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Jim Leach On Our Troubled Times

While the tone of the Democratic Convention’s opening night was pretty predictable, there were some surprises. Ted Kennedy’s capacity to deliver a rousing address on the heels of his brain surgery, and the rhetorical gifts of Obama’s wife, family, and in-laws were displayed. Former Republican Congressman Jim Leach provided a lesson in history and civics.

I focus on Leach's speech, not because it was riveting - it definitely was not that - but because his perspective represents an honest assessment from a practical politician who is no longer in the game. PBS pundits were quick to dismiss him as an anomaly among Republicans. But among Republicans in my own family and circle of friends, I see important chords and connections. Our political process has been poisoned, and people of vastly differing ideologies can agree about that, even when they agree about little else.

As quoted in the Iowa Independent Leach said

“In troubled times, it was understood that country comes before party,” Leach said after listing several examples of bipartisanship in U.S. history.

“Little is riskier to the national interest than more of the same,” he continued. “America needs new ideas, new energy, a new generation of leadership.”

“Hence I stand before you,” he concluded, praising both his own party and the party whose delegates he was addressing, “proud of my party’s contributions to America’s history, but, as a citizen, proud as well of the good judgment and good people of this party in nominating a transcendent candidate, who I am convinced will recapture the American dream and be a truly great president.”


The great irony of the 2008 election to this observer is that BOTH presidential candidates seem painfully aware of how our poisoned process constrains politicians time and again from acting in the public interest, even when as individuals that would be their first choice. I believe both Obama and McCain genuinely want to reform the process, yet as Senators and as Presidential candidates both are themselves trapped to a large extent within the poisoned process. Once elected, Presidents have more latitude to act independently, but still face enormous inertia in the machinery of government, pressure from their party, and during first term, concerns about being reelected.

Make no mistake, there are plenty of real policy differences between McCain and Obama, that will result in different choices being made. It is an error to assume that just because your party's candidate takes a position different from your own that it is a result of their failure to stand up to some powerful interest. Sometimes they genuinely have a different opinion. But there is no denying the enormous influence that the power establishment has on our policy, regardless of which party is in power.

On Iraq policy, I expect either McCain or Obama to follow through on their campaign promise, and in both of those cases I believe they genuinely believe in their own plan. Obama will change the mission and McCain will not. Ironically the practical effect may be little different, as neither will withdraw precipitously, but both are likely to withdraw all but a residual force within their first term. On foreign policy generally, I think Obama is more likely to seek diplomatic solutions, while McCain will be quicker to resort to military solutions. Either will employ both tools, but the tipping point will be different.

But on other issues, both candidates have bent to the pressure of their parties and/or powerful corporate interests. McCain's stated commitment to uphold all of the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans, in spite of having derided them in the past, is certainly a case in point. I really don't believe McCain has truly had a change of heart, but his party demands he stay in lockstep with their anti-tax dogma. I suppose that as President he may move to his more natural position, but at this point that would be a broken promise.

Obama capitulated on giving telecoms immunity for their role in Bush's surveillance program. He painted his reversal as a practical political compromise, so there is no implied promise that future decisions around surveillance programs or corporate accountability will be reflected in that decision.

In a McCain Presidency it would be telling to discover whether his "maverick" inclination to support environmental causes will be seriously compromised by his indebtedness to corporate polluters who might balk at policies they consider bad for their bottom line. In an Obama Presidency it would be telling to discover whether he enacts the bold structural changes [many outlined in this multipage pdf] that are needed to create real opportunity for the working poor and transparency in government, or if they will take a back seat to political expediency and corporate pressure.

There is no crystal ball to tell us just how much either man might succeed in breaking out of the "politics as usual" mode. Cynics will tell us not at all, while dreamers may imagine transcendent change. I may be a registered Democrat, but I am an American first, and it is my hope that some significant transformation will take place regardless of the winner this November. Clearly Obama's vision as laid out in The Audacity of Hope and his speeches is more aligned with my own. Many Americans, such as Jim Leach, who may not agree with some of the particulars are nonetheless inspired by his aspirational message.

