This Larison piece is interesting in its own right, but it’s also another reminder that other countries have no problem investigating and, if necessary, prosecuting national leaders. Off the top of my head, Georgia, Germany, Israel, France (their last two!) among others have all done this, and they all continue to stand as countries today, with their own peculiar strengths and weaknesses. Yet D.C. pundits constantly tell us that doing so with a current or former president of the United States, the nation will absolutely fall apart, and thanks to the visionary, generous hackdom statesmanship of Lee Hamilton and Jerry Ford, we avoided that fate both times it was vaguely credible. Only we didn’t, the price has been paid instead by the people having to deal with a succession of presidencies with varying degrees of contempt for the law.
I don’t really think we’ll ever see a president or former president face the criminal justice system for breaking the law. The punditocracy always manages to keep such things from really happening, for reasons undoubtedly stemming from Sally Quinn’s immortal “Villagers” article from the 1990s–i.e. an inappropriate attachment to the presidency and bad boundary-setting with respect to the person of the president–they always manage to make politicians and the public think that this would be catastrophic, that it would destroy the presidency and hopelessly divide the nation. Far better that we destroy our democracy I suppose–at this point warning about political divisiveness just seems horribly naive.
In a post on the viability of movement conservatism to win nationwide elections, Martin Longman makes a dubious point:
Both John McCain and Mitt Romney might have won the presidency if they had been allowed to run as moderates, but they both had to sacrifice that label to win the nomination.
I don’t really agree with this. There was no real chance that McCain could have won in 2008, but he was the relative moderate in the field and accentuated his non-movement positions ferociously. It didn’t matter: Republicans had to defend a disastrously unpopular and failed president who most of them nevertheless staunchly supported right up until the end, and there was no political jiu-jitsu that was going to square that peg. The only way Republicans might have had a chance was by repudiating the entirety of Bush’s presidency, which would not have been possible given the GOP never gave Bush less than a 70% approval rating. Romney might have been a different story, but I’d argue that ideology wasn’t his real problem. Romney was simply overrated as a politician: his record of governance was essentially ignored from the outset in large part because it couldn’t be pressed into any useful form for his campaign (too much bipartisan cooperation for the primary, too many overridden vetoes and dysfunction for the general), his business record–the cornerstone of his campaign–wound up being easy grist for the oppo mill, too easy to tie him to the global financial mumbo-jumbo that few people understand but that most inherently distrust. Really, outside of his brazen and energetic propensity for lying there wasn’t much that wasn’t generic there, though probably not much needed to be: as all challengers to a president do, he ran on a “things are shitty” platform and people decided they weren’t shitty enough to vote for him. Not much else he could have done, and adopting a couple of more moderate positions probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
I’m not going to claim that movement conservatism is hopeless on the national stage just yet. But it is very much the case that conservatives haven’t fixed the problems they face with the electorate and it’s unlikely they’ll improve their performance much until they do. Movement conservatism has no real reputation of competence or having a pulse on the country at this point in time, and they are increasingly isolated as prudish, trigger-happy radicals. This will eventually change but I strongly expect whoever gets the 2016 GOP nomination to struggle just as much as the last couple guys to diminish the base’s contradictions. My guess would be that the GOP will come back once the “Silent” Generation is as marginal as the WWII Generation is now, demographically.
Tom Erdelyi, better known as Tommy Ramone, the founding drummer and last surviving original member of the Ramones, the New York band whose dizzyingly short blasts of melody codified the sound of punk rock, died on Friday at his home in Ridgewood, Queens. He was 65. The cause was cancer of the bile duct, his family announced. Of the original band, Joey Ramone (the singer) died in 2001, Dee Dee (the bassist) in 2002 and Johnny (the guitarist) in 2004.
I’ve argued this before, but Tommy was the most important member of the Ramones. It’s pretty simple: he was heavily involved with the band’s first three albums, which were their best; somewhat involved with the fourth, which was just slightly below those in terms of quality; then he left and the band put out a couple of mediocre records, followed by his return for the band’s last great album (Too Tough To Die), and his final departure, after which they accomplished fairly little. This is not a coincidence: The Ramones had other producers and other drummers and they undervalued Tommy, but the musical knowledge and musical ability he brought to the fore were never replaced when he wasn’t involved. The bottom really dropped out after Dee Dee left–the two guys out front got all the attention, but it was Tommy and Dee Dee who were the best writers and musicians. Without them it was truly a Mondo Bizarro.
How important was Tommy? He literally wrote this song:
My basic view on the proposed anti-Citizens United Constitutional Amendment is that (a) it’s good in terms of messaging, as people know what it is, the concept is popular and it is good to organize around, and (b) it’s a shitty idea in terms of substance. The risk here is in convincing people that they need to pass a CA to fix a Supreme Court ruling–which is essentially impossible, suggesting that leading Democrats are unwilling to simply amend the Judiciary Act to restrict judicial review when they get a majority. If the hope is to keep the power of SCOTUS intact for the potentially more liberal post-Kennedy and Scalia Court then it’s understandable, though the virtually-infinite power of the Court is a major problem that we might as well fix sooner than later.
