Slipping Into Darkness

Sometimes we are able to realize that we are witnessing history at the very moment that the historic event is occurring. Usually we have to use 20/20 hindsight to achieve such insight, but there are rare moments when our intuition tells us that something noteworthy is occurring.
Historians may one day point to February 19, 2010 as an historic date, but not for a good reason. It was on that date that a potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination stood before the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) and gave the clarion call for the violent dismantling of the federal government – or “big government” as some zealots would have it. And lest that you think that you are reading an alarmist and hypersensitive interpretation of robust political discourse, consider the facts.
On that Friday, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, throwing red meat to the frothing masses, declared that America could learn a lesson from the tawdry Tiger Woods contretemps (because after all, aren’t the tabloid pages the first place that we should look to for solutions to the challenges facing this country?). And the lesson to be learned?
Just like Mrs. Tiger Woods took a nine-iron and smashed the windshield of Mr. Woods’ vehicle (a set of facts that Mr. Woods vehemently denies, by the way), Governor Pawlenty says that we (whoever “we” might be) should take a nine-iron and start smashing away at the windows of big government. A metaphorical call to arms that, while clumsy, is certainly unique.
However, at the time that Governor Pawlenty made this outrageous call for violent action against the federal government, however metaphorical his intent, fire fighters and first responders were still sorting through the smoldering wreckage in Austin, Texas. Wreckage that was the result of an angry American who, instead of using a nine-iron, used an airplane filled to the brim with fuel oil in order to demolish the IRS office building in that city, presumably intending to smash many windows in the process.
We know from the voluminous e-mail notes that this benighted knight errant wrote before his suicide mission, that there was a clear intent to demolish this symbol of “big government” and to kill and maim as many employees of “big government” (presumably it is acceptable o.k. to kill American citizens if they work for “big government”). One would hope that upon realizing that his rhetoric had gone too far, particularly in light of the deaths and injuries and destruction that resulted from too real efforts of someone trying to “smash the windows of big government”), that Governor Pawlenty might issue some statement of contrition. Clearly recognition that his comments had galloped over the boundaries of good taste and decency escaped him.
Interestingly, Governor Pawlenty was rewarded with one of the best seats in the house two days later when he attended the Governor’s Ball at the White House and found himself seated at the same table with First Lady Michelle Obama. One wonders if the seating arrangements for the evening reflected the Christian act of cheek turning or did everyone in the White House miss the Minnesota governor’s florid and overheated rhetoric.
Because, in the process of calling for some inchoate violence in place of reasonable political discourse, the good governor tried the Rush Limbaugh-inspired routine of attempting to slime President Obama with the Tiger Woods scandal. Of all the metaphors, of all the similes, of all the symbolic rhetoric that could be employed in directing scathing criticism at the President (fair enough), Governor Pawlenty could not help himself and had to wade into the amoral sewer that Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck call home.
For it was over two months ago that Rush Limbaugh pronounced that the Tiger Woods self-inflicted catastrophe presented the American people with some analogue in commenting upon Barack Obama. And now Governor Pawlenty has chosen to step into the swamp of ugly rhetoric that is not even passably subtle in its use of racism and a call for anarchy.
It remains to be seen whether other Republicans will pick up these well-worn cudgels and use them to club and clobber the body politic. We should all remember that pseudo-populist beige-shirted ex-governor Sarah Pailin campaigned and claimed that she did not hear her supporters yell “kill him” in reference to Barack Obama. All she did was wink. And the threats and epithets continued.
Regardless of party affiliation, none of us can afford to turn a blind eye to this dangerous trend in rhetoric, rhetoric that can result in dangerous action. The First Amendment calls for freedom of speech. But it is axiomatic in the law that freedom of speech does not grant the freedom to yell “fire” in a crowded theater.
We should all be concerned that the Pawlentys and the Pailins and Limbaughs and the Becks of this country are treading on a slimy, slippery path towards a darkness that would be a consequence of the light of liberty being extinguished. And so February 19, 2010 may be the day that we awakened and refused to turn a blind eye towards this madness. Or it could be the day that we just winked, in which case we will most certainly rue the day.


