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Posts Tagged ‘Tea Party’

Using “Mandate Gap” to Measure Fault in the Event of a Government Shutdown

Posted by Peter M. Shane on April 7, 2011

According to the United States Election Project at George Mason University, 132,645,504 Americans turned out to vote in the 2008 election, representing 61.6 per cent of the eligible voting population.  Voters casting presidential ballots handed Barack Obama a 53 to 45 per cent win over John McCain. 

In 2010, 90,682,968 Americans voted, representing 40.9 per cent of the eligible population. Those voting for House members gave Republicans overall a 52 to 45 per cent win.  (Of the 246 GOP winners on election day, 85 won with Tea Party endorsement.)  Votes for Republican Senate candidates beat Democratic candidates 49 to 45 per cent.

In 2009, Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review wrote: “Obama’s mistake is governing as if he has a heroic mandate when he really has a modest one. This is his mandate gap.”

In deciding who may at fault for causing a government shutdown, it might be worthwhile to consider who is straining their “mandate gap” now.

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An Inconvenient Text: Will House Members Obey the Constitution They Read Aloud?

Posted by Peter M. Shane on January 5, 2011

It’s wonderful that Members of the House of Representatives are preparing to hear a reading of the Constitution of the United States.  I would enthusiastically echo the hopes of Dahlia Lithwick and Garrett Epps that close attention to such a performance might prompt at least some of our constitutional fundamentalists to appreciate that the document they revere is both imperfect and complex.  Things they hope to find there will be missing.  Things they wish were not there are explicit. Readers of Dahlia’s and Garrett’s essays will find numerous examples to mull over.

I thought, therefore, that I would limit my post today to a single question:  After the reading of the Constitution, will all members of Congress who are military reserve officers or who hold appointments as retired military officer resign their posts?  I ask because, Section 6, Paragraph 2, of Article I states that “no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.”  It’s called the Incompatability Clause.  To hold a commission in the armed forces reserves or an appointment as retired military officer is to hold “Office under the United States.”  So, while in Congress, don’t Reserve officers and retired military officers have to resign their executive branch positions?

A group of reservists opposed to the war in Vietnam brought the issue of reserve officers to the fore over 35 years ago, and succeeded at the trial and appellate court levels in getting a declaratory judgment that Members of Congress are ineligible, while in Congress, to hold a Reserve “commission.”  The Supreme Court set aside the judgment on a procedural ground, namely, that the plaintiffs were not injured personally by the asserted violation of the Constitution’s Incompatibility Clause, and were therefore not entitled to sue on the matter in a federal court.

Of course, the fact that individual Americans cannot sue Congress because of procedural hurdles should not keep Congress from doing the right thing, right? 

In a Fourth of July week message last summer, now Rep. Allen West (R-FL), said:  “I believe in our Constitutional Republic which means we are a Nation respecting the rule of law. We must . . . enforce our laws, clearly articulated in the Constitution.”  Does that mean that “Lieutenant Colonel Allen West (US Army, Retired),” as he describes himself on his web site, will now resign that appointment? 

Just asking.

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The Magical Misdirection of Charles Murray: The Elite is Patriotic, But Not “Of America”

Posted by Peter M. Shane on October 26, 2010

Charles Murray has had such a long career dressing up right-wing polemic as social science that his latest volley, a pander to Tea Party populism, should come as no surprise. In a Washington Post essay, he argues: “What sets the tea party apart from other observers of the New Elite is its hostility, rooted in the charge that elites are isolated from mainstream America and ignorant about the lives of ordinary Americans.” He “propose[s]” to find “merit” in this charge.

Over two-thirds of the essay purports to describe the mechanisms by which the New Elite is constituted. In essence, it is composed of the sons and daughters of the “upper middle class” – defined nowhere in the article, but treated as a monolith of some sort – who test into the nation’s most elite colleges, get channeled into elite graduate schools and elite professions, and are likely to live in relatively homogenous zip codes.

The segregation of the young elite, according to Murray, “might not be so bad, except that so many of them have been ensconced in affluent suburbs from birth and have never been outside the bubble of privilege. Few of them grew up in the small cities, towns or rural areas where more than a third of all Americans still live.” As a result, they never escape a “bubble” that encases them from college through their eventual settlement “in a comparatively small number of cities and in selected neighborhoods in those cities.” (Note to prospective social scientists: “More than a third” is less than “a majority.”)

