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Monday, December 9, 2013
Purple State Of Mind News
Tracking Purple State of Mind across America…
Rep. Patrick Kennedy erupted yesterday on the floor of the House of Representatives, accusing the press of ignoring the war in Afghanistan and paying too much attention to Rep. Eric Massa’s downfall. Here’s the YouTube clip.
After hearing about the speech, given on behalf of a resolution to bring the troops home within thirty days, I gave it a look and was surprised to find it less incendiary than advertised. Clearly, the man is under stress. Obviously, he’s angrier than even the norm in this pressurized chamber. But he doesn’t seem unhinged to me.
Having said that, his criticism feels wide of the mark. The press can definitely be accused of failing to cover this country, but one place where we do seem to have bureaus and “boots on the ground”, in media terms, is Afghanistan.
No reporters were in the gallery, I assume, because the resolution is, at best, a symbolic gesture that doesn’t address in any serious way the larger questions about how to get out of Afghanistan, and at worst, one more bit of political theater designed to grab brief attention. It’s not a question of cynicism. It’s a question of budget. Afghanistan press time and dollars will not be spent on House resolutions.
I do agree with him about the glut of coverage on Rep. Massa. In the defense of reporters, however, Massa admitted that he “tickled” young men at a wedding party, said that a naked Rahm Emmanuel accosted him in the shower and accused this naked man of being willing to do violence against his own children for political ends. That is sort of a story.
At his best, the writer James Fallows has a scope of understanding of the United States and its place in the world that few contemporary journalists can match. Speaking of contemporary journalists, lately, I’ve been reading Game Change, chronicling the 2008 race for president, and while I admire the leg work, I deplore something in the perspective. The journalists cover that race as if the only thing at stake were the outcome of the election.
In fact, for most Americans, everything was at stake in that race: how we work, what we make, how our government conducts itself abroad, what sort of country we leave to our children. You name it, and the 2008 presidential race encompassed it. Game Change, which is a very good book, nevertheless loses itself in the quotidian detail and betrays readers and voters.
We live in a moment of systemic breakdown, and Fallows seems to be on the track of the problem. Craig Detweiler and I have felt for a while that the deteriorating relationships between left and right are turning to poison at the grassroots level. In The Big Sort, the writer Bill Bishop diagnoses the extent of the problem and demonstrates why it’s so intractable.
Liz Joyner in Tallahassee is attempting to do something about the problem, building bipartisanship at the municipal, county and state level, but Fallows charts the overwhelming odds against all of us.
It’s all about party discipline, folks, but don’t take it from me. Here’s Fallows over at the Atlantic Monthly:
01 Feb 2010 12:14 pm
I got this note from someone with many decades’ experience in national politics, about a discussion between two Congressmen over details of the stimulus bill:
“GOP member: ‘I’d like this in the bill.’
“Dem member response: ‘If we put it in, will you vote for the bill?’
“GOP member: ‘You know I can’t vote for the bill.’
“Dem member: ‘Then why should we put it in the bill?’
“I witnessed this myself.”
I wrote back saying, “Great story!” and got the response I quote below and after the jump. It is worth reading because its argument has the valuable quality of being obvious — once it is pointed out. The emphasis is mine rather than in the original; it is to highlight a basic structural reality that has escaped most recent analysis of the “bipartisanship” challenge.
“BTW, that exchange I quoted is not really a great story. It is a basic story, fundamental to legislation — a sort of ‘duh!’ moment — and to the US Congressional system, and to the key difference between our system and a parliamentary system when it comes to bipartisanship. I’m astonished every pundit doesn’t already get it, but many either don’t or seem willfully to ignore it.
“In our system, if the minority party can create and enforce party discipline (which has never really been done before, but which the GOP has now accomplished), then OF COURSE there can be no ‘bipartisanship’ on major legislative matters, in the sense of (1) the minority adding provisions to legislation as the majority compromises with them, and (2) at least some minority party members then voting with the majority.
“In a parliamentary system, the minority party is not involved in helping write or voting for major legislation either. If you think about it, and as that exchange I quoted shows, that sort of ‘bipartisanship’ really can’t happen in a parliamentary system on issues where the minority party has the power to tell its members to boycott the majority’s major bills on final passage.
“Bipartisanship in the American sense means compromising on legislation so that a sufficient number of members of Congress from BOTH parties will support it, even if (as is typically the case) a few majority party members defect and most minority party members don’t join. Bipartisanship consists of getting ENOUGH members of the minority party to join the (incomplete) majority in voting for major legislation. It can’t happen if the minority party members vote as a block against major legislation. And that can happen only if the minority party has the ability to discipline its ranks so that none join the majority, which is the unprecedented situation we’ve got in Congress today.