In the next two weeks we have the opportunity to hear these two candidates address their conventions and set the tone for the election. As flawed as the process is, I believe we have a better choice this year than we have in quite a long time. It's a good thing too, because we certainly live in troubled times.

Posted by Walker Willingham at August 26, 2008 1:38 PM
Comments
Comment #259601

A good read, WW, many points well taken. I can’t draw the generous conclusions you do about McPain, but hey, you might be right. To me, he has no intention of bracing those he has lately fallen in with, i.e., Cheney/Bush and his bunch of scavangers. Again, I’ll try to see him in a better light, but…but…but…eight years of this mess is enough, and McPain can’t seem to shake the idea that he somehow needs Cheney/Bush to be elected.

I wonder if Cheney/Bush’s attacks on him when he ran against him killed McPain’s spirit. His POW status for so long may have weakened him to the point he can no longer fight it off…or maybe Cheney/Bush was right about him all along?

Posted by: Marysdude at August 26, 2008 2:23 PM
Comment #259627

Factually, BHO is going to come out of this convention still trying to convince lifelong Democrats to vote for him. From what I see, the older they are, the less likely they are to vote for him. The Rpblcn convention is going to start immediately after the Democratic one, literally taking his wind. He may not even get a bounce from the convention, which was evidently scheduled this way by idiots. Ted Kennedy is no RFK. They might have picked RFK jr, but I don’t know if he’s even come over to BHO yet.

Posted by: ohrealy at August 26, 2008 8:07 PM
Comment #259640

Do we really want a president who pardon those the next Congress and Courts convicts for violations of our laws and Constitution? That is what we will get with John McCain, and he will grant those pardons for the most base of reasons, to elevate his Party’s reputation for posterity and avoid anymore Nixon’s being recorded in the history books.

I know that is what Republicans want. But, really! Is that what is in America’s future’s best interest, as a nation of laws intended to be applied equally and fairly to all? John McCain will perpetuate the erosion of our Constitution by refusing to relinquish the overstepped Constitutional powers seized by the Bush Administration.

McCain is not about to give away the authoritarian powers the Bush Administration garnered unto the office. Think about it folks. Think about it hard.

Posted by: David R. Remer at August 26, 2008 9:19 PM
Comment #259649

David, it’s an absurd fantasy that some future left-wing regime is going to “convict” Republicans once they assume office on the basis of past policy disagreements. Especially when those policy positions were vocally supported by so many Democratic officeholders and appointees who would themselves have to do the “convicting.”

Based on his public statements, BHO gives every indication that he wants to VASTLY expand the authority of government into our personal and economic lives. Even now, he is trying to use the courts to suppress any free speech which doesn’t flatter Barack Obama. 1984 seems to be coming a couple decades late, but in the person of Obama, it nevertheless seems to be coming.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at August 26, 2008 10:45 PM
Comment #259651

>Based on his public statements, BHO gives every indication that he wants to VASTLY expand the authority of government into our personal and economic lives.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at August 26, 2008 10:45 PM

LO,

That may be one of the silliest statements ever posted here. After Habaes Corpus being suspended (if not killed), torture being authorized, FISA being dismantled and law breaking corporations being given immunity, legalized prying into every facet of our lives…all at the hands of Cheney/Bush, you make out like someone you don’t know might limit one of your rights????? Poop!

Posted by: Marysdude at August 26, 2008 11:37 PM
Comment #259659

Loyal Opp. you are right. But, its your fantasy that such convictions will be attempted based on policy differences. The convictions will be based on violations of the laws, treaties, and Constitution of these United States. Items your comment appears to discount as having any real importance.

I understand your and many Republican’s desire for the freedom to violate laws, treaties and the Constitution without consequence while preserving their right and power to prosecute and impeach Democrats for violations. But, then, come January, your Party will no longer have that right or power. That is the absurdity of the Republican’s tenure in power, their complete absence of forethought that one day the shoe they fashioned to wear for themselves, would be on another’s foot like Barack Obama’s and a majority Congress populated by Democrats, not Republicans. I hope the GOP nightmares are all that your support for the GOP have made possible.

