leadership.

This worked so long as the Democrats held a supermajority in Congress. The Senate Dems stopped making policy after Obamacare out of fear of their constituents and the Democrats lost the House in 2010 and 2012 because they didn't hide from their constituents.

Since he lost Congress, Obama has been threatening to shut down the government or allow the Clinton tax rates to return in order to maintain his spending status quo. Obama has never offered any legislation setting out his positions nor attempted to peel off GOP votes to support such legislation as Reagan and Bush routinely did.

It appears that Obama plans to rule by decree over his opponents through a tidal wave of regulation which started just before the election by refusing to enforce the law against his supporters. (See the Obamacare waivers and the decision not to enforce immigration law.)

Are these the qualifications of a president of a small "d" democratic republic?

Obama's best qualification and protection against future impeachment is that he arguably has the most incompetent Vice President in modern history. Biden makes Dubya appear eloquent and Boehner appear a master of governance. The VP is a walking gaffe in all senses of that word.

If some intrepid reporter proved that Obama was born in Kenya and disqualified to be president, I would argue that Obama would need to remain in office for the good of the Republic because Biden is completely unqualified to take the position.

 

Adam Lanza had a firmer grasp of reality than do most unhinged wingnuts.
 

"During his entire political career, however, Obama has never persuaded a majority of voters to support his progressive and socialist policies"

I dunno, he and his party got considerably more votes than the other side when he ran on the ticket, not much he could do that many states had gamed the districts to ensure that majority didn't translate into a different House.

I agree Obama could likely have done a better job working the legislature, but it is also true that Obama is an amazingly polarizing figure; where he is not liked he is hotly hated, and in those districts legislators doing pretty much anything tied to him would get run out of town on a rail in the next primary, so there is every incentive to oppose anything he puts up, and we actually see that happening.

"Obama has been threatening to shut down the government or allow the Clinton tax rates to return in order to maintain his spending status quo"

This is silly, only one side has to my knowledge taken an absolute will not budge stance on one entire side of the ledger, and it ain't Obama's...
 

"I dunno, he and his party got considerably more votes than the other side when he ran on the ticket,"

That's true, the point being that he did this by NOT running on his real agenda. Did he run on a Gulf oil moratorium? Blocking the Keystone pipeline? War in Libya? Bailing out GM? And now, a gun ban?

No, he didn't. He ran on "hope and change", because he wouldn't have been elected if he'd been specific. And the media cooperated in this, because, well, he was running against a Republican, and that was reason enough when 90% or so of journalists are Democrats.

You want a mandate, you've got to run on what you're planning on doing. Obama has never done that, because he wanted to win.
 

Apply Brett's:

"You want a mandate, you've got to run on what you're planning on doing. Obama has never done that, because he wanted to win."

to Bush/Cheney and their "appointment" by the decision in Bush v. Gore (5-4). Did this SCOTUS decision provide their mandate? Consider the Bush/Cheney course of 8 years ending with the Bush/Cheney 2008 Great Recession. Mandates for their two terms? Even their prime tuchus-licker at this Blog soured on Bush/Cheney, realizing his errant ways much too late in yodeling his support during most of those 8 years. And Brett was in line behind our yodeler during most of this venture waiting his turn. But our dyslexic duo, Brat and Bert, seem so overwhelmed by the demographic changes, facing what angry white men fear to face. To arms, to arms!

Perhaps Brett can disclose Obama's "real agenda" with the wisdom of his cartoonish Elmer Fuddish pate visual. [A picture is a thousand words.]
 

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Brett

"He ran on "hope and change", because he wouldn't have been elected if he'd been specific"

I was talking about his RE-election.
 

Brett/Mr. W:

Barack Obama is a product of the Michael Harrington realignment strategy where socialists ran as moderate to liberal Democrats in an effort to turn the Democrats into an EU-style democratic socialist party. As I detail in my book, Barrack Obama started his political career running for the IL legislature by joining the New Party branch of the Democratic Socialists of America and then running as a fusion candidate under both the New Party and Democrat tickets. The CPUSA, DSA, ACORN and several other smaller socialist organizations have been supporting Obama campaigns ever since, including the last one. The day after Obama was safely reelected, the CPUSA paper came out of the closet and headlined: "We Won!"

