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Grandstanding, not Governing

Unpatriotic! Unconstitutional! Treasonous! Illegal! The reaction to the letter signed by 47 Senators telling Iran that any treaty signed will be un-done in two years was swift and brutal. Some of the harshest condemnation came from those who oppose any agreement with Iran, too, so it wasn’t just Democrats this time. But was it really all those things that have been alleged?

The short answer is that today’s popular media always hyperventilates, so something this unprecedented had to test the limits of hyperbole. Sorry, this blasted through the stratosphere of outrage! But the real problem isn’t this one action, which we can be sure our foreign policy and our democratic-republic will survive. What is more troubling is the new standard set for obstruction and grandstanding that tells us nothing, absolutely nothing, is going to be accomplished in the next two years.

Sen Tom Cotton (R-AR).  Yes, he is that wet behind the ears.

Sen Tom Cotton (R-AR). Yes, he is that wet behind the ears.

We have to start with how this became a news item in the first place. Sen Tom Cotton (R-AR) is not just a rookie, at 37 years old he’s barely old enough to be a Senator in the first place. He apparently circulated the letter to his more experienced and august colleges who promptly signed onto it, which gives us the first odd thing at the heart of this sorry event.

I may not be an expert on Senate protocol, but I’m fairly sure that in the past the (very) old men of the Senate would have laughed at the gumption and moxie of this young feller and told him how things are done in the protocol-bound Senate. But in 2015 they didn’t. All the Republican senators except seven, including all of the leadership, signed on.

It is leadership which lies at the heart of this question. Barataria asked in November, when the Republicans took the Senate, if they were going to govern or lay low and take pot-shots at Obama. We know the answer now, and it has nothing to do with a choice made by the leadership.

When I say I'd like to reform the tax code, I'm lying.  This is what I want to do with it.

When I say I’d like to reform the tax code, I’m lying. This is what I want to do with it.

Now, as a Democrat, I should be happy that they are incapable of doing anything. What would happen if they actually passed a balanced budget, for example? Given that they haven’t passed an actual budget of any kind  in the House since the Republicans took over there is little to fear that this could happen.

But that’s not good enough. I’m an American first. I see the massive amount of reform needed in our tax code and our inability to audit the Pentagon as we sweep it all under the carpet for the next generation to deal with as debt and I frankly get angry. It’s not a partisan anger about the direction of things, it’s a practical anger at the directionless incompetence displayed.

These little fits of machismo demonstrate what the real problem is, it seems. There is no reward for actual work being done – Hell, if anything, a legislative record is a liability as accomplishment only makes you enemies. We live in a time made for grandstanding without a cause led by rebels without a reason. Shouting past each other is given as a substitute for running the nation somehow.

It's a bit much to call it treason, but it was dumb.  And this is a paper that is against negotiating with Iran.

It’s a bit much to call it treason, but it was dumb. And this is a paper that is against negotiating with Iran.

It goes without saying that Iran is far from popular, as Barataria demonstrated just last week. While peace is obviously desirable, Iran’s track record for mayhem has made them the enemy not just of the United States but truly the enemy deep in the hearts of the vast majority of Americans. That’s why Obama’s response, that the Republicans had formed an alliance with the mullahs of Iran who also take a hard line and resist peace, was perfect.

But it became even worse when the Iranian Foreign Minister, Dr. Javad Zarif, took the opportunity to school the Senators in both international and US law. Yes, this little episode only managed to make Iran look like the sane one in the whole process, which doesn’t help either the hawkish or the dovish side.

Which gets us back to the real problem on display here – there is no leadership. The young guy with what “feels like” a good idea is able to cow elected “leaders” in name only into going along with something that should have seemed like a really stupid idea to anyone who could ever claim to be a “statesman”. Apparently, there are only seven such Senators in the ruling Republican caucus.

That’s what is truly pathetic about this sorry episode. It’s not treason or anything like that which hurts the US, it’s the willful, deliberate incompetence wrapped with high-volume grandstanding.

