This insane election season teaches us an important lesson: Americans do not want a president. We want a Caesar.
More accurately: We think that the president already is
a Caesar. Many people cannot understand what the president actually does. Ask your fellow citizen to describe the duties of the three branches of government, and you'll hear a response that makes Porky Pig seem erudite. Most don't even know that three
is the right number.
Americans refuse to comprehend one basic fact: The president does not make law
Case in point: Trump.
In Trump, we have a transcendentally ignorant major presidential candidate who does not know what the nuclear triad is, does not know that Medicaid exists, and does not know the scope and limits of the very office he seeks. Take, for example, his recent blast
about libel laws:
"One of the things I'm going to do if I win... I'm going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money," Trump said during a rally in Fort Worth, Texas.
"We're going to open up those libel laws so when The New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they're totally protected," he said. "We're going to open up libel laws and we're going to have people sue you like you've never got sued before."
The responses to this pronouncement have focused on the desirability of Trump's proposed course of action. Why bother with such an otiose argument?
Better to ask: Just how does the Donald propose to rewrite libel laws? Does he think that the president is a king? Not only does he speak as if he can tell Congress how to legislate, he also seems to be under the impression that he can bark orders at the Supreme Court, the ultimate arbiter of our free speech rights.
Case in point: Bernie Sanders.
The entire Sanders hallucination presupposes an all-powerful presidency. I've never allowed myself to get sucked into any debates over Sanders' proposal to "Europeanize" our health care system, even though I have every personal reason to love the idea of socialized medicine.
If I were a mouse, I'd also love the idea of belling the cat.
Why discuss it? It's not going to happen. Congress makes the laws, and a congress which cannot even tolerate Obamacare certainly won't swoon over any health care reform proposals that Bernie sends to the Hill.
Case in point: Ted Cruz.
Most of you know about his plan to make Supreme Court Justices run for re-election every eight years. Since the Constitution specifies lifetime appointments, the implementation of this Big Idea would require a Constitutional amendment. Guess what? The president plays no role in the amendment process
. Nada. Zip. (See?
) When it comes to making a thing like this happen, a President Cruz and my dog George would have roughly the same amount of power. So why is he even talking about changing the nature of the Supreme Court?
(By "he," I mean Cruz. George has been silent on the topic.)
Case in point: Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton.
In this instance, I'm going to talk about certain widespread delusions about the Clinton presidency. Once again, liberals have been inundated with the Big Lie that Bill Clinton was the most vicious racist since George Lincoln Rockwell -- a lie punctured in this previous post
. Actually, Clinton had zero
political incentive to alienate the black community, which always gave him solid support.
So far, this Big Lie has not had much impact on Hillary, whose win in South Carolina
owed much to black voters.
Just a couple of days ago, a Salon writer named Eliza Webb published the most recent version of the Big Lie
. Webb argues that the black population was targeted by the 1994 crime bill which Bill Clinton sponsored:
Indeed, the ‘94 legislation threw millions of black women and men into prison; in fact, throughout Bill Clinton’s presidency, the black prison population increased by 50 percent.
All of this spelled mass incarceration and mass disenfranchisement for the black Americans of South Carolina.
Today, due to felonies, one out of every 27 black voters in South Carolina is disenfranchised, and, although black people make up just 28 percent of the state’s population, they account for a devastating 62 percent of the prison and jail population, in no small part because of the draconian measures the Clinton administration, along with the strong support of its first lady, took in the name of being “tough on crime.”
And so on. In light of the recent primary election, I have to ask: Just what, exactly, would be Hillary Clinton's motive for disenfranchising black voters in South Carolina?
Webb is here trading on the ignorance of her readers, and on the common presumption that the president is Caesar. Let's set the record straight.
The 1994 bill was a federal
measure and therefore concerned only federal crimes, which are only a small fraction of the crimes prosecuted in this country. The vast majority of people who have gone to prison between 1994 and today were sent there by the states
, which toughened their laws throughout this period. Yes, much of that legislation was draconian, or nearly so -- but the president had nothing to do it.
Webb, a Sanders supporter, knows
this. Read her argument carefully: Disingenuously, she crafted her article to leave readers with the false impression that Bill Clinton had the power to make state law. Or maybe she wants people to think that Clinton had the Mesmeric ability to make state legislatures do things that they otherwise would not have done.
The fact that so many states enacted overly zealous crime legislation tells us much about the Zeitgeist of the '90s. Like it or not, democracy means the enactment of the popular will, and sometimes the popular will is foolish. One of the recurrent problems of democracy is the fact that hot blood -- not cool reason -- often rules the day.
Webb may have no clear personal memories of what those times were like. (She uses a university email address, which indicates youth.) But I
remember. In my home state of California, a kind of madness took hold -- especially when the Polly Klaas abduction case led to the passing of "three strikes" legislation. (This article
provides a good overview of the fallout from that sad event.)
As I noted in a previous post,
About the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill: People now forget how popular it was at the time. It was embraced by black leaders of that period.
This is an important point: Many black Americans, including black leaders, welcomed "tough-on-crime" policies as a way to protect their communities. A majority of the Congressional Black Caucus voted for the 1986 law that created the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. And in 1994, it was the CBC that saved President Clinton's crime bill after an unexpected loss on a procedural vote.
This is a history that's been largely forgotten, partly because many of these leaders regret their positions now or—like former Rep. Kweisi Mfume—deny that they supported the bill at all.
Hillary Clinton is on record as saying that she wants to reverse what the 1994 bill got wrong -- in fact, this was the topic of her first major speech of the campaign. Barack Obama has never advocated criminal justice reform in any politically risky way; why don't writers like Eliza Webb criticize him?
The situation will certainly worsen if a Republican wins in November, since virtually all of the GOP contenders have espoused the position that Cops = Gods
. Like it or not -- and believe me, I like it not -- Hillary Clinton is the only person standing between the GOP and the White House. (Bernie's a good guy, but he has no chance in the general election, which is why the Republicans want to run against him
Let us return to our main point: A president is not a king. The 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was the work of Jack Brooks of Texas, not Bill Clinton. (Kevin Drum, quoted above, was wrong to call it Clinton's bill.) It passed for the simple reason that the American people demanded it, or something like it: The crime wave of the 1970s and 1980s was quite real, and it scared the crap out of many people -- including many black people.
Actually, the 1994 legislation was better than many would have you believe. It established registries for sex offenders, it banned assault weapons, it codified the "hate crimes" classification, it included the Violence Against Women Act, it provided federal money for increased community policing, and it protected the privacy of drivers' records. (This became necessary after "pro-lifers" used DMV records to look up the home addresses of their opponents.) Yes, Brooks' bill contained some awful things, but I can also understand why many Democrats felt that the good outweighed the bad.
Can you imagine how liberal journals and women's rights advocates would have reacted if Bill Clinton had refused to sign The Violence Against Women Act? Be honest. You know damned well that feminists would have spoken about Brooks' bill as though it contained nothing else; we would have seen countless articles portraying Clinton as an advocate of violence against women.
Bottom line: Be wary of any writer who rewrites the history of that time, especially when said writer is too young to know what actually happened. Above all, be wary of any would-be opinion-shaper who pretends that Bill Clinton somehow commanded the states to incarcerate more black people.
Anyone who makes that deceptive claim is either a political illiterate or a Republican ratfucker.