Tag Archives: John Boehner

VOD: Congress Suspended Democracy So Only One Person Could Re-Open the Government

If you haven’t been following the news regularly about the government shutdown this is one story to which you should pay attention. Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md) stood on the House Floor and attempted a motion to re-open the government. What followed was the revelation that on Oct. 1 House Republicans quietly passed a resolution that changed the standing House Rules so that only Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor can make a motion to re-open the government.

You read that correctly. Eric Cantor (or his designee) is the only person that can start the process of re-opening the government. That means that even if the every other Republican and Democratic representative is in favor of re-opening the government but Eric Cantor does not make the motion, the government stays shut down. Even the most powerful Republican in Congress – Speaker of the House John Boehner – can’t make the motion to re-open the government without Eric Cantor’s permission. The power to turn on the services paid for by our tax dollars and return hundreds of thousands of government workers back to their jobs is in the hands of one person.

Does that have your attention now?

Watch the video of Chris Van Hollen’s parliamentary inquiries to see for yourself.

What are your feelings on the video? How does this gel with your definition of democracy? Tell us in the comments below. 

More Cliffs Ahead, But Congress Isn’t “Broken”

 fiscalcaliff

If we trace back the accepted opinion that Congress is broken, a turning point came right after President Obama’s first inauguration when Sen. Mitch McConnell, speaking for all Republicans, it seems, said that his mission was to make Obama a one-term president.  The intractable divisions that made the fiscal cliff a nightmare – and a ridiculous spectacle – go back much further, as everyone knows.

But David Brooks exploded conventional wisdom when he said that the chief myth in politics today is that a reasonable nation is saddled with an irrationally antagonistic Congress.  In reality, Brooks points out, voters don’t want to make sacrifices, and they elect those candidates who uphold their refusal.  Republican districts send congressmen who refuse to raise taxes. Democratic districts send congressmen who refuse to touch entitlements. The will of the people is being carried out.

The problem is that the will of the people in this case is stubbornly wrong-headed.  During the run-up to the fiscal cliff dive, many commentators said that a grand bargain could be drawn up in half an hour if both sides would just be reasonable. What stood in the way was politics.  Yet it seems more true to say that a divided nation is standing against itself.

With many cliffs looming in the future, it will take a crisis every time to provoke both sides to reach a deal, and the deals are likely to be incremental. But that’s okay, because the national will needs time to shift. On the role of government, right versus left is a disagreement that runs as deep as racial inequality once did or the vote for women or the right of gays to marry. It’s worthwhile to believe in process, since the alternative – one side crushing the other – leads to unhealed wounds and long, long resentments.

If John Boehner really told Harry Reid to go f— himself, it’s in keeping with calling the President a liar during his State of the Union address, the birther smear, the use of Willie Horton to terrify voters with the specter of an angry black male, and Nixon’s Southern strategy, which signaled with a wink and a nod that racism was respectable.  The whole trend has led to deep divisions because, as I see it, the forces of reaction have profited from the worst impulses in human nature.  To be on the good side of that trend means not giving in to it.  The same holds true for aspects of reactionary politics that are not so unsavory or immoral, such as dismantling the social welfare state, crippling government, removing environmental controls, and constantly inflating the defense budget.  These cliffs are unavoidable until the national will is weaned off right-wing values.  It takes time, patience, and a steady moral compass.

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Birthers and the Politics of the Shameless

 Are the birthers dangerous, wacky, or simply distracting? President Obama has chosen the third option. His press conference in which he released his long form birth certificate was an exercise in tut-tutting. Acting the part of adult-in-chief, he reproached the press for indulging in the "silliness" of promoting the birther issue over serious challenges like the national debt and dealing with entitlements. No doubt he realizes that the lecture was futile. Reading about Donald Trump and his outrageous grandstanding is the moral equivalent of rubbernecking as you drive by a fatal accident on the highway. Everyone does it; nobody feels proud when they do.

But there may be a serious undertone to raising the ceiling on shamelessness. When Trump repeatedly said how proud he was to be playing his part in the birther nonsense, when he said of the birth certificate that he "hoped it was true," and then capped his moment in the sun by denigrating Obama’s credentials for attending Columbia and Harvard, the shameless ceiling was pushed up too far for comfort. Moral viciousness isn’t something to brush aside. For a century after the Civil War the Democrats turned a blind eye to racism, Jim Crow laws, inequality in education between whites and African-Americans, and even lynching. Silence in the face of immorality is itself a kind of immorality. But Democrats redeemed themselves by passing the civil rights laws of the Sixties, while Republicans often sat on their hands and eagerly accepted the shift of the South to their party.

Ever since Nixon’s barely veiled appeal to racism in his infamous Southern strategy and his call to "the silent majority" (code for anyone who hated minority rights and the anti-war movement), Republicans have made hay in more and more shameless ways. By the time they reached their peak years under the second President Bush, the party had perfected lying and demagoguery. Elections were swayed by appealing to fringe issues that no adult, or for that matter no moral child, could take seriously — flag burning, prayer in the schools, gay marriage, abortion rights, Christian fundamentalism, and other so-called social issues played to intolerance. So triumphant was the politics of the shameless that tax breaks for the rich, a war started on the basis of lies and distortion, and a reckless disregard for the approaching financial meltdown could be blithely shrugged off. To this day, nobody in power has paid in any serious way for these catastrophic policies. 

Quite the opposite. The birther movement is like old times returning. It is based on an overt appeal to racism and blind ignorance. Pollsters found that the more that Obama offered proof of his birth in Hawaii, the greater the credence being given to birthers, to the point where even now 67% of Republican voters now say they have doubts about his right to be President and more than a dozen states are considering the kind of "prove that you’re a real American" bill that the Republican governor of Arizona, in an act of decency that went against party lines, was forced to veto. We are told that more mainstream Republicans are threatened by the birthers, and perhaps Obama made a tactical move by holding his press conference. His Republican rivals now must show their hand, which means they have to stand up to the crazies on the Right at a time when the Tea Party is threatening them at the same time. Either that or risk ridicule by continuing to pretend that they have doubts about Obama’s birth.

What I’m waiting for is the moment of redemption when, like the Democrats in the Sixties, the party that has pandered to prejudice and fringe lunacy turns the corner. As tempting as it is to win votes the cheap way, does any Republican have the courage to lose votes the hard way? This isn’t a case of a plague upon both your houses. The disastrous problems faced by the new President upon taking office in 2009 were a Republican legacy, just as Southern racism was once a Democratic legacy. What will it take for them to change? Maybe John Boehner will get fed up to the point that he starts working with the Democrats to solve our pressing problems like adults. Maybe Michelle Bachmann will win the Iowa caucus next spring and show the party elders that they have birthed their own Huey Long. Like the genie let out of the bottle, shamelessness isn’t going back where it came from voluntarily. People have to stand up to moral viciousness. Republican theorists like to put themselves in the honorable line of the British conservative Edmund Burke. They need to remember one of Burke’s most famous quotes: "It is only necessary for good men to say nothing for evil to triumph."

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PHOTO (cc): Flickr / Fibonacci Blue

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