I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A few random thoughts on politics

Driving home tonight, I was listening to news about Arlen Specter switching to the Democrats. I'm not happy about it, not because I particularly like any Republican policy, but because I did like that there was at least still some small sliver of a balance of power.

On the other hand, in a way that has never really happened in my lifetime, it's interesting that one party really owns all the responsibility for managing the country's problems at the moment. Since Republican's can't pull off a filibuster even with 100% solidarity, and since the Democrats have a firm majority in the house, there really is no excuse at all for the Democrats not to fulfill their collective promises. Claims of republican obstruction are going to ring hollow. On a wide range of topics, from climate change, to fuel supplies, to foreign policy, to health care, the Democrats will be left with two choices: Act, or try to blame Bush.

I suspect we'll see the later strategy. I don't think Democrats are truly eager to enact rigid carbon caps; they have to know that this would strangle the economy at the worst possible time. I predict, instead, that they will hem and haw and commission on it, then enact some legislation that goes into effect in 2016, after Obama's out of office. When pressed why they aren't acting more aggressively now that they hold all the reins of power, they'll say that their hands are tied by the economic stagnation that Bush created. Any foreign policy that doesn't go their way: Bush poisoned the waters.

And, I think this will have some traction for a year or two, but, long term, the democrats are going to really have to figure out how they are going to placate their most rabid members. Bush's blood will only sustain them so long. Eventually, all the interesting fights will be democrat versus democrat.

Here's an idea I had that may be the Republican's last hope of wielding any power: Every last member of the house and senate should switch their party affiliation to Democrat. Just have the republican party fold up shop, and flood the ranks of the Dems with conservatives, who will then have a real shot at building political coalitions with moderates. Remove the power of party labels by putting everyone under one umbrella, and shift the debate from what defines a party to what defines the individual members.

I know it won't happen, but it's still an interesting thought. I suspect the republicans will just hold on, hoping for the day that the democrats stumble badly enough to bring them back to power, which certainly will happen one day. After all, I don't think the Democrats owe their present popularity and power to Barack Obama--I think the real savior of the democratic party was George Bush.


Loren Eaton said...

Remove the power of party labels by putting everyone under one umbrella, and shift the debate from what defines a party to what defines the individual members.I find myself liking this idea quite a bit ...

Estellye said...

I've always thought partisan politics and career politicians combine to be the bane of our republic. Of course doing it the right way wouldn't work unless everyone took the time to get to know about candidates on their individual merits. Our (sponsored) apathy is what brought us to this in the first place.

So we get a congress more similar to "Survivor: DC". Alliances are made and violated, and doing as little as possible to avoid controversy ensures nobody votes you off the island (as long as you can take credit for what accidentally works and place blame elsewhere for what inevitably doesn't). That's all our political parties are, power brokered alliances.

Great comments! I'm Gina, btw, one of the people who sat in on your interview at RavenCon. It was a pleasure meeting you, and I am still very much enjoying "Nobody"!

James Maxey said...

Gina, welcome to the blog.

Loren, last night when I was thinking about the idea of all Republicans switching to Democrats, I really hadn't thought out the ramifications. Now that I've had another day to mull it over... I really can't for the life of me figure out what's wrong with the idea, other than that it just will never happen. But, impossibility doesn't spoil it's merits, I feel.

The existence of parties allows Americans to root for "teams," as if politics is just sport. Usually, people pick thier teams early in life and stick with them. It can, I think, lead to some rather lazy thought processes. The parties change and evolve, but people are too in love with the labels to notice. For instance, some folks who were radical in the sixties may lead rather conservative lives now, and might actually find themselves secretly in agreement with a republican cornerstone like, say, free trade, but could never vote for a Republican because of what Nixon did. Some republicans today still talk about Ronald Reagan with such fervor as the idea politician that it almost breaks your heart to point out that he's dead. They really seem to be waiting for his return so they can come out of the political wilderness. It spares them the effort of actually having to think and choose among current candidates.

And, right now, the biggest thing holding back third parties is the fact that people believe they can't win. If all the third parties were democrats as well, then, no problem, democrats win all the time!

Ah, well, it's a pleasant fantasy. Too bad it's doomed as reality.

Mr_Proteus said...

I like your thinking. It's just crazy enough to work.

Sometimes you wonder if these politicians are like the dog that caught the truck. They are all standing around saying, "Now what?"

James Maxey said...

