Friday, October 3, 2008

Point, Counterpoint, Point

In case you haven't read a frustrated post on here called Why Do the Candidates Continue to Refuse to Talk About Anything, David Luke Doody (responses are posted at his blog This Is How I Love You) and I are having a battle in which we agree, but somehow disagree in some abstract way that no one really understands. Here is what has happened some far, followed by the latest counterpoint:

Point (Question):
Why Do the Candidates Continue to Refuse to Talk About Anything

It seems like the election has been a constant contest to seem who can say the least. I'm really amazed that we are only five weeks away from this being over. It feels like they are just getting started. Obama and Biden have really receded from the headlines and McCain is either stealing the headlines with Palin's idiocy (I believe my recent favorite was that she can't name a supreme court case outside of Roe v. Wade), or he's in the news aimlessly attacking Obama. What about what's actually happening, particularly the erosion of American civil liberties. Neither candidate would touch that topic with a ten foot pole. In their defense, it's lethal. What can you say on the topic that wouldn't piss someone off? But isn't that what we really want? I leader who isn't scared of opinion polls or talking about a something that people might get sensitive about? It's a real issue. The Bush administration has slowly but surely given the executive branch increased control of torture, spying, and all intelligence routes through the government. This is a flagrant violation of our constitution, of our rights. Yet, no one really seems to want to prod the candidates into speaking on the subject.

Obama is scared of looking left wing. And McCain has voted with Bush through the entire erosion. (and Obama is not innocent here) Why doesn't someone try to make them talk about it in a debate, or why aren't reporters hitting them with these questions. Katie Couric made Palin look dumb, but Palin has nothing to do with this, she is not a national politician, in my mind she's not much of a politician at all, but that's besides the point. Why can't we actually have an open discussion about these kind of issues in an election year? I think I know the answer, and maybe I'm being naive and idealistic in hoping that this could be possible, but dammit I don't care, I want to hear them speak about this. This may be a great plan for McCain in fact. It seems as though the debate would go to Obama, because McCain has always followed Bush through this erosion of our rights, and anyone that cares would have to side with Obama. But what if Obama can't defend a somewhat patchy track record here? What if he can't speak about it as eloquently as you would imagine? It might be a good chance for McCain to win over some of the liberal vote...try it, see what happens. It won't happen, but it's fun to imagine what kind of democracy you would wish for.
-Dustin Luke Nelson

There's a book by Dana Nelson called "Bad for Democracy" that shows how over decades and decades--not just through the W years--the presidency has sought and received more and more power, throwing the balance of government completely out of whack. The position becomes more and more like that of a king, and all the while the American people have accepted this piracy of the balance originally sought after by our founding fathers. Think of the language we use: "The leader of the free world," "The most powerful position in the land," et al. This is not what the presidency was supposed to be. It was supposed to be just one branch with no more and no less power than the others, or at least it was supposed to be able to be checked and put in line when it stepped out of that line.

But, more specifically in response to this post, you're right, they won't talk about incendiary issues because they cannot afford to piss anyone off who may be on the fence about those issues. It's like when they say "middle class" but never utter the word "poverty." It's spinning what they say to get votes...a watered down version of tackling the tough topics in order to get votes.

The point is, the position of president carries too much power and importance in the average American's mind. Yes, it is important that our representatives actually discuss important issues. But it's even more important that we not rely on them as much as we do to do anything about those important issues.

The fight does not end on November 5th, even if Obama is elected. Yes, we can all breath a sigh of relief if that is the outcome, because we will have taken a step in the right direction. But, and be sure of this, he is not a savior. He cannot undo all that has been done. He will not be able to retroactively give back all the civil liberties lost over the years. And you can be sure that there will be those fighting tooth and nail to keep the powers and tactics they have become accustomed to. The president is not our king and we cannot simply rely on him to answer all of our questions.
-David Luke Doody

I would not argue that this (straightforward dialogue on the issues) will ever happen, because that's election year politicking, this is not a new revelation for anyone. But what happens in a presidential race is mimicked extensively in congressional elections. The presidential race sets the tone for the rest of the contests. If we had candidates that weren't concerned that speaking about the issues that could irritate the “on the fence” voters the congressional races would follow suit.

I think there is something to be said for that, because while the president should not be the "king" of America, there is a collective mentality that it is so (to a certain extent). So, whether or not it's true, it is made true by the actions of the constituents.

This is easily exemplified by the debates last night when the moderator asked Palin and Biden how they would act as vice president and if they would use Cheney's interpretation of the vice president’s duties as outlined by the constitution. I don't have the exact quote from the moderator, but she spoke about the constitution being vague on the exact location of power for the vice president. Palin immediately responded that she agreed with Cheney (red flag anyone? The first time anyone besides Bush and Lucifer have publicly agreed with Cheney). The specific branch where the powers of the vice president lie are not vaguely stated in the constitution, he (or potentially she) is a part of the executive branch, he is not a roving force that hovers over all branches of the government. But because someone argues for such powers, and convinces people of them, that can make it reality, whether or not it should be. The mere fact that this was phrased in this fashion and that Palin, without hesitation, responded she subscribes to this doctrine legitimizes this view. The president, especially now, as the executive branch continually expands it's power, the position functions beyond it's equal power doctrine between the branches. The checks and balances are broken.

From Article One of the Constitution:

The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.

The Senate shall choose their other officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the office of President of the United States.

That said, I agree with you. Any time radical change has come from within the government (it's hard to believe sometimes, but it's happened) it is not a result of a president taking more power into the executive branch, it is a result of a sweeping majority in one party through both houses of Congress. Obama is not the savior, and he isn't going to save the country by becoming president. I certainly believe that it's a step in the right direction, but to see radical change in government it's going to take a whole lot more than a president who is willing to stand up for their policies. (unless they want to tear the constitution to shreds and kind of have a free for all - as has happened recently, but even then, the Republicans had a solid majority when Bush first took office).
- Dustin Luke Nelson

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