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Sun Feb 10, 2013, 09:38 AM

Throwaway

“The Nixon theoreticians even tried to transform reverence into an ideology, propagating the doctrine, rather novel in the United States, that institutions of authority were entitled to respect per se, whether or not they had done anything to earn respect. If authority were denied respect, the syllogism ran, the whole social order would be in danger. ‘Your task, then, is clear,’ my friend Pat Moynihan charged his President in 1969: ‘To restore the authority of American institutions.’ But should institutions expect obedience they do not, on their record of performance, deserve? To this question the Nixon ideologues apparently answered yes. An older American tradition would say no, incredulous that anyone would see this as a question. In that spirit I would argue that what this country needs today is a little serious disrespect for the office of the Presidency; a refusal to give any more weight to a President’s words than the intelligence of the utterance, if spoken by anyone else, would command; an understanding of the point made so aptly by Montaigne: ‘Sit he on never so high a throne, a man still sits on his own bottom.’

“And what if men not open and modest, even at the start, but from the start ambitious of power and contemptuous of law reached the place once occupied by Washington and Lincoln? What if neither personal character, nor play of politics, nor the Constitution itself availed to hold a President to strict accountability?”
-- Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.; The Imperial Presidency; 1973; pages 410-411.


I enjoyed a long telephone conversation with my brother last night. He is employed by the University of Oregon, and in that capacity, has had the opportunity to become more familiar with the work of a professor who studies climate change. Coming from that perspective, he voiced frustration with President Obama, who he believes -- while certainly better than a George W. Bush or Willard Romney -- is not aggressive enough in challenging the system of economic exploitation that enriches the 1% while poisoning the living environment.

In his opinion, President Obama is hesitant to engage in conflicts where he does not have a good chance of winning. I mentioned that health care and common sense gun control were tough issues, where President Obama risked/risks failure. He countered that Obama is always willing to compromise with the republicans who front for corporate interests, and noted that in the context of a damaged environment, human beings’ health suffers -- was this not exactly the point of my epidemiological study of Sidney, NY? He said that any serious attempt to improve medical services would have to address the toxins that are poisoning the American people. He said that he had more respect for someone like me, who would attempt to win the Good Fight, even when the odds were very much against me, than a politician who constantly compromises with corporate interests.

One could easily dismiss my brother’s positions by saying he doesn’t understand how things are accomplished in our system. Yet, if one is familiar with our system of government, including being fully aware of both how our constitutional system is supposed to work, and how Washington actually does work, his position seems valid. Let’s consider the example of President Obama’s drone program.

Schlesinger’s book on the “Imperial Presidency” is useful in defining some of the dynamics at play in the drone controversy. It really should, at least in my opinion, be required reading for high school students. The author describes how the majority of US Presidents attempt to increase the power of the executive branch of the government. To do so requires a weakening of three important things: the legislative and judicial branches of the federal government, and of the Constitution.

While Schlesinger’s primary target was then President Richard Nixon, he documents the manner in which Presidents expand executive power: it is always done with “national security” as justification. More, in the modern era, the claim is made that advances in technology, which the Founding Fathers could not possibly have foreseen, require this President to take bold steps towards protecting democracy ….while trampling the US Constitution.

Now let’s look at some of the consequences. We will start with none other than Richard Nixon, at the time he served as vice president. Nixon, as I have previously noted on this forum, was not the weak figure that many believe he was as VP. (It is fair to question if President Eisenhower was fully aware of much that VP Nixon was up to.) For example, Nixon played a leading role in dictating US policy towards Central and South America. The most famous example of this is found in the origins of the doomed operation known as the Bay of Pigs. This is important because, at the time Nixon became vice president, the CIA was supposed to be a 100% intelligence agency, meaning to gather and evaluate information. The Bay of Pigs would highlight the dangers of having an intelligence group become operational in military matters.

Fast forward to the Nixon presidency, and those same dangers become more pronounced. While the “Nixon ideologues” would hold that this was to spread democracy abroad, no informed person could deny that Nixon’s misuse of intelligence and police agencies posed a serious threat to our constitutional democracy. Indeed, one of the most damning facts that the various post-Watergate congressional investigating committees uncovered was the history of the CIA’s attempts to assassinate foreign leaders -- though not with drones -- at the same time the executive office was having intelligence and police agencies attacking American groups and individuals who were exercising their constitutional right to protest the President’s domestic and foreign policies.

It is impossible for an administration to enhance democracy, either at home or abroad, by way of secret policies that break Constitutional Law. This simply cannot be done. Rather, such policies can only enhance the strength of non-democratic institutions, such as the corporations destroying the environment for financial gain, and increase the amount of hatred for America in foreign lands.

