George Sarant

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Posts Tagged ‘presidency

POLITICAL JUSTICE

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The failure of the FBI to file any criminal charges in the blatant targeting of the administration’s political opponents by the IRS is deeply troubling. The investigation is a sham, given that many of the targets themselves were never interviewed. As the Wall Street Journal noted “That’s like investigating a burglary without interviewing the burgled.” The Justice department is also stonewalling the congress, refusing to provide any witnesses involved in conducting the investigation. 

None of this is surprising. Apart from counter-terrorism activity in recent years, anyone who has ever had any dealings with them knows that, contrary to their TV image, the FBI essentially consists of messenger boys for the US Attorneys. It is not all that different than the relationship between the local police and district attorneys. 

 The US Attorneys are in turn political appointees, and decisions as to whom and whom not to prosecute are very often political. The notion that there is impartial justice at this level is laughable, at least when it comes to government or political activities. There is a frivolous argument floating around that other administrations have behaved politically as well. True enough, but none have been anywhere near as extensive as this one, which has clearly crossed the line in terms of blatant political calculation. Under Eric Holder the Justice department is driven by ideology more than the law. 

 Consider the ramifications here, whatever your political viewpoint. Sooner or later the other party will return to power. What if they behave the same way? If justice becomes a political process, based upon friends and enemies, then the legitimacy of the entire legal system is undermined. If politicians and bureaucrats can act arbitrarily according to what they want, believe in, or oppose rather than what is legally mandated, then the law becomes something of an afterthought, to be applied when convenient, and ignored when it is not. This is the kind of behavior used by authoritarian regimes. It only becomes a difference of degree between what is left of the constitution and a banana republic. These factors, along with extraconstitutional actions that are actually being applauded by radicals puts over two hundred years of law and precedent in jeopardy. 

Furthermore a serious abuse of power, by any measure, has been grossly underreported, with very little follow up and even less explanation provided about  this scandal. What happened here was harassment of political opponents, leaking of their confidential taxpayer data to political allies, lying to congress by senior officials claiming there was no targeting, then claiming it was only the work of low-level employees, and otherwise deliberately obfuscating what transpired. We are talking about the IRS dealing with taxpayers based upon political considerations rather than objective facts, thus undermining the legitimacy of that institution, perhaps irreparably. The seriousness of these infractions cannot be overstated, for if they were to become commonplace the constitutional system would be fatally undermined.

 This all stems from an administration that seems to be permanently in campaign mode, where it is quite effective, but disastrously inept when it comes to actually governing. International affairs are rudderless, and domestic policy is in complete disarray, in large measure because everything is perceived through an ideological framework. When the justice system is run this way it is simply no longer just. If the rules are ignored by those in charge there is every incentive for everyone else to do the same. Thus, political justice ultimately means no justice for anyone. 

 

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HALF-CENTURY PASSAGES AND JOHN F. KENNEDY

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50 years ago this day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and this fact has been much in the news. I remember the day well, as does everyone who was alive at the time. For those who weren’t, I won’t offer the sort of reminiscences that are ubiquitous at present, but rather explore some aspects of the man and his legacy, as well the experience of those decades. This compels us to consider the phenomenon of fresh memories of an event half a century ago, as well as its continued presence across that span of time. This has happened before, though not frequently. For example, both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were able to recall the American Revolution fifty years later. The Civil War was vividly etched in the national consciousness for the generations who experienced it, so that living veterans were ceremoniously reconciled fifty years later.

We think we live in times of rapid change, but 1963 is still part of the broad national experience, whereas in 1963 the decades back to 1913 were remote, and change was far more pronounced during that period. in other words the world of 1913 is much further away from 1963 than the latter is from 2013. For following 1913 the great shocks of the century manifested themselves. Just a year later the most seminal event in modern history began, namely World War I, or the “Great War,” as it was known before World War II. The latter was but a consequence of the preceding war, if not a continuation of it. In the world of 1913 Europe was at the pinnacle of its power, while America was still a relative backwater, though emerging as a world power. The old European civilization totally collapsed as a consequence of WWI, and its repercussions are still being felt today. Its former glory was gone forever, following an unbelievably costly mass slaughter over four years of pointless war. By the end of World War II the continent was completely exhausted.

