If-you-can-keep-it Dep’t

So former Bush-the-Lesser henchman Mark Thiessen disapproves of what he rightly calls the hostage-taking strategy of Cruz, Boehner & Co.: because they’re threatening the wrong hostage. Instead of just threatening to shut down the government, they ought to be threatening to smirch the honor and wreck the credit of the United States of America by defaulting, and in the process throw the world economy into a tailspin, because given that threat, according to Thiessen, the President would have to capitulate.

Thuggish behavior is nothing new in American politics. But the adoption of this sort of thuggish language hasn’t been seen since the run-up to secession.

Most political reporters haven’t noticed it yet, or at least won’t say so out loud, but this is no longer normal politics. This is civil war conducted (for now) by non-violent means. Unless the voters wake up and massively punish the Republican Party for putting the country through this, the constitutional system which has served us pretty damned well for two-plus centuries is under actual and immediate threat.

Of the many wise and witty remarks attributed to Benjamin Franklin, the finest was his answer to a woman who asked him, as he emerged from the final session of the Constitutional Convention (which conducted its business in secret), “Well, Dr. Franklin? What is it to be? A monarchy, or a republic?” Franklin replied, “A republic, madam: if you can keep it.”

As things are shaping up right now, the 2014 elections may be as important as those in 1800 or 1860. That’s not a good thing. But since it’s the case, we need every patriot – every lover of the work of 1789 – to get angry, and get energized, around the project of keeping the Republic.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

25 thoughts on “If-you-can-keep-it Dep’t”

  1. We might be able to win back a majority in the House using this type of stuff in the 2014 and 2016 elections, but the diehard lunatics are mostly coming from gerrymandered super-conservative districts that are at least as crazy as they are (possibly crazier- Rolling Stone had a story about how the high schools in Michelle Bachmann’s home district are plagued by rampant homophobia and religious bigotry). The only way to punish them is to win back a bunch of state congresses and governorships, and then force electoral reforms through that would prevent that type of gerrymandering from ever happening again.

    1. The effects of gerrymandering tend to erode from migration after about five or six years. I haven’t looked carefully at the current maps, but although the Democrats and the TPers tend to come from hyper-safe districts (Democrats from packed urban districts, TPers from carefully constructed rural/suburban districts) there are still a few swing districts.

      The thing we sorely need (and won’t get, more is the pity) is a constitutional amendment that puts redistricting in the hands of non-partisan bodies with directions to draw compact districts.

      1. You’re right. The Republicans did their best to gerrymander a bunch of districts at the state and federal level in 2000 and 2002, but by 2006 and 2008 it was all undone – the Democrats won not only record majorities in Congress but a whole ton of state-level offices.

        It’s annoying how lucky the Republicans have gotten with their wave elections in terms of timing. They got them in 2000 and 2010, conveniently during Census Years.

        1. “It’s annoying how lucky the Republicans have gotten with their wave elections in terms of timing. They got them in 2000 and 2010, conveniently during Census Years.”

          There’s nothing to say that one can’t restricted at any time, as the GOP did in Texas.

  2. I’m reading a book about the antebellum South right now (Schoen’s The Fragile Fabric of Union) and the parallels are indeed striking, if not frightening.

    1. Suppose there is a civil war. Who will the combatants be, and what objective would each seek to achieve as “victory”?

  3. I don’t see any way for the US to climb out of its own mess.

    The crazies have become so deeply embedded in the political culture that there’s no realistic prospect of removing them from every veto point before they cause a full-on constitutional crisis that is openly acknowledged as such.

    If only one part of the political culture was broken, it could be forced into compliance by the remaining parts, but the situation is that the entire political culture is broken. 30% of the electorate, much of the moneyed class, a near majority on the supreme court, and a blocking minority of legislators, reject the notion that defeat in a fair election as a legitimate outcome. A cultural divide that extreme doesn’t have many prospects for a peaceful, democratic, ending.

  4. Must we really have to sign on as lovers “of the work of 1789”, what with its compromises and evasions about slavery (not just the 3/5ths rule but also the fugitive slave clause): the gerrymandering implicit in the state-based representation in the Senate (and to a lesser extent in the House since every state gets at least 1 member in the House and all states get an integral number of members) and all the problems that flow from that: its origins as an attempt to reduce the degree of democracy and increase the protection of property: and other issues that I am confident will come to me soon after I click on “Submit Content”?

    The constitution has been useful, but the idolatry regularly shown it in this country is embarrassing.

  5. The big problem is that, unlike in the 1800s, the divide in the country isn’t along any neat line, it’s more of an urban vs everyone else divide. Even in the ‘red’ states Democrats hold the large cities, even in the ‘blue’ states Republicans hold the countryside. The real difference is just the level of urbanization. (This is a generalization. All generalizations are untrue in detail, but in general I think it describes the situation.)

    Were it really a “red” state vs “blue” state divide, we might imagine breaking the country up into several smaller, (But still quite large.) nations, and peacefully going our separate ways. I don’t see how secession works when it’s the raisins seceeding from the raisin bread.

