The enemy within
VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA — It’s no secret that the Republican Party of the United States is at the moment a dysfunctional, shambolic sideshow. The 112th Congress of the United States was by orders of magnitude the most useless Congress in recorded history and the recently sworn in 113th is poised to break its record. The last Congress passed fewer bills than any other congress since a record has been kept and most of those bills were either routine business or harmless ones like naming federal libraries. True to its avowed policy of obstructing any presidential initiatives, the Senate, where the Republicans hold a minority, has seen more filibusters than at any other time in American history. The Republicans, for whom democracy is a flexible concept, routinely filibuster routine bills, forcing a delay and requiring a supermajority for passage – effectively deadlocking the legislative process.
For four years congress thwarted every good faith attempt to govern the country, relying on their obstructionist strategy to derail any success of the Obama presidency, figuring that the American public was so ignorant that it would blame the president for the failure of the legislature to perform according to the oath of office taken by its members. The first term election should have disabused them of that notion. Congress enjoyed lower approval ratings than serial sex offenders while Obama decisively won a second mandate.
Clearly then, the appropriate course of action for the Republicans is to shift gears and begin to do their jobs as elected legislators, right? Well, a rational person would think so. Since that restriction clearly eliminates today’s Republicans, they did the opposite…they doubled down on their obstructionism.
Before we were two weeks into the new year, the Republicans had pushed the country over the fiscal cliff by refusing to negotiate with the president on a deal that would involve a slight tax increase on their beloved top 1% income earners
in the country. The economic catastrophe was only averted by delaying the hard decisions for a few months and a patch was applied. Then, just to ensure that their hypocrisy and recalcitrance didn’t go unnoticed, they refused to hold a vote on an emergency relief bill for victims of Hurricane Sandy. When the uproar forced their hand and a watered down bill was brought to the floor, only Republicans voted against it; among those Republicans were twenty congressmen, each of whom had introduced a bill to provide federal disaster relief for their own districts in the past. Each of those bills was passed and signed into law. Most of those bills were passed unanimously. Now they’re entrenching themselves to fight gun control legislation that is so palpably common sense that even a majority of NRA members support it.
Nevertheless, the Republican radicals have decided to open up a new front in the war on democracy. Now they have discovered that they can abuse their power as senators and representatives and prevent the president from governing by obstructing his choice of cabinet members.
Historically, the process of selecting a cabinet has simply been a matter of the president appointing the individuals he believes will be suitable advisors and surrogates to implement his policies in the major branches of government. Congress then has the responsibility of approving the appointees after doing some due diligence to ensure that there is no legal or overwhelming moral reason to deny them a position.
Like much of the system of US government, this procedure has been perverted by the ideologues in the Congresses that have been in place during Obama’s administration. Following their game plan of obstructionism, the Republicans now start to object to potential cabinet members simply because it will impede any initiative the president might want to implement. Not content with subjecting appointees to a brutal inquisition at the oversight hearings, the Republicans start their campaign not just before the hearings, but before the appointments are even announced.
Susan Rice, the Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Ambassador the U.N. was vilified in the right wing press and by the radical Republicans, starting with John McCain, still looking for payback after losing his presidential bid. She was effectively driven from the field of potential cabinet appointments on the speculation that the president might be considering her. McCain, who had previously self-immolated when he chose Sarah (I can see Russia from my house) Palin as his running mate and vice-presidential candidate, actually called the brilliant African American young woman “not very bright”….and he said it with a straight face.
Now the agenda is to take each one of Obama’s appointees and subject them to an inquisition that is expected to be grueling and humiliating. Every aspect of their private lives will be scrutinised, every statement ever made by or about them will be examined for departures from orthodoxy, and they will be subjected to the most inane and invasive personal questions by people who are on record as despising them. In some imaginary Republican universe apparently the country is better off if every advisor and surrogate the president wants is chased out of Washington.
Until this group of political visigoths wielded power, the president was always presumed to have nearly absolute discretion over his selection of a cabinet; the cabinet had to work with him and implement his policies to his specifications and satisfaction, after all. That’s why the formality of Congressional oversight isn’t called an investigation…it’s called a confirmation hearing. Oversight was in theory and in practice a safeguard intended to eliminate the clearly incompetent and to prevent cronyism.
This is in contrast to Supreme Court Justices who also are appointed subject to Congressional oversight. Even they have generally been given the benefit of the doubt, with the exception of Justice Bork, a Reagan appointee, who was exposed during the hearings as a rampant racist and denied the appointment. But it is to be noted that a Supreme Court Justice is appointed for life, and actually has the power to rule on the constitutionality of congress’s laws, presidential executive orders, and is the absolutely last court of appeal for the most serious matters ever brought before the bar. Cabinet members, in contrast, are only in place as administrators of presidential policy and their term expires with the president’s. Nevertheless it provides a way to sabotage the government’s effectiveness and that, to this Congress, is like a big, fat, crystal rock to a crackhead.
There are three fundamental legs the governmental tripod in the US: The Supreme Court, Congress, and the Executive Branch. This Congress has already rendered their own branch ineffective and has caused their own approval ratings to plummet to depths previously unheard of. At this writing, approval for congress is at 14%; that is lower than the approval rate for sex offenders, cockroaches, Lyndsay Lohan, or syphilis. Now they’re working to undermine the Executive Branch by preventing the president from having as his senior staff the people of his choice for entirely partisan and in many cases, spurious reasons.
It remains to be seen what these white collar terrorists will do when they are given an opportunity to vandalise the Supreme Court.