Tuesday, August 07, 2012

As we await the monarch's choice of a VP

Sandy Levinson

[FURTHER UPDATE: Joel Goldstein, the ranking expert in the American academy on the vice-presidency, has an interesting contribution in the comment section below that is very much worth reading. I think the most compelling point he makes is that the duty of the VP to campaign throughout the country undoubtedly develops contacts and alliances that might well stand him/her in good stead should events lead to inhabiting the Oval Office. There's no doubt that my proposal would reduce that reality. The question is whether we should continue to risk a presidential candidate's picking someone for crass short-term political reasons as against a measured view that the person selected in fact possesses the skill set, including demonstrated judgment, to become president. I think it can safely be said that reasonable persons can disagree; my hobby-horse, of course, is the necessity to have such discussions and to decide, either for ourselves or as a nation, what serves us best in the 21st century rather than to feel stuck with institutions created more than two centuries ago. In any event, I thank Prof. Goldstein for his contribution.]

[UPDATE: I hope it is clear, as it seemed not to be to a couple of commenters below, that under my proposal the incoming President would nominate the VP. Congress's role would be limited to confirmation (or rejection, which would mean that the President would nominate someone else). There is no plausible reason to believe that Congress could force the nomination of someone from what is stipulated to be Congress's own party, as opposed to a President of the opposite party). They could, to be sure, keep rejecting nominees, but at some point this would surely create a mixture of a political and perhaps even constitutional crisis. To suggest that this is a realistic possibility is to have an even more despairing view of the Ameican political system that I currently have. It really does evoke Weimar full scale, i.e., the complete breakdown of a governmental system, as opposed to "mere" dysfunctionality.

Further, for the life of me, I can't figure out what is partisan, either Democratic/Republican or liberal/conservative about suggesting a modification in our system designed to increase the likelihood that a Vice President would actually have demonstrated at least some skills relevant to stepping into the role of president, which almost by definition would be at a time of great national nervousness, if not outright crisis (as with an assassination).]

We are being treated to the quadrennial spectacle when we should realize exactly how monarchical our system has become: I.e, the candidate-designate, on the basis of God only knows what criteria, appoints a running mate. Sometimes, one can believe they were picked because the pickers actually believed they could be effective presidents if need be--see, e.g., Biden and Cheney (whose resume was that of an excellent president-in-waiting, whatever one thinks of the actual VP). Sometimes it is impossible to take the choice seriously in that regard--e.g., Palin and John Edwards. Sometimes it's hard to tell--e.g., Joe Lieberman, whose main qualification was that he was/is a Jewish prig who led the moralistic attack on Bill Clinton and was thought to be helpful in Florida, or Bob Dole, in 1976, whose main qualification was his willingness to be an attack dog, a typical function for VP candidates, though he had also demonstrated some capacity to work well with Democrats like George McGovern re food stamps. But then there are Geraldine Ferraro and Dan Quayle (though at least Ferraro was politically explicable re appealing to women, as distinguished from the justifiably forgotten Quayle).

Of those being mentioned as within Romney's gaze, only Rob Portman could possibly be taken seriously for an instant as a possible president. The others--Rubio, Christie, Paul Ryan, Bob McConnell--are all jokes in that regard. Their selection would be just another example of the degradation of American politics. Which element of the "base" does Romney want to pander to?

Do we need a VP at all? Perhaps. But there is no reason at all for the VP to be selected in the current manner, which, as suggested back in 1803 by some opponents of the 12th Amendment, generates a strong incentive to pick second-raters, a prediction amply confirmed throughout American history (with, obviously, some exceptions). What would be preferable? The answer is easy: The winner of the election should simply follow the model set out by the 25th Amendment, when there is no VP, and nominate someone, subject to confirmation by both houses of Congress. (My own preference would be a majority of Congress meeting collectively so as to limit the power of the indefensible Senate.) We would be almost certain to get more qualified VPs, including, among other things, VPs who might in fact know how Capitol Hill operates. Certainly Romney has not the slightest idea (nor, for that matter, would one give Obama high marks in that respect), which is another reason that suggests Portman instead of one of the governors or fledgling senators or even Paul Ryan, whose talent for compromise in negotiation appears minimal.