    1. It’s water. If you live in a county near an ocean, a big lake or a big river you think one way; the dehydrated counties think differently.

        1. I was born on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and lived there until my mid-teens. I know what an ocean is. I’ve been to the Great Lakes. Fresh water notwithstanding, the Great Lakes are at the least seas of a freshwater ocean.

    2. Here in northern NE, it is a mistake to say that ” even in the ‘blue’ states Republicans hold the countryside.”

      VT is pretty blue throughout, as is NH currently although the situation here remains contested.

      I have less information about the rest of the country, but it strikes me that this is an overstatement.

      1. I think VT and NH are too small to serve as counter examples. A better counter example would be Massachusetts, which really is kind of blue through and through. Berkshire County Mass. has the distinction of being the county that gave Obama the highest share of votes of any county in the U.S. with a population that is majority Caucasian.

        But Brett’s point is a valid one when it comes to larger states like New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Florida, even California and Maryland, and yes, even Virginia, where I live. Although even in the red areas of Virginia you find pockets of blazing blue — Roanoke or Blacksburg, for instance, the cities, or the small places that are comprised of a majority of African-Americans who are as “real Virginian” as a Virginian can get, being descended from some of the earliest inhabitants of this state, that is, slaves.

        And this is true even in places like South Carolina, where Charleston is very different from the rest of the state.

        What is also true, however, is that in many states the “red” rural places are depopulating, especially relative to the urban areas. This is definitely true in Virginia, where there were actually fewer people in the southwestern part of the state in 2010 than in 2000. It’s true in New York and Pennsylvania as well.

    3. On visits to the old homestead my rural-born FIL would observe that his county of birth peaked in population in 1895 – which is also the year the US tipped from majority rural to majority urban. Saying that Republicans “hold the rural areas” without noting that the nation is at least 80% urban is a bit dishonest, no?


      FIL and both his siblings decamped for the city as soon as they finished high school…

    4. Basically true, but the “urban vs. everyone else” framing is a little annoying. It smacks of Palin’s “real America.”

      Americans live in urban areas.

      Ten percent of the population lives in either the NY or the LA metropolitan area. About half lives in metropolitan areas with populations of 1.5 million or more.

      1. In fact, about a third of U.S. population lives in metropolitan areas with populations of 5 million or more.

  6. Hmm. It occurs to me that at least here in Ca, a lot of the rural people may be undocumented and thus unable to vote. So it’s a little misleading to call those areas red, they are more like “red.”

    Also, I have a feeling that a lot of your red area Republicans are probably much less crazy than the Beltway ones, if we went and actually talked to them. I hope so, anyhow. My guess is, it may be perceived cultural differences that keep them voting GOP (semi-myths about “self-sufficiency” f.e.), and while a big chunk of that may be a complicated reaction to ethnic differences, some of it might also be the perceived snottiness of blue-ish people. I feel that we do have a problem in this country of not respecting people with practical knowledge, even though we paradoxically don’t like intellectuals either.

    Anyhoo. So Mark, maybe you could explain more why this is a Constitutional crisis? I’m not saying you’re wrong, just I haven’t connected those dots yet. I find this whole situation really annoying and I don’t pay superclose attention.

    1. So Mark, maybe you could explain more why this is a Constitutional crisis? I’m not saying you’re wrong, just I haven’t connected those dots yet. I find this whole situation really annoying and I don’t pay superclose attention.

      Chait has a chokehold on that. His whole piece is must read:

      The exhaustion of electoral channels against Obama has spurred the party to seize power through non-electoral channels. Their opening demand that Obama sign Mitt Romney’s entire economic plan into law in return for avoiding a debt default, while historically bizarre, followed perfectly from their legislative strategy this year. House Republicans decided back in January to boycott any negotiations with Obama over fiscal policy. They presented this at the time as a desire to return to “regular order,” with negotiations between the House and Senate, but eventually decided to boycott those, too. The entire House Republican strategy is premised on using threats to leverage unilateral concessions from the Democrats.


      1. Thanks, I’ll check that out!

        So, it seems to me that I just saw Reid on the telly, saying the Senate only agreed to the lower/sequestrated(?) figures b/c Boehner said he would pass a clean CR.

        1) Did I hear him right? (Don’t anyone answer if this is too complicated … I barely understood what I read about it on Wonkbook…) and 2) in retrospect, wasn’t this a mistake? And could the Senate fix it now?

      2. That was a nice piece. But it seems to me, it wasn’t just in 2011 that the president miscalculated. Didn’t he do it again at the end of 2012? I’m not at all surprised that the GOP thinks it can roll him. Heck, someone was talking about another grand bargain being offered as an olive branch to these bums, just recently. Can’t remember who.

        So, Chait is right, this is scary. But I am less convinced of the president’s resolve. I’d like to be wrong, but he’s just been so slow to understand them. Either that, or he doesn’t mind? I mean, what else am I supposed to think? I know he’s not stupid.

  7. Not just a republic! We have evolved into a DEMOCRATIC-REPUBLIC, that is what we must protect and keep.

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