“The way parliamentary parties maintain their discipline is straightforward. No candidate can run for office using the party label unless the party bestows that label upon him or her. And usually, the party itself and not the candidate raises and controls all the campaign funds. As every political scientist knows, the fact that in the U.S. any candidate can pick his or her own party label without needing anyone else’s approval, and can also raise his or her own campaign funds, is why there cannot be and never really has been any sustained party discipline before — even though it is a feature of parliamentary systems.
“The GOP now maintains party discipline by the equivalent of a parliamentary party’s tools: The GOP can effectively deny a candidate the party label (by running a more conservative GOP candidate against him or her), and the GOP can also provide the needed funds to the candidate of the party’s choice. And every GOP member of Congress knows it. (Snowe and Collins may be immune, but that’s about it.)
“I’ve missed almost all the punditry this past week… but what I’ve seen seems almost like a lot of misleading fluff designed to fill the void that should follow an understanding of the foregoing, at least on the subject of ‘why no bipartisanship?’ There’s really nothing more to be said about “why no bipartisanship,” once one recognizes the GOP party discipline. On this issue, it’s absolutely astounding to blame Obama or even the Congressional leadership (although Pelosi and Reid leave much to be desired otherwise). It’s doubly astounding that the GOP did it once before, less perfectly, but with a very large reward for bad behavior in the form of the 1994 mid-term elections. Yet no one calls them on it effectively, and bad behavior seems about to be rewarded again…
“Ironically, the one thing that might lubricate some bipartisanship — earmarks, or their functional equivalent in specific amendments of general policy — is becoming unavailable just when needed, and when it might help. After the exchange I quoted (and observed), a Dem could run against that GOP incumbent by pointing out that the GOP opponent lost X or Y or Z project or policy benefit for his or her district or state by insisting on voting down the line with the GOP. ‘Put his party above his constituents,’ might be the charge, or ‘Put Michael Steele above you and me.’ But so far, the Dems don’t seem to have cottoned onto this. They could go into the 2010 elections not just challenging the obstructionists in the GOP, but showing the electorate what the price of obstruction has been for real people back home.”
As I have pointed out a time or two or a thousand, the structural failures of American government are the country’s main problem right now. In this installment, we see that the US now has the drawbacks of a parliamentary system — absolute party-line voting by the opposition, for instance — without any of the advantages, from comparable solidarity among the governing party to the principle of “majority rules.” If Democrats could find a way to talk about structural issues — if everyone can find a way to talk about them — that would be at least a step. And the Dems could talk about the simple impossibility of governing when the opposition is committed to “No” as a bloc.
It is strange to watch award shows in America while Haitians continue to dig out of rubble. The red carpet arrival for the Golden Globes was dampened by rare afternoon rain in Los Angeles. The stars sloshing into the Beverly Hilton wore red ribbons to highlight the relief efforts in Haiti. During her Globe acceptance speech for Julie & Julia, Meryl Streep directed attention (and funds) to the work of Partners in Health. Even unpredictable host Ricky Gervais seemed a bit subdued due to the news from Port-au-Prince. Yet, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Golden Globes show provided some delightful surprise winners.
The Globes are really a pre-Oscar audition. Actors who offer heartfelt and respectful speeches at the Globes add fuel to their Oscar prospects. So the big winners on Sunday night included a passionate Monique as Best Supporting Actress in Precious, a dashing Christoph Waltz earning Best Supporting Actor for Inglorious Basterds, and an appreciative Sandra Bullock named Best Actress in The Blind Side. They each accepted with style and grace, increasingly their Academy odds.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association honors more than dramas, tapping The Hangover as best comedy. With this raucous comedy now nab one of the expanded ten Oscar nominations for Best Picture? As a double Globe winner for director James Cameron and producer Jon Landau, Avatar vaulted past Up in the Air as the leading Academy Award contender for Best Pic. “The King of the World” did not come across as too strident or gloating. Cameron is undoubtedly the first person to accept an award in a made up language. Yet his Na’vi catchphrase, “I see you” may well carry him to Oscar gold.
Perhaps the biggest surprises came in the Best Actor categories. Robert Downey got the nod for comedy in Sherlock Holmes. What an amazing turnaround from Downey’s downward drug spiral of just a few years ago. How grand to see him credit his wife, Susan, for ensuring he’s stayed clean, sober, and successful. Jeff Bridges victory as Best Actor in Crazy Heart also provided a welcome twist. He saluted his wife of thirty three years, Susan. But was it more of a career achievement award than recognition of a singular performance? A year ago, Mickey Rourke won the Golden Globe as The Wrestler but lost in the Oscar voting to Sean Penn’s portrait of Harvey Milk. Will Academy voters go for George Clooney’s aimless traveler from Up in the Air instead of Bridges fading country star? Turn in March 6th, the official end of awards season….
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