Sunday, September 08, 2013

The punditry opines

Sandy Levinson

Joan Vennuchi, who writes for the Boston Globe, has a truly stupid column in today's paper (no hyperlink available) in which she excoriates Ed Markey for voting "present" at the meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  "He wasn't exactly "Senator Courageous and that's putting it kindly."  It was also a "slap in the face to Secretary of State John Kerry," whose seat he now inhabits in the Senate (and on the committee that Kerry formerly chaired).  "Markey did not have Kerry's back."  Finally, she concludes, "In other words, man-up."  It apparently doesn't occur to her that Markey is being a model of a "republican representative," in the Madisonian sense, in his belief that he actually needs to learn more before casting a vote.  His "present" had absolutely no consequences, save for eliciting stupid responses like Vennuchi's or the usually perspicacious Washington Post reporter Chris Cillizza's, who gives Markey his coveted "Worst Week in Washington" award for the same vote.  It doesn't occur to Vennuchi, especially, that Markey's job is not "having Kerry's back" or demonstrating that he's a "man," but, rather, thinking through whether it makes sense to authorize yet another war that is so far remarkably ill-explained and defended.  Good for Markey!  I look forward to seeing how he ultimately casts his vote sometime in the next two weeks.  Even if he disappoints me and decides to authorize the attack, I'll have far more confidence in his judgment than in some of the other bloviators who seem eager to rush to decision based on either support for the President or merely listening to their anti-war constituents (even if I'm one of them).  This may well be the most important vote that Markey (or any of the other senators) will cast, and they should think long and hard.

Frank Bruni, on the other hand, offers a high-minded critique of those who are actually thinking of the consequences of their vote re the 2016 elections.  He apparently believes that everyone should be concentrating on the merits of the decision, independent of low political consequences.  There is surely something to be said for his position, but let me suggest that if one is fearful of the consequences of the Obama Administration's ill-considered and poorly-defended desire to intervene in Syria, that fear properly goes beyond the consequences for the Middle East, even if they justifiably take pride of place.  It is not, I think, unseemly to realize that this debate, caused by Obama's altogether proper, I would argue even necessary, decision to look to Congress for authorization, is wrecking the hopes for important domestic legislation.  And I keep wondering about the economic opportunity costs, given the certainty that no Republican will vote to raise taxes to replace the Tomahawk missiles, etc. 

But, even beyond that, I don't think it's unseemly to suggest that the big winner from this episode is and will be Senator Rand Paul.  I fully expect him to repeat his one-man filibuster and spend many hours (perhaps joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders) explaining why the Obama-Kerry-Power policy is really terrible.  Furthermore, if Congress unwisely authorizes the intervention, then Obama will truly have no choice but to send in the missiles, etc.  Maybe everything will go perfectly, and he will get great credit for Kennedy-like "grace under pressure" (recall that Kennedy unilaterally risked World War III during the Cuban Missile Crisis).  But if it doesn't, then I expect Paul to get a huge boost in his own race for the presidency, as libertarian-isolationism will start making more and more sense to millions of Americans who see a National Security-Surveillance State complex increasingly out of control (and fully defended by Obama and most prominent Democrats).  Why shouldn't the risk of helping to elect Rand Paul be taken into account by Markey and others,  Paul, unlike, say, Michele Bachman or Sarah Palin, is not terminally stupid, and he can be depended upon to take full advantage of the gift the Administration is giving him.

Indeed, I am convinced that one reason why JFK risked World War III was the up-coming November elections in 1962, when he and other Democrats were being battered by hawks like Kenneth Keating for failing to stand up to Castro and Communism.  Robert McNamara stated in private that the missiles posed no real threat to the US, given a secure US second-strike capacity.  (We now know that he was wrong only because Soviet commanders on the ground in Cuba had apparently, and inexplicably, been given authority over the weapons, but no one knew that at the time.)  We went to the brink of nuclear annihilation to preserve US credibility (which led LBJ to believe he had no alternative to escalating Kennedy's war in Vietnam) and the Democrats' prospects in the November elections.  (And, of course, Kennedy in fact bargained with Khrushchev over US missiles in Turkey, but he lied through his teeth to the American people and denied it, another part of the Kennedy legacy that tends to be swept under the rug.)  It is an unfortunate truth, which Bruni seems to want to deny, that politicians are always thinking of consequences, including messy ones like the future of their own seats (I'll bet that the various presidential prospects are thinking of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry in 2002 and want desperately not to repeat their mistakes) or the broader future, as with the likelihood that Obama will turn out to be the best friend that Rand Paul could possibly dream of.