John F. Kennedy served gallantly in the second war, and then went on to the political career we are all still familiar with. Kennedy was never a man of the left, despite subsequent claims. He was a political moderate; Hubert Humphrey was the “liberal” candidate in 1960. JFK would have some difficulty fitting in with today’s Democratic party given that, among other things, he did not raise taxes but cut them, and ran to the right of Nixon on defense in the general election. The Kennedy family “liberal” tradition really began with Bobby, when he was radicalized in the late 1960s, and then continued with Teddy. The notion that JFK was some sort of liberal is simply a myth sustained by those who have an interest in maintaining it. Another myth is the notion that somehow “right wing hate” brought about his assassination, when in fact he was killed by a dedicated Communist. Following his death endless speculation began about whether or not Oswald acted alone. The preponderant evidence suggests that he did, notwithstanding various conspiracy theories. and in truth the assassin was an early prototype of the “lone wolf” killer we have become all too familiar with in our own time. Indeed we can see how much more plausible the notion of a lone killer is today than we could back then, when it was too hard to believe that the great could be brought down by an insignificant, (but for the assassination), nonentity.

 JFK came into office after an extremely close (and possibly fraudulent) election victory, but so charmed the nation that he was very popular across the board at the time of his death. He was a very appealing man, but one wonders how he would have fared in today’s media world. Would his reckless behavior and chronic infidelity have remained secret? Or his compromised physical condition? Would his human frailty have been apparent?  In those days the press was far more deferential and protective of the presidency, in a way that is unimaginable today. It is also rare that you see anyone with his aristocratic bearing today. For he was a man of his times, a product of the years he lived, as well as his father’s ambition. He is not a transcendent figure, in the sense of being outside of time, but rather a man who was in his prime half a century ago. Some of his characteristics would not translate well today, and whether that says something good or bad about our own time, is up to the reader.

THE MAN ON THE WEDDING CAKE

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The President seems increasingly clueless as to what his job responsibilities are. It is as though all the ceremonial aspects of the presidency have superseded the substantive requirements of the position, so that being president consists of photo-ops, giving speeches, and other ribbon-cutting type affairs. He remains detached from everything else, whether it be meeting with members of congress, solving problems, or otherwise dealing with the substance of things. Whenever things go wrong he says he is “angry” about them, but does little to rectify the situation, deflecting blame elsewhere, even though many of these problems originated in his own administration. He thereby absolves himself of any responsibility for Benghazi, the IRS scandal, the NSA spying revelations, fumbling over Syria, presiding over five of the six largest deficits in history, a sputtering economy, and, of course, Obamacare. It is deeply troubling that none of these things have been adequately resolved. The President may be genuinely angry about these things, but many of them, at the very least, are a consequence of who he appointed to office, including zealots who were obsessed with radical reform, based not upon empirical evidence but ideological presumptions as to the way things ought to be. As Harry Truman once said, “The buck stops here,” (in the office of the President).

But disengagement cannot be an excuse for ineptitude that is broad and consistent. One would be hard pressed to identify anything within the purview of the president that is going right these days. This is a result of some degree of competence at the superficial aspects of the presidency, i.e. ceremonial pomp, but complete incompetence at everything else. It is also unsurprising to anyone who could see through the glow of media cheerleading, given that he never ran anything in his life before. Yet he was elevated twice to what was, until he assumed office,  the most powerful position in the world, but now, at least according to Forbes, that distinction belongs to Vladimir Putin. During this presidency the US has been seriously weakened in the world, as well as at home, and it will take a lot of time and effort to undo what has transpired.

He did belatedly, and superficially assume responsibility for Obamacare, which he and his party obviously own, but he remains a true believer in his own narrative, and is the most partisan occupant the White House has ever seen. Seldom have we witnessed more confidence with less actual justification for it. He is like the man on top of the wedding cake, peering down on all below, oblivious to the meltdown that is happening. As we witness the government unraveling before our eyes he does not shoulder all the blame, but he has done nothing to fix the damage, and too often has made things considerably worse than they had to be. What is remarkable is not that his approval ratings are at an all time low, but that 41% still view his administration positively. The real tragedy is that we have to endure years more of this presidency while the situation in the US and the rest of the world remains dangerously rudderless, at least until the next election. In the interim congress may gain more power as the president becomes more of a lame duck, a prospect that is not all that reassuring. We can only pray that no serious crises explode abroad in the meantime. What we need to identify in the time ahead, is someone who is capable of competently running things, solving problems, and working congenially with the congress in order to undo all the damage that has been done. Until that happens we can’t even think about moving forward again.

Written by georgesarant

October 31, 2013 at 11:57 PM