These are the types of issues that create tensions and divisions within the Democratic Party. And I’ll include those who, while not registered Democrats, helped to elect and re-elect President Obama. As is said so often, there are those who despised George W. Bush for violating the Constitution, but who accept President Obama’s engaging in much the same activities. And there are those who do not believe we should be the Democratic Party, Inc. We see that even here, on the Democratic Underground.

Peace,
H2O Man

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Replies to this discussion thread
Arrow 14 replies Author Time Post
Reply Throwaway (Original post)
H2O Man Feb 2013 OP
Jackpine Radical Feb 2013 #1
H2O Man Feb 2013 #11
raouldukelives Feb 2013 #2
H2O Man Feb 2013 #12
beemer27 Feb 2013 #3
MannyGoldstein Feb 2013 #4
bigtree Feb 2013 #5
radiclib Feb 2013 #6
longship Feb 2013 #7
H2O Man Feb 2013 #8
hootinholler Feb 2013 #9
Little Star Feb 2013 #10
H2O Man Feb 2013 #13
panader0 Feb 2013 #14

Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 09:58 AM

1. Another gem, Patrick.

A chilling narrative delivered in measured tones. One of your best, perhaps.

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Response to Jackpine Radical (Reply #1)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 03:46 PM

11. Thank you.

I wrote it with the intent of having people who disagree on the drone bit finding it worthy of consideration. And perhaps even a discussion. I do not think that the pro-drone positions are all without merit, and the topic could be used to allow people of differing opinions to engage in a meaningful debate. Too often, in recent times, disagreements are a source of hostility on this forum.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 10:21 AM

2. Huge K&R

Our President needs and has asked for us to take the lead on the issues that are important to us. I'm glad your one of them. We can never address climate change accurately until we are allowed to deal with it factually.

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Response to raouldukelives (Reply #2)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 06:51 PM

12. Thank you.

Much appreciated!

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 10:22 AM

3. Thanks !!

You spent a lot of time thinking about this subject, and composing an excellent article to share with us. It is very thought provoking, and, sadly enough, very true. Almost every president has tried to expand the powers of the office. And this always comes at the little guys expense. Big business has the resources to buy loop holes, and Congress always seems to include an exemption for itself.
The part about Nixon and the Bay of Pigs was new to me. I always wondered why a sharp fellow like JFK would be dumb enough to risk his reputation and political capital on such a risky venture. If the plans were in place before he took office, he might have felt some obligation to let the people involved have a go at it. It certainly turned into a massive cluster ****. It never did seem to fit in with the rest of his ideals.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 10:39 AM

4. Very good essay, thank you!

How easily we all forget that the Constitution was designed to account for the fact that, as you quote,

‘Sit he on never so high a throne, a man still sits on his own bottom.’

We are all just people, with our vanities and foibles, even Washington, Lincoln and FDR. Our Constitution is designed to blunt our inevitable mortal failings, and it has done well to date. For 200+ years we have mostly prospered, and often led the way on human progress and human rights thanks in large part to this document.

But for how much longer can it guide us when our current crop of Great Men casts it aside?

This is what troubles me above all else with regard to the current fashion of secret killings, torture, and the like - they are bad acts n themselves, but even worse they erode the laws which keep us in the right when our passions sometimes want to lead us to bad places.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 10:42 AM

5. I think that your reasoning about the constitution and democracy is sound

Last edited Sun Feb 10, 2013, 12:18 PM - Edit history (1)

. . . I'm not sure that Pres. Obama is using drones to 'advance democracy;' in that he expects democracy to be advanced behind their use. I think he's made the calculation that they are a more effective and efficient means of dealing with individuals he's convinced threaten the U.S. or our interests at home or abroad. I also believe he's made the calculation that the use of the drones is preferable (in the preservation of American troops' lives and limbs) to the deployment of military personnel or government agents who would carry out the task of apprehension or confrontation of these individuals.

Now, believing this is not an endorsement at all of the Obama drone policy. I'm strongly opposed to that choice. I don't think that opposing drones (and the CIA control over their operation) is enough. There is an entire 'war on terror' philosophy and practice that underlies the very idea of a need to pursue and kill or capture these individual suspects. Drones have evolved out of the military and government's response to Americans' aversion to sacrifices of troops outside of accepted and established theaters and fields of war.

I mean, after accepting that there is a problem with folks 'plotting' to do harm to America or our interests, there is little political room for our elected officials to be indifferent or oblique to all of that. What choices do they have, after accepting that there is a threat? They can opt for some sort of proxy pursuit of these suspects by other nations. That carries with it a lack of control over circumstances and means.

You can opt for some sort of declaration of military intent from Congress - like we've seen in Iraq and Afghanistan - and troops can be mobilized. We can have a Somalia-like intervention where we send some quick-strike team into some harboring nation and stage a bin-Laden style mission.

