P.L.A. - A Journal of Politics, Law and Autism

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Thursday, February 13, 2003
The Responsibility Era -- The Balanced Budget Amendment

In his Responsibility Era speech, then Governor Bush said:
Each of us must understand that we're responsible for the decisions and choices we make…

We now have Republicans controlling the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate. Senate Rules prohibit any filibuster of budget bills. The GOP, therefore, has the power to pass whatever budget it sees fit. In the Responsibility Era, the GOP is “responsible for the decisions and choices” it makes.

Will the GOP make responsible budget decisions? At least two Republican members of the House are confident that they will not.

Republican Congressmen Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, of Wisconsin and Ernest Istook of Oklahoma have introduced a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget.

Why would such an amendment be needed when just two years ago we had budget surpluses? There are two reasons. First, the President’s proposed budget will produce deficits for as far as the eye can see. Secondly, with Congress and the White House controlled by Republicans, no fiscal discipline can be expected.

ABC News reports as follows:
A group of House members introduced a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution on Thursday, arguing that recent deficits demonstrate Congress doesn't have the discipline to balance the budget on its own.

Perhaps Republican House members were not listening when the President announced the Responsibility Era. Both Mr. Sensenbrenner and Mr. Istook support the President’s tax cuts as well as the proposed amendment.

Mr. Istook, who knows something about hypocrisy, said:
It's hypocritical to say you oppose the deficit but don't support the balanced budget amendment.

Mr. Istook apparently does not think it is hypocritical to call for the Constitution to require fiscal discipline when he votes for tax cuts that cause structural deficits.

Mr. Sensebrenner, noting that his party is as irresponsible as children, said:
The time has come for a little constitutional supervision over the Congress, just like we have to have parental supervision over our children.

The White House has said that it too supports a balanced budget amendment with exceptions for war, national emergency and recession.

Mr. Bush’s budget is more than $300 billion out of balance despite the fact that we are not in recession and the cost of the war with Iraq is not included in his proposed budget.

We had always wondered what the phrase “national emergency” in Balanced Budget Amendment proposals meant.

When it comes to fiscal discipline, we now know that “national emergency” means that the Republicans are in power.

Filibuster, Fairness and Moral Authority

Sam Heldman reports that a reader questions whether or not the use of the filibuster to block nominees to the Federal Courts is fair. Sam responds:
My answer is that filibusters are a fair tool in this sort of thing, for one and only one reason: that the Rules of the Senate allow them, and have allowed them in the past. The Rules are the rules. That's how we keep things procedurally fair, in law and in politics: by following the rules, doing what the rules allow and not doing what the rules don't allow.

While we think that filibusters are fair in considering judicial nominees, we disagree with Sam that the only reason that they are fair is because they are permitted by the Rules of the Senate.

The Federal courts are called upon to decide, inter alia, disputes between the different braches of government, between two or more sovereign states, and between the government and the governed.

The constitution gives the Federal Courts no means to enforce their rulings. The Constitution provides for no Supreme Court army. It provides for no funding for the Federal Courts other than that approved by Congress.

When the Supreme Court ordered Richard Nixon to turn over the Oval Office tapes, how could enforce its ruling if he refused? It could hold him in contempt if he refused but the Court has no soldiers to take the president into custody if he refused to comply.

If the Courts order a state to integrate the schools, it has no method to ensure compliance. The executive branch is expected to enforce the ruling.

The judiciary relies not on force of arms but on its moral authority for enforcement of its decisions. That moral authority arises from the perception that the court rulings are based on legal analysis, legal reasoning and fairness rather than partisan political interest.

If a nominee to the Federal bench is perceived as partisan by a large group of Americans, elevating that nominee to the bench erodes the moral authority of the courts. The erosion of that moral authority could lead to a failure of the Courts to function.

Confirming a judicial nominee by a narrow partisan majority undermines the integrity of the Federal judiciary. If a minority greater then forty percent have no confidence that a nominee’s judicial decisions will be based on legal analysis rather than partisanship, confirmation may reduce public confidence and therefore the moral authority of the court system.

We think that the use of the filibuster is fair because its use protects the integrity and moral authority of the Federal Courts.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003
The Responsibility Era – The 9/11 Investigation

In his October 2000 Responsibility Era speech, Mr. Bush noted that responsibility is founded on trust:
In a responsibility era -- in a responsibility era, government must trust the people. And in return, in a responsibility era, people should also be able to trust their government.