What follows from this “geographical clustering” is “cultural clustering,” and here rests the supposed antipathy of the Tea Party to the New Elite. (For purposes of argument, I will pass over everything fudgy in the picture drawn by Murray, including, for example, his equation of “suburbs” with economic affluence, even as suburban poverty has skyrocketed.) What does this cultural clustering amount to?

When it comes to television, members of the New Elite like trendy scripted dramas, but do not know “who replaced Bob Barker on ‘The Price Is Right,” and have never watched an episode of Oprah “from beginning to end.” They are way into “yoga, pilates, skiing or mountain biking,” but are ignorant of NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson and won’t know that MMA stands for Mixed Martial Arts. They don’t read “Left Behind” novels or Harlequin romances, and do not vacation in RV’s and big cruise ships. “They have never heard of Branson, Mo.”

Cultural clustering, according to Murray, also means that members of the New Elite are less likely to have attended Kiwanis or Rotary meetings, to have lived either in a small town or in an urban neighborhood in which most residents lack college degrees, to have spent even a year in poverty (or near poverty), done factory work, or had evangelical Christians among their close friends.

Why does this matter? And – take a breath, because this is precisely where Murray slides from what sounds like fact-based argument into pure ideology – the things that the New Elite is missing out on are “quintessentially American things.”

Quintessentially American things? Really? Does Chuck – I mean, Dr. Murray – mean cultural forms invented in the United States like jazz, hip-hop, and abstract expressionism? Why is Kiwanis “quintessentially American” when its founding chapters were created in Detroit and Ontario? (And, by the way, it’s hard to think of two more self-consciously global outfits than Kiwanis and Rotary.) What makes his cited cultural preferences “quintessentially American” is that the college-educated supposedly do not share them. It is an utterly circular canard.

Of course, in nearly the same breath, Murray says he is not challenging anyone’s Americanism. Members of the New Elite, he writes “are not defective in their patriotism or lacking a generous spirit toward their fellow citizens. They are merely isolated and ignorant. The members of the New Elite may love America, but, increasingly, they are not of it.”

Well, Charlie – I mean, Dr. Murray – you can’t really have it both ways. For all I know, Tea Party members are every bit as enthusiastic about opera and yoga as your nearest vegan. But, whatever their tastes, the linkage of Americanism to the Tea Party’s assumed range of cultural preferences is nothing but the arrogance of those hoping to cultivate and pander to Tea Party prejudice, while the rest of us are sipping lattes and listening to NPR.

The last time I myself had a latte – I bought it at my local Speedway, as it happens – I was struck by how ridiculous a form of misdirection are complaints in 2010 about the cultural isolation of the college-educated (many of whom, by the way, are Tea Partiers). Like magicians who want you watching the ceiling while they remove a card from their coat pocket, the perpetrators of this propaganda want Americans not to see forms of experiential distance that have opened like a chasm, endangering democracy in the United States.

It is the distance between the top one percent of Americans, now owning 70 percent of all financial assets in the United States and pocketing a quarter of America’s total income, and the remaining 99 percent. It is the gulf between the top tenth of one percent of Americans, who earn as much as 120 million Americans at the other end of the scale, and the one in thirty-four American 2008 wage earners who have earned nothing at all in 2009.

And then there’s the gap between CEOs and workers — CEOs who, on average, made $25 for every $1 the average worker made in 1970 to making somewhere between $90-500 times the average worker’s salary, depending on whether you count stock options and other benefits. Of course, they make that money because they shoulder so much responsibility — just look at how effectively CEOs have been held accountable for driving the economy into a ditch.

In fact, the top one percent of U.S. households actually pocketed half of the nation’s income gains between 1993 and 2007, and two-thirds of total income gains from 2002 to 2007. This is directly traceable to the fiscal policies of Reagan and the Bushes, aided and abetted (but not exacerbated) by Bill Clinton.

So, you want to take note of an important gulf between an American elite and their fellow citizens? How about the gulf between those who can afford to pour millions of dollars into elections with the aim of insulating their wealth, and those who cannot?

Equating stereotypical small town cultural preferences with what is “quintessentially American,” while dismissing what college-educated Americans stereotypically prefer as something vaguely unpatriotic is utter, pernicious nonsense. Fellow Americans, please do not be fooled by this misdirection.

I’m betting even Jimmie Johnson listens to Car Talk. And if he doesn’t, it really proves nothing about America.

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