There is only one downside: The VP would be "unelected." But this criticism depends on taking seriously the premise that we really-and-truly "elect" our VPs. No political scientist would argue that the VP candidate accounts for more than a fraction of the voter's ultimate decision. It's the equivalent of claiming that we "elect" the First Lady or First Children (or First Dog).

Unfortunately, such a sensible change in our system would require a constitutional amendment (unless a candidate was so bold as to state publicly that our present practice is indeed monarchical and idiotic and, therefore, that she/he will await the actual election before naming a choice for VP, though even here one would have to trust electors simply not to turn rogue and name someone as VP). And we all know that requiring an amendment even for "innocent" changes--i.e., those without genuine partisan valence--is basically the kiss of death.


Which would mean, in the current environment, that all VPs would be Republicans of the Tea Party stripe.

No thank you.

Ken Brown, if Obama wins, why do you think SL's proposal would result in a Tea Party Republican?

I think it's an interesting idea. The people now vote for a package deal (far from obligatory -- states can arrange things differently). In 2008, the VP choice did influence voters notably, but the voters don't have a strong role here as a whole.

The nomination/confirmation approach would arguably provide the population as a whole a larger role, just like who controls the Senate (or can block it) influences judicial nominations.

The dig at Obama for not understanding how Capital Hill operates is questionable given he was a senator and has Biden there as an adviser.

Ken makes a non-trivial point. Under current law, the Speaker of the House is next in line for the presidency after the VP. This means a very self-interested potential for mischief in a Congressional vote.

"The winner of the election should simply follow the model set out by the 25th Amendment, when there is no VP, and nominate someone, subject to confirmation by both houses of Congress."

You mean the lame duck Congress, which may be controlled by the party opposite of the incoming President? I don't think that would be a good idea...Maybe if the incoming Congress did it that might be better (though still a good chance for battles along party lines).

That might be a concern, even though the Senate has a say here too, but there is some space between that and Ken's "point" that "all VPs" (including if a Democrat wins) would be a Tea Party type, even given Dems control the Senate (however closely).

Under the current system, the "winner of the election" is actually the person who won the electoral vote, which is officially announced by the new Congress.

Battles along party lines would result, suggesting some tendency to some somewhat bland compromise candidate.

Joe perceives that so long as we don't get rid of the egregious electoral college, we don't know the identity of the "elected president" until the new Congress meets, so that solves, utterly and completely, the lame-duck problem.

So far as the Speaker has an incentive to confirm nobody, that could be taken care of by statute: i.e., changing the currently questionable (and, according to Akhil Amar, unconstittuional) succession-in-office act to make the Secretary of State next in line. It is almost certainly the case that any Secretary of State is more fit to be president than any Speaker of the House, given the skill set needed to become one of the other. This isn't a dig at Speakers, but, rather, at the belief that there is anything in what is needed to become Speaker that portends the ability to be the President of the United States.

Putting aside my other objection, I think that the potential of a VP from the opposite party is fraught. Many times the incoming president would have a majority in the combined Congress, but not always. A partisan majority in Congress would have every incentive to pick a partisan VP. That would tie-break the Senate when necessary and place their choice a heartbeat away (to coin a cliche). I don't like the idea of undoing an election by that route, even if the odds are relatively small.


If any Secretary of State (an appointee of the President) is superior to any Speaker of the House (chosen by the House), why would we want to exchange the current system where the VP is chosen by the President in favor of one chosen by Congress?

The major problem with the quality of VPs is that no one of quality wants the job.

I would suggest that Mr. Romney choose a quality executive like Gen. Petreaus (which is the rumor of the day BTW) and announce that he will also appoint him to be Secretary of State if they are elected. Petreaus would have a far greater incentive to serve as VP under those circumstances.

The only issue with dual service that I can see is that the VP may have to be available to break ties in the Senate.

There must be many a political history paper at SSRN, examining how the modern process of winnowing presidential candidates turned into a unified support of a sole leader after most of the primaries.