We can wait for courts and other nations to reign in these individuals; much like we did with the individuals deemed responsible for the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole; hoping we can keep something like 9-11 from following in those careful footsteps of ours.

My point is, once our elected officials and our military and intelligence agencies have identified a threat, they are challenged to act (politics these days demand dispatch and swift response). We're so deeply wedded to the perception and the reality of outside threats to the nation that it is inevitable that our government does more than just acknowledge them and move on.

Let's be real about this. The administration's embrace of the drones is more an acknowledgment of the political realities surrounding both the public's (experienced) anxiety about outside threats and their attitudes toward war and overt military action involving troops in the field, than it is some zeal to subvert the constitution.

Pres. Obama, evidently, sees drones as shorthand for the Iraq and Afghanistan invasion. He's accepted that there's a threat to the nation, and he's using drones as a substitute for deploying troops. It's more complicated than that, to be sure, but he obviously sees this as averting the disastrous deployments that marked and defined the previous administrations' terms; possibly obviating the need for the one he's trying to unravel right now.

Again, drones would not be my choice. If it were my call, drones would still be used for gathering weather info and other benign uses; not warfare. The collateral damage (killings of innocents) is just appalling. The effects, in the long run, in these regions and countries where we've used these drones, is counterproductive (as you say) to the promotion of democracy. If there was a threat that I accepted as valid, I'd want Congress involved in the response. (Is Congress any more responsible in all of this?)

But, if you ask me what I'd do about the perceived threats to the nation from abroad? After advocating diplomacy, I've got nothing; and, I strongly suspect that any expectation that our nation's restraint or comity in our approach to many of these individuals targeted will produce some sort of truce or armistice is just pissing in the wind.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 10:54 AM

6. Outstanding, and "heart" worthy.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 10:55 AM

7. This essay is no throwaway. R&K nt

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Response to longship (Reply #7)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 11:32 AM

8. Thanks!

I got up early this morning, intending to put a few hours in on the book project ..... I have a goal of completion in May ...... and was having the first cup of coffee. There are always lots of cobwebs in the old gray cells in the morning, so I thought I'd warm up by writing something for DU. By the time I had finished, I wasn't sure if a recap of my phone conversation made sense, or was just shit to discard. I went back-and-forth on that for a while, then decided it was okay.

I appreciate people like you reading it and responding.

Now back to that rough draft of the book. Then on to a county-wide Democratic Party meeting, where I have been tasked with "dispute resolution" activities.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 12:42 PM

9. So what here is being thrown away?

I hope it's not your opinion on this.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sun Feb 10, 2013, 12:43 PM

10. Thanks for this. k&r


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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Mon Feb 11, 2013, 10:36 AM

13. Part Two

"Suddenly, I'm not half the man I used to be
Now that I've become an amputee ....."
-- John Lennon's version of "Yesterday"; Anthology


Yesterday, I did a brief presentation for the Sidney Democratic Party, and three other grass roots groups from the Democratic Left. It was a "special meeting" called by the SDP, in response to last weekend, when a pro-fracking group disrupted their monthly meeting.

In the past two election cycles, this coalition has won five of five election contests in the town. The first time, the local republican machine considered it a freak event. The second time, they put up a much tougher fight. Our two victories in 2012 convinced them -- and I believe the larger machine -- that we are a serious challenge to buisness-as-usual.

This may sound like small stuff, for Sidney is but a small town in the largest, rural county in New York State. However, as I've noted here before, it is home to a large "defense" industry -- one that in March, 1051, the Saturday Evening Post described as "essential for our national security" (The Village We Can't Do Without). This may sound unrelated to the OP .... unless one considers the toxic industrial waste dumps sites poisoning the environment, including human beings, and where the ignitions for drones are produced.

I spoke about the tensions now dividing some members of this coalition, and how it reminded me of the same tensions that are detailed in Taylor Branch's wonderful three-part series, "America in the King Years." Quoted cousin Oren Lyons, an Onondaga Chief who frequently speaks at the United Nations. And offered to do a program on "dispute resolution," which could show how the differences of opinion can be used for strength, rather than serving to divide people.

When we left, the two associates riding with me both commented that I had done better than usual. I agreed, noting that by quoting others such as Oren, I feign intelligence. I was pleased.

Today, I am too worn out to go door-to-door with the health study. Other than a school board committee meeting, and picking my youngest up from her basketball practice, I'll be staying in, taking it easy. I've got to prepare my presentation for at the state university on Thursday; write two op-eds for area newspapers; and work on The Book. These old bones will find that easier than walking around in the freezing rain.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Mon Feb 11, 2013, 11:12 AM

14. "Rather, such policies can only enhance the strength of non-democratic institutions...."

This simple point seems to go over the head of so many in the government.
Take care of your health H20 Man.

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