Boo!

Posted by: David R. Remer at August 27, 2008 12:27 AM
Comment #259679
That may be one of the silliest statements ever posted here.

Actually, it’s not. But it is even more saddening for those of us interested in Liberty over Convenience and Power that you don’t see any potential for that.

After all, it was Clinton that brought us the RICO statues, wasn’t it? If it weren’t for those horrendous violations the Patriot Act wouldn’t have been possible. It’s just a matter of what’s next on the list…

I can’t wait for the day when people are told they have to be doctors and nurses because we’ve decided that we must be able to provide healthcare to everyone. Or we are told what we can and can’t eat because of the cost to the taxpayer…

Fun Times.

Posted by: Rhinehold at August 27, 2008 3:34 AM
Comment #259680

David,

You realize there won’t be any convictions OR trials, right? Whether people want there to be or not, it just isn’t going to happen…

Posted by: Rhinehold at August 27, 2008 3:35 AM
Comment #259683

Rheinhold,

“After all, it was Clinton that brought us the RICO statues, wasn’t it? …”

No, the RICO statutes were passed during the Nixon administration in the early 70s.

Posted by: Rich at August 27, 2008 7:48 AM
Comment #259706

>Actually, it’s not. But it is even more saddening for those of us interested in Liberty over Convenience and Power that you don’t see any potential for that.

Posted by: Rhinehold at August 27, 2008 03:34 AM

Rhinehold,

Potential? Don’t see the potential? We are too stupid to see the potential for government abuses? Wow, how frail is that statement. You along with LO are worried about POTENTIAL abuses, but are not concerned with CURRENT abuses? You must be dreaming if you think a POTENTIAL threat to your freedom is greater than REAL-TIME removal of those very freedoms…

Yeah, we MIGHT have a problem in the future, or more likely there will be a fix to some of the freedoms we’ve already lost…that is just as likely a potential conclusion to this mess.

Posted by: Marysdude at August 27, 2008 10:36 AM
Comment #259717
You along with LO are worried about POTENTIAL abuses, but are not concerned with CURRENT abuses?Why do you assume that I am not concerned with current abuses?
Posted by: Rhinehold at August 27, 2008 11:22 AM
Comment #259722
No, the RICO statutes were passed during the Nixon administration in the early 70s.

Yes, but it was Clinton, with Janet Reno, who expanded the RICO statutes to include drug and gang activities as well as child molesters, not just organized crime. It was further expanded under Bush to include terrorism suspects (part of the Patriot Act).

The Clinton administration is pushing to make forfeiture laws even more sweeping. Justice Department lawyer Irving Gornstein told the Supreme Court in November 1997 that the government had a right to confiscate practically any property involved in a violation of the law “except that one small category of cases where perhaps the property is involved in what might be a minor infraction, such as a parking offense.”
“Take asset forfeiture laws: Originally designed to target the illegal profits of drug kingpins, they have been expanded to allow the government to seize property in cases of suspected prostitution, illegal gambling, or failure to pay sales taxes. Federal agents can now seize property under 200 different statutes.

“And RICO laws, originally designed to target Mafia crime bosses, are now used against stores that sell allegedly obscene videos, against the tobacco companies, and against investment companies for skirting tax laws.”

It didn’t just start with Bush…

Posted by: Rhinehold at August 27, 2008 12:35 PM
Comment #259726

>Why do you assume that I am not concerned with current abuses?

Posted by: Rhinehold at August 27, 2008 11:22 AM

Rhinehold,

Because that is the crux of what you say. It is a conclusion drawn with reason, not a supposition about a potential threat that might happen if a certain someone is elected…blah…blah…blah

Posted by: Marysdude at August 27, 2008 12:54 PM
Comment #259728

Again, you attribute things to what I say and then choose to hear only that attribution.

Two threads in a row too.

Posted by: Rhinehold at August 27, 2008 1:21 PM
Comment #259740

“Yes, but it was Clinton, with Janet Reno, who expanded the RICO statutes to include drug and gang activities as well as child molesters, not just organized crime.”