Further, the vice president candidate decision often was one of the interesting brokering processes at the convention.

Now, conventions have turned into party hierarchy exercises in pre-ordained results.

When JFK chose LBJ, there were reasons. LBJ was not liberal but was a Southerner and belonged to the Democratic Party, was less than reactionary, and was runner-up in primary votes garnered. LBJ's presidency was not an exercise in excellence. The times pushed congress into being supportive of LBJ once he became replacement President.

The reason the Speaker is first after the VP is rooted in deep political philosophy, as well.

I like the nominating conventions currently, but very much miss the real horse-trading conventions.

I still imagine some John Chancellor getting strong-armed in a conservative convention and jailed, as he was at the Cow Palace in 1964.

I am sure Senator Kerry still is pondering the meaning of his VP choice in historical terms. !What a direction to attempt to advance the Democratic party: with a runningmate who subsequently bailed and essentially quit the party altogether.

As for governors, my profs taught that often govs represent administrative, executive experience, and can be better as presidents than senators. Though many senators have proved to be sagacious and good leaders.

"Of those being mentioned as within Romney's gaze, only Rob Portman could possibly be taken seriously for an instant as a possible president. The others--Rubio, Christie, Paul Ryan, Bob McConnell--are all jokes in that regard. Their selection would be just another example of the degradation of American politics. Which element of the "base" does Romney want to pander to?"

No committed member of a party, (And nobody would mistake you for a fence sitter!) is going to think the other party's candidates are anything but jokes. I assure you, Biden is widely regarded among Republicans as as a punch line, and the joke isn't a very funny one... Dan Quayle? Objectively, aside from pigmentation he had the same qualifications to be President as Obama. Perhaps a bit more experience in government, actually, and voted "present" less frequently.

You'd be well advised to try to be a little less partisan if you don't want a reputation as a hack. Or rather, to cement that reputation.

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"No committed member of a party, is going to think the other party's candidates are anything but jokes."

I think quite a few "committed" members of the other party thought Gore, Kemp, Cheney and yes even Biden were not merely "jokes," though many very well might have thought they were. Oh, Lieberman too. Ditto Bush41 et. al.

VPs historically often were "jokes" and both parties had some weak links (Edwards was not the strongest in the shed, for one), obviously. But, maybe I'm not "committed" enough to count.

As to Quayle/Obama, "objectively" as a communicator/head of state etc. Obama had more than "pigmentation" going for him. Being president requires various things and the "qualifications" of a senator and a President are different, which is why Reagan beat Bush, who "objectively" was more qualified in various ways.


Sandy criticized several Dem VP selections (Edwards, Lieberman) and pointed to several GOP VP selections or rumored to be selections (Portman, Cheney [let me assure you that no hackish liberal would concede anything positive about Cheney]). The current rumored to be selections that he was critical of were all selections that many an independent observer would have hesitations about for non-partisan reasons (Rubio because of his age/experience, Christie because of his temperament, etc.,).

I must say though that Brett seems to me to make an excellent point regarding the Sec. of State-they are chosen by the President as surely as the VP and often for political reasons (e.g., Clinton).

It also seems to me that one advantage the Speaker of the House has over the Sec. of State is that they have been elected to something.

Professor Levinson,

I think the reasons why people might think of your suggestion as a partisan one, or at least one which has a slant on the left/right dichotomy are two fold. I preface this by saying I assume those on the right would few such a proposal as left leaning, and thus something they would oppose. First, those on the right tend to have a certain degree of Burkeanism, that is an opposition to significant changes in the political order founded on a belief that it is generally unwise to change things that work reasonably well. These sorts of concerns tend to be at their zenith when discussing changes to fundamental political structures, like the selection process for a head of state or his successor. Second, your proposal would empower the congress relative to the president, if only slightly, since it would give them more control over the selection of members of the executive then they currently posses. Again, those on the right tend to be more supportive of executive power, and thus more likely to oppose political changes which shift power from the executive to the legislative branch.

