Republicans finding something behind them — vestigial spines

Thom-Tillis-Speaking

The story goes that, in Watergate, Republicans were courageous in helping remove Richard Nixon from office. Most weren’t, in fact. I read one news story recently that said Republican only got serious about impeachment when they lost several special elections, showing that Nixon’s paranoia and lying were threatening their own job security.

The Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee did indeed wrestle with tough choices. Do they send articles of impeachment to the House floor and risk hurting their party or do they turn their back on Nixon’s crimes? Seven Republican House members voted with the Democrats to send at least one of three articles of impeachment to the full House (10 Republicans voted against all three articles). Those seven Republicans acted for the country, not just for their party.

Six months ago, and for most of the days since, many of us have moaned, “Will any Republican leaders find their gonads and stand up to the ignorant irresponsible immature narcissist in the White House?”

But think about where we are today. In the middle of the cascade of daily outrages from Bully Baby Trump, we lose sight of the fact that some amazing things are happening, and may perhaps gain critical mass in the coming months.

These things have happened:

  • The deputy attorney general appointed by Donald Trump appoints a special prosecutor to investigate the Russia mess. One of Trump’s own appoints the man who could bring the hustler down.
  • In defense of “weak” “beleaguered” Jess Sessions, a Republican senator, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, says he has no time available in his judiciary committee between now and never to consider confirming a new attorney general if Trump bumps Sessions.
  • In defense of the special prosecutor, a Republican senator, Thom Tillis of North Carolina (pictured above), asks Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, a Democrat, if he wants to co-author a bill to reappoint a special prosecutor if Trump fires Robert Mueller.
  • Trump pumps a bill from Tom Cotton, Arkansas senator, to restrict legal immigration. Republicans in the Senate say “Meh.”
  • Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just today did not let the Senate go into recess even though he let everyone go home. He will keep the Senate technically in session so that the president of his own party cannot make a recess appointment of a successor to Sessions if Trump cans him.
  • The instances above are surprising. Not as surprising, but wonderfully dramatic, and one of the landmark scenes in the long history of the Senate — John McCain, Republican elder, holding out his hand for several seconds before turning it thumbs down to scuttle Trump’s last hope (probably last) of repealing Obamacare.

What’s going on? Those of us on the left think “not nearly enough.” But … something’s happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.

But some Republicans are stirring. In ways six months ago I would never have imagined possible with the party so gleeful at controlling all three branches of government. Too many Republicans are doing the Paul Ryan dance, averting their eyes from their own incompetent president’s appalling behavior and keeping complicit, guilty silence.

But not all of them.

Dare we hope?

— Bruce Benidt

 

 

 

 

 

Come Home America; Rest Ye, George McGovern

Decent. Public servant. A man who truly cared about all Americans.

George McGovern. Probably had no chance of being president. A good man who played by the rules up against a psychotic criminal.

Late — late — summer night in 1972. I’m driving back to Camp Ihduhapi west of Minneapolis after a night out. McGovern is giving his acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention and I pull over on the dirt road into camp to listen. Democrats then were an unruly bunch, and reforms, led by McGovern, in how delegates were selected led to an excess of inclusiveness and a raucous convention that droned on and pushed McGovern’s speech way past prime time into the wee hours.

“Come home, America,” McGovern called out over the radio waves. 1968 had been chaos in Chicago and all over the world. Richard Nixon barely beat Hubert Humphrey and began a reign of lies and paranoia unmatched in our history. We didn’t know it that late night in 1972, but Nixon was deep in dirty tricks and cover-ups that would taint America for years and cost this dear country credibility and strain the faith of a generation. What Nixon did in the dark was matched by what he did in broad daylight. His secretary of state, war criminal Henry Kissinger, announced on the eve of the election that “Peace is at hand” in Vietnam. Utter bullshit and they knew it. Lying bastards.

McGovern was slaughtered in the election. He’d caught the presidential bug in the tumult of 1968 when he stood in for the assassinated Robert Kennedy at the convention. He felt he had to stand up to Nixon’s lies four years later.

