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“Government Stumps Trump”: Donald’s Lack Of Understanding Of The Government’s Basic Functions Is Distressing

It is democratic, not elitist, to believe that all citizens should understand the two bedrock principles – separation of powers and federalism – upon which the American government rests. The framers enshrined these precepts in our Constitution to protect our individual liberty. For when power is distributed – either across the governing branches or between the states and the national government – tyrants are frustrated.

Yet, during Tuesday’s town hall interview on CNN, Donald Trump – no mere citizen but the leading presidential candidate in the Republican Party – revealed once again his knowledge deficit about our political system.

For those who skipped that middle hour of nonsensical rhetoric, an Army veteran and current Marquette University student asked an important, albeit simple question, “What are the top three functions of the United States government?”

Trump was stumped. With the exception of national security, he couldn’t seem to think of what other key duties were within the federal government’s purview. What about promoting justice (equality under the law), encouraging interstate commerce and managing our international relations? What about, in language more common among the framers, ensuring “domestic tranquility“?

Simply put, he seemed to not understand that when our government was established, it had only three cabinet departments – Defense (War), State and Treasury – because these are the feds’ main jobs: conducting war, promoting peace and encouraging prosperity.

Further, the other two functions that Trump named – health care and education – are not only not central to the national government’s mission, but they are generally understood, by an overwhelming majority of conservatives, to be activities that fall within the states’ police power. In other words, Trump’s answers showed that his political ideology is much closer to Democratic presidential hopeful and independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders than to former President Ronald Reagan.

Perhaps, it shouldn’t be surprising. Throughout his campaign and without much consequence, Trump has been dismissive of separation of powers, civil liberties and civil rights. In fact, the only time he has really been pressed on constitutional issues was when he was forced to walk back his bluster earlier this month, after he had wrongly assumed that a president could order the military to torture prisoners of war.

Still, as a political scientist who agrees with former President Harry Truman’s observation that “it takes a lifetime of experience to understand how much the Constitution means to our national life,” Trump’s willful ignorance of our system is both shocking and distressing.

The only good news is that if Trump were to become president (by some strange twist of fate), he would quickly learn that he is no match for our governing system. His ignorance would be our nation’s saving grace. The framers were extraordinarily wise men.


By: Lara Brown, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, March 31, 2016

April 1, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Federal Government, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Adjudicating From The Legislature”: Yes, Constitutional Conservatives Are Radicals

This morning Brother Benen looked at a proposal by Steve King to strip the federal judiciary of jurisdiction over any case involving marriage and noted its provenance in prior right-wing court-stripping measures. But he also suggested such advocacy ought to debar King from calling himself a “constitutional conservative.”

Whatever one thinks of marriage equality, court-stripping is itself ridiculous. The constitutional principles of “separation of powers” hasn’t disappeared just yet, so the idea that the legislative branch will dictate to the courts what kind of cases judges are allowed to hear is more than a little crazy – it undermines the very idea of an independent judiciary.

And it sure as heck isn’t “constitutional conservatism.” Indeed, it’s effectively the congressional version of “legislating from the bench” – King and his cohorts want to adjudicate from the legislature.

I think a clarification is appropriate here. People like King use the modifier “constitutional” before “conservative” to indicate that they are not interested simply in opposing change or in going back to very recent public policies. Their eyes are fixed on a distant vision of the perfect governing order that they believe the Founders spelled out before it was ruined by courts and legislators and presidents alike. And it certainly does not include the right of final judicial review as understood by the rest of us. And so their expedient is court-stripping schemes which they believe help restore the proper constitutional order, or at least prevent current disorders from getting worse.

Just as “constitutional conservatives” tend to believe that absolute property rights and even fetal rights were embedded in the Constitution, never to be removed without an explicit amendment, they believe in an eternal scheme of states’ rights that would most definitely include all matters related to marriage. So in their minds, that eternal scheme, not recent precedents, in what defines “conservatism,” and thus the most radical measures are justified to bring back the “Constitution” as they understand it.