Mr. Duddy raises some very interesting points. I certainly have conservative friends for whom his analysis might be explanatory, but the contemporary Republican Party is so far from Burke as to be laughable (or cause for tears, depending on one's views). Acolytes of Ayn Rand are not believers in tradition. The modeal Republican today wants to shake up the American political order. As a matter of fact, my proosal is small beer with regard to "shaking up." After all, is may be more likely that a President Romney would nominate Paul Ryan or some other right-wing hope than than he will choose Ryan or RWH to be his runnig mate, where safety and blandness are key (are you listening, Rob Portman?_

Mr. Whiskas, you're confusing me with Bart. Was a middling good point, though.

There are elements in the current dynamic for choosing VP candidates which work against choosing the best candidates:

Candidates are frequently chosen to "balance the ticket". They're a way to get the wing of the party that the main candidate isn't from invested in the race. However, picking somebody for VP can advance their Presidential prospects. (Look at Bush the Elder; Basically gave him a free ride into the White house.) Will a member of one wing of a part WANT to advance the presidential prospects of a leading light of the other wing of that party? Likely not.

So you pick somebody who's from the other wing of the party, but who can't realistically aspire to be President. Too old, manifestly incompetent, widely known to be corrupt...

Or, once you realize you've blown your own shot at the office, you start undermining your own VP pick. That was the dynamic we saw in 2008.

You might even view the VP as "life insurance". More realistically impeachment insurance. (The not particularly funny joke to which Joe Biden is the punch line: "Who becomes President if we impeach Obama?")

None of these dynamics apply to the Secretary of State. So candidates feel free to nominate for that office on the basis of perceived competence. In fact, since the SoS has no history of becoming President, it can be seen as a way to sequester a rival, with just enough power they can't take offense at it. See Hillary Clinton.

... But all these are dynamics, which is to say, culture, not law. Nothing precludes Bart's suggestion.

Brett's comment is excellent, though it's worth noting that for the first 50 years or so, being Secretary of State was indeed a stepping stone toward the presidency: Jefferson, Madison, Monroe. John Quincy Adams, and James Buchanan. Ironically or not, as the United States hsa become more of a non-isolated world power, we seem to consider such experience less and less important, perhaps even a detriment inasmuch as it suggests to some a dangerous cosmopolitanism and abiity to see the world through others' eyes.


I hope it is clear, as it seemed not to be to a couple of commenters below, that under my proposal the incoming President would nominate the VP. Congress's role would be limited to confirmation (or rejection, which would mean that the President would nominate someone else).

Thanks for the clarification.

And if the president-elect should die before making his or her nomination for VP (or subsequent nomination after rejection)?

You seem to be suggesting that the next in line under the Succession Act should be the Secretary of State to prevent the House from blocking VP nominees in favor of its Speaker.

This creates another complication - Sec State is another appointee who may not be in place before the president-elect dies.

Under both the current system and your clarified amendment, the "monarchial" President chooses the VP. Tell me again why congressional approval of the VP is in any way superior to voter approval through an election?

I'm reading Fergus M. Bordewich's "America's Great Debate - Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union" for a research project. At page 82:

"In 1832, [Calhoun] became the first vice president to resign from the office. (The only other would be Spiro Agnew , in 1973.)"

I was around for the latter and well recall the circumstances, a reminder of the old Greek saying "A fish rots from the head down." It took only a short time for Nixon to rot out.

During my lifetime (that began this month in 1930) [no presents, please!], the most impressive vice president was LBJ.

Stephen Colbert yesterday in discussing R-MONEY'$ choice for a VP referenced John Nance Garner's observation of the vice presidency as "not worth a bucket of warm piss." I don't know what a current "valuation" of that might be but our current VP is "Biden'" his time, hopefully for another four (4) years.

Cooley Howarth asked:

I did not understand the relevance of the adjective "jewish" in the reference to Lieberman as a "prig."

Joe Lieberman is clearly Jewish and was selected in order to reassure Jews in Florida (and elsewhere) that Gore would be "good" on Israel (which means unreflective support of the party in power, particularly if it is the Likud). In addition (though see the way he exited his first marriage), he is a prig who got a lot of play for giving a moralistic anti-Clinton speech in the Senate. (As it happens, I agree that Clinton should in fact have resigned, but that is another matter.)