And I do have to say that the benefit of (a) is going to be fairly minimal. This isn’t as effective as the flag burning amendments, which admittedly had a limited group of enthusiastic backers (old men in VFW halls, basically), but pushing for that amendment was smart in that, had it actually passed Congress (it came incredibly close), it would have meant ten or twenty or whatever years of free media attention as various state governments debated the issue. Wouldn’t have made people change their votes probably, but it would have had nationwide resonance that could have boosted voter enthusiasm, and for sure it would have sucked up a lot of political oxygen on an issue that, while minor, pushed the right way for them. With this proposed new amendment there’s no real chance of any of that so I’m not all that excited I must say. I guess it’s good to put people on the record, fine as an opening move maybe. I guess we’ll see.
…so we’re gonna *use* the recording studio in the yutz’s living room — the yutz in question being, of course, conservative America’s own bearded lady, Sarah Palin. (Or maybe chicken-head geek. Hard one to nail down, carney-wise.) TPM’s quoted quote was a cherce and representative example of the interview-with-a-schizophrenic-cat-lady-on-the-street genre:
You don’t bring a lawsuit to a gunfight, and there’s no place for lawyers on the front lines.
Never give the early bird an even break, and it’s an ill wind that brings May flowers, amirite?
Anyway, DailyKos’ Hunter nailed it yesterday vis-a-vis Mooseburgers’ being the conservative traffic circle smack dab on the corner of dog whistle and dumb:
The reason [Palin] still gets all that attention? Because she is not a unique little flower of the movement. Not by a stretch. Not even a little bit.
Her cookie-cutter wisdom, little bits and phrases taken from movement fortune cookies and stirred together into an incongruous word mulch, is precisely what the wider movement wants to hear; that much, and no more. If she says impeach, it is because the conservative zeitgeist has gotten its collective undies in a bunch over the word impeach, and if she stumbles over the reasons it is because not one person in her audience truly cares what the reasons might be. If she is considered a wise owl of the movement, it is because all the people clapping are that much dumber. Paul Ryan is the Budget Wonk, because he once wrote some numbers down. They didn’t add up, but by God he wrote them. John McCain is the serious foreign policy wonk, because John McCain demands we alternately bomb or arm every last faction he hears about, which are the only two serious foreign policies that the entire vast sweep of conservative think tanks have ever been able to come up with. The CPAC crowd and the NRA crowd are entirely indistinguishable because both define “freedom” to be something you get by taking it from the other guy.
And Sarah Palin is their prophet because the job was open, and the cash is good, and because it is a requirement of the movement that you dispense a soylent mush of symbols and shibboleths and angry exclamation points to your audience without ever saying anything that would be too specific, thus causing conflict, or too moderate, thus implying weakness, or giving a general flying damn about the law, or recent history, or what you said last week. She is their prophet because she is perfect at this job. She represents the id that has overtaken the party and swallowed it up whole, the id that has given us the Scott Walkers and the Chris McDaniels and the All of Texas. She is the painted clown at the entrance to the great conservative roller coaster, the one that grins and points out a finger and says you must be no smarter than this to enter.
How can a traffic circle be on the corner of anything, you ask? Grasshopper, you have much to learn.
More hathos from my re-read of the Quinn article:
Democrats as well as Republicans are very angry at the president, says retiring Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, who emphasizes what he sees as a lack of respect for the office of president. “I’m angry at him,” he says. “I’d like to kick his butt across the White House lawn.”
I would think that letting President Ronald Reagan off the hook for Iran-Contra–and thus normalizing the notion that breaking the law is just what presidents do–would preclude a lack of respect for the office of the president. Then again, I’m not an eminence grise.
Worth remembering that the recently deceased, esteemed statesman was just as capable of prudish stupidity as anybody:
“Ambrose is right on both scores,” says Howard Baker. “But the difference between Clinton and Nixon is that Nixon resigned because he couldn’t stand it. Clinton is not cut from the same cloth. He can compartmentalize. I drive by the White House at night and think, ‘What in the world are they doing right now? How do they function?’ I would be destroyed.”
For Baker, the most serious consequence of the scandal is “the diminished capability for the U.S. to lead by moral example . . . the impact on Kosovo and Iraq. I can just see Saddam Hussein licking his chops seeing that the U.S. is less willing to respond.”
Just to clarify, that last part isn’t a joke. It was a serious thing that a respected person said–that Clinton getting his rocks off would lead to another Gulf War. And in a funny way he was right.
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