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Sunday, February 28, 2016

America wants a Caesar

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.
You argument is empty. I'm not as certain as you that very many people actually believe the president can single-handedly do what Trump says he will do. Few believe that -- or even care. I promise you that all the legislation, Constitutional amendments, etc to implement his agenda will be introduced in Congress and state legislatures before the last echoes of Trump's inaugural address fade away. Congresspersons will be falling over each other to get to have their names on the legislation.

Whatever. But it REALLY irks me when you use essentially the same argument to dismiss Bernie Sanders. I'll take Bernie's dreams over Hillary's under-promises, any day of the week thank you.
In other words, Michael, you're Trump voter. Since Bernie cannot win in November (yes, that's a hard political fact: As hard as I've ever seen), a vote for Bernie in the primary is a vote for Trump.
You're still not making sense. What makes you think Hillary can beat Trump? Polls say Bernie has a better chance of beating trump. And I believe them. Bernie ENERGIZES people. Hillary BORES them. Dems won't come to polls for Hillary -- because [like you?] they think she's got it locked. Hence she doesn't. What's more, Trump has the nerve and audacity to pull out and use every misogynist anti-feminist trope there is. Furthermore, Trump will play upon America's fears that only a MAN with BALLS can save us from the "islamic-fundamentalist-terrorist" hordes swarming over the borders.
Michael, I'll argue with you because you've been coming here for years, but anyone else would be excluded. Although I must admit that I am peeved: You obviously did not read the previous posts in which I address everything you say here.

Those polls you cite result from the fact that Sanders has received NO negative coverage, while Hillary has been slammed -- and, yes, smeared -- incessantly by both the right and the left. If Bernie were to attain the nomination, his free ride would end.

As I've pointed out many times, the polls that really count are the ones which say, quite clearly, that the American public dislikes socialism. A Gallup poll found that 69 percent of the public thinks that big government is the nation's largest problem. Only 25 percent believes that the greatest problem facing this country is big business -- including the financial industry, which is Sanders' great target.

In such a culture, no socialist (of any stripe) can win. I wish that the situation were otherwise, but we must be realistic. You are deluding yourself if you think otherwise, and you are INCREDIBLY deluded that there will be an attendant socialist wave in Congress to help Bernie pass his legislation.

It just won't happen.

This is why the Republicans have been very clear about their plan to do everything they can to make sure that Bernie gets the nomination. Bernie Sanders will never, ever win the general election.

But let's play along with the fantasy. Suppose, by some miracle, a President Sanders were to talk into the oval office. What then? The result would be the greatest disaster in the history of this country. Why? Because neither business nor the military would tolerate him.

They didn't tolerate FDR, either (and FDR was no socialist -- he was, in fact despised by the actual socialists of that era.) Are you familiar with the events chronicled in Jules Archer's "The Plot to Seize the White House"? There was an attempted coup against Roosevelt, and there would certainly be one against Sanders. Roosevelt was protected, in part, by his popularity. Sanders would have no such protection.

Back in 2012, there were plenty of guys like you telling us that Obama was so awful that we would be better off with Romney. We now know that if Romney had been elected, American troops would be killing and dying in Syria. Obama, for all of his problems (and I blame him for much) has never given in to the incredible pressures on him to commit American troops. The pseudo-lefties who keep telling us "The Democrat is a sell-out, so you might as well vote Republican" have it all too easy: They are not the ones who would have been bleeding to death outside of Aleppo.

You've been brainwashed by the media. Wake up: If they're smearing Hillary, that means she's a threat.
Well said, Joseph. The anti-war, anti-establishment noncompromisers actually gave us the worst president ever--George W., by putting up roadblocks against Al Gore and by taking away votes from him by supporting Ralph Nader.

In that sense, those same people who hobbled Gore and who are now smearing Hillary actually CAUSED the Iraq War. They are responsible for all the deaths that they attribute to Hillary. At least her vote on the war was based on lies the Bush administration told Congress.

I think Hillary will surprise a lot of people with her progressive outlook when she becomes president, but I doubt she can ever do enough to satisfy these righteousness mongers.
Thanks for cutting me some slack and not banning me from the site.

But I've concluded there is little point in further engaging with you about this election. You've settled in with your argument-that-can't-be-argued-with, to wit: (1) You dismiss Bernie as unelectable, therefore (2) leaving no other choice but Hillary. Can't argue for Bernie because SOCIALIST(!). Can't argue against Hillary because BERNIE(!) (socialist). And it all hangs on the flimsy case that "America won't elect a socialist." I say flimsy, because the people who wouldn't vote for a socialist are pretty much the same people who wouldn't vote for a Democrat (Bernie or Hillary) in ANY case. And, by the way, the same people who, in 2008, would never elect a BLACK MAN(!) president.