Sheldon Adelson is an example of a Jewish extreme Zionist who, so far as we know, possesses no priggish instincts, as witnessed by his warm embrace of Newt in the primary.

The focus of Fergus Bordewich's "America's Great Debate" is on actions taken by Congress beginning in 1850. The author provides background going back to the Mexican War, and even earlier, and its effects on slavery. Congress, and especially the House, was deadlocked in 1849. Should slavery be permitted in the extensive U.S. territories following the Mexican War? 1850 was a critical year. I'm into the debates taking place early that year, with Henry Clay's efforts, and anticipated support from Daniel Webster, at compromises to prevent disunion. As I read about the actions in Congress, I cannot avoid thinking of the current congressional deadlocks. Back in 1850, slavery was the great divider. What is dividing Congress today? Are there remnants of slavery, Jim Crow, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, the Warren Court, civil rights, originalism v. living constitutionalism, etc, fueling the current deadlock, coincidental with America's first African-American President up for re-election? Is inequality financially and otherwise the driving force? Can there be compromise in the current political climate (that is beyond warming)? Will it make any difference who wins this fall?

Many of us know of the turbulent 1850s and what came about in 1861. As I continue to read "America's Great Debate," I'll learn in more detail about political compromise during the 1850s, and its costs/benefits. This may not serve as a guide for today's political deadlock. Hopefully the results will not mirror the 1860s.

Ah Lieberman. Won't miss you. Expect tri-partisan (he was elected on his own line, losing the Democratic Primary, but unfortunately, did not simply go away) kudos when he leaves, including from this guy:

I think your proposal would pose several problems.

In my view, the additional problems include:

1) It would present a high profile and potentially highly contentious confirmation battle during the transition (assuming your Amendment provided for the President-elect to nominate). If nomination had to await inauguration, there would be a period in which someone else would be first in line of succession which poses other problems under current arrangements).

2) The vice presidency would be weakened because its occupant would, in effect, be precluded from participating in transition planning by the need to focus on his/her confirmation. The transition role has been an important source of VP influence (perhaps in Cheney's case, too much a source. Rockefeller's preoccupation with confirmation was a factor in the failure of his vice presidency).

3) Some vice presidents (e.g. Mondale, Gore) have achieved influence in part because of the positive roles they played in the campaign. Eliminating the vice president from the campaign eliminates a potential source for a VP to gain political capital by a contributing political role.

Points 2 and 3, of course, assume that the sort of significant VP role which has developed since Mondale is a good thing. In my view, it clearly is.

4) In my view, your proposal underestimates the democratic aspects of the current selection/election method. A presidential nominee engages in broad consultation and the process commands national attention for a period of weeks to months which provides various feedback. The nominee has incentive to choose someone who will be broadly acceptable within his/her party as well as appealing to voters he/she courts which includes non-partisans. The advent of vp debates and features of political life in the information age make the VP candidates more visible and provide further disincentive against improvident choices.

5) The VP choices through the current system in recent times have, in my view, generally been of people who have been pretty presidential. Of VPs since 1977, Mondale, Bush, Gore, Cheney, Biden were among the leading figures of their political generations as were unsuccessful candidates Dole, Bentsen, Kemp, Lieberman. Some of the others were explained by the fact that the selector faced or thought he faced long odds and needed to try to reshuffle the deck (Mondale-Ferraro, McCain-Palin). Edwards clearly was unsuited yet his choice was a consequence of the successful primary campaign he ran in 2004 (runner up to Kerry though in a truncated campaign) and his widespread appeal following it within the Democratic party for his populist message.

I don't usually respond to posts which don't allow comments, but since Prof. Graber's seems like a comment of sorts to this post and others I thought I'd respond here:

Many, maybe most, of the Founders were of the standard civic republican view that the nature of the republic would affect the quality of the citizens. That's standard Aristotle. Thus, changing the structure of the government can have good (or bad) influence on the way citizens react and behave. If he believes we need better citizens, one way to get that is to make the structure better as you've suggested in your numerous posts.