After 9/11, some were quick to try to use the tragedy for partisan advantage. Newsmax waited only to September 12 to run a story with the headline “CIA Officials Reveal What Went Wrong – Clinton To Blame.”

More thoughtful people, however, thought that we should look investigate any intelligence or policy failures that led up to the attack so as to learn from our errors and attempt to prevent future tragedy.

Senators Joe Lieberman and John McCain, among others, proposed a bipartisan independent commission to investigate the 9/11 attacks. The rhetoric of the Responsibility Era supported the formation of such a commission. If policy makers made mistakes, they should take responsibility for their choices. The people of the United States, in the Responsibility Era, “should be able to trust their government.” To earn that trust the government must be forthcoming about its policies and any policy failures.

President Bush has acknowledged the importance of such an independent investigation:
September the 11th marked a dividing line in the life of our nation. The events of a single morning dramatically demonstrated America's vulnerability to the threats of a new era…

An aggressive investigation into September the 11th, with a responsible concern for sensitive information that will allow us to win the war on terror will contribute to the security of this country…

This commission is not only important for this administration, this commission will be important for future administrations, until the world is secure from the evildoers that hate what we stand for.

Despite that rhetoric, the administration initially opposed the formation of a bipartisan commission. As CNN reported:
The idea for the panel was proposed by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut and John McCain, R-Arizona, and Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Indiana, soon after last year's attacks. They were rebuffed by the White House, which said it preferred to let a select intelligence committee handle the probe into why the country was ill-prepared for the attacks.

When the select intelligence committee proved unable to adequately investigate the matter, political pressure began to build for the establishment of the bipartisan commission. The families of the 9/11 victims were crucial to the application of political pressure on the White House.

The political pressure resulted in an agreement among congressional leaders for the establishment of the commission. At the last minute, the White House killed the deal.

The White House held out for provisions that would limit the effectiveness and independence of the commission. First, the White House insisted that it control the appointment of the Commission Chair.

Secondly, it objected to Democrats on the Committee having subpoena power.

Third, it insisted on a limited time frame for the investigation with the report of the Commission due in the summer of 2004. The commissioners are concerned that the time limit does not provide an adequate opportunity to complete their assignment.

Fourth, the administration may have tried to narrow the scope of the inquiry.

Fifth, after agreeing to allow the families of the 9/11 victims name one Republican member of the Commission (to insure independence), when the families named the truly independent for Republican Senator Warren Rudman, the White House reneged on the agreement.

Finally, the administration only provided $3,000,000 to fund the investigation. We have previously shown that the level of funding is ridiculously low compared to other investigations. In addition, New Jersey Senator Jon Corzine has argued that the funding is “grossly inadequate.” Finally, the commissioners themselves have complained that the funding is insufficient.

The American Prospect speculates that the reason that the White House has sought to limit the independence and effectiveness of the Commission is to control political damage:
For George W. Bush, the real danger in the investigation has always been that it might reveal that his administration's approach to terrorism had been lackadaisical prior to the attacks on New York and Washington.

Such behavior is at odds with the idea of the Responsibility Era. Mr. Bush says that in the Responsibility Era, the people can trust their government. How can that trust be earned if the administration seeks to inhibit a full and independent investigation into the terrorist attacks of 9/11 for political reasons? Like Claude Raines, we are shocked that the administration is not living up to its Responsibility Era rhetoric.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003
The Responsibility Era -- Foreign Policy

On October 26, 2000, Presidential candidate George W. Bush gave a speech in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That speech ushered in the Reponsibility Era. In that speech, Governor Bush said the following:
From the first day of this campaign I have talked about the goal of a responsibility era for America. And even before that, it was one of my priorities as governor. For too long our culture has sent this message: if it feels good, do it. And if you've got a problem, just go ahead and blame somebody else. Each of us must understand that's not right. Each of us must understand that we're responsible for the decisions and choices we make in life.

Yesterday we looked at how President Bush’s Responsibility Era affected the administration’s choice of personnel. We showed that the responsibility for such choices as having an extramarital affair and producing a child with a Congressman’s wife (Bill Donaldson), failing to support children (John Snow) or lying to Congress (Elliot Abrams and John Poindexter) did not preclude attaining high-level appointments in this administration.

How does the Responsibility Era impact on foreign policy? When faced with a foreign policy problem does the administration take responsibility for it choices or does it “just go ahead and blame somebody else?"

