Saturday, November 11, 2006

Blog Meridian's post-election wish list

Full disclosure: If I could, I would own a T-shirt that says "Knee-jerk Moderate." Just so you know.

I was very pleased this morning to read this story which indicates that Democrats aren't waiting till January to begin pushing back against President Bush's agenda. Why not, after all? The Democrats know two things for a fact: a) Many Republicans personally opposed these warrantless wiretaps but held their noses anyway as they voted for such legislation because they didn't want to lose their party's assistance in the now-completed elections; b) the elections are over, and these Republicans, whether reelected or not, no longer need to worry (as much) about whether their votes will upset the White House. So why not give their colleagues across the aisle some early practice on this bipartisanship thing?

Good for them, I say. And good for us as well.

To the extent that I know the substance of them (which ain't much), I approve of the so-called "First 100 Hours" agenda announced by Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi--the raising of the minimum wage; true immigration policy reform; rewriting of the Medicare bill; repealing at least some of the more blatant panderings to the wealthy and corporations euphemistically described as "tax relief." But the devil is in the details, after all, and so I'd like to add a gloss here and there and tack on an oh-by-the-way wish, too. As if it'll do any good, but I'll feel better for having said so:

The committee chair selection process in Congress is pretty much a foregone conclusion: the ruling-party member with seniority becomes the chair. It would be a Good Thing, though, would it not, that seeing as the Democrats came into power in part on a platform of cleaning up the fetid swamp of corruption that had spread from K Street to the Capitol and beyond, they could do what they could to in some way mitigate the fact of ethically-compromised Democrats becoming the chairs of powerful committees. It does no good to rid the henhouse of one set of foxes only to put another set in, even if they happen to be "our" foxes. And along those lines: As best I recall, the rules under which the Ethics Committee ran pre-Tom DeLay have been restored. Let's keep them that way, no matter how inconvenient that might prove to some Democrats.

Speaking of rules: the various rules by which the minority party could place checks on nominees to the federal courts, rules which, by the way, the Republicans systematically removed when they came to power back in the '90s, should be reinstated. I know, I know: I hear the more partisan among you saying, We should give them a dose of their own medicine. To which I say, knowing exactly how it sounds but sincerely believing it to be the best way to foster bipartisanship: It helps no one, and is illogical besides, to justify the perpetuation of unjust practices simply because the party can.

That restoration-of-rules process should also extend to the bill-writing and -making process. Duh.

It occurs to me now that, because of the split control of the Executive and Legislative branches, those old (pre-Republican) rules will benefit both parties and so, if the Democrats are smart, they'll reinstate them. The real test of Democratic magnanimity will come should they retain control of Congress and win the presidency.

I guess that's about it, except for my oh-by-the-way wish: As long as Congress isn't going to approve warrantless wiretaps, I would like--no: I would insist--Congress to address the single most egregious action it has taken in my lifetime: It should declare the United States to be unequivocally against torture, period, in deed as well as in word, and will not detainees to nations that are known to torture to act as our proxies in that morally-reprehensible business. It should also repeal the military detainee bill recently signed by President Bush and in its place declare that the Geneva Conventions and the courts, not the President, have jurisdiction over detainee treatment and access to legal counsel. Doing so will not automatically repair our severely-damaged standing in the world, but it certainly won't do yet further damage to that standing. Nor would doing so make us less safe. We would over the long term, in fact, become safer, our enemies having been deprived of the argument that we behave unjustly toward our enemies. That last, combined with a foreign policy of genuine concern for the welfare of the peoples of nations who just happen to have lots and lots of oil, as opposed to a policy of pretext and lipservice to our nation's most cherished ideals, will do more to make us--and, of course, the peoples of these nations--safer than any number of wiretaps or secret prisons with interrogation methods we dare not speak of.

Finally: Both parties must stop looking only as far ahead as the next election. I submit that what sank the Republicans was the confusing of politics with policy (contrast Bush's--and Congress's--behavior with regard to Katrina with how he--and they--behaved during the Terri Schiavo episode as an example of what I mean). The Democrats, I hope, watched and learned . . . the Republicans, too, for that matter. Too often we've seen members of both parties place personal electability or party interests over our nation's principles. These next two years give all of us--and in part are forced upon Congress--a chance to begin to learn to reorder our priorities as a people and as citizens of a world that is far more complicated and interrelated than some would have us believe. My wish is simply, we'd better not screw this up.

We collectively owe those men and women whose memory we honor today our best, most honest and disinterested effort, and no less than that.


Winston said...

John, what you ask for makes too much sense, is too pragmatic, and therefore will never work. But that it would...

How refreshing it would be to see elected officials in Washington working together to accomplish the goals and objectives they were sent up there to do! Making job #1 the torture/detainee policy and practice, appeals to me on a number of levels. You are correct that this would resonate around the planet and at least signal that something has really changed here.

Might want to spell check 4th last paragraph...

John B. said...

Well, a boy can dream, can't he?

Thanks for the affirmation . . . and for the heads-up about spelling.

R. Sherman said...

I'm afraid that until there are term limits, it matters not which party controls congress. You are correct that they put getting re-elected and staying inside the beltway their first priority.

As for a mandate of some sort, there is no doubt that there has been a shift toward the center. But if you consider the numbers behind the numbers, one sees that what, 15-16 house races out of 435 were competitive? Many of the Senate races were decided by less than 10000 votes?

This tells me the country is much more evenly divided that we would be led to believe.

In truth, the real power in the country likes with the voters in middle 2-3%
of the political spectrum, i.e. the ones squarely on the fence. Those are ones the politicians routinely ignore, at least until even numbered years.


John B. said...

As for a mandate of some sort, there is no doubt that there has been a shift toward the center. But if you consider the numbers behind the numbers, one sees that what, 15-16 house races out of 435 were competitive? Many of the Senate races were decided by less than 10000 votes?

I agree that the Democrats shouldn't claim a mandate; indeed, if memory serves, these same small shifts in numbers of voters occurred in the last few elections, though towards the Republicans those times; they claimed they had a mandate and ran things as though they did, and look where that got them?

Thus my other rationale for urging bipartisanship: Precisely because our nation is so evenly divided, we'd be better served if our national politics reflected that reality.

I should hasten to add, revealing my prejudices as I do so, that it has seemed to me that when Republicans have used the term "bipartisanship" in the recent past, it means getting the Democrats to assent to their versions of bills without feeling as though they (Democrats) should be permitted any real input into the writing of bills, that "compromise" equals weakness. What I mean is true, honest negotiation, the sister-kissing that is compromise.

As for term limits, I understand the assumed benefits, but I've also thought that a problem with term limits is that, no sooner do elected officials learn their jobs and how to get things done than they have to leave. Perhaps a solution would be to set longer limits on those terms? Or permitting someone to run for office again after having sat out an election cycle or two? In principle, I don't have trouble with not having term limits; what DOES corrupt the system, I think, is the current system of campaign financing, which creates a politics driven not by policy goals but by backscratching of various unseemly sorts. Alas, neither national party seems to have much of a will to change that.