| Category: Media
| Posted at: Friday, 5 August 2011
Perhaps I was too dismissive of Ron Paul’s power over the Federal Reserve Board. He is, after all, Chairman of the House Subcommitte on Domestic Monetary Policy, which has oversight responsibility over the Fed. Even while Paul has only subcommittee supervisory responsibility over the one-half of one of the coequal branches of the government that is actually controlled by Republicans, it’s not nothing.
I was reminded of that fact when I saw John Kerry’s comments to MSNBC today:
“The media in America has a bigger responsibility than it’s exercising today. The media has got to begin to not give equal time or equal balance to an absolutely absurd notion [the Tea Party] just because somebody asserts it or simply because somebody says something which everybody knows is not factual.”
“It doesn’t deserve the same credit as a legitimate idea about what you do. And the problem is everything is put into this tit-for-tat equal battle and America is losing any sense of what’s real, of who’s accountable, of who is not accountable, of who’s real, who isn’t, who’s serious, who isn’t?”
Why did Ron Paul’s supposed intimidation of Fed Chairman Bernanke remind me of this? Because John Kerry is the Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet. When the Chairman of the Senate subcommittee with oversight responsibility for the Federal Communications Commission tells a media outlet that they have a responsibility to exercise prior restraint as to which political views are legitimate and which ones aren’t, it could be easily construed as intimidation. The fact that he was speaking to MSNBC–a political mouthpiece masquerading as media–matters not.
John Kerry has made no secret of the fact that he favors a reimplementation of the fallaciously named “Fairness Doctrine.” That old bit of legislation, lifted in the mid 1980s, mandated that radio and television outlets, if they gave access to one political group had to give equal access to their opposite counterparts. As abhorrent as that law was–its effect was to stifle rather than to encourage political speech because the calculations about what was “equal” and who else deserved “access” were so cumbersome–it pales in comparison to what the Senator proposes here. He is telling the media that some views absolutely do not belong in the public sphere and that if the media doesn’t prohibit them, he implies, the government will.
Of course, there is one huge difference between Paul’s criticism’s of the Fed and Kerry’s complaint about the Tea Party. Ron Paul argues that the Fed is unaccountable to the complaints of the people, while John Kerry wants to silence the people who complain.
Even Illinois Nazis are entitled to their exercise of free speech. But not Tea Partiers, apparently.
Paul Krugman looks at yesterday’s 512 point drop in the Dow and recognizes that,
“To turn this [economomic] disaster around, a lot of people are going to have to admit, to themselves at least, that they’ve been wrong and need to change their priorities, right away.”
When I read that, there was just the tiniest inkling of a glimmer of a shred of hope in the back of my mind that the next words from Krugman’s pen were going to be a mea culpa. How silly of me.
“Of course, some players won’t change. Republicans won’t stop screaming about the deficit because they weren’t sincere in the first place: Their deficit hawkery was a club with which to beat their political opponents, nothing more — as became obvious whenever any rise in taxes on the rich was suggested. And they’re not going to give up that club.”
Republicans, apparently, are at fault for the last two years of a faux recovery even while “the Obama administration [has] insisted that the economy was on the mend.” That’s because during those two years, while Republicans hadn’t held the Presidency, hadn’t led the Senate, and hadn’t controlled the House except for a mere six months, the GOP nonetheless failed to stop Democrats from doing even more of what they were doing. This is likely the first time in American political history that a pundit supporting the majority party has attempted to blame the minority for failing to stop them.
Not content to blame the impotent for their powerlessness, Krugman claims that Ron Paul is at fault for “intimidating” Ben Bernanke. Ron Paul? Really? If there is any one long-serving member of Congress who has sponsored less successful legislation than Dennis Kucinich, it is Ron Paul. Oh, and by the way, Ron Paul doesn’t want to intimidate the Fed; he wants to eliminate the Fed. You’ll notice, that hasn’t happened, so I’m not sure what Krugman’s point is.
Actually, I do know what Paul Krugman’s point is. He’s right about the fact that “some players won’t change.” He and his coterie of hyper-Keynesian Democrats are those players who won’t change their methods even while the economy worsens on their watch. And he’s desperately afraid that you might notice.
Don Surber adds more pithily: “Krugman: the failure of my ideas proves I was right.”
And on the other side, Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly adds this:
Under ideal circumstances, President Obama would come up with an economic plan and execute it. If the agenda succeeded, he’d get the credit. If it faltered, Republicans would call him on it. Voters could evaluate the results and decide whether to keep the president around or go back to GOP economic policies.”