On a similar note, one of Saul Alinsky's power principles that Barack Obama adopted in whole was the necessity of offering "hope and change" (Alinsky's words) to convince the American middle class to accept "radical change." In making this argument, Alinsky was paraphrasing a Bolshevik commander during the Russian Revolution.

Shag:

The left is quite open about their goals and strategies when they think that no one else is listening or reading what they are saying to one another. The best way to read my book is on a e-book tablet with internet access so you can go from my several hundred hyperlinked endnotes and read the primary sources.

Local news also provides good secondary sources for what Obama's various czars, task forces and bureaucracy is up to. For example, the Detroit press was extensively covering Obama's nationalization and mismanagement of GM and Chrysler the Democrat national media was ignoring or mischaracterizing as "bailouts."
 

Blankshot, when are you planning to write a book detailing how Mittens won the last election?
 

Mr. W: I was talking about his RE-election.

Obama transitioned from "hope and change" to slash and burn in 2012.

Obama's stump speech and advertising ignored or misrepresented his first term, offered little of substance for the future and slandered Mitt Romney as a predatory plutocrat.

The only affirmative policy he offered in 2012 was to pursue a vague "balanced plan" to balance the budget made up of "reasonable spending cuts" and declining to continue the Bush tax cuts for those earning over $200,000.

If you believe the leaks to the Democrat media about Obama's secret post-election offer to Boehner (recall that Obama has never offered an actual plan to the public), then the 2012 promise was a lie. The reported Obama offer was to raise taxes by twice what he promised on the campaign trail and increase rather than decrease spending.

Classic Obama bait and switch.

In any case, the "kill Romney" strategy worked. The millions of 2008 Obama supporters who left him in 2012 and interestingly a couple million Republicans who supported McCain stayed home rather than vote for the successfully demonized Romney.
 

Slandered Mitt Romney as a predatory plutocrat? Yes, how nasty of Obama to run advertising of Mittens saying things that you would expect from a predatory plutocrat. Got 47%?
 

Bart

"The CPUSA, DSA, ACORN and several other smaller socialist organizations have been supporting Obama"

I'm not sure how this is any more important than that many extremists hate groups opposed him.

BTW-what is the evidence that Obama joined the New Party?

"Obama transitioned from "hope and change" to slash and burn in 2012"

This is amazingly selective of you; anti-Obama groups combined with the Romney campaign spent as much or more than Obama did, and the fact that the bulk of the former came from SUPER-PACS which run upwards of 90% negative ads indicates there was more 'slash and burn' directed at Obama than Romney.


 

Merry Christmas Mr. W & thanks for responding to Bart in a productive way. After awhile, I think you too were rather tired of his one-sided views, but chose a more productive path than the ad hominems of some.

Merry Xmas to all and to all a happy Festivus.
 

BD: The CPUSA, DSA, ACORN and several other smaller socialist organizations have been supporting Obama

Mr. W: I'm not sure how this is any more important than that many extremists hate groups opposed him."


We were discussing Mr. Obama misrepresenting his positions to the voters during political campaigns and Mr. Obama is a socialist very much at home with his various socialist sponsors.

Mr. W: BTW-what is the evidence that Obama joined the New Party?

DSA and New Party publications and I believe an interview with a Committee of Correspondence communist on the New Party board who discusses Obama's pitch to join.

Do you have an e-reader? I can send you a Kindle or iBooks copy of my book with links. I spend a chapter going over Obama's history before becoming president. Others have written entire books on the subject.

BD: "Obama transitioned from "hope and change" to slash and burn in 2012"

Mr. W: This is amazingly selective of you; anti-Obama groups combined with the Romney campaign spent as much or more than Obama did...


I never said that the Republicans did not do their share of mudslinging.

You noted that Obama won reelection with the implication that reelection was some sort of mandate for or acquiescence to his policies. I merely noted that Obama offered almost no policy positions during the 2012 campaign and instead pursued and prevailed on what they called the "kill Romney" strategy.
 

Joe, go fuck yourself.
 

Mr. W:

I do enjoy our discussions and thank you for your civil and substantive comments.

I hope everyone here has a grand holiday season and I pray we have a better new year.
 

Joe
Thanks, I enjoy your comments and wish you happy holidays as well.