The expansive use of RICO statutes beyond just organized crime began well before Clinton even contemplated the presidency. The broad language of RICO invited prosecutorial expansion from the very day of enactment. Hundreds of cases, including street gangs, drug enterprises, white collar crime, etc., were prosecuted in the 80s prior to Clinton taking office.

Posted by: Rich at August 27, 2008 2:31 PM
Comment #259760

Rhinehold,

Marysdude may read into your statements more than you intended, but he correctly points out that your speculation about what will come to pass under an Obama administration is just that - speculation. And it’s speculation which I believe has little basis in what we know to this point.

Generally speaking, violations of our civil liberties which have run rampant under the Bush administration, will very likely decline under Obama. I’m not naive enough to believe that Obama will voluntarily surrender the huge amount of power that has accrued to the executive branch over the last half century, but there is ample evidence that he will improve transparency in government.

That aim is the very first item in his “Blueprint for Change”, and is the subject of his fact sheet on restoring trust in government. These intentions are backed up by passage of the Obama-Coburn Transparency Act of 2006 which resulted in the creation of the usaspending.gov website which allows us to much more easily see where our money goes.

Secrecy is the hallmark of government abuse of power, and sunlight is its enemy. Obama stands for sunlight, and has a proven record to back that up. Where, Rhinehold, is YOUR EVIDENCE that Obama will abuse our rights?

LO,
The attempt to suppress by legal means a sleazy broadly televised campaign ad, is in no way equivalent to suppressing the free speech of everyday Americans. To be honest, I think Obama will likely lose that attempt, as there are not factual errors he can point to - only innuendo. Your characterization of his campaign’s attempt to silence that particular television ad as “trying to use the courts to suppress any free speech which doesn’t flatter Barack Obama” (emphasis added) is simply untrue. That’s just politics.

Posted by: Walker Willingham at August 27, 2008 4:01 PM
Comment #259781

Janet Reno represented the worst aspects of the Clinton administration, and she was HRC’s choice. People criticizing HRC this year came up with all kinds of garbage, but never the substantive criticism.

We’ll see if the MSM lets loose on allowing free speech that is critical of BHO. Many people have radically different views of him, than anything that is broadcast, even on Fux.

Posted by: ohrealy at August 27, 2008 5:44 PM
Comment #259782
And it’s speculation which I believe has little basis in what we know to this point.

I disagree, I already see attempts by some local governments to limit what kinds of food a person is ‘allowed’ to eat. Once universal health care is passed, who will provide the services? If there aren’t enough someone will have to be forced to do so. Or we will have to pay a large salary to hire them and there go some of your imagined cost savings.

I could list a lot more, but it is simply a difference of direction. Not that we shouldn’t have less liberty, but where do those liberties get curtailed to begin with. Democrats say one way, Republicans say another.

Generally speaking, violations of our civil liberties which have run rampant under the Bush administration, will very likely decline under Obama.

Bull

“Blueprint for Change”,

Is this sort of like the pay-go system that the Dems put in place two years ago and have yet to follow?

Where, Rhinehold, is YOUR EVIDENCE that Obama will abuse our rights?

I’ve already talked about one campaign promise, perhaps I can talk about some more. In fact, that is a good idea for a new article.

The attempt to suppress by legal means a sleazy broadly televised campaign ad, is in no way equivalent to suppressing the free speech of everyday Americans.

This isn’t the first time he’s tried to get an unflattering ad pulled. It is becomming a pattern…

Posted by: Rhinehold at August 27, 2008 5:45 PM
Comment #259822

Rhinehold said: “You realize there won’t be any convictions OR trials, right? Whether people want there to be or not, it just isn’t going to happen…”

Damn, Rhinehold, I had no idea you had a crystal ball. You should market it or use it to become president yourself. Sorry, if I can’t put much stock in your prescience. The future has a way of inventing itself regardless of prior intentions.

I do acknowledge, that the Democrats haven’t had much of a stomach for legal proceedings against the current administration. But, there are logistical and factual realities that would have made such proceeedings futile as long as GW Bush is president, and capable of blocking and pardoning anyone caught in that web.