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24 thoughts on “Grandstanding, not Governing

  1. I spent much of the day at the Minnesota Legislature and left realizing that my respect for the institution is less after every encounter. Yet Minnesota seems to be better governed overall than most US states. Is this a common reaction? I dunno. The Republican party is becoming a party of elected cranks. Treason? I don’t know. But if a private citizen did what Cotton did he would likely be prosecuted for something. Especially under Obama, who seems to like criminalizing trouble-making citizens.

    • My feelings exactly. Our state is run well, and most states actually are. But to watch the legislature in action is sickening all the same. At the Federal level it is totally dysfunctional at best.
      Treason? I wouldn’t go that far. But it sure was dumb.

  2. I’m just as disillusioned with the mainstream media. In the UK a journalist, now formerly of The Daily Telegraph, resigned about his employer doing ‘click-here’ stories.

    However, some alternative blogs are just as bad… Take DeSmog as an example. They claim to be clearing the PR rubbish from climate change, yet they’re repeating articles as I might read by a Guardian journalist on the same ‘big issues’ etc or ‘George Osborne ate … with …’ type drivel. I also really dislike being told to be shocked and appalled at a big-coal/oil CEO being a climate denier.

    My sentiments are best summed up in the words of one academic who said: “Climate change isn’t about icebergs and polar bears.”

    • If the US could build nukes from scratch in 2-3 years in the 1940s, it seems obvious that Iran could build them without too much trouble. The North Koreans did it, and that has obviously given them a lot of leverage….

    • The state of journalism is very appalling, and does have a lot to do with the “instant reaction” that propels grandstanding.
      The way that blogs repeat stories and then add or conflate things that should not be present is very disturbing. I am trying to set a higher standard, but I am just one person. What is more important to me is that we have great discussion and comments from people like you – telling me where I’m wrong and modifying where I’m half-right. I think this works pretty well all in all.
      So thank you for commenting! And yes, climate change isn’t about polar bears. In my family when we do something not quite environmentally friendly, like eat fast food in the car, we joke that “The polar bears are gonna take it for this one.” It’s crass, it’s silly, but we have fun with it. It’s a reminder that this is a bigger issue than most of us can handle.

    • Thank you! And you do have a good point. We have a tremendous nuclear arsenal still, and the scandals relating to how we operate it are rather scary. That might be a good way to get some movement on the issue as we disarm.

  3. I dunno.
    Democrats are angelic
    Republicans are demonic
    The cause justifies mendacity (quote from Hilary’s email to me)
    That damn European founders really fucked up the new world
    Democrats will set US straight in the woodshed.
    We will make the plainly better world love despicable US.
    If only everyone would quit coming here…

  4. “The polar bears are gonna take it for this one.” Makes me chuckle. My favourite thing to do on pay day is to have a fast-food lunch, wash it down with a coffee whilst I pollute the atmosphere with cigarette smoke (coffee and cigarettes, is a great feeling). I also spend money on dead trees – be that in newspaper, magazine, book or writing pad form.

    I wasn’t having a gripe at yourself. I saw what you wrote, more as comment about the media, but using the specific example. The biggest divergence I’ve had with activists is about fracking. They say “if fracking goes ahead, this proves we’re not in a democracy.” Statements like that, always prompts me to think about the other side of the story (in the case of fracking, supposed, clean and cheap energy). I also stopped logging in to social media as I couldn’t deal with everyone sharing the same stuff, mostly memes – just about the worst form of political activism.

    My general views are probably more in tune with The Guardian, New York Times and Washington Post (I occasionally read The Economist and Wall Street Journal which has really well-informed special reports/features). I’ve not read the LA Times, ever. They’re international publications, so I expect them to report on the big issues – desertification, rising sea levels in the Ganges delta, fracking or Keystone XL etc. I was really impressed when Rolling Stone writer Jeff Goodell wrote about the recent ‘secret’ US-China environment deal (the article was in the Seth Rogan issue).