Bart

"Mr. Obama is a socialist very much at home with his various socialist sponsors"

What I'm getting at is that often extremist groups pick a side in our two party system, but I'm not sure the fact that the CPUSA favored Obama means anything more about Obama than that many racist hate groups stridently opposed him. If the CPUSA endorsement somehow means Obama is a communist, does the opposition from racist groups mean he a great civil rights leader?

"DSA and New Party publications and I believe an interview with a Committee of Correspondence communist on the New Party board who discusses Obama's pitch to join"

See, that's the thing. The only thing I've seen presented on this topic is some New Party documents and recollections (the latter of which are contradicted by other member recollections btw) trying to claim Obama as one of theirs. I'm less than persuaded by such because the whole idea behind these 'fusion' parties is to try to hitch your wagon to a major party candidate. This doesn't mean he didn't welcome their support or turn a blind eye to it, but I'm not sure I'm convinced it tells us much about him.

"You noted that Obama won reelection with the implication that reelection was some sort of mandate for or acquiescence to his policies"

He was president for four years. People had an idea of what he had and had not done. An alternative was offered if people didn't like that, and they chose to keep him. That's kind of what it means when an incumbent wins re-election.

"I never said that the Republicans did not do their share of mudslinging."

Well, you omitted to mention it upthread...

"I do enjoy our discussions and thank you for your civil and substantive comments.

I hope everyone here has a grand holiday season"

Back at ya!
 

Mr. W: The only thing I've seen presented on this topic is some New Party documents and recollections (the latter of which are contradicted by other member recollections btw) trying to claim Obama as one of theirs.

Socialist attempts disavow Mr. Obama and to airbrush away his past when he started to run for national office is its own story and one I detail in my book.

For the purposes of this discussion, I would simply note that I find the news articles with photographs various socialists groups reported to their members at the time to be more credible than denials to the national media during Mr. Obama's campaigns.

Perhaps the most humorous of these attempts to erase Mr. Obama's past was when the candidate and the campaign denied Obama worked for ACORN when his campaign website featured a photograph of Obama teaching Saul Alinsky's power principles to ACORN leaders. The photo disappeared off the website after the conservative blogosphere noted what Obama was writing on the blackboard, but not before the screenshots were saved.

I hope you enjoyed Christmas.
 

Obama a socialist? Absent a Social Security fiscal crisis in the next decade, he's working to negotiate away Social Security benefits. Some socialist.

The wingnuts here are NOT EVEN WRONG.
 

Larry:

1) Socialism is the government directing the economy to redistribute wealth. Social Security is a pay as you go public pension system where you are supposed to take out roughly what you put in. SS is not socialism.

2) The only evidence that Obama actually agreed to change the calculation of the SS cost of living increase from tracking national income back to the traditional tracking of inflation are some news reports from the usual suspect unidentified sources. Obama has never offered legislation or even a verbal confirmation of this claim.

3) Obama is a socialist because many of his signature policies are one flavor or another of socialism.
 

"Socialism is the government directing the economy to redistribute wealth"

This is a highly idiosyncratic definition of socialism.

"SS is not socialism"

Are you saying that SS is not intended to be redistributivist?
 

BD: "Socialism is the government directing the economy to redistribute wealth"

This is a highly idiosyncratic definition of socialism.


How so?

Defining socialism is a bit like herding cats, socialists themselves can't agree on one.

I examined several varieties of socialism for my book and these are the two elements they all share. The different means of achieving these goals account for socialism's varieties.
 

BD: SS is not socialism

Are you saying that SS is not intended to be redistributivist?


I am saying that SS is not the government directing the economy.

SS was not originally designed to be redistributionary, but placing a floor on benefits and likely changes reducing benefits for the wealthy is making SS redistributionary
 

The most commonly found definition of socialism involves common, or public (governmental) ownership of all property. Here's for example the first two entries in Merriam-Websters:

"any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

2
a: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property

b: a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state"

From past conversations with you I understand you to argue that government regulation which may leave some private property (and profit) is equivalent to this and therefore also socialism. I don't think it's equivalent for a couple of reasons.

First, I know actual socialists, and the thing they object to the most is that feature ("socialized labor, private profits"). When you define a belief system in a way that many of its adherents object to that's usually a bad sign.

Secondly, this leads to conclusions that would strike many as at odds with the concept; Lincoln as a socialist (Lincoln enacted economic policies such as the Freedman Acts and Homestead Act which had redistributive goals and effects)? Reagan as a socialist (what was the EITC expansion if not redistribution at the federal level, and monetarism if not direction of the national economy)? When you define a belief system such that very odd figures fall into it, that's also a bad sign.