Remember November

Sometimes a review of history, no matter how recent, is important. Lessons of history inform our present and give directions to the future.
On November 4, 2008 Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. On November 4, 2008 the Democratic Party (the party to which Barack Obama belongs) achieved the largest majorit9ies in the House of Representatives and the Senate in more than three decades. At the clear risk of redundancy, On November 4, 2008 Barack Obama and the Democratic Party won – they won the White House, the won majorities in the Congress, they won nationally.
This bit of history is important because it seems that, for the past fourteen months, the President and the Democratic leadership in the Congress has forgotten these referenced facts. Riding the crest of a tsunami of progressive hope and desire change, they had the power to translate vision into action, to transform concept into reality.
Keep in mind that Barack Obama was not a stealth candidate. His agenda was clear. His vision was articulated and analyzed and endorsed by 53% of the American electorate. A greater majority than George W. Bush achieved in either of his two electoral battles for the presidency. And yet, George Bush proclaimed a mandate, ephemeral though it was, and acted as if he had a mandate.
Barack Obama and the Democrats actually received a mandate from the American people and yet they have acted as if they need to be reminded that they won and that the Republicans lost. We have heard endless lamentations regarding the obstructionist tactics of the Republicans in the Congress and how nothing can be accomplished without 60 Democratic votes in the Senate, even though George Bush never had 60 Republican votes in the Senate during his 8 years in office.
Barack Obama has hundreds (!!!!!!) of executive appointments being held hostage by the Republicans in Congress and we have heard statements from the White House decrying the lack of bipartisan cooperation. George Bush simply utilized the tactic of recess appointments (perfectly legal and constitutional) and put his people to work implementing his benighted agenda.
Why the Obama White House doesn’t take a page from this playbook is baffling. While the Democrats await some kind of Republican epiphany and conversion, time is passing, action is not being taken and the Obama agenda is not being implemented. And when the midterm elections are held this November and there is not enough of a record of achievement and accomplishment, when the work of the federal government has not demonstrated the transformational shift that was the rallying cry of November 4, 2008, there will be change once more and it will not be to the liking of the White House or the Democratic Party.
The Minority Leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has gone on the record that he will teach President Obama “a lesson” and that the President and the Democrats will “have to learn the hard way” that their political agenda will not be implemented. This, despite the will of the American people, just expressed at the last national election.
Senator McConnell’s words reek of paternalism and nullification, and if you perceive more than a hint of hoary racial undertones, you are probably not in error. Even in this era of partisanship, Senator McConnell has jumped that ship and swims in outrageous waters.
But we still wait for President Obama and the Democrats in Congress to pick up the soiled gauntlet that Senator McConnell has thrown down. We still wait for President Obama and the Democrats to remember November 4, 2008 and to start acting like they won. Whether the tactic is budget reconciliation or recess appointments or retreating from useless bipartisan gestures, it is time for the President and his colleagues in government to start acting like they won or they will surely lose the next time.


It Is Time

It is Time
We have been the recipients of hundreds of opinions and commentaries which have, as their basic premise, the notion that the agenda of progressive change that was endorsed by at least 53% of the American electorate a little more than a year ago is now permanently stalled with barely a pulse and certainly no vital signs that indicate imminent recovery. Very wise “talking heads” tell us that without a “filibuster proof” 60 vote supermajority in the United States Senate, there is simply no way that legislation dealing with health care, climate change, the rights of gays in the military, financial services regulation will ever be passed and ready for President Obama’s signature.
It is clear that even the mere specter of a filibuster is enough to shutter the windows and bolt the doors of Congress. The threat of a filibuster has been portrayed as the harbinger of doom and destruction to the legislative process as we know it. Given the propensity of the more progressive elements of the United States Congress to quake in their boots at the mere sound of “filibu……..” one would think that neither Congress nor this country could survive a filibuster. History, as usual, teaches us a very different lesson.
The filibuster, the method by which a minority in the Senate can delay and even prevent a final vote on legislation or executive nominations has been used hundreds of times by both parties. It has been used most infamously by Southern Democrats in the first half of the twentieth century in order to block civil rights and anti-lynching legislation. More recently it has been used by both parties to hold up legislation and executive appointments. In almost every instance a compromise has been reached in the modern era of the filibuster.
So if the Republican Party wants to be seen, widely seen, on C-Span and Fox News and CNN as the obstructing force, countering health care and climate change legislation, why not grant them the courtesy? I personally want to see John McCain and Olympia Snow and John Kyl reading from phone books and newspapers at three in the morning, all in the name of their monosyllabic policy of “No”. “No” to anything progressive, “no” to anything proposed by the Obama legislation.
Let the Republicans be truly on the record as rejecting bipartisanship in favor of reading the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times commodities indices and whatever else they can come up with in the name of thwarting the will of the people. This is not a bad outcome.
As noted, in most instances filibusters in the modern era have resulted in compromise. In these days and times a compromise on health care or climate change would be a welcome alternative to inaction and inertia. If the Republicans choose to obstruct, then let them read the Farmer’s Almanac day and night, let them drone on as they read The Iliad followed by War and Peace. And at the end of this shameful exercise perhaps the inveterate obstructionist strategy that they have pursued will be revealed to be as bankrupt as the individuals and businesses that are picking through the shards of their present as they hope to reconstruct a future that will be no better than the past without true change.
In the meantime we can be hopeful that the Democratic leadership in the Congress, and the White House, will now understand that it is time to take a stand. It is time to stop moving laterally and backwards in the hope of reconciliation and bipartisanship. Let the opposition, loyal or disloyal, show itself in its full glory. Let them find dignity reading railroad timetables in the middle of the night while the American people long for action and assistance. Let them find reason in reading tidal records to an empty chamber while children long for hope and while their parents wonder when their dreams stopped coming true.
Indeed it is the time for change. Indeed it is the time for hope. Indeed it is time for the opposition to be granted the opportunity to reveal themselves in full. If there are to filibusters — now is the time.