Welcome to the Blog, Mr. Proteus! I do think that the sense of "what do we do now?" has to be settling in rather heavily among Democrats at the moment. For the next two years, they pretty much have the freedom to pass whatever legislation they want. I think what we're likely to discover is that the legislation they actually want to pass is going to fall far short of what their supporters want to see pass. Some of their supporters are going to be asking some tough questions very soon, I think.

If we can't pass single payer health care in the next two years, when will the political winds ever be right? It's difficult to imagine the majorities growing significantly from where they're at now. What about climate change legislation? Serious regulatory oversight for walstreet? Actual immigration reform?

I probably oppose many of the things they would do. But, if they don't do them, I think it exposes the truth about who they represent: Corporations, rather than citizens.

Of course, perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps they will legislate exactly what they promise.

In which case, we're doomed....

Mr_Proteus said...

James, I agree that Democrats probably want to keep a few rounds holstered for later. I mean, if they actually passed universal healthcare, it would be one less thing they could use as a carrot in future elections.

But that's too cynical. In reality, it takes time to pass legislation. The budget itself takes months to agree upon. Then there is union card-check, and now a Supreme Court nomination (or two).

That gets me to my other point. Legislation is just too old fashion and slow. The true power comes by way of the courts. A congressman faces the electorate every 2 years. A president every 4. A senator every 6. But a Supreme Court justice stays on the bench until he croaks. And he (or she) gets to decide what the Constitution actually says. That's power. Democrats know this. Why pass a bill that says "Health insurance for all" when the courts can just mandate it? (I'm not predicting it will happen that way; it's just an example).

Better yet, look at the gay marriage issue. Legislatively the pro gay marriage side has lost, but they are winning in the courts.

I've wandered off topic. I wanted to agree with you about the "corporations, not citizens" comment. I mean, why spend billions bailing out the banks when you could give that money directly to the citizens? Imagine how many votes you could buy with that? That's democracy for you. We get what we deserve.

James Maxey said...

"Why pass a bill that says "Health insurance for all" when the courts can just mandate it?"

Hopefully you're being sarcastic here, Mr. P. The main reason "why" is that our political system was designed to give the power to make law to one branch of government only, the branch most controlled (theoretically) by the people. I'm something of a Supreme Court junkie, and follow thier actions closely. I think they are at their best when they are making decisions as to what can't be legislated. For instance, many of thier civil rights rulings exist mainly to strike down unfair laws like poll taxes or segregated classrooms. This is definitely within their constitutional limits.

I'm someone who supports gay marriage. I honestly can't think of a single argument against it that makes sense to me on any level. Still, I don't think this is something the courts should be enacting. I think it's up to those of us who think this is a good idea to pursuade those who oppose it, until we vote in a sufficient number of people who will reflect our views. This might take decades, but it's still preferable to enacting laws via proclamation rather than legislation.

Finally, I do worry sometimes that I'm being too cynical in my posts here. Not that I don't think reality supports cynicism, but because cynicism breeds apathy. The greatest danger of our democracy was never that our legislators would become corrupt with power. Honestly, or constitution seems to have been written with the assumption that humans who attain power may possibly abuse it. So, they gave the ultimate power to the citizens with elections every two, four, and six years. No politician who abuses the public trust should be able to remain in power long. They only reason they can and do is because the citizens haven't kept up their end of the bargain. Half of us can't be bothered with voting, and half of those who do vote seem to do so mindlessly, supporting one team or another, D or R, with the same level of fervor that one supports a sports team. You wind up with small factions of the population who both care enough about the government to keep themselves vigilantly educated, and who haven't succumbed to despair.

I actually am probably a fairly lousy citizen. I try to stay informed on most issues, but I've lost the spark of hope that would let me get out and really work to support a candidate. For instance, I loathe my congressman, David Price. I think he's the ultimate example of a representative with nothing to fear from voters, in a gerymandered district where I doubt he could lose even if it was discovered that in his spare time he hunts small children for sport. But, while I always vote against him, I've never truly supported anyone who runs against him with money or time. I've never even bothered to stick a campaign sign in my yard. I have knowledge, but it's neutralized by apathy and pessimism.

Ultimately, it's as you say. We get the government we deserve, and we have only ourselves to blame for not demanding better.

Mr_Proteus said...

It's quite easy to get frustrated with politics. Another thing it does is discourage honest people from running for office, because they are not willing to do what it takes to get elected.

I don't believe politics necessarily corrupts good people. It's more likely a "garbage in, garbage out" situation. If Jesus ran for office, he would be smeared. The only defense is to engage in smears of your own, and only certain types of people are prepared to do that.

Thankfully the big event happens only once in 4 years. That gives us time to recover from the previous one.

Drakonis said...

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