My third point is that this definition has far too much 'room to play' in it. Words like "directing the economy" (would that include things like the Henry Clay's "American System" of federal internal improvements or Calhoun's Tariff of 1816? Or how about basic governmental functions such as basic property rights, which some libertarians have argued protect and benefit the poor more than the wealthy) and "redistribute wealth" (again, didn't government supports for slavery and jim crow lead to 'redistributing wealth?' Would we say the Antebellum South was socialist? Is adverse possession not often redistributive? Does that make the old common law socialist?).

Take a policy like 'trust-busting.' It has the aim of eliminating concentrations of wealth, but is it aiming at redistribution? Socialism, or not?

I don't mind someone saying that every increase in regulation, every government takeover of an industry area, every redistributive policy, is a STEP towards socialism. But I think definitions that start equating these steps with the end result are just too vague and problematic.

 

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Mr. W:

1) Dictionary definitions of socialism generally are limited to classical socialism and ignore other variations like German Zwangswirtshaft and what is commonly known in the US as economic democracy.

2) Progressivism is not socialism. This is an error common to conservatives, who often mistake big government with socialism. Socialism always has a large government, but not all large governments are socialist. To keep my fellow libertarians and conservatives from making this error in the future, I distinguish progressivism from socialism in my book.

3) Regulation in the normal meaning of that word is not socialist government direction of the economy. Regulations are negative commands telling citizens and business what they may not do. Socialist affirmative direction of the economy tells an industry what to produce and how to produce it. This distinction get blurred when progressives occasionally issue affirmative regulations and when socialists use the regulatory bureaucracy to direct the economy under Zwangswirtshaft socialism.

4) Progressives and socialists both redistribute wealth, but go about it in different ways. Progressives use the welfare state, unions and labor mandates like minimum wage laws, while socialists direct the economy to redistribute wealth.

5) Left governments in most countries employ a mixture of progressivism and socialism, and Obama and the Democrats are no different.

6) Because socialism sill bears a political stigma in this country, American socialists schizophrenically speak far differently amongst themselves than they do to others. To illustrate this in my book, I compare a rather pragmatic discussion of the future of socialism in The Nation, much of it admitting that socialism is evolving and voicing support for Obama/Democrat policies. Then, I quote one or two of the participants hysterically asserting to major press outlets that socialism requires complete government control over the economy and Obama cannot be a socialist because his policies do not go that far.

The moral is ignore the defensive spin and follow what socialists discuss amongst themselves and what they actually impose as policy.
 

Shorter version:

I am trolling you.
 

1. "Dictionary definitions of socialism generally are limited to classical socialism and ignore other variations"

There's probably a reason for that, it's what the concept generally means.

2. "Regulations are negative commands telling citizens and business what they may not do. Socialist affirmative direction of the economy tells an industry what to produce and how to produce it."

I'm not sure this is a distinction that can stand (you seem to concede it gets 'blurred'): for example, many classic regulations have the effect of telling an industry what it can and cannot produce (think seatelts with cars, 'dolphin-free' tuna or asbestos products) and even how they can produce it (think of OSHA and labor laws).

"Socialist affirmative direction of the economy tells an industry what to produce and how to produce it."

Where would you place monetarism? It doesn't tell industry specifically what to produce and how, but it surely directs the economy.

3. "Left governments in most countries employ a mixture of progressivism and socialism, and Obama and the Democrats are no different."

So Obama and the Democrats are socialists, except when they are not....

Again, let's get an answer to some of my specific examples. Reagan used monetarism to direct the economy and the EITC to redistribute wealth. His monetary, tax plan and military spending encouraged growth in some industries (technology) while discouraging it in others. Socialist? Lincoln used the Freedman's Act, the Homestead Act and the Land Grant Colleges Act to encourage specific trades (agriculture/farming and mechanics) and they had redistributive goals and effects (Lincoln said of the former: "In regards to the homestead bill, I am in favor of cutting the wild lands into parcels, so that every poor man may have a home"). Socialist?
 

BD: 1. "Dictionary definitions of socialism generally are limited to classical socialism and ignore other variations"

Mr. W: There's probably a reason for that, it's what the concept generally means.