    One of the reasons I like working with NurPhoto, its allowing me to think – what else is there? How do I make my photography better/reportage better? Community energy projects. All those things I wanted to do for Demotix, but got told *not* to do. Solutions, as well. I’m more interested in looking at the specific, related to the big picture (just easier to manage and keep me going).

    As regards, nuclear arms. I’m really undecided. I can accept that its better to have and not need, than to need and not have, especially if the ‘enemy’ have them (the whole mutually assured destruction thing). In that scenario, unilateral disarmament requires one to back down and the other to respond. The problem is that you’re then second guessing what ‘the other’ might do. However, I don’t like the indiscriminate nature of their killing power. At least with hand-to-hand fighting, you can argue, its a *focused* target rather than a *numbers* target.

    Keep ’em coming! If only, but also, because the International New York Times is really annoying to read – its thin, huge and, a little on the expensive side! I’m going to watch some more House of Cards, now.

  5. C’mon, it’s not like Cotton beheaded or tortured anyone.

    When is the alternative media going pay more attention to E. Warren’s policy positions. Or how about some DFLers bloggers who discuss the good and bad things about Klobuchar and Frank and Dayton.

    Oops, sorry, top Minnesota DFL politicians are not discussed much.

  6. An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran:

    It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system. Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution—the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices—which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress.

    First, under our Constitution, while the president negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them. In the case of a treaty, the Senate must ratify it by a two-thirds vote. A so-called congressional-executive agreement requires a majority vote in both the House and the Senate (which, because of procedural rules, effectively means a three-fifths vote in the Senate). Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement.

    Second, the offices of our Constitution have different characteristics. For example, the president may serve only two 4-year terms, whereas senators may serve an unlimited number of 6-year terms. As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then—perhaps decades.

    What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.

    We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress.


    Senator Tom Cotton, R-AR
    Senator Orrin Hatch, R-UT
    Senator Charles Grassley, R-IA
    Senator Mitch McConnell, R-KY
    Senator Richard Shelby, R-AL
    Senator John McCain, R-AZ
    Senator James Inhofe, R-OK
    Senator Pat Roberts, R-KS
    Senator Jeff Sessions, R-AL
    Senator Michael Enzi, R-WY
    Senator Michael Crapo, R-ID
    Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC
    Senator John Cornyn, R-TX
    Senator Richard Burr, R-NC
    Senator John Thune, R-SD
    Senator Johnny Isakson, R-GA
    Senator David Vitter, R-LA
    Senator John A. Barrasso, R-WY
    Senator Roger Wicker, R-MS
    Senator Jim Risch, R-ID
    Senator Mark Kirk, R-IL
    Senator Roy Blunt, R-MO
    Senator Jerry Moran, R-KS
    Senator Rob Portman, R-OH
    Senator John Boozman, R-AR
    Senator Pat Toomey, R-PA
    Senator John Hoeven, R-ND
    Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL
    Senator Ron Johnson, R-WI
    Senator Rand Paul, R-KY
    Senator Mike Lee, R-UT
    Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-NH
    Senator Dean Heller, R-NV
    Senator Tim Scott, R-SC
    Senator Ted Cruz, R-TX
    Senator Deb Fischer, R-NE
    Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV
    Senator Bill Cassidy, R-LA
    Senator Cory Gardner, R-CO
    Senator James Lankford, R-OK
    Senator Steve Daines, R-MT
    Senator Mike Rounds, R-SD
    Senator David Perdue, R-GA
    Senator Thom Tillis, R-NC
    Senator Joni Ernst, R-IA
    Senator Ben Sasse, R-NE
    Senator Dan Sullivan, R-AK
    Senator Erik Hare, DFL

  7. The letter is just a method of getting the Republican point of view across. The Iranians are supposed to be able to prove that they don’t have the ability to build a nuclear weapon in return for the sanctions being lifted. If they just keep things hidden, then what is the point of lifting the sanctions.

    Being mad at the letter–that is just inside baseball stuff that Erik writes about to get his own point across.