Your defense of Sen. Markey leaves me a bit confused. Should not we expect any sitting Senator to have a presumption about whether to approve a request for the authorization of the use of military force from a President? That is, shouldn't we expect to have a view as to the burden the President has to carry when making such a request? If so, the criticism would be completely justified. If, for instance, Sen. Markey believes that the President has a heavy burden to demonstrate that the use of force is justified, then he should be willing to vote against any such resolution unless and until such time as the executive branch proffers a sufficient justification. Taking a pass is trying to have it both ways -- trying to avoid authorizing the use of force without bearing the cost of opposing a President that is popular in his state and among those who supported Sen. Markey's election.

Jonathan H. Adler

One can offer a more charitable explanation. If Markey, like his predecessor JFK, who didn't sow up for the McCarthy censure vote, skips the final vote, then he will be legitimately subject to savage attack. But I take it that he a) believes the burden is indeed on the White House and b) wants to know more before he votes against with whatever consequences.


Nothing in Senate rules or procedures precludes a senator from voting one way in committee and then voting another way on the floor. If, indeed, Sen. Markey believed the Obama administration hadn't produced sufficient evidence to justify a use-of-force resolution, he should have voted no in committee.

That said, I'll be eager to follow Markey's "republican representative" approach to his future committee service. He seems not to have regularly voted "present" in committee while a member of the House, or have explained his rather unusual standard for making committee votes during his Senate campaign. Based on his abrupt shift in the approach he uses to committee voting, I'd say that Prof. Adler's explanation for his motives is the most reasonable.

Sandy's closing:

" ... as with the likelihood that Obama will turn out to be the best friend that Rand Paul could possibly dream of."

brings to mind that George W. Bush did not turn out to be the best friend that Rand's dad Ron could possibly dream of in 2008 and 2012 when seeking the GOP presidential nomination (although Bush was not a candidate) with his anti-war views. While the imperial executive may be questioned by the current debate, I don't think the US will turn sheepish and make a U-turn (pun intended) and follow Rand Paul lemming-like.


I suspect the congressional Democrats, especially in the Senate, are looking at their own prospects in 2014, rather than some long shot prospective presidential candidacy of Rand Paul three years down the road.

Declaring war on Syria is massively unpopular and those Congress critters who still bother to meet with their constituents often got an earful during the last summer break.

Here's my variation on our SALADISTA's usual partisanship:

"I suspect the congressional Republicans, especially in the House and to a lesser extent in the Senate, are looking at their own prospects in 2014, rather than some long shot prospective presidential candidacy of Rand Paul three years down the road."

Mitch McConnell comes to mind in the Senate as he apparently is cozying up to Rand Paul as he faces Tea Party opposition. How will Mitch demonstrate his Senate leadership role?

It is obvious that our SALADISTA will be critical of Obama whatever the outcome in Congress and Obama's follow-up actions. Yes, our SALADISTA is salivating, basically unconcerned with the use of chemical weapons and international consequences, focusing upon what he perceives as potential political benefits to the Tea Party in taking over the GOP and perhaps even bringing back his glory days of Bush/Cheney.


I believe that Sandy is discussing the Democrat political calculations.

The congressional GOP calculations are pretty straight forward - most of them and nearly all of their constituents don't want to go to war with Syria to maintain Mr. Obama's credibility.

Politically, this train wreck reminds me of when Bush and the Democrat leadership lost the first TARP vote in the House back in 2008 when the GOP right and the Dem left rebelled against that awful slush fund bill. The bill only passed later after a market crash and even then without most of the GOP. There will be no market crash or any real repercussion I can see if the House denies Obama his AUMF, which is why I can very easily see this happening.


"The congressional GOP ... - most of them and nearly all of their constituents don't want to go to war with Syria to maintain Mr. Obama's credibility."

might suggest that this is the case even if they believe in their heart of hearts that some military action should be taken against Syria for using chemical weapons, especially if John McCain were President.

