Jess Chapman

Archive for the ‘Political Theories’ Category

The post-sex scandal era of politics

In Political Theories on July 9, 2013 at 8:00 am

You’ll remember my incredibly incorrect prediction that now-Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) would not get elected to public office again. I figured, even if we had largely gotten past the mere fact of the marital indiscretion, his hiding his whereabouts from even his staff, plus some pretty big missteps during the House race, would be enough to keep voters from trusting him. Well, if he can do it, maybe former Rep. Anthony Weiner and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer (both D-NY), running, respectively, for mayor and comptroller of New York City, can do it, too.

But it’s not just disgraced politicians in America hoping to live down their sex scandals. Adam Giambrone, a former Toronto city councillor, was nominated this weekend as the New Democratic Party (NDP) of Ontario’s candidate in the provincial riding of Scarborough–Guildwood. During his eight-day mayoral campaign in 2010, he was felled by the 19-year-old woman with whom he was cheating on his girlfriend. It took three years, but Giambrone has finally decided to end his absence from politics. (He also married the pitiful creature he humiliated, but that’s beside the point.)

Those who have lived longer can feel free to correct me on this, but it seems that there was once an era in which politicians involved in sex scandals had zero hope of re-election, and rarely, if ever, took a stab at it. But that was back in the days in which people didn’t much like talking about sex. If this doesn’t prove that we’ve gotten past that, I don’t know what does. But now, even with the added components of hypocrisy and misuse of state resources, voters care a lot less.

It’s an interesting paradox: We have more freedom to talk about sex, but we always claim to be above availing ourselves of it, instead dismissing it as the business of the individual politician and his or her family – which it is, unless, in the above cases, it has a tangible impact on the public trust. Certainly, putting politicians’ agendas and beliefs ahead of their personal foibles is a virtue in politics. Assuming they’re worth electing in the first place, we might as well.

And even if we roll our eyes at the often sensational media coverage of political sex scandals, we do talk about it amongst ourselves. (“Talk about” in the above paragraph mainly referred to the media.) That hasn’t changed. You can’t say the name “Weiner” or “Spitzer” without some wit adding “I didn’t even know ‘er!” But except for the uptightness lobby, sex scandals aren’t the deciding factor at the ballot box they once were. Now we’re likelier to remember the good about the people at the center of them. We may still pressure them to quit at first, but we give them a second chance now. It may not be much progress, but it’s progress.

But, really. Weiner and Spitzer? Did the New York Post headline writers pay them to screw around, just so they’d have nonstop material? Next we’ll see guys named Doer, Focker, Hardin and Dix resigning in shame.

Voters not of demographic born

In Political Theories on October 22, 2012 at 8:00 am

It was still all about the female vote this weekend as both campaigns used their most effective attack lines to hook them. For President Obama, the theme was “They’ll take away your reproductive rights and public services”; for former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), it was “They’ve been bad for this economy, and that means they’ve been bad for your families.” When you take away the fact that Romney doesn’t have an alternative vision we haven’t heard from every national candidate since the birth of America, his line is much more effective among the general voting population – meaning, more effective, period.

You could ascribe this to the simple fact that more Americans are affected by economic woes than bizarre approaches to contraception. But there’s a little more to it than that. How do you deal with the rare voter who is generally satisfied with their life and isn’t swayed by pitches based on their gender, age, race, religion, marital status, employment status or anything else? What’s a candidate to do with a voter who has absolutely no horse in this race, except America’s horse?

I call these people the anti-identity voters. They have identities, to be sure, but they ignore them at the ballot box. They have their own political values, but are willing to push them aside if certain situations make them untenable for most affected. They are typically highly educated on general policy matters and may even work in the policy field. They have also typically experienced a party or ideological camp firsthand and decided the whole concept was a waste of the country’s time. They save their emotions for situations in which emotions might actually benefit somebody.

You can truly spot an anti-identity voter by how they react to appeals to their identity. Say the voter is a twenty-something woman and the candidate loves to talk about how good his leadership would be for youth. The voter sends the message that she doesn’t give two shits about how good he’d be for youth and wants to know what he’d do to pay down the debt. If he doesn’t have a decent answer, she rejects him as a lightweight. (This is purely hypothetical, I assure you.)