George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy and Walter Mondale. Good, decent people from the Midwest, people of no great wealth and with no great lust for power. Trying to serve their country beyond what they’d done for their states and the nation in the U.S. Senate. None made it to the presidency. Perhaps too good, too decent.

McGovern was the last major candidate who seriously talked about the poor in America. Remember the poor? The poverty rate in America was about 12 percent when McGovern ran for president — it’s about 15 percent now. Sorry, George.

McGovern in his “Come home America” speech talked about his opponent getting secret money from the privileged few. Oh, George, 40 years later, how much more, how much more.

McGovern said, “I believe that the destiny of America is always safer in the hands of the people than in the conference rooms of any elite.” Ah, George, George meboy.

McGovern said, “As one whose heart has ached for the past ten years over the agony of Vietnam, I will halt a senseless bombing of Indochina on Inaugural Day. There will be no more Asian children running ablaze from bombed-out schools. There will be no more talk of bombing the dikes or the cities of the North. And within 90 days of my inauguration, every American soldier and every American prisoner will be out of the jungle and out of their cells and then home in America where they belong. And then let us resolve that never again will we send the precious young blood of this country to die trying to prop up a corrupt military dictatorship abroad.”

George, George. We wish it were so, don’t we, George.

McGovern said that he and Thomas Eagleton, his vice presidential nominee and a favorite of Jon Austin, “Will call America home to the ideals that nourished us from the beginning. From secrecy and deception in high places; come home, America. From military spending so wasteful that it weakens our nation; come home, America. From the entrenchment of special privileges in tax favoritism; from the waste of idle hands to the joy of useful labor; from the prejudice based on race and sex; from the loneliness of the aging poor and the despair of the neglected sick — come home, America. Come home to the affirmation that we have a dream.”

His words blew away on the midnight Minnesota wind, and his campaign was beaten by mendacity. But he was a good man, with a dream, and he made a difference in the heart of this nation.

Bless you George McGovern. Dead now, but a living example of the kind of person we might choose as leaders.

— Bruce Benidt

(Photo of McGovern and Eagleton from pbs.org)

The Presidents Club — Presidents are Actually Humans

My cousin Robert handed me The Presidents Club the other day, a book about the years after office of every president since Hoover. It’s a delightful book; I’ve barely put it down.

If our Rowdy Book Club book brings you down — it’s worse than you think — The Presidents Club will give you some hope — politicians can act like human beings, although maybe only when they’re no longer running for anything.

This book did something amazing — made me feel some compassion for George W. Bush. It couldn’t make me feel the same for Richard Nixon, but that’s asking too much. What the book does show is former presidents still wanting to serve their country, still wanting, in George H.W. Bush’s words, to do something “bigger than your own political lives, or bigger than your own self.”

What do you do after you’ve been president? You get a life back, but some of the cool stuff, like the plane, is gone. Most shocking, you arent as important anymore. Nixon and LBJ had trouble being off center stage, Truman and George W. seem to have quite liked it.

The best part of this book — and one of the best things I’ve read in years — is the chapter on George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The two worked together, at W’s request, to raise and distribute funds after the Asian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. And they became true friends. The Odd Couple, the brash one beating the reserved one in 1992, but joined after office by that desire to do something that matters. Their friendship, Clinton said, demonstrates something the country longs for — people from opposing sides coming together to do good.

At the dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library in 2004, W and his father were there, and W noticed his dad and Clinton, enjoying animated conversation, were lagging behind the main tour. Bush asked an aide to retrieve the two former presidents so they could all get started on lunch: “Tell 41 and 42 that 43 is hungry.” The elder Bush and Clinton became so close that Bush called Clinton immediately after Clinton had surgery, checking up on him. Later W, at the Gridiron Dinner in D.C., joked that Clinton, after surgery, “woke up surrounded by his loved ones: Hillary, Chelsea…my Dad.”

The book shows Jimmy Carter’s huge ego and huge energy for good causes, shows once again Gerald Ford’s decency (and skips over the fact that he charged people money to play golf with him — his version of giving lucrative speeches), LBJ’s demons, Eisenhower’s straightforwardness, and Nixon’s incessant drive to pretend his Watergate lies didn’t disqualify him from the international stage. Amazingly, Clinton talked often to Nixon, getting advice on issues and on living as the president. A major theme of the book is that former presidents are loyal to the office and the country and try not to damage their successors.