General dictionaries only offer general usages for a word. The dictionary definition of the word "human being" does not detail all of our evolutions and variety.

BD: 2. "Regulations are negative commands telling citizens and business what they may not do. Socialist affirmative direction of the economy tells an industry what to produce and how to produce it."

Mr. W: I'm not sure this is a distinction that can stand (you seem to concede it gets 'blurred')...


In my book, I compare standard regulation of insurance requiring insurers to draft their policies clearly and have enough money on hand to pay claims with Obamacare, which gives the government the power to design health insurance, to fine or forbid alternate policies, to direct where insurance can be sold and how it can be advertised, how insurers may operate their companies, redistributes over $2.5 trillion in the first ten years and then commands the citizenry to buy the result under pain of fine.

The former is regulation, the latter is German Zwangswirtshaft socialism at its worst.

BD: "Socialist affirmative direction of the economy tells an industry what to produce and how to produce it."

Where would you place monetarism? It doesn't tell industry specifically what to produce and how, but it surely directs the economy.


Monetarism is an economic theory concerning the effect of money supply on the economy.

If you are referring to government's power to manage the national currency, this is not government directing what the economy will produce.

BD: 3. "Left governments in most countries employ a mixture of progressivism and socialism, and Obama and the Democrats are no different."

Mr. W: So Obama and the Democrats are socialists, except when they are not...."


Of course. The Republicans are conservatives, except when they are progressives and yes even socialists. Very few people subscribe to only one ideology.

Mr. W: Reagan used monetarism to direct the economy and the EITC to redistribute wealth. His monetary, tax plan and military spending encouraged growth in some industries (technology) while discouraging it in others. Socialist?

No.

Almost every ideology (with the exception of maybe anarchism, which is the absence of an ideology) has the government manage the money supply and the national defense.

The EITC is a progressive redistributionary idea adopted by normally conservative thinkers like Reagan and Friedman. No one is perfect.

The Reagan tax reforms of making the income tax code flatter and broader is pretty much mainline free market thought.

Mr. W: Lincoln used the Freedman's Act, the Homestead Act and the Land Grant Colleges Act to encourage specific trades (agriculture/farming and mechanics) and they had redistributive goals and effects (Lincoln said of the former: "In regards to the homestead bill, I am in favor of cutting the wild lands into parcels, so that every poor man may have a home"). Socialist?

While Lincoln would occasionally use the socialist rhetoric of the era, these are variations of standard progressive redistributionary policy - agricultural welfare, if you will.

Socialism would be either nationalizing farms or using regulation to direct what farms produce to redistribute income.

Hope this helps.
 

"The dictionary definition of the word "human being" does not detail all of our evolutions and variety."

Here's Merriam-Webster's entry for "human:"

"a bipedal primate mammal (Homo sapiens)"

You're right that it doesn't discuss Neanderthal or homo habilis, but that's appropriate: while related to homo sapiens those things are not homo sapiens. Likewise I think while you may be talking about offshoots, similarly aligned or precursors of socialism proper you are not talking about socialism.

"compare standard regulation of insurance requiring insurers to draft their policies clearly and have enough money on hand to pay claims with Obamacare, which gives the government the power to design health insurance...The former is regulation, the latter is German Zwangswirtshaft socialism"

Isn't this just a matter of degree? Consider these "standard regulation of industry" you point to. You can say of these measures that they "tell the insurer what to produce and how to produce it" just as you can the features of Obamacare you mention (for example, you cannot produce insurance plans for which you don't have sufficient assets to pay claims and you must produce plans with sufficient clarity).

Once you concede it is a matter of degree then you're just talking where the line exists, and it strikes me that the commonly understood line of "government ownership" is much more useful and clear than trying to say that this example of directing enterprises falls on the 'standard regulation' but this example crosses over into 'socialism.'

"Monetarism is an economic theory concerning the effect of money supply on the economy"

It's also the idea of economists about how the money supply and fed policy can be used to direct the economy, and that direction is often meant to help out the poor more so than the wealthy. That sounds like socialism as you describe it, and that's a pretty odd result.

As to the specific examples I'm trying to understand your criteria better. Would the EITC not be socialist because it meets only one of the criteria but no the other (it redistributes but does not direct)?

