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ngcvqkvmDemocrats continue to obsess about the tactical rather than strategic. The simple truth of electoral failure is that the Democrats lack an appealing theory of government.

It is a waste of time for Democrats to focus on the role of fake news, the Russians, October surprises, their uncharismatic candidate, the Trump kleptocracy, the impact of a Clinton-controlled party machine, or any of the rest of the inside game. These failures at the margins ignore the big strategic losses Democrats are taking.  Those losses dwarf the dirty pool and details of one election.

Simply put, Democrats are losing locally and nationally because the customer doesn’t want the product. Voters recognize that Republicans are offering false hope, but, in the words of one voter, false hope is better than no hope at all.

The product offered by Democrats is a fatal combination of stale and incoherent. Stale because, while the party faithful believe existing Democratic policies need a bigger, bolder try, the displaced or struggling American voter sees those policies as very well tried, and very well failed. This is not a messaging problem – its real.

Democrats need to consider that more-of-the-same is not going to solve middle America’s economic problems. Democrats need to design new and more useful answers to today’s challenges.

It starts by recognizing that the voters they are losing, the voters Democrats most urgently need to reach, do not look like the urban working-class. She looks like the owner of a two-truck plumbing company located 60 to 90 miles outside the urban core, or the guy who works for her. She does not want a government program, she wants the dignity of work. He recognizes that there’s a role for government intervention in the economy, but for the most part his contact with that intervention hurts rather than helps – a tax bill he can’t pay, an OSHA regulation that seems to burden his employer more than it helps.

To this American, redistribution and regulation do not ring true as answers to their problems. To this American, more government – of the kind they experience today – sounds like a burden, not a benefit.

Democrats need a new strategy for this century, for the middle American, or they will continue to lose elections.

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171016212839-john-mccain-liberty-medal-speech-medium-plus-169“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.
“We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.
John McCain at 2017 Liberty Medal Ceremony (video and transcript)

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ap-picture-477The Arpaio pardon could be the beginning of much broader lawlessness under the tacit command of the president. No doubt any others who have committed crimes on Trump’s behalf, or are thinking about it, have taken notice. Immunity might be theirs, too. The real message of the pardon has little to do with Arpaio – it is that the rest of Trump’s team should feel safe ignoring the law so long as they remain personally loyal to the president.

Arpaio and Trump have their own views on what the law should be; that much is legitimate political wrangling. However when law enforcement officers ignore the orders of their superiors in the courts, substitute their own rulings for the judiciary, they subvert the legal system that they have sworn to serve. Officers need not agree with every twist and turn in a legal process, or agree with every legal ruling, but they must always uphold the law. Anything else is lawless thuggery in an official uniform. When it’s run from the top, it’s called dictatorship.

Our Constitution provides only one remedy for a lawless president, but if law enforcement officers choose loyalty to a dazzling leader over their oath to uphold the Constitution, even that remedy may prove inadequate.

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ICBM

Since the Cold War, Presidents have had the ability to use the nation’s nuclear weapons without prior authorization by Congress.  Current law allows Presidents to shoot first and asks questions later.  This must change.  The time has come to rein in the President’s authority within traditional Constitutional limits by updating the War Powers Resolution.

Current doctrine rests on three assumptions – that unbounded Presidential authority to use the military is necessary for defense (the Necessity assumption), that the Constitution gives Presidents that authority (the Commander in Chief assumption), and that elections will reliably choose Presidents with the judgment, character and wisdom appropriate to such power (the Character assumption).  All three assumptions are false.

Necessity: Rapid military response by a President acting alone would be required in only the most extreme and unlikely scenarios.  The President’s authority to act alone can and should be limited to those situations.  Congress should update the War Powers Resolution to limit Presidential authority to take military action to emergencies in which Congress cannot be consulted, and to require that other senior officials outside of the President’s chain of command concur with the President’s judgement.  An exception should be made in only the most exigent circumstances.

Commander in Chief: Presidential authority to command the military is not absolute.  Military commanders, including the Commander in Chief, are always limited to the lawful use of forces under their command.  As the Constitution puts it, the President’s authority as Commander in Chief applies only “when called into the actual Service of the United States”.  Congress has the sole authority to make war and define the lawful parameters under which the Commander operates.