As to our SALADISTA's financial forecast:

"There will be no market crash or any real repercussion I can see if the House denies Obama his AUMF, which is why I can very easily see this happening."

sounds a tad like "It's the economy, stupid!" Seems that's been used successfully back when. Alas, Bush/Cheney changed that with unpaid tax cuts and unpaid wars, leading to the 2008 Great Recession.

But I suspect our SALADISTA is still salivating whatever the outcome.


"Why shouldn't the risk of helping to elect Rand Paul be taken into account by Markey and others, Paul, unlike, say, Michele Bachman or Sarah Palin, is not terminally stupid,"

In fact, he's so not terminally stupid, that you really ought to consider the posiblity that helping to elect him is a benefit, not a risk.

That Rand Paul is " ... so not terminally stupid ... " is not much of a qualification for the GOP to nominate him let alone expect the nation to actually elect him. If Rand Paul is the best the libertarian brand can offer, a lot of voters will be shrugging.

Might be useful to get an update from Prof. Levinson.

Thanks, Joe. My "update" is this: For whatever reason, Putin may--it's too early to tell for sure--have decided to save Obama from himself by structuring some kind of deal that the US can plausibly accept. Among other things, this suggests that Russia is decidedly not enamored with the use of chemical weapons and that it can bring its power to bear on Assad.

I also continue to believe that Obama would be both stupid and wrong to initiate an attack in the face of explicit congressional refusal to authorize it.

The "reason" looks to be that as part of a continuing act of diplomacy by Obama, leaving open the threat of force, Putin might work with the U.S. (in a deal agreed upon by other nations from reports) to help address the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Meanwhile, Obama didn't just use executive power like a "dictator" but asked Congress first for authorization. In return, Obama will be seen by some as the loser, having to be "saved" by Putin.

We continue to somewhat disagree.


Obama got rolled like a rank amateur.

Everyone in the world knows that Obama is in a political jam and is desperately seeking a way out.

Putin wants to preclude any possibility of an American air strike shifting the war to the rebels.

So, Putin makes a non-offer to have Syria turn over their WMD to the international community, a process which cannot be verified and can be strung out for a decade or more like Iran has done with their nuke program.

Obama jumps through Putin's hoop like a good poodle and indefinitely postpones the Congress's declaration or war vote he cannot win.



Our SALADISTA'a "Mate" is the conclusion of a game he plays against himself, like SPS, but still shooting blanks. Our SALADISTA continues his salivating.

Even for a President who has perfected the schtick of pretending he is not really president, Barack Obama has now raised the art of presidential buck passing to unimaginable heights:

WH Spokesperson: “Putin is now fully invested in Syria’s CW (chemical weapons) disarmament...He put this proposal forward and he’s now invested in it. That’s good. That’s the best possible reaction. He’s fully invested in Syria’s CW disarmament and that’s potentially better than a military strike – which would deter and degrade but wouldn’t get rid of all the chemical weapons. He now owns this. He has fully asserted ownership of it and he needs to deliver.

I thought this was our President's plan negotiated over months with the Russians?

Or was it the Russians idea taking off from an offhand Kerry remark?

I do wish the administration would at least get their lies straight.

This is now beyond embarrassing.


Our SALADISTA continues to embarrass himself with his continual challenge of all things Obama, salivating in the situation the world finds itself. Of course, one only needs to go to the archives of this Blog to illustrate how he was joined at the hip with Bush/Cheney for 8 years ending with the Bush/Cheney 2008 Great Recession inherited by Obama. Our SALADISTA' excels in off hand remarks as he continues to shoot blanks.

Blankshot, if you think this is embarrassing, you should watch some of the old video of Cheney/Bush responding to the fact that there was no WMD in Iraq, and the fact that they killed a lot of people for nothing. If I recall correctly, you thought that that insanity was a good idea.

Talk about embarrassing...

This is amazing, Liz! It's perfectly accurate as well as being really well written. The one thing I would say is that including the owl names would be good. I'll list them here from top to bottom and left to right for those who are interested: 'Liddle flame' #57, 'Starstruck' #81, 'Potty Patrick' #52, 'No nonsense' #28, 'Flat Freddie' #82. Also, I'm at Abbotsford Convent Makers' Market on the 3rd Sunday every month. Other market dates are kept up to date on my website.
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