There is a risk to candidates if they spend too much time trying to attract this voter. As much as it kills me to admit it, there aren’t many of them. Prioritizing them above the average, identity-based voter runs the risk of alienating the latter in the short run; you have to resonate with both. But proving that you have a substantive, broadly effective policy agenda assures the former that you’re worthy of a second look should you be elected and want to run again.

Besides, having a substantive, broadly effective policy agenda is a good idea even when nobody’s looking at it. What else would you be running to do, anyway?

Lysistration for change

In Political Theories on February 27, 2012 at 8:00 am

Lysistration, noun: The practice of withholding sexual gratification, typically by women from men, in order to achieve political action or reform. From Lysistrata, a comic play written by Aristophanes in 411 BC and an ancient Greek term meaning “army-disbander.” Related forms: lysistrate (verb), lysistrative (adjective).

No, that’s not a word you’ll find in any English dictionary. (I checked.) But that may be what the wife of Virginia Delegate Dave Albo (R-Fairfax) was up to when she found out about the transvaginal ultrasound bill being debated in the state House. Perhaps she was just so disgusted with the idea that her husband would put his name on a bill forcing women to undergo an invasive medical procedure, lest they want to have an abortion, that sex with him that night was simply unappetizing to her. Or perhaps this is the way to solve the renewed debate over reproductive issues. In any event, Rita Von Essen, I salute you.

Hear me out on this. Every aspect of this debate – forcing ultrasounds, refusing to hear women out about medical reasons for contraception, attacks on Planned Parenthood as a whole – carries an element of distrust for sexually active women, married or not. I won’t go so far as to say there’s an actual “war on women” going on; it’s more willful ignorance than a coordinated, premeditated misogynistic effort. And when a march on Washington or a congressional hearing won’t do, there’s always the power of vag.

Here’s how it works. Women who are married to (or dating) lawmakers pushing for legislation to the above effects go on a sex strike until they drop it. Women who are married to (or dating) men outside of office who support this legislation do the same thing. Single women don’t go home with single men. For added measure, all of the women walk around the house in provocative underwear just to frustrate the men. Eventually, horniness overrides politics and the whole thing dries up and withers away and sexual harmony is restored.

Of course, lysistration won’t work for everyone; there are couples who don’t have sex recreationally, and there are women who support efforts like this. These couples and women, so far, have been the minority. And, sure, there are men who just aren’t that into sex and will stick by these bills. An outcry of other lysistrated men would surely be enough to shut them up. Ladies, remember: Vag is a power all of us possess, and it’s a terrible thing to waste. No choice, no chicks.

Thank you for reading this blog post that was intended for the purposes of satire and was not meant to be taken seriously. But if you try lysistration and it works, good for you.

The art of presidentiality

In Political Theories on January 9, 2012 at 8:00 am

Did you know that the word “presidentiality” isn’t actually considered a word in any reputable dictionaries? Fools. But at least now I can get credit for it. Anyway, watching this year’s candidates for the 2012 Republican nomination, I’m finding that a fair number of people are taken with former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) because he “looks” and “sounds” presidential. Well, duh. But what does it take to be presidential? I’ll give you my list, but spoiler alert: Romney exhibits few to none of these qualities.

Know about stuff. And it has to be the right stuff. You want a president who is uniquely qualified to meet national challenges of the time; in this year’s case, how to deal with China properly, how to create American jobs and how to make the defense budget more cost-effective. Or you could be like former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who has an enormous storehouse of knowledge, little more relevant to the Oval Office than the first stand on the Jeopardy! set. Or you could be like Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), who knows about shooting.

Have principles. You don’t need to be tethered to your party line for the rest of your life; in fact, this hurts more than it helps, since it largely precludes independent thought. But you do need to hold some basic beliefs about the role of the government, the role of America in the world, etc., to guide your decision-making. Otherwise, you come off as the sort of person who stands for nothing and falls for everything, which will almost automatically disqualify you from credibility on the world stage.

Be flexible. However, there are times when you may find yourself having to compromise on some of the above principles for the sake of American interests. There is a line between intractable ideologue and “soft kitty,” and a person wishing to be presidential must stand on it. One of the best ways to prove this is to have more policy people around you, as opposed to political people.