    I don’t know that you can undo a multilateral agreement, if Iran is able to demonstrate proof on an ongoing basis in the future.

    What Republicans are saying however is that there are always diplomatic, economic, and military options if Iran persists in an expansionary foreign policy mode.

    What Erik said starting with an apology to Iran is just nonsense from the Republican viewpoint.

    • Hold on now – I am NOT saying we should apologize – I’m saying we BOTH have to apologize systematically. And I’m saying that this is about far more than just nukes – we have to get Iran to stop supporting Hamas, etc. If we can do that at the negotiating table we damned well should. Anyone have any other method to get that to happen? If you do, I’m all ears.

      • Ok.

        Injecting themselves into the Palestinian/ Israel/ Arab mess is kind of what Iran, in it current configuration is all about.

        Iran doesn’t like the Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, US relationship. Iran likes Russia, Syria, factions inside of Lebanon. Iran is anti Israel. Pro Hamas, maybe they are still sore about the Egypt Israel treaty or Israel’s relationship with Jordan.

        Iran thinks in anti-imperialist terms. Okay, colonialism blah blah blah.

        The United States runs the world because we were victorious in World War II and we helped bring down the Soviet Union. That is just the way it is. I can’t help it if the US emerged as a great power after WW 2. What were we supposed to do after Europe tries destroying itself.

        The US gives more rights to its own people than any other nation in the world. We didn’t start WW i and ii. British foreign policy is what screwed up the middle east.

        The US is not going to let China and Russia rule the world. China and Russia are just getting used to not violating human rights in massive ways. China is working on their political theory. They have to read up on a few philosophers. Maybe John Locke.

        The countries of the middle east need a treaty with Israel. The middle east can work on development

  8. It’s actually not unprecedented. http://newsbusters.org/blogs/kyle-drennen/2015/03/10/msnbc-falsely-claims-no-precedent-congress-defying-president-foreign There’s another article in the NY Times too.

    [I am not a republican and I am not a democrat.]

    Congress’ job is to represent their constituents. The GOP senators are not only representing the people of their states in the letter but they are representing the GOP’s concerns. The GOP reflects their voters’ concerns, much in the same manner that the Dems represent democratic concerns. I do not understand the shock many exhibit when our politicians don’t compromise and therefore don’t get things done.

    I don’t recall complaints from democrats when they held both houses of congress for two years and there wasn’t compromise with the GOP. If we want compromise, which I don’t believe we do, then we need to start in our own parties and elect people who have histories of voting with the other party. But that is political suicide. We don’t want our reps to ‘cave’. Dems didn’t on healthcare. And I am quite certain there are numerous instances of the GOP not caving either.

    One reason the GOP senators wrote the letter is because of the closed door attitude of our political atmosphere. The president is not interested in hearing anyone who disagrees with him. Very unlike one of my favorite presidents, President Clinton. He did compromise. He did listen to opposing viewpoints. He did ask to be educated on subjects he knew little about. This president and the last one, I hate to tell you all, are not that different. We voted them in. TWICE! They both got us into wars. They both claimed to work with the other side and this one especially doesn’t. They both spent unseemly amounts of money as if it were monopoly money. If you think there’s a huge difference, then my point here is made.

    As long as we demand our politicians ‘toe the hard line’ don’t expect anything to get done; we can’t expect concessions that we aren’t willing to extend first. I hope more people leave the two parties that have brought us to this point in history. For now, sit back and enjoy gridlock. It’s what we voted for these last 14 years.

    • I stand corrected on the interference in foreign policy – while it’s rare, it’s hardly unprecedented. And I do firmly believe that talk about “traitors!” is way over-blown. Let the public decide – although in foreign policy a little more prudence is needed.
      Is Obama that different from Bush when it comes to War? Not different enough for me, to be honest. Your points are well taken all around, and I do want to see a new view on all of this. Desperately.
      The world is changing – our relationship to it must change as well!

  9. Pingback: Exit Boehner, Enter …. ? | Barataria - The work of Erik Hare

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