Our first example if the administration’s policy towards the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Business Week described the policy, or lack thereof, in April of 2002:
Bush didn't make it any easier by fumbling policy in the region since the day he took office. First, thanks to his almost obsessive desire to be seen as the un-Clinton, the White House chose to ignore the simmering tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. Where President Clinton struggled to pull off a peace agreement, Bush disengaged, allowing the cycle of killings to escalate out of control.

With the violence out of control, the administration faced a problem. Did the administration take responsibility for its inattention to the region? Did it reject the culture of “blame somebody else?” Of course not, it blamed Bill Clinton.

At a press briefing, Mr. Fleischer described the Clinton efforts to negotiate a peace accord as a “shoot the moon” effort. He then went on to say that:
``You can make the case that in an attempt to shoot the moon ... more violence resulted,'' Fleischer told reporters during his morning briefing. ``That as a result of an attempt to push the parties beyond where they were willing to go ... it led to expectations that were raised to such a high level that it turned into violence.''

Fleicher later apologized for suggesting that Bill Clinton was responsible for 17 months of violence and 1200 deaths:
I mistakenly suggested that increasing violence in the Middle East was attributable to the peace efforts that were under way in 2000.

In GOP circles, nothing “feels good” like blaming Bill Clinton. Ari Fleischer was simply unable to resist the “if it feels good, do it” culture of the GOP.

Our next example of the GOP’s Responsibility Era involves policy towards North Korea.

The most dangerous foreign policy crisis facing the United States is nuclear weapon and plutonium production by North Korea. North Korea is very good at the production of weapons grade plutonium and missile technology. It is also a very poor country that cannot feed its own people. Some North Koreans are subsisting on grass and acorns.

The primary means for North Korea to acquire hard currency is to sell missiles, plutonium and/or nuclear weapons.

The situation in North Korea came to a head in 1994 when they were threatening to produce nuclear weapons. The Clinton Administration negotiated a deal with North Korea. In essence, the Clinton administration agreed to provide assistance to North Korea including food, oil and non-plutonium producing nuclear reactors to create electricity and the North Koreans agreed to refrain from producing plutonium or nuclear weapons.

While that deal was far from perfect, it did prevent the production of plutonium for eight years.

Josh Marshall describes the Bush policy:
The Bushies told the North Koreans that they either had to shape up or we'd take them out. Now the North Koreans have called our bluff. And the administration -- as signalled by Powell's comments over the weekend -- has caved, enunciating a policy which is now substantially more dovish than the Clinton policy.

Tough talk sounds great until your opponent calls your bluff and everybody sees there's nothing behind the trash talk. Then you look foolish. That's where we are right now with North Korea…. But the Bush administration has pursued a keystone cops policy on the Korean Peninsula for two years now, mixing think-tank braggadocio with feckless inconstancy. Now we're all going to pay the price.

Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek agrees:
That’s why the Clinton administration settled on a bargain that gave the North Koreans fuel in return for assurances that they would stop making plutonium. Republican hard-liners railed against this “appeasement” and for two years we have had a policy of cheap rhetoric and cheap shots—except it suddenly isn’t so cheap anymore. As a result, the chest-thumping machismo from the hard-liners has now morphed into sophisticated realism. The situation is very complex, you see. Soon the administration will return to a version of the Clinton policy it condemned. Senior officials have already told CNN that while they will not “negotiate” with North Korea, they could well “talk.” I suppose it all depends on what the definition of the word “negotiate” is.

In other words, Mr. Clinton had a North Korea policy that worked to some extent but was no long-range solution. The Bush administration had no policy whatsoever and tried to use chest-thumping machismo as a substitute. When the chest thumping did not work, the administration was faced with a crisis that held the possibility of creating a number of awful results. Part of the problem was inherited but much of the difficulty resulted from the administration’s own poor choices.

It might “feel good” to the Bush administration to blame the North Korea crisis on the Clinton Administration. In the Responsibility Era, however, the Bush administration was going to reject the culture of “if it feels good, do it,” take responsibility for its own choices and not “just go ahead and blame somebody else.” Right?

Once again, the idea of blaming Bill Clinton was impossible to resist. As the Washington Post reported:
A senior Bush administration official suggested yesterday that the nuclear crisis with North Korea was the predictable result of a flawed 1994 agreement signed by the Clinton administration with Pyongyang that "frontloaded all the benefits and left the difficult things to the end" -- for the next president.

If the result was predictable, why had President Bush done nothing but bluster for two years until the situation exploded into crisis?