It has always been so throughout history.   It is the Sovereign power of a country which delegates military authority to Commanders, such as the President; Commanders have no self-authorizing power to make war.  For the United States, the sovereign power to make war is vested solely in Congress.

Character:  Presidential elections sometimes fail to bring us leaders who are widely trusted, both Democrats and Republicans.  At times this has been more obvious, troubling and dangerous.  However well chosen a President may be, it is unwise to delegate too much power to any one person.  We are flawed creatures, and our Constitution was designed to provide a measure of protection from human frailties.

Irresponsible Presidents are a rarity, but we cannot rely on that alone.  We need an updated War Powers Resolution to provide rapid defense in emergencies, but to deny any President the means to start unauthorized war.  Any broader authority subverts the Constitution, and places us all at untenable risk.

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A selfish world is not in our interests.  The paradox of America First is that it not only harms our trading partners and our strategic partners, it forces them to do the same to us and others.  Trade and international relations, like friendship or marriage, is not a zero sum game.  Taking care of one’s constituents is what politicians are supposed to do.  Doing that well requires vision and wisdom one only hopes this administration will acquire before too much damage is done.

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888310_40006bf856fa4889a769e8d5541e98d4The on-going clash between left and right is putting at risk the stability of Constitutional democracy, the rule of law, peace, and prosperity.  Conservatives and Liberals must stop shouting at each other long enough to notice and protect more important shared values, and to halt the destruction of institutions in motion now that threatens to destroy us all.

Left and right speak to some common goals including shared prosperity, and respect for democracy and the rule of law.  Where left and right part is the means.  Left sees state intervention on behalf of those who struggle as the means to shared prosperity, whereas right sees less fettered market forces as the means to shared prosperity.

Neocons and demagogues push the right a fatal step further – they see the destruction of the state as legitimate means to an end.  Economic self-interest has been perverted into hostility to the state, hostility to foreigners, and hostility to stabilizing international norms and institutions.  For some conservatives, it has been a convenient rhetorical tool to sell limited taxation and regulation at the ballot box.  However most conservatives never sought to destroy the institutions of democracy.

Now, reap the whirlwind.  The destruction of the state and the rise of demagogues is a danger to all, right and left.

[H]istory tells us where this leads – demonizing foreigners, domestic political opponents, and the judiciary, domestic strife, calls to violence, and the inevitable final refuge of struggling dictators – war

That brings us to Thomas Picketty, whose simple and unassailable observation about income and wealth reveals a dangerous failure to deliver on the promise.  Left and right can debate why until the cows come home.  What’s undeniable is that the status quo isn’t working well enough for too many of us.  That is an unstable situation, and it is a fundamental threat to peace, prosperity and democracy.

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The #1 most pressing problem is that left and right are dissipating all their energies debating the means to prosperity, and are missing out on the far more important shared concern.  Demagogues and authoritarians seek to destroy the state as a path to free markets and personal power.  They will take us all down with them if we do not act.  The green elephant in the room (above) threatens to destroy us all.

The hope is in a faith that unites many: Constitutional democracy, rule of law, state institutions, the international security architecture, and a kind of global integration good for all.  This is where we must turn our attention.

This is a call for good people on the right and left to put aside the questions that divide, for a time, and turn to the far more urgent problem – how do we preserve Constitutional democracy, the international security architecture, peace, and human decency against the rising tide of nationalism, foolish demagoguery, authoritarianism, and ill-informed or malevolent leadership?

If we don’t act, history tells us where this leads – demonizing foreigners, domestic political opponents, and the judiciary, domestic strife, calls to violence, and the inevitable final refuge of struggling dictators – war.

Don’t wait until it’s too late.

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citizenshipThere are many grounds to criticize the immigration order, but a Muslim ban it is not.

The order is harsh, ambiguous, and appears to have had inadequate internal review before being published.  Moreover, the idea itself is a blunt, likely ineffective or counter-productive policy tool. But it is not a Muslim ban.  Reporting it that way undermines credibility of the very institutions whose credibility is needed to hold the Trump administration to account.

The order should have a sunset provision, provision for the screening of friends and such as translators for the State Department and military, and should move from blanket ban to individualized, careful screening as quickly as possible.

Criticism of the order is justified, but it should focus on the actual flaws, better alternatives, and avoid hyperbole.

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