Fine. It's your blog. It's your right.
I can forgive the Clintons for the crime bill for all the reasons you mentioned, but I can't rationalize their support for welfare reform. I worked with some of the people they threw under the bus in that cold, cynical political calculation, and the fact that Hillary continues to support it makes it totally impossible for me to ever support her in a primary.
THANK you! People worship gods and kings. Ugh. You nailed the very problem. We should be working on the congressional races. Worshipping any of these pols is a mistake. Bernie cult is just as problematic as Trump cult. People don't get it.
We'll see about HRC joe. Obama too, ran as a progressive, and then morphed into a corporate war hawk. His owners gave him some latitude in social issues, but bowed to the wishes of the neocons by his passivity in all else, barely using the "bully pulpit" to rally the American people for his beliefs. I'm afraid with HRC, it will be business as usual for the elites. We'll see.
Let's say Bill Clinton was Augustus, who does that make Hillary?
Bill was no Augustus. But Trump reminds me of Caligula. And that means that Hillary will play the role of Cassius Chaerea. (Look him up.)
You know, I'm pretty much with Michael on this one. With the caveat that I will most likely vote for Hillary if she is the nominee, because I simply can not countenance ANY of the maniacs the Republicans are putting up getting into the White House. That said, I seriously doubt Hillary is going to provide any obstacle to the neo-con war mongers. At best, she will follow in Obama's footsteps in terms of foreign policy (and I agree with you, that he deserves some credit for not giving in to them on Syria and Iran). Of course, as you are pointing out, unless congress changes, no Dem is going to get anything at all through them, so it really won't matter if it's Bernie or Hillary. They'll obstruct Bernie with all their might because Socialism. They'll obstruct Clinton with all their might because she's Hillary Clinton. Now, if we can change the makeup of the house and senate, then either one would have a chance.........though you may well be right that Bernie's ideas wouldn't get far even then. So yeah, while I'd rather vote for Bernie (not really my ideal candidate, since his foreign policy would be indistinguishable from Hillary's anyway) I pretty much expect to have to hold my nose tightly and vote for Hillary (I can't vote in the primaries, since I'm registered Independent and have no intention of ever changing that).

The truth is, us anti-war folks don't have any candidate to vote for, yet again.


Yes we do, Vote Green and forget the demodogs they died a long time ago.
My takeaway from this election cycle is that as long as the United States has a world-destabilizing military/industrial complex and world-ending nuclear arsenal we voters have no good options. If not for those devastating factors and if we were a marginal world power, I would gladly support the only New Deal Democratic candidate we have left at the risk of him losing to an artful sheister like Trump. I really do think that the only future we have worth considering requires either a systematic execution of the corporations and individuals who hold our democracy hostage by keeping alive the machinery needed for global militarism and aggressive economic dominance... or enough time for them to thoroughly fuck themselves as they invariably do, leaving the rest of us to pick up the pieces and establish a different society. I fear that no matter who wins the next election the latter scenario is the most likely. I can only hope that their administration is competent enough to keep us out of a nuclear exchange.

No matter who next inhabits the Whitehouse we're still facing the environmental and social devastation of capitalism. I hope that whichever very disgruntled group emerges from this election cycle, they'll wield a threatening enough bat to force the administration and legislative branch to actually do something for the lower classes and limit the blight of unregulated finance and offshoring of production and profits.
Michael, shut the fuck up.
I'm rather surprised to see BS that was promoted in the early Nineties about the "evil Clinton family" having currency with today's Democrats. You want evil, look at the Bush, Koch, or Trump families. There's plenty to go around.

The worst thing about the Clintons are they are centrists (by American standards), and sometimes on the hawkish side. They are not FDR Democrats, but most Democrats, including the voting public, aren't either. Progressives and liberals have to make their peace with that. Describing them as midway between Truman and Eisenhower (both hawkish) is most accurate. In the post-Reagan era, that's considered "leftist" by the Villager pundit class.

By contrast, the Republican field is made of open fascists, Dominionist theocrats, and grifters. The unusual thing about 2016 is the grifters have not risen to the top, and the open fascist is far in the lead. His base of tens of millions is the uncontrolled golem created by decades of FoxNews, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and an army of hate-radio broadcasters. We now have a direct and immediate threat to the Republic and the rest of the world. This is not the time for complacency.
Alessandro, I will always publish your words here. But I humbly beg of you: Please don't speak in such a rude fashion -- to anyone -- again.

That's MY job!
Oh, Michael was your sock puppet. I had no idea.
bob568, Did the workfare program hurt everyone who participated? Could it have been modified to work better? based on the situations you encountered?
America wants a Caesar because it prefers a gossipy Great Man theory of history over an informed analysis of historical forces. We want an elected, term-limited dictator because we are frustrated with with the inability of Congress to get anything done. Both Bush and Obama are acting under the Unitary Executive concept.
jo6pac.......I hate to say it, but what would be the point of voting Green? It would only increase the possibility of a President Trump (or Republican anyway). I agree that at least I could vote my conscience, but I'm afraid my conscience REALLY can't let me have any responsibility for a total fascist like Trump (or any of the Republicans, really) becoming the President. I didn't vote for Obama last time, because I didn't feel that I could do it in good conscience and was willing to accept the possibility of a Romney Presidency. Luckily, it didn't happen. This time, I'm just not willing to take the chance. How many Americans even know there is a Green Party candidate running, at this point? I'd wager a very small number. All that said, I am quite tired of not having a viable candidate that I can feel good about voting for.

As Joseph points out, what we REALLY need to do is change congress......the President really doesn't have that much power to change the course of the nation.

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