Put country first at all times. I could not have been more overjoyed at this moment, in which former Gov. Jon Huntsman (R-UT) finally got one over Romney by explaining to him that some of us care more about serving the president, whoever he or she is, than advancing an agenda, however much one prefers it over that of the president. Sorry, that was a hell of a run-on sentence. My point is, you have to live up to your own sense of what it means to be a patriot in order to be presidential.

Have brains and balls. There are times to be tactful and to be blunt, and a presidential person must know how to distinguish between them. A complex geopolitical issue requires more delicacy than an opponent insulting your patriotism. Know how to speak effectively under both circumstances.

The day judicial activism became a virtue

In Political Theories on October 24, 2011 at 8:00 am

If you’ve read my column long enough, you might have deduced that I favor a strong legislative/weak executive model of government. I haven’t yet had occasion to discuss my views on the power of the judiciary. Thanks to every 2012 Republican presidential candidate except former Govs. Jon Huntsman (R-UT) and Mitt Romney (R-MA), I will now. Between endless discussions of job creation, taxes and – good God – abortion, politically independent federal courts appear to have fallen out of favor with the others.

They have espoused some or all of the three following proposals: 1. Eliminate lifetime tenure for federal judges. 2. Cut the budgets of courts they don’t like, in particular the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which has a tendency to be presided over by liberal Democratic judges. 3. Allow Congress to ignore Supreme Court rulings on constitutionality of laws. Please bear in mind that one of the candidates pushing for these actions wanted to teach Constitution classes.

Speaking literally, these are as far flung from traditional “judicial conservatism” as you can get. By my definition, that means allowing courts to operate independently of the politics of the day, and have their sole priority be defending the Constitution. This may be a difficult concept for my Canadian readers to grasp, as we rarely remember that we have a constitution of our own, but it is there for a reason: to prevent the government from overstepping its legal boundaries as a result of political will.

None of the above proposals are in that spirit. Eliminating lifetime tenure would run the risk of regular elections for judgeships, reflecting the same partisanship as legislative and executive elections. Selective budget-cutting and legislative override would give too much power to the majority in Congress, and perhaps the White House as well. Anyone who fails to see this as a bad thing also fails to realize that federal courts are not designed to be accountable to the people, but the Constitution, which knows no bias.

I confess that I do subscribe to the “living document” theory, only in that I believe the Constitution should be allowed to be changed if there is sufficient reason. Until that happens, there is no sense in trying to avoid operating within its constraints. Had any Democratic candidate proposed this three years ago, these same Republicans would be rightfully decrying their activist attempts to tamper with a winning system. Let’s try not to be hypocrites, even hypothetically.

All that said, I would like to take this last paragraph to say congratulations to my friend Amanda Hope and Jeffrey Schultz, who became engaged over the weekend. You couldn’t be more deserving of one another.

Meet the fright-wing extremists

In Political Theories on July 28, 2011 at 8:00 am

When Jared Lee Loughner shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), we responded with political questions: Who or what did he support? Who or what did he really oppose? Who or what led him to such an act? After getting nowhere with such a discussion, we just decided he was crazy. Virtually the same questions are being asked about Anders Breivik in the wake of his shooting rampage in Oslo and Utøya, Norway, and his lawyer is invoking the insanity defense.

Breivik says he was punishing his victims, attendees of a Labor Party youth camp (or, as Glenn Beck so intelligently calls them, “Hitler Youth” – I’m not even surprised anymore), for “treasonous” friendliness to immigration, specifically the Muslim kind. The Atlantic Wire provides us with Breivik’s reading list, which includes blogs that focus on the global “threat” of Islam. They then ask if the right, in general, “owe[s] the world a . . . round of denunciations.”

Those with an abiding belief in nativism are by their nature on the fringes. But the blogs listed in the Atlantic article serve largely as aggregators of news articles on jihadist activity. When they do editorialize, they call for condemnation of acts that deserve condemnation, honor killings and terrorist recruitments among them. Had the attacks not taken place, people would dismiss these blogs as alarmist and somewhat prejudicial, but not dangerous. (I looked.)

The people behind the writings Breivik enjoyed do not necessarily incite the type of act he committed; simply by virtue of existing, they give Breivik and people like him justification. What one takes in when they read them, they take out, sometimes with a false perception that someone will thank them for what they do later. The writings themselves are not the real problem.