Joel Goldstein's remarks are well said & I appreciate them.

I think they do make a good case though I don't think #1 alone is disqualifying. A VP that has a role in the campaign etc. is ideal, as I noted (contra Brett) most VP options of late haven't actually been jokes and so forth.

I also think I share the basic point of Mark Field's latest reply. The structure in place affects those who live under it. I think SL at times puts too much emphasis on it over and above the people involved, but it's true all the same.

Here's the punchline to Sandy's:

"Of those being mentioned as within Romney's gaze, only Rob Portman could possibly be taken seriously for an instant as a possible president. The others--Rubio, Christie, Paul Ryan, Bob McConnell--are all jokes in that regard. Their selection would be just another example of the degradation of American politics. Which element of the 'base' does Romney want to pander to?"

Paul Ryan! Is there a "cheesehead" base?

I'm pretty confident there's no particular "Sandy Levinson" base in the GOP.

Paul Ryan. Not who I'd prefer, but Rand Paul wasn't really in the running. Could have been worse.

Yeah, Rand Paul would definitely have been worse. But Paul Ryan is a Rand-y Ayn disciple. Atlas may be double-shrugging.

Here's the bumper sticker:

"R-MONEY/R-AYN 2012"

for dyslexic conservatives.

The only thing which would make this superb choice for running mate better would be if Romney agrees to pledge his delegates to Ryan to be the GOP nominee for President in exchange for becoming the Congressman's VP.

That does not even require an amendment of our "dysfunctional" Constitution.

BTW, Sandy, if Mr. Ryan's qualifications to be President are a "joke," then I am unsure how Mr. Obama could ever be qualified for the Oval Office after the various schoolings Mr. Ryan has given the president and his cabinet members on the fictions underlying their policies.

Our yodeler suggests this flip-flop by R-MONEY:

"The only thing which would make this superb choice for running mate better would be if Romney agrees to pledge his delegates to Ryan to be the GOP nominee for President in exchange for becoming the Congressman's VP."

In Ayn Rand's world, that would be Half-Atlas, but even more of a joke than Sandy suggested.

A further update: "to risk a presidential candidate's picking someone for crass short-term political reasons as against a measured view that the person selected in fact possesses the skill set, including demonstrated judgment, to become president" ...

I think SL's proposal has the concern too, including "crass short-term political reasons" on the Congress side.

Here's Paul Krugman's bumper sticker:


for Rand-y conservatives.

Considering that they're running against what is essentially the Wesley Mouch administration, I suppose it's appropriate to have someone who's at least read Rand on the ticket.

I like substantive content Brett and Shag better.

Here is a hopeful argument that Ryan is a good pick in the sense it sets up an honest debate over the issues.
think it has some force to it.

Nobel economist Krugman's bumpersticker may have channeled our own yodeler economist's R-MONEY flip-flop suggestion. Might there be a flop-flip to:


for non-Rand-y conservatives? Or might there yet be some further bumpersticker adjustments to reflect the mix of Mormon, Catholic and Ayn Rand-ian views?

Was Eddie Munster also a "cheesehead"?

Can I assume that Brett's:

" ... someone who's at least read Rand on the ticket."

indicates he has read - and understands - Rand's writings, whether or not he agrees with them?


Sure. I was somewhat immunized against becoming a Randroid by my allergy to tobacco, though. ;)

I think Rand had some useful insights, but like many people who manage this, thought the fragment of the truth she'd found was the whole. And she ended up being corrupted by the adulation she received.

Still, she was one of the major philosophers of the 20th century, and I suspect the loathing the left has for her is in no small part due to the extent to which she saw through them more than they liked.

Yes, reading Rand provides some useful insights, especially now that we're suffering through the Wesley Mouch administration.

Brett, do you have expertise on philosophers for this?

"Still, she was one of the major philosophers of the 20th century, ...."

Perhaps you might identify other major philosophers during this period to see how she stacks up in comparison. Or did you pull this out of your derriere?

She was a philosopher of the 20th century.

She was major.

Ergo, she was one of the major philosophers of the 20th century.