The Clinton policy was far from perfect but it did have the beneficial effect of preventing North Korea from turning spent rods into weapons grade plutonium for a period of eight years. The Bush policy of false chest-thumping has resulted in North Korea setting up a nuclear weapon assembly line.

When faced with an absence of a rational policy or with a failed policy, the responsibility era devolves into the blame game. Apparently, the responsibility era rhetoric only applies to others.

Monday, February 10, 2003
The Responsibility Era

While Governor of Texas, George W. Bush addressed the Republican National Convention. In that address he said the following:
A culture that once delineated right from wrong -- and good from bad -- has shifted to a culture that flouts virtue and revels in irresponsibility. It's a culture that says, 'If it feels good, do it,' and be willing to blame somebody else for society's ills.

That was a theme that Mr. Bush repeated throughout the 2000 campaign.

During the campaign, we were unsure of exactly how the responsibility era would work. Fortunately, conservatives have demonstrated how it works.

For instance, when a Little League team uses an overage player in order to gain an advantage, where does responsibility lie? Does the blame fall to the player himself? Are the parents of the player responsible? Perhaps the coach of the team should have obeyed the rules.

Of course not. According to Rush Limbaugh, responsibility falls squarely on Bill Clinton.

Congressman Gary Condit had an affair with a young women. Is the responsibility for that lapse of judgment Condit’s? Of course not. According to Sean Hannity, it is the responsibility of Bill Clinton.

CEOs at Enron combine with the accountants at Arthur Anderson to perpetrate a fraud measured in the billions. WorldCom counts ordinary expenses as capital improvements and investors and bond holders are cheated out of billions. Who bears responsibility for those losses? Presidential pal, Kenny Boy Lay? Republican donor Bernie Ebbers? Former Enron executive and now Secretary of the Army Thomas White? Former accounting industry lobbyist Harvey Pit?

Of course not. It was Bill Clinton’s fault. Steve Forbes took to CNN to make sure that it was clear where the blame should be assigned:
FORBES: Well, I think if you want to look at the tone of the '90s, it started right at the top, at the White House, where the attitude was anything goes. If you get caught, spin your way out of it. The only thing they didn't resist -- they could resist everything except temptation. So it started at the top.

Rush Limbaugh agreed. As the Washington Post reports Limbaugh’s argument that Clinton was responsible for corporate scandals was as follows:
He offered up a series of choices: "Who taught us how to get around laws? A, Ronald Reagan. B, Bill Clinton. Who taught us how to have his way with words and women? Who taught us, my friends, how to lie under oath and get away with it?

Now that we understand how the era of responsibility works, we can apply it to other circumstances.

Treasury Secretary John Snow’s ex-wife alleged in a suit that he had failed to pay child support for his two sons. He settled the suit. The White House was aware of those allegations before appointing Mr. Snow as Treasury Secretary.

Surely the failure to provide support for one’s children is an example of someone who “flouts virtue and revels in irresponsibility.” Mr. Bush did not find such conduct disqualifying.

We are sure that someone can explain how Mr. Snow’s conduct and Mr. Bush’s condoning of such conduct is Bill Clinton's fault.

Bill Donaldson is Bush’s nominee to replace Harvey Pitt as the Head of the SEC. Donaldson, while married, had an affair with the wife of a Congressman. He fathered a child by his mistress. Republicans have been mute on that lapse of judgment. Mr. Bush did not think that such conduct was disqualifying.

Those indiscretions involved an extra marital affair and the failure to provide for one’s children. The era of responsibility does not seem to apply in those cases. Perhaps that is because conservatives always told us that President Clinton’s difficulties were not about the sex but were about the lying. As Limbaugh said when placing the blame for the corporate scandals on Bill Clinton "Who taught us, my friends, how to lie under oath and get away with it?"

George W. Bush would not follow Bill Clinton example and condone lying would he?

Elliot Abrams was appointed by President Bush to be a Senior Director for Democracy at the National Security Council. In the 1980s, Abrams pled guilty to two counts of lying to Congress. His law license was suspended for “dishonesty, deceit or misrepresentation.”

John Poindexter was convicted by a jury of lying under oath. His conviction was overturned on appeal (in what we think was a correct ruling) on grounds unrelated to the dishonesty of his testimony. Despite that jury verdict, Mr. Bush appointed Mr. Poindexter to head the Information Awareness Office.

Republicans can fail to pay child support, father a child by another man’s wife and lie with impunity. George W. Bush’s does not find that conduct disqualifying for top-level administration positions.

The Republican Era of Responsibility is quite easy to understand. No one except Bill Clinton is ever responsible.