The most watered-down version of Breivik’s views would be generally regarded as right-wing, just as the most watered-down version of this guy’s views would be generally regarded as left-wing. But both are members of the fright wing, in which people, normally psychologically disturbed, resort to violence (or incite it) to achieve political ends. Fright-wingers can come from any place on the left-right scale. We only bring up that scale because it’s what we understand.

Therefore, it’s disingenuous to think of irrational acts such as Breivik’s through a political lens that most people consider rational. All we can really do is decide he’s crazy. And for those who were wondering, yes, he does sound like a terrorist to me.

The “goodness in people” approach to politics

In Political Theories on March 7, 2011 at 8:00 am

I think The Young Turks are hilarious as much as the next person, but their deadpan humor is best used against people like this douche and not sitting politicians. (Most of the time.) Host Cenk Uygur inadvertently brought out the worst in Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) in a Friday interview. Uygur’s theory was that congressional Republicans are intentionally declining to come up with concrete solutions for the economy in order to make President Obama look worse. McDermott’s response?

. . . you’ve pulled curtain away from what their hidden agenda is. . . . Everything they do is directed at that and what’s happening right now is their worst nightmare. Here we’ve got more jobs, and they say the only thing we should be doing is cutting spending. . . . If it costs the economy, if it costs the taxpayers, if it costs the workers – we don’t care, as long as we beat him 2012.

Can you imagine what he would have done differently if he were up for a major election? He would have chastised Uygur for assuming the worst of the GOP, then went on to criticize their proposals and explain the superior logic of his party’s approach. There was absolutely no reason for him not to do that on Friday. By portraying the Republicans as fundamentally cynical and belligerent, he has choked off any opportunity for reasoned debate.

Except in circumstances of all public opinion being stacked against your opponent, i.e. Muammar al-Gaddafi, the rule should be to expect that every political suggestion they have was made in the best interests of somebody outside themselves and/or their party or movement. That somebody could still be completely the wrong person of whom to be mindful under the circumstances. That happens with greater frequency than we’d like, and you are obligated to point that out.

But this would give you a greater sense of your opponent’s logic and help you craft a better argument. McDermott could have taken this opportunity to compare the Republican record unfavorably with Obama’s recent efforts in the job creation arena. With unemployment falling to 8.9 per cent in the latest reports, he would certainly have had plenty of ammunition.

His failure to do it this way tells me that he either doesn’t know what’s working, or was too gleeful at the chance to take a cheap shot that he forgot what it was. Let’s just say, I wouldn’t make him keynote speaker at the next Democratic National Convention.

Land of the uprising sun

In Political Theories on February 14, 2011 at 8:00 am

Another massive anti-government protest has come and gone, and for the first time in as long as I can remember, we may actually end up richer for it. Democracy advocates in Egypt are at least incrementally richer; they have gotten rid of President Hosni Mubarak, which was their principal demand, and the U.S. has positioned itself as solidly behind them. So, has this made me change my mind about the effectiveness of grassroots activism, against which I have railed so frequently?

Well, no. I have always maintained that throughout history, grassroots activism has indeed led to monumental changes. In fact, only when the changes at stake are truly monumental does it make any sort of difference. Most of the time, I speak of seemingly monthly demonstrations at North American legislatures. Egypt’s situation was, needless to say, radically different.

For starters, as much as Egypt may have looked like a democratic nation to the untrained eye, it was not. Its main opposition party was technically banned from its Parliament, and then of course there was the whole Internet crackdown business. In Canada and the United States, rallies for domestic reform are business as usual, thus governments feel free to ignore them. They know they have supporters somewhere.

The difference has been when the most fundamental civil rights were restricted, most notably during pushes for abolition for slavery and segregation. The sheer numbers of those movements were enough to make the government second-guess itself. Their arguments would have made sense regardless, but the push for that sense was the real catalyst. Under circumstances in which anyone can take a policy-making position in such pushes, they almost inevitably are of less importance.

