In a lot of ways, today’s political process is a crucible of American-style politics. This is better than Poly Sci 101 for those who pay even mild attention. The relationship between the tripartite branches of the federal government, and the continuing cries of the states for expanded usage of the 10th Amendment, demonstrate much better than any university video or college classroom slides how the government actually works, rather than how it is supposed to work.
Hopefully, a critical mass of our young people have looked up from their games, iPads and Androids long enough to notice and to take electronic notes. They are, after all, the next generation of leadership, and they need to come in already well-informed and politically well-bred. The political world has gotten fast-tracked and will not suffer political novices well at all (since this current crop of politicos seems to be using up all tolerance for the political cupidity-malice cocktail).
The primary system, in all of its complicated bluster, from the parade of never-ending debates to 10,001 caucus meetings, coupled with the jockeying for the election-to-selection scheduling of which state comes first, second, third or even fourth, has held at least a portion of all of our attention for the past few months.
Now, in January, the four Republican contests have been another television reality show with all of the attendant drama, divas, dismissals and distrust we’ve come to expect. But there are lessons of practical politics there, so on with the show!
The money, the unfettered PACs, the constant fibs and outright lies of candidates, all alongside the current officeholders conducting their own competitive show is like political distance learning. We, the citizen audience, fully expect the Golden Political Mike Awards anytime now, especially since everybody seemingly in office can afford to produce their own road show, with the Occupy Wall Street and any other anti-bank street folks already submitting their votes for who should win and who should be sent packing.
In a way, it can be said to be a lot of sound and fury, signifying not much. Said another way, it is America’s continuing soap opera–a political “As the World Turns,” or the “Mis-Guiding Light.”
But all in all, this is a modern, live-streaming treatise on the consequences of John Locke’s social contract theory. It is the fabric of our political dreams and nightmares, and, on balance, that’s not so bad as long as the “dark side” does not gain the throne.
Again, our youth are already familiar with these kind of morality pieces played out to a melodramatic conclusion, so useful lessons are still being taught and learned.
In fact, if some of this stuff were not so serious, one could easily envision new Theater of the Absurd pieces to satirize it (more Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert). But make no mistake, some modern Americans really see what’s going on as a contest for the heart and soul of this country–they intend to take “this country back” from wherever they think it has gone. So, when President Barack Obama has to stand up and stiff-arm his Republican opponents who seem hell-bent on making him fail, even if it means pushing America off a cliff, our cynicism has to be subdued and we need to pay attention on another level.
Amid a constant din of bombast and fake howls, the president just appointed Richard Cordray as the new federal director of the Consumer Protection Bureau authorized by the Dodd-Frank legislation passed in 2010. He also appointed three new members of the National Labor Relations Board. He could have appointed 200 other officials, since that is the number the U.S. Senate still refuses to ratify to help the Obama administration do its job, including more than 60 new federal judges.
The president did this during the U.S. Congress’ holiday recess, as the Constitution gives him the power and authority to do. However, the U.S. Senate (mostly, its Republican minority) had tried to use a political trick called pro forma meeting to act as if that body was not in recess. In fact, the Congress does not re-convene until Monday this year, but every three days, the Republicans had one or two people in the Senate chambers to open a meeting for 30 seconds or so, then adjourn, and call that a continuing session and an indication that the Senate was still meeting.
The president called their bluff and appointed people he needed right now, reasoning that the Senate was not in capable session to do its “advise and consent” assignment. But he kept it narrowly focused and only did a handful of appointments. Because the appointments were done right after the transition of the first part of the congressional session into the 2012 portion, the appointments will last until 2013, so some real work can be accomplished.
The hue and cry now from the president’s opponents is that this is unconstitutional. Edwin Meese, a former attorney general in the Reagan administration, just went on record claiming the president violated the law. House Republicans and some Senators are threatening to take the president to the Supreme Court to have his appointments outlawed.
Actually, the Supreme Court will in all likelihood never see this case for a number of reasons, one of which is that the Court traditionally refuses to get involved in these kinds of disputes, and secondly, neither house of Congress can muster the appropriate votes to bring a case to that court. There will be some minor legal challenges, but, as usual, sort of like the Birther issue, those challenges will be routinely dismissed. It’s just more evidence of the uncivility of political conduct that is the regular tone of modern American politics.
From their video game perches, young people might think this kind of nasty in-fighting looks quite familiar. Hopefully, before it is all said and done, the politician with the heart of gold, the ethical good guy or girl, will step into the light and show youth how proper conduct and civil behavior again saves the day. We are otherwise training the next leadership generation to off with everybody’s head and to take no prisoners. That will not be a healthy lesson in democratic engagement, and we may not be able to arrest that level of non-statesmanship. The good ship America could indeed go down the pike. Our crucible must not end that way.
Hopefully, a few somebodies are actually paying attention here. America is not inexorably exceptional.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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