Ummm . . . Dude, that’s exactly what happened. Remember the $787 billion stimulus that, if not enacted would mean that unemployment could go as high as 8 percent? That was the president’s economic plan, developed while he was still President-elect. Fresh off his inauguration high, Obama got exactly what he wanted. That voters will “evaluate the results and decide whether to keep the president around or go back to GOP economic policies” is exactly what is going to happen.
Let me make a prediction that Krugman and Benen fear in their hearts is probably true: If unemployment is still in the 9% range, Stephen Green can throw away his battleground states map. When the national electorate moves 6 to 10 points, the battleground states aren’t what you’re accustomed to. Instead, the question will be, could it get even worse for Democrats than this map?
I live now in Germany; that makes about five years of the last twenty. So I’m often not surprised when I see how differently Europeans and Americans view how the world works. Take this recent story from Der Spiegel.
“America’s Founding Fathers thought of everything. They wanted to establish several centers of power in Washington rather than just one. They wanted the occupant of the White House to be strong, but Congress was to have the power to check that strength. The friction between Capitol Hill and the White House — a product of this system of checks and balances — was to make the decisions of America’s leaders cleverer, wiser and better.
But the system only works when all branches of government play the role designed for them. For almost 235 years, the system worked reasonably well. But, about a year ago, things started to go wrong in the US capital; the system began to melt down. The friction is no longer propelling the country to greatness, rather it is hastening its decline. Members of the right-wing conservative Tea Party movement, which is well represented in Congress since the last elections, want friction. But at the expense of results.“
That highlighted last sentence is absolutely true. But what would surprise the orderly Germans is that this is not a flaw of the American system, but a feature, designed by the very people who wrote our Constitution to operate in exactly this manner,
Just last month I met a retired British Army Brigadier, who found it all very different how Americans view the role of guns in society. He seemed a bit taken aback by my response that we hold that view because of our experience with Oliver Cromwell. It wasn’t just guns over which the name “Cromwell” held sway.
It was 1625. The tenuous hold on Jamestown, Virginia was established only 15 years earlier. That first rough winter the Pilgrims faced in the Massachusetts Bay Coloney occurred not 50 months before. That was the year that Charles I ascended the throne.
[He] began at once to clash with Parliament. When members refused to vote the combative new monarch enough money to conduct his wars with Spain and France, Charles resorted to bullying Parliament and to relying on forced loans. [Does this sound familiar?]
That was the start of a conflict between the King and his people that, inside of two decades, culminated in the King’s beheading. That, however, was far from the end of the matter. Oliver Cromwell’s despotic reign which followed was so horrible, that just eleven years after the murder of his father, Charles II was given the throne.
Historian Dave Palmer* noted that the after-effects of the Charles/Cromwell period more than a century later were so pervasive that years later, in the 1780s, in the nascent United States:
“The ghost participating in the Constitutional Convention was Oliver Cromwell’s. . . The very name was the personification of the evil potential in a soldier grown too powerful. Oliver Cromwell. . . An English-speaking person could hardly have grown to adulthood in the eighteenth century and not have heard the haunting story of Oliver Cromwell.
The English took to heart the lesson that Cromwell was so bad that the monarchy was, as Palmer said, “If it was an evil, it was at least one they understood.” They opted to return to the King and then limit his powers. The Americans, rather than deciding upon the lesser of two evils when it came to the choice between dictator and king, preferred to craft a system where neither evil was possible. The system they devised prevented the rise of kings, whose demise, they well knew, bred dictators to replace them. And remember what it was that was the first crime of the new king: “forced loans” over Parliament’s objections to pay for the King’s spending priorities.
Americans are the beneficiaries of a political system whose default setting is neutral. The predisposition to inaction is designed to prevent us from mistakenly letting a temporary problem (for all the sturm and drang the media dredges up, the inability to spend as much as we would like after Tuesday is but a temporary problem) blind us to the dangers of how despots are born. They are born in “little” things, like forcing the people to pay for debts unapproved by the people’s representatives.
The Founding Fathers did, in fact, think of everything. Everything, that is, except that the Constitution that they wrote might be completely ignored. Let us hope that never becomes the case.
*Full disclosure, I am a former student of David Palmer’s, but it was in a course which discussed events from the 20th, rather than the 17th and 18th centuries.