Furthermore, Mubarak had 30 years to become complacent in his position, with no serious threats to his reign. Is it any wonder that he collapsed under the pressure after less than three weeks? He never had anything resembling a contingency plan because he never needed one. It was almost instinctive for his initial reaction to be so extreme, especially when he was reacting to something so extreme. On that note, the tactics of the protesters looked so extreme because they had no recourse.

Finally, we won’t know if their actions paid off until the current military government makes way for an elected one that takes their input seriously. So don’t start the victory march yet. There’s still work to do.

What makes an activist judge?

In Political Theories on June 28, 2010 at 8:00 am

This question has been asked by non-insiders many times, and we are fortunate to have a quick and easy definition from this article: It is when “judges have gone well beyond the original meaning of the Constitution to find rights and principles that they say are not really in there.” I will add that said imaginary rights and principles invariably suit one political ideology or another, which the judge had been suspected of wanting to do in the confirmation stage.

During this period for Solicitor General and Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, according to the above link, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will attempt to prove that one side engages in judicial activism more often than the other. In the case of Kagan, who is described here as a centrist (and God bless her for it), both the Democrats and Republicans will likely find very few political triggers. Whatever they do find, though, it is far less likely that one will have significantly more to go on.

Has it ever occurred to them that such behavior can be taken as another form of judicial activism? You don’t have to be a judge to do it; you can select them, too. This practice has been known as “borking”:

To defame or vilify (a person) systematically, esp. in the mass media, usually with the aim of preventing his or her appointment to public office; to obstruct or thwart (a person) in this way.

William Safire first used this term to describe Democratic opposition to nominee Robert Bork. (I like to think he also secretly used it to describe Bork’s sex life. Ew.) He is technically right, as their concerns lie more with his beliefs than his legal expertise. The above article estimates that accusations of judicial activism started earlier, in the Earl Warren era. And that was when he was presiding over such offensively political decisions as desegregation and a ban on official school prayer. What an asshole.

This divides judicial activism into two types: court-based, which is done by actual judges, and committee-based, which is done by the people confirming them. With someone like Bork, who is as far from a centrist as they come (in one direction, anyway), committee activism must be proportional to the court kind exhibited by the nominee. With someone like Kagan, that ratio should also be proportional: 1:1. At no time should the share of committee activism outweigh the other for fear of hypocrisy accusations.

Thus, there is one acceptable type of committee activism: the kind that ensures the judge will follow the law to the letter. The majority of the country will thank you.

The Nike approach to politics

In Political Theories on June 8, 2010 at 8:00 am

Every popular politician will one day face attacks from the Right for not being conservative enough and attacks from the Left for not being progressive enough. In a political culture seemingly dominated by these vocal and excessively rigid ideologues, this has become less of a risk than an inevitability. What neither side realizes is that they don’t deserve to dominate political culture. Only two factors do: bipartisanship and ideas that work.

The Left is distinguished from the Right in this respect for overlooking or simply ignoring the political realities of the day. Consider this piece on their annoyance with President Obama for being “too willing to compromise.” See, I was raised to believe that compromise was a good idea in itself. My mistake.

. . . progressive leaders . . . criticized the president for failing to create a government-run insurance option to compete with private industry. They faulted Obama for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the slow pace in repealing the ban on gays serving in the military and last year’s economic stimulus package, which they described as inadequate . . . They also criticized his handling of the Gulf oil spill.

Do you hear that squishy sound? That’s the sound of Grover Norquist shitting his pants.

In my experience, these feelings are typical of progressives. It’s fine for them to prefer no war over war, gays serving openly over gays serving secretly or not at all, and spending to help people now over saving to help people later. You can’t change your political values instantly. You can, however, accept that not everyone shares them and may thus slow their passage down. “Just do it” is a good credo for going to the gym, but not for legislative affairs.

The public option and more stimulus wouldn’t have left Congress because of principled concern for the deficit. It’ll take time and effort to repeal DADT and end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; you can’t build a war or the people who fight it in a day. And what would you like Obama to do about the spill? Boot all oil companies from the U.S., without taking time to research or implement alternatives? Clean a seagull with a toothbrush?

I once wrote that politicians usually have to run like a winger before getting elected in order to secure their party base. I have changed my mind about this; the progressives are right that you shouldn’t make anyone think you’re going to do anything other than what you will do. If you can’t get elected on that basis, don’t try.


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