If that is the case I think the Lincoln policies are tougher examples for you. Land grant colleges didn't just redistribute (in that they took tax money and used it to provide benefits for people regardless of the tax they paid), they would also have not only directive effects but goals (Lincoln and the proponents certainly hoped that it would push more people, and hence America's economy, toward farming and mechancical work). So we have direction and redistribution, is it not socialism because it's not even more specific in its direction (in other words because while it pushes people and the economy to agricultural and mechanical pursuits it doesn't tell them exactly what to grow on the farm or create in the factory)? If so this seems to me another degree problem.



 

Mr. W:

As usual, we will have to agree to disagree.

To my mind, there is a fundamental difference in kind between regulations preventing insurers from using misleading contracts and selling insurance for which they cannot pay and Obamacare compelling Americans to buy one of three insurance plans designed by HHS.
 

The problem is to some there might not be much difference in kind between the two, and likewise to many there is a fundamental difference in kind between Obamacare's regulations and outright government ownership/operation of insurance companies.

Your definition becomes like one for obscenity: kissing is not, nudity is not, foreplay not, vaginal sex, borderline, sodomy, ok, line crossed. Likewise nearly all governments have regulations that impact what and how enterprises make their wares. These regulations reach some degree or point and then, presto, we've passed from 'progressive regulation' to 'socialism.' You 'know it when you see it' :)!

This is particularly problematic in your hands because you're a highly partisan person. With a 'know it when you see it' criteria you're going to 'see it' especially in your side's current boogeyman. You admit the label is a highly charged one, you've got every incentive to 'know it when you see it' in your partisan foes.

This is why I think it is better to define socialism by a much neater line drawing: does the government own and operate? Yes is socialism, no is not. It still leaves you open to criticize increasingly pervasive regulations as 'steps towards' socialism.

Another advantage to my definition is that it is already the one understood by the word to most people.
 

Mr. W: ...to many there is a fundamental difference in kind between Obamacare's regulations and outright government ownership/operation of insurance companies.

There is only a difference in the means to achieve the same socialist ends of government direction of the economy to redistribute wealth.

Classical socialism advocated nationalization as the means to achieve these ends because ownership includes the power to direct the operations of a business.

German Zwangswirtshaft socialism bypassed outright nationalization to (ab)use government powers to regulate, tax and spend to to direct the operations of a business. Obamacare is a faithful application of Zwangswirtshaft.

Zwangswirtshaft is not my invention in order to shoehorn Obamacare and Obama's "clean energy economy" programs into the category of socialism. German industrialist and war production czar Walther Rathenau theorized extensively about Zwangswirtshaft as a means to socialize the German economy and then implemented it during WWI. The Nazis adopted it again in WWII. The Austrian school of economics identified Zwangswirtshaft as socialism at the time.

You may argue that using different means is a difference in kind between the two variations of socialism, but both achieve the same ends.

Mr. W: This is particularly problematic in your hands because you're a highly partisan person.

You could more accurately call me a black and white ideological person. I am very much a 19th Century classical liberal and do not have much use for progressivism, socialism and the various other totalitarian isms of the past century.

I have an entire chapter in my book taking the GOP in general and Dubya/Romney in particular to task for engaging in or facilitating Mr. Obama's socialist policies. I do not play party favorites in my analysis.

 

"You may argue that using different means is a difference in kind between the two variations of socialism, but both achieve the same ends"

But that's just the point, socialism is a method for moving towards certain goals as much as it is a goal, so if the means are different we're talking about two different things.

Here's an easy way to see that. Many libertarian writers argue that free markets actually do better at reducing inequality than other alternatives. Let's say a governing party had the philosophy of enacting certain free market reforms (such as ending certain corporate welfare programs, licensing regulations, etc., and remember, it's not across the board market reforms, but selected reforms that would have the most redistributive effects) with the goal of redistributing wealth from entrenched interests to the lower classes, and let's say it worked and inequality virtually became no problem. Under your definition we'd have to call that socialism!

But again, examples aside, it seems to me the problem you have is that since the method of reaching certain goals is such an inherent part of socialism proposals with methods different in kind are different things. Lots of governments use government authority to direct the economy and redistribute wealth, as noted above Reagan utilized Fed policy to direct the economy and programs like EITC to redistribute wealth. You're left with saying that at some matter of degree this crosses over from 'mere progressivism' to 'a kind of socialism.' That's pretty vague.
 

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