You don't have to like her for this to be true.

Well, my favorite philosopher of the 20th century was actually Robert Nozick. But that doesn't mean I haven't read any Rawls. Though, frankly, I prefer Minsky or Penrose for entertainment. I prefer my la la with at least a tenuous connection to reality.

To underscore, you don't have to like Rand for her to have been a major philosopher. Any more than you have to like her novels for her to have been a major novelist.

Here's the closing paragraph of a Wikipedia entry on Ayn Rand's philosophy:


According to one Rand biographer, most people first read Rand's works in their "formative years."[126] Rand's former protégé Nathaniel Branden referred to Rand's "especially powerful appeal to the young,"[127] while Onkar Ghate of the Ayn Rand Institute said Rand "appeals to the idealism of youth."[128] This appeal has alarmed a number of critics of the philosophy.[129] Many of these young people later abandon their positive view of Rand and are often said to have "outgrown" her ideas.[130] Supporters of Rand's work recognize the phenomenon, but attribute it to the loss of youthful idealism and inability to resist social pressures for intellectual conformity.[128][130] In contrast, Jennifer Burns says some critics "dismiss Rand as a shallow thinker appealing only to adolescents," although Burns thinks the critics "miss her significance" as a "gateway drug" to right-wing politics.[131]


Perhaps that's how Brett entered the gateway.

I finished reading Fergus Bordewich's "America's Great Debate ... " and highly recommend it. With background, it focuses upon the year 1850 in Washington, D.C. on issues of slavery, territorial expansion, secession, unionism, etc, with very little time for Congress to spend on other issues, like budgets, etc. Finally, Congress passes bills, including CA's entry as a state, fixing Texas boundaries, New Mexico and Utah as territories, the new Fugitive Slave Act and eliminating slave markets - but not slavery - in the District. The "Epilogue: The Reckoning" in 27 pages wraps up subsequent events through some of the Civil War. While the "Great Debate" avoided disunion at a critical time in American history, the author suggests that if disunion had taken place at that time, what we now know as America might have become four or more nations, perhaps sort of like Europe.

In recent years, there has been much gridlock in Congress. Unlike in 1850, here in 2012 we have a Presidential election. The current issue is not chattel slavery. But what are the issues that divide America? Will they be addressed by this year's elections? Are income and political inequalities the major issues?

The "Great Debate" in 1850 only temporarily resolved union/disunion, with a serious price paid in the Civil War in the following decade. Will we have a great debate this year? I doubt it. But voters will decide the political outcomes, at least for a while. But the hate most likely will continue with what divides Americans.

Bordewich's book includes "Endnotes" but without numbering in the text, keeping a flow of what happened in 1850 in Congress without interruption. Back in 1850, communications informing voters were limited compared to today. So 2012 is much different, except for the gridlock. Is this due to the system, to elected officials, to voters, or all of the above? Changing the system would be difficult. There is no assurance that even with a changed system the quality of elected officials would improve. And voters may remain divided, perhaps due to demographics. The Bush/Cheney 2008 Great Recession was the spark for the current crises. Some want to fan the flames. Who wants to put out the fire?

You know, Shag, I could call Rawls a "gateway drug to liberalism", but it wouldn't mean he wasn't a significant philosopher. You don't have to agree with a philosopher for them to be important. Gpes back, I suppose, to the liberal predjudice that anyone who disagrees with you is stupid and/or evil...

Rand's signiture contribution to philosophy was the importance of an ethical theory not destroying people who tried to live by it. Ethics, she insisted, had to lead to human flourishing in the people who followed the ethics, not just supposedly for everybody.

Most ethical theories are either flatly impossible to implement, (Classical utilitarianism, for instance, requires Godlike knowlege and computational capacities.) or would destroy anyone who rigourously followed them.

Rand rightly pointed out this was a problem. Ethics can't be a suicide pact, being ethical should be good for you, not bad.


"Ethics can't be a suicide pact, being ethical should be good for you, not bad."

might result in destroying - killing - what you consider bad for you, such as a safety net or welfare for others that you think you are paying for that they don't deserve. Ethics need not be a suicide pact and usually aren't. Apparently Brett's ethics consists of a zero-sum game, making him quite "Aynal."