This book, published in April, written by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, is the best book on governing and politics I’ve read since Robert Caro’s fourth volume of LBJ’s biography, The Passage of Power. Both show how hard being president is, and how character faults will crack under the office’s pressures. The Presidents Club shows there can be second chances.

— Bruce Benidt
(Photo from time.com)

How Shall We Go to War Today?

The news that 10 members of Congress have filed suit against President Obama claiming he has violated the War Powers Resolution should come as no surprise.  President Obama is simply the latest in a long line of presidents – all of them – to claim for himself the unilateral right to determine when, where, how and how long are armed forces can be deployed in the field.

This is not a  right/left, liberal/conservative thing.  Dennis Kucinich and John Boehner man one side of the debate and Barack Obama and George W. Bush man the other. Hell, Senator Barack Obama the senator doesn’t agree with President Barack Obama on this topic.

Instead, the debate is an institutional one.  Congress takes seriously the Constitutional words in Article I, Section 8 that it alone has the power to declare war.  Each president takes just as seriously his duties as commander-in-chief and the oath of office to protect and defend the country as enumerated in Article II.

An that’s all it takes to start a Constitutional tug-of-war that has lasted until today.

Everybody pretty much agrees that the President doesn’t need Congressional authorization to deploy troops in response to an attack or to stop an attack that is imminent.  Over the years, however, succeeding presidents have used those exceptions to stretch their usage at least into controversial if not outright distorted grounds.

Even more effectively, though, presidents have gotten around the Constitutional requirements by simply defining a deployment as something other than “war.”  Hence the long line of “police actions,” “peacekeeping missions.” and “limited kinetic engagements” that populate our history of going to other countries and tearing up big chunks of it.

The 1973 War Powers Resolution came about when frustration about our involvement in Vietnam – which to many was an unauthorized war – reached a peak in Congress.  The joint resolution passed both house overwhelmingly and then was passed again over President Nixon’s veto.

The resolution actually represents a major concession by the Congress in that it allowed the president to deploy troops pretty much as he sees fit for up to 60 days with only an after-the-fact notice to Congress.  While a retreat in the eyes of some Constitutional scholars, it also was a recognition that the framers’ worldview – in which the development of threats and responses took months or years and that most armed conflict was nation versus nation in nature – no longer applied.

Good intentions, perhaps, but in practice  the War Powers Resolution has simply given executives another way to deploy troops as they wish.  When it suits their purpose, presidents cite their compliance with the resolution as a post-hoc justification for their actions.  When it doesn’t, as Mr. Obama did today, they assert that the Resolution doesn’t apply and is un-Constitutional to boot.

In case you’re wondering why the Constitutionality of these actions and resolutions are still in question, the answer is that no branch of government – not the executive, not the legislative and certainly not the judiciary – wants this question cleared up.  The legislative and executive branches both worry that the courts will weaken their current powers and the judicial branch does not want the job of parsing the Constitutionality of such a touchy subject.  A ruling one way or the other could put one of the branches of government into direct conflict with the finding and bring to the fore a Constitutional crisis that we’ve all managed to mostly ignore for nearly 225 years.

Accordingly, expect this lawsuit to go pretty much nowhere because – after the press conferences are over – the last thing anybody really wants is a speedy trial.

– Austin

 

Worst. President. Ever.

Really?

I know it’s accepted wisdom in my little neighborhood – south Minneapolis – that the current occupant of the Oval Office has failed more profoundly than any other.  Worse than some awful stinkers like Harding, Pierce and Buchanan.  Worse than Nixon.  Worse than Carter.

I agree – wholeheartedly – with this assessment, frankly, but it never hurts to periodically examine your assumptions. Maybe the problem is that I’m just not hearing about or looking for the positive things he’s done. Truthfully, when was the last time your heard someone defending Bush at a dinner party or at the corner bar?

Let’s try to fix that.
Continue reading “Worst. President. Ever.”