I think you and I would agree that if such proceedings are not forthcoming next year, America is in for a very long slow but irreversible slide into lawlessness and abandonment of our Constitutional foundation.

The American people are hungry for one justice for all, not one for them and another for political elites. I think you will find that if Democrats get close to the 60 mark in the Senate, improve their standing somewhat in the House, and Obama becomes president, there will be a new Justice Department that will make every effort to insure the law applies those who violated it in the Bush administration.

GW Bush himself is subject to prosecution after he leaves office, according to our laws and Constitution. And the majority in the country will be hungry for justice as the many seeds to many crises planted in the Bush adminstration take root and flower.

Healing cannot and will not take place if the Bush adminstration walks away from its crimes, while the country suffers economically, strategically, and infrastructurally as the costs of setting things right again mount, and the costs of not setting them right again mount even higher.

The opportunity to secure and innoculate ourselves against Afghanistan, its Taliban and al-Queda is rapidly closing as Musharraf steps down and his opposition now splits into competing camps for power, one or both of may have to defer to the radical elements in order to compete for power in Pakistan and deal with the growing chaos in the border regions with Afghanistan and India.

Putin is not done testing America’s economic capacity to engage in a new arms race and cold war in which Russia has the confiscated wealth of its oil industries shoring up its capacity to compete again economically for military strategic positioning.

The world is on the brink of a recession, and the American consumer and exports are what have been preventing the U.S. economy from tanking. Knock out our export leg via a global recession, and our economy will tank, and our debts and oil dependence will make us vulnerable to the dictated terms of our creditors in the Middle East and China.

The number of bank failures is rising dramatically, and credit is getting very much more expensive (unsecured credit), and secured credit is getting harder to find as lenders pull back in hopes of waiting out his foggy period when their balance sheet projections are vulnerable to ever increasing property devaluations.

Add to this growing poverty in America, growing crime, growing population and consequent demands by low wage and bankrupt families due to health care expenses now over a million, and rising unemployment with figures that are suspected to be inaccurately low, and rapidly growing underground and black market economy in the wake of a failing above ground and legal economy, you have a recipe for public outcry and demand for justice toward those responsible, or not responsible but indictable nonetheless for flagrant violations of the law, treaties, and Constitution.

When people are hurting, anxious about their plight and future, and faced with blatant criminality by their leadership, the demand for justice can be overwhelming, as the founding of our nation attests. If the people cannot have their economy, their security, and their savings and investments back, they will demand a pound of flesh from someone. And many in the Bush administration has left themselves wide open with copious amounts of fattened flesh for the taking by the Congress and Justice Department of an Obama administration.

Will Obama deny the people their justice if he cannot rescue the economy, the foreign strategic competition by adversaries, and jobs and job security for the middle class? Not if he wants to be reelected in 2012, he won’t.

There is an inertia to the forces and actions unleashed by the Bush administration in this country and in the world at large. The next president regardless of whether that be McCain or Obama, is going to be hard pressed to deliver anything resembling rescue from the Bush years by 2012.

Posted by: David R. Remer at August 28, 2008 5:01 AM
Comment #259869

David,

Nice way to set the stage for the inevitable failure the next president is going to encounter, since neither the dems or repubs have any real answers.

Oh, and for giving Bush a pass on 2001-2005. He just inherited the Clinton recession and, as you say, inertia just takes time to change, doesn’t it?

I think you and I would agree that if such proceedings are not forthcoming next year, America is in for a very long slow but irreversible slide into lawlessness and abandonment of our Constitutional foundation.

That is already evident by the lack of any criminal proceedings against Clinton for his war crimes against Serbians in 1999…

But the inablity to actually prove what most people are saying as fact will cause those who would be politically harmed by bringing charges and then losing from doing so.

So it may be politically positive to charge and win. The problem is that they know that they won’t. Which makes it much more politically positive for them to make statements that they don’t have to back up in a court of law so they can be continued to be spoken. Losing would take all of those talking points away.

Posted by: Rhinehold at August 28, 2008 4:17 PM
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