Thursday, April 05, 2007

Political Constants

It’s comical to see the shoe on the other foot. Politics is a funny game where each side uses the same tactics commonly employed by their opponents when their opponents whenever possible. When various tactics are employed by either side, the other side pitches an absolute fit, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they have supported (and will support) their side in doing the same thing. Of course, they always have excuses about why it is different this time around.

For example, the situation in Washington today is almost exactly reversed from where it was eight years ago. Back then, President Clinton (D) was a lame duck, serving out the final two years of his presidency. At the other end of the Mall, both houses of Congress were held by Republicans. The President was the object of a right-wing hate-a-thon. Congressional Republicans spent those two years gnashing their teeth and doing everything possible to discredit the President and thwart his agenda. Seeking the good of the nation seemed to be a secondary concern. Apparently lost on some in the GOP was the fact that if they actually succeeded in ousting the President following impeachment, President (rather than VP) Al Gore would likely win the 2000 election hands down.

Today, President Bush (R) is a lame duck, serving out the last two years of his presidency. Both houses of Congress are now controlled by Democrats (thanks in no small part to the President himself). The President is at the center of a frenzied left-wing hate fest. Congressional Democrats are doing everything possible to discredit the President and thwart his agenda. Seeking the good of the nation seems to be a secondary concern. But unlike 1999, in the unlikely event that the left succeeds in ousting President Bush, President Cheney will not be running in the next election.

Today, Senate Democrats are howling (see here) about President Bush’s recess appointment of Sam Fox as ambassador to Belgium. They have their knickers in a knot because Senator John Kerry (D-MA) successfully lobbied other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to reject Fox’s nomination due to Fox’s donation of cash to Swift Boat Veterans that campaigned against Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. Some of them claim that the President’s recess appointment is illegal.

Pish-posh. Presidents have been using the recess appointment provision of Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution to circumvent the will of Congress since George Washington did so in 1795. Senate Democrats had no problem with President Clinton using this procedure to achieve some very controversial appointments. Of course, Republicans howled just as loudly then as Democrats are howling today.

Some have argued that the recess appointment statute is out of date. Indeed, it was created in an era before modern communication and travel had developed — in an era when Congress met only seasonally. So it’s primary purpose was to ensure posts were filled temporarily even if Congress was unable to take up the business. In today’s era of immediate communication, rapid travel, and year-round Congressional sessions, that primary purpose has evaporated. Still, it would require a constitutional amendment to eliminate a president’s power to make recess appointments, and I don’t see any possibility of such an amendment happening anytime soon.

To the average American, this is all a bunch of political blather. Most of them couldn’t care less who our ambassador to Belgium is, or even if we have one. Most Americans that pay any attention to this kerfuffle at all probably wonder what the heck an ambassador to Belgium spends his time doing.

But it’s not just recess appointments. When one side decries the other side’s tactics as dirty politics, you usually don’t have to look very far to see bold examples of when the other side used the same tactics. Republicans disgusted with Nancy Pelosi’s purchasing votes to get the Surrender Now In Iraq bill passed didn’t seem to have much problem with the GOP pulling the same tricks during the years they controlled the House of Representatives (until some went just a bit too far).

And let’s not even get started on pork barrel spending. Each successive congress (regardless of who is in charge) seems intent on outdoing all past congresses in this arena (regardless of what they tell the press). Other examples of the pot calling the kettle black are so readily abundant in politics that it seems to merely go with the territory.

I’m not defending any particular tactic. I’m simply telling it the way it is. If a political tactic can be construed in a negative light, the one side loudly denounces the other side’s use of it as a way of scoring momentary points. However, they are just as quick to employ the tactic when the chance arises, while the other side predictably responds with cries of incredulity. Nobody is pure in this.

I don’t mean to be cynical about politics and I’m not calling all politicians crooks. But there are certain games that seem to unavoidably exist in politics. Our Founders were not ignorant of what the underbelly of the political beast looked like, but they also understood that the political process was necessary to a free republic. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to improve it. Still, you can clip its toenails and put makeup on its face, but you will not change the basic nature of the political beast. It is both friend and foe and must be regarded cautiously.


Anonymous said...

One difference between then and now: Many of us Democrats who were outraged by the games being played against Clinton do not want our party doing the same thing to Bush. Press their vision of ending the war, etc.? Sure--that's why we elected them. Impeachment proceedings? No. What we need now in this country is less divisiveness, not more.

Scott Hinrichs said...

VOU, Good point. Voices in the GOP that warned party leaders against going after impeaching Pres. Clinton were drowned out by the thrum of those that wanted his head at all costs.

Frothing political hatred of a president generally doesn't fall within the realm of seeking the nation's best interests. And while it may bring momentary success, it comes back to bite the haters in the long run. Besides, any president is term limited and will be gone in a few years anyway. Expending hatred on that individual is a waste of political capital.

Charles D said...

There's another big difference between then and now. Clinton was acting in a Constitutional manner and faithfully carrying out the duties of his office. Bush is asserting authority denied explicitly in the Constitution, overruling the rights of citizens, ignoring treaties ratified by the Senate, and making an absolute mess of everything he touches.

This is not "politics as usual". This is a struggle for the life of our democratic republic. The Democrats in Congress are being far easier on Bush than the Republicans were in Clinton during his lame duck period. That's our biggest problem today - lack of opposition, not too much of it.

Jettboy said...

Well, there is an example of why this has always been and will always be the way it is. My use of it is righteous and the other person's is wicked. Therefore, I have a right to do it and the others don't.

Charles D said...

There is a big difference, Jeffboy, between lying about one's sexual escapades and lying in order to start a war and subverting the Constitution. Impeachment for the former was nothing but a partisan witch hunt, impeachment for the latter is a Constitutional responsibility of the Legislative Branch.

That One Guy said...

"Apparently lost on some in the GOP was the fact that if they actually succeeded in ousting the President following impeachment, President (rather than VP) Al Gore would likely win the 2000 election hands down."

>>some might argue that Gore won anyway...<<<

Voice, and DemLover... great points both - it's nice to see people with an understanding of the differences here between constitutional philandering, and the sexual kind...


Good post, Reach.