"the liberal predjudice that anyone who disagrees with you is stupid and/or evil"

I don't think this is some sort of "liberal" prejudice as such.

The path to sanity in ethics is moderation. Some degree of moderation helps many an ethical medicine go down.

It is not ethics as such but this reminds me of a recent discussion about every bit of the Constitution ideally being followed and me saying that realistically this is impossible, so the real world is a matter of using the abilities we have to make choices on the best way we can.


I wouldn't say it's an exclusively liberal predjudice, but it is a characteristic liberal predjudice.

Denying that the most widely read and influential philosopher of the 20th century was a major philosopher.

What's the matter with Kansas?

Ryan's budget plan is evil.

Amending the American People, posted above.

It's on display all the time.

What's the matter with Kansas? The state is full of fundamentalist religious nutcases. It has nothing to do with disagreeing with them, it's that they've lost touch with reality.


Brett's example:

"Amending the American People, posted above."

demonstrates his humorlessness and failure in discerning tongue-in-cheek with his "Aynalitical" mind. Perhaps a tad of "Rand-iness" is required.

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Brett, it is not "characteristic" to any specific group. It is not "liberal" or "conservative."

It is a human trait to assume you are right and others are wrong and an inability to see it is stupid or evil or whatever. Some conservative can do the philosopher thing too. Nothing uniquely "liberal" about that.

The Kansas thing is the argument that people vote against their interests for misguided reasons. People do this. Conservatives argue the same thing. The argument rises or falls on the facts of the case.

Ryan's plan very well might be very bad on the facts. Doesn't mean ANY plan the person who thinks that disagrees with is similarly "evil." There is in fact good reasons to think his plan, as compared to even the plans of other Republicans, will be bad, will be hurtful to public welfare.

Of course, if 'evil' is hyperbole, again BOTH sides do it. Not specifically "liberals."

Conservatives seem to like calling people "un-American" if they're opposed to whatever war said conservatives are promoting. Brett, is "un-American" better or worse than "evil"?

Clearly, it is better to be un-American than evil. There's no context in which evil is good, while most of the world's population is "un-American" in the most trivial sense.

The word "evil" is freely used in any number of cases, so if we want to be fully realistic about these things, it is not "clearly" true that the often vitriolic and value laden "un-American" is "clearly better" to the person making the accusation.

"Evil" has a religious content. In effect, you might have to believe in God to believe something is "evil," and it can especially when used against a mundane policy be dismissed as overkill.

"Un-American" is more secular & can have more force, depending on the context. Overall, both words can be pretty bad.

Perhaps Brett has in mind constitutional evil with its slavery and its remnants during Reconstruction, Jim Crow, discrimination that continues to the present. Recall William Lloyd Garrison's view of the Constitution as a "covenant with death and an agreement with Hell." The Civil War Amendments did not ipso facto eliminate this evil.

I would simply say that "American" is positively correlated with "good", but that the correlation, alas, falls far short of complete.

So if somebody is un-American, you have to ask how.

I wonder how Brett would apply this:

"I would simply say that 'American' is positively correlated with 'good', ...."

to the Union side and the Confederate side during the Civil War. Which side was "good"? Each? Neither?

So if somebody is un-American, you have to ask how.
# posted by Brett : 6:40 AM

I'd like to ask how conservative a-holes became the arbiters of what is considered "American".

By the way, it's super awesome that America is correlated with good. I wonder if that will be Cheney's defense if he's ever tried for war crimes?

I'd like to know how anti-nuke activists and anti-genetic engineering hysterics became the arbiters of "rational". We've all got questions, don't we?

I'd like to know how anti-nuke activists and anti-genetic engineering hysterics became the arbiters of "rational". We've all got questions, don't we?
# posted by Brett : 6:02 PM

They didn't, nor did they claim to. Wingnut a-holes, on the other hand, are regularly telling us who the real Americans are.

Gee, Brett left out global warming hysterics. (Is Brett really a man of science/engineering?) And his own demographic hysterics.

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