Of course constitutional conservatives are radicals. But many of them believe they are fighting for a governing model quite literally handed down by God Almighty, who intended it to be maintained quite literally forever. And that is indeed a conservative–and a radical–way of looking at things.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 23, 2014

April 25, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Marriage Equality, Steve King | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Era Of Party Polarization”: GOP’s “Constitution” Confusion; Why Tom Cotton’s Silly Iran Letter Matters

As readers of my colleague Jim Newell know by now, Tom Cotton, Arkansas’ new GOP senator, is already establishing himself as one of the leading doomsayers and fearmongers in Congress, which is no small feat. Indeed, by acting as the driving force behind a provocative open letter to the leaders of Iran and helpfully informing them that any deal reached with the Obama administration over their nuclear program will ultimately be subject to the Senate’s review, Cotton has already made himself a hero to the neoconservative right. In fairness, though, that wasn’t the hardest thing to do: Cotton’s earlier warnings of a (completely fictional) alliance between Mexico’s drug cartels and ISIS, as well as his rant in defense of Guantánamo Bay, had endeared them to him already.

But while Cotton is making the media rounds and hoovering-up donations from Bill Kristol and the military industrial complex, I think it’s worthwhile to revisit a discussion that was bouncing around the left-wing corners of the Internet last week. The topic was the inherent, structural flaws of the U.S.’s presidential system — which is rickety and slow in the best of times and downright unstable in the worst — and how they were becoming increasingly hard to ignore in our era of party discipline and polarization. Because even though I don’t believe Cotton and his letter represent a constitutional crisis as some of President Obama’s allies have suggested (and is certainly not an act of treason), I do consider the freshman senator’s recent behavior to be a good window into how the presidential system’s flaws can manifest in the real world.

However, before we look at Cotton more closely, let’s do a quick and dirty recap of one of the presidential system’s more common critiques. As readers of the late political scientist Juan Linz (or Vox’s Matt Yglesias) remember, one of the issues that can arise when a presidential system features disciplined and ideological parties is a crisis of sovereignty. That’s a fancy way of describing an argument between the executive and the legislative branches over which one is really in charge. Since they exist independently, and were empowered by voters through separate elections, both can claim to represent the will of the people. And if the two branches find themselves on opposite sides of a major dispute, push can come to shove — and worse.

Applying this model to the current foofaraw over Cotton’s letter isn’t a slam-dunk, but it is still edifying. In this case, the problem is that Cotton and his fellow signatories are mucking-up the conduct of President Obama’s foreign policy, which has traditionally been seen as constitutionally (and normatively) protected. Congress always has a role in foreign policy, of course — even if recent history indicates it to be shrinking. Usually, a president is left to negotiate a deal that he then presents to Congress for approval. But Cotton and his Republican allies in the Senate are so dead-set against an agreement of any kind with Iran that they’re trying to squash the deal upfront instead.

The end result seems to be the further dissolution of what was once an unwritten rule — “politics stops at the water’s edge” — in the name of some greater good. And this is where ideology comes in. Because it’s hardly as if Congress has never disagreed with a president’s foreign policy this strongly before. They have, as the representatives and senators elected during the worst days of the Vietnam War can attest. What is different, though, is the tenor of their arguments, as well as the dispute’s supposed stakes. Hysterical warmongers like Cotton have always been with us — but rarely before have people with such radical views held so much power within either party’s caucus.

Keep this in mind about Cotton: Unless he’s an actor of Daniel Day Lewis-like talents, he sincerely believes that the consequences of a nuclear Iran would be apocalyptic. He’s said dozens of times that the only deal with Iran he’d accept is one that resulted in complete nuclear disarmament — which, as Think Progress’s Igor Volsky noted, is a demand that even the George W. Bush administration considered ridiculous. He also seems to be under the impression that Iran is even more dangerous than it is, agreeing as he does with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that Iran is on the verge of going nuclear. The fact that Netanyahu’s been saying this for more than a decade, and that his own country’s leading intelligence agency disagrees, has apparently not made much of an impression.