A Vision of the Future

We have been witness to a United States Supreme Court decision that has the potential to fundamentally change America politics as we have come to know it during the past one hundred years. The Supreme Court ruled that restrictions on campaign spending by corporations violated the (heretofore unknown) First Amendment rights of corporations. The concept of freedom of speech has now been extended to include not only American citizens, but also to corporations. This decision is wrong on so many levels the first task is figuring out where to begin.

          Consider the fact that nowhere in the United States Constitution is there a grant of rights and freedoms to corporations. There are rights and freedoms that are attributed to the individual owners of the shares of these corporations, but not to the corporations themselves. Corporations are legal entities created to facilitate business enterprises – for better or worse – but corporations were never intended to be a part of the constellations of rights and freedoms that make up some of the most important and admired aspects of the constellations of laws and statutes and court decisions and constitutional institutions of these United States.

          Consider the fact that, taken to its logical conclusion, we can expect major corporations, now unfettered by campaign financing laws, to weigh in heavily on every major legislative issue that might affect their bottom line. They will “weigh in” not only by influencing the public debate through advertising and lobbying, they already do that. They will now be able to “weigh in” by contributing, thousands, millions and billions of dollars to the election campaigns of those candidates who support their position. The skewing of America will begin in this next campaign cycle.

          Consider the fact that the oil companies, the pharmaceutical conglomerates and the financial industry behemoths have been declaring record profits and record revenues for many years, even during the current depression. From a purely business standpoint, it stands to reason that the managers of these companies will invest in the political process in order to create a salutary business environment for their future endeavors.

          Consider the fact that many American companies have significant foreign investment. For example, the largest individual investor in Citicorp is Prince Al-Waleed, a member of the royal family in Saudi Arabia. It does not require a huge leap of imagination to envision major U.S. companies pouring monies into the political process in order to insure results that will favor these foreign investors, even if these results disadvantage many American citizens.

          Members of the Supreme Court majority that authored this abominable decision – Justices Anthony Scalia and Clarence Thomas – also participated in the theft of the presidential election in 2000. There is no reason to believe that further encroachments upon the rights and the legitimate aspirations of the American public will not be a part of our future unless and until there is a concerted effort to articulate and support a progressive electoral and legislative agenda at all levels of government.

          The Supreme Court has offered us a vision of the future and we should heed that vision. We should beware of inaction in the face of this vision. There is a clarion call being sounded, if we would just listen. It’s a call for unified action. It’s a call for progressive change. It’s a call to stand up to forces that would just as soon resort to deception and legerdemain as it would resort to direct and total confrontation. It is not enough to be aware. If there was ever a time to heed the clarion call for action, it is now.

Wallace Ford is the Principal of Fordworks Associates, a New York-based management consulting firm and is the author of two novels, The Pride and What You Sow