Regardless of how broken Cotton’s assessment of the Iranian threat may be, though, he’s still a U.S. senator. And as his letter notes with a characteristic lack of subtlety, Cotton and his fellow members of the Senate are quite likely to stick around (for “perhaps decades”) while the term-limited President Obama isn’t. Which means that so long as Cotton and his allies believe a deal with Iran over its nuclear program will lead to a second Holocaust, or will strengthen Iran’s hand in its “war” with “the West,” then the kind of norms of conduct he’s breaking — like not trying to sabotage a sitting president’s foreign policy — will continue to fade into irrelevance. And so long as right-wing donors and the voters in Arkansas reward him for challenging the president’s sovereignty, while the media allows him and his allies to muddy the waters with specious claims that Obama is the one breaking protocol, he’ll have no reason to act any other way.


By: Elias Isquith, Salon, March 11, 2014

March 13, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP, Tom Cotton | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Light Is On…But”: This Man Wants Us To Take Him Seriously

On the good side, unlike Michelle Malkin, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky doesn’t think the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two was sound policy. On the bad side, Sen. Paul wants us to take him seriously as a presidential candidate:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) likened President Barack Obama’s decision to take executive action on immigration to then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order authorizing putting Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II.

Paul made the comments on Friday, a day after Obama formally announced the executive actions, at the Kentucky Association of Counties conference in Lexington, Kentucky.

“I care that too much power gets in one place. Why? Because there are instances in our history where we allow power to gravitate toward one person and that one person then makes decisions that really are egregious,” Paul said. “Think of what happened in World War II where they made the decision. The president issued an executive order. He said to Japanese people ‘we’re going to put you in a camp. We’re going to take away all your rights and liberties and we’re going to intern you in a camp.'”

“We shouldn’t allow that much power to gravitate to one individual. We need to separate the power.”

As is his custom, Rand Paul doesn’t even have his history correct, since Congress passed Public Law 503 to help enforce FDR’s executive order that authorized the internment camps.


By: Martin Longman, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, November 22, 2014

November 24, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Japanese Americans, Rand Paul | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Institutional Treason”: Boehner’s Lawsuit Is Betrayal Of Congress

Republicans have finally filed their lawsuit against the president over implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Actually, the president isn’t a respondent; the suit names the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Treasury Secretary. It’s still a horrible idea.

Michael Lynch and Rachel Surminsky at the Monkey Cage provide one reason: The suit is likely to fail. The first issue is “standing.” To get into court, the House would have to prove that it was damaged by the way the administration carried out the ACA, and courts have consistently rejected that idea. Beyond that, it’s far from clear that the administration’s actions, including the delay of the employer mandate and cost sharing for insurance companies, were beyond the normal discretion the executive branch has to carry out laws. Just because some Republicans want to pretend that before January 2009 presidential power had been limited to pardoning Thanksgiving turkeys doesn’t mean they are right.

And if Republicans win, it would be terrible for Congress.

I’ll say it again: Speaker John Boehner and House Republicans aren’t asking for authority to be returned from the White House to Congress. They want an imperial judiciary that could trump either of the elected branches.

In a system of separated institutions sharing powers, which is what the Constitution created, all three branches do things that look a lot like legislating, but laws can trump administrative or judicial rule making. That gives Congress serious clout within the system. This lawsuit, however, is an abdication of that clout. In effect, it says that the courts, not Congress, should have the last word when there’s a dispute between branches.

Filing this lawsuit amounts to institutional treason. Boehner and House Republicans should be ashamed. The rest of us can only hope that the courts rescue them by keeping to precedent and tossing this lawsuit into the garbage.

Then, perhaps, the House could consider getting back to legislating.


By: Jonathan Bernstein, Bloomberg View, The National Memo, November 21, 2014



November 22, 2014 Posted by | Congress, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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