Which Party Will Be Conservative Today?

Today, a majority of the members of the House of Representatives is expected to pass at least one Article of Impeachment against President Trump related to a series of events that includes a call in which the President of the United States asked the leader of a dependent and vulnerable foreign ally to investigate another American, one of his electoral rivals. It is anticipated that the vast majority of the Representatives affiliated with the Democratic Party – the party of progressives, liberals, socialists, and other unreliables — will vote for the Articles. It is further anticipated that not one House member affiliated with the Republican Party – the party of avowed conservatives, proclaimed strict constructionists, and staunch defenders of the cultural mores that have made America great — will support the Articles.

The Englishman Edmund Burke is considered one of the founding fathers of modern conservative thought – a philosophy which embraces social order and the belief that reliance upon traditional institutions, community, and customs is the best way for a society to advance itself. In 1790, Mr. Burke wrote in Reflections on the Revolution in France:

“[T]he steady maxims of faith, justice, and fixed fundamental policy are perfectly intelligible and perfectly binding upon those who exercise any authority, under any name or under any title, in the state. …. [T]he House of Commons cannot renounce its share of authority. The engagement and pact of society, which generally goes by the name of the constitution, forbids such invasion and such surrender. The constituent parts of a state are obliged to hold their public faith with each other and with all those who derive any serious interest under their entanglements … Otherwise competence and power would soon be confounded and no law be left but the will of a prevailing force.”

Addressing his constituents in the city of Bristol, Mr. Burke once declared:

“[A representative’s] unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

No one can be so naïve as to believe that if Mr. Trump was a Democrat, the Democratic Representatives would be so steadfastly voting to impeach him. Even so, since the substance of the interactions between Mr. Trump, his cohort, and Ukrainian officials is undisputed, if the House vote unfolds today as anticipated, which party, according to Mr. Burke’s precepts, should be considered the more conservative?

Presidential Poker

“Our Crazy, Do Nothing … Speaker of the House, Nervous Nancy Pelosi … suggested … that I testify about the phony Impeachment Witch Hunt. She also said I could do it in writing. Even though I did nothing wrong, and don’t like giving credibility to this No Due Process Hoax, I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!”

  • Tweet by President Donald J. Trump, November 18, 2019

It is universally expected that this week, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives will approve Articles of Impeachment against President Trump and send them to the Republican-controlled Senate for an Impeachment trial, where it is equally universally expected that he will be acquitted. Where reports differ is whether the Republicans will elect to conduct a streamlined trial involving little new evidence or have an extended proceeding. There are reports that the White House would like a reality show extravaganza involving witnesses such as former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, to testify regarding their activities in Ukraine during the Obama Administration. As a counter, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has written a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, requesting that the Senate call former National Security Advisor John Bolton and Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. [If I ever had a shred of sympathy for Mr. McConnell, it would be now. ;)]

Assume that, as we have been told and despite the Republicans’ loud protestations to the contrary, Joe Biden did nothing inappropriate in executing his role on U.S. Ukraine policy during the Obama Administration and that Hunter Biden did nothing illegal (although smarmy) in joining or serving on the board of directors of the Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.

If I was advising Mr. Biden today, I would suggest that he consider calling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Mr. Schumer, talking to them alone – the phones in their ears, none of their staffers in the loop – and indicating that he would be willing to go to the podium as soon as the Articles of Impeachment pass the House and state: if the Republicans want him to testify at the President’s Senate impeachment trial, he is willing to come, without need of subpoena and waiving any right to claim his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and other rights and privileges, to testify publicly about his Ukraine activities … provided that President Trump also publicly testifies at the Senate trial about all of his activities related to Ukraine [put a time frame around it, to protect current Ukraine-related discussions] on the same basis and with the same waivers. In the statement, Mr. Biden would ask to be given access to all government documents relating to his Ukraine activities to refresh his recollection, in the same way as the President would undoubtedly review documents to refresh his recollection. He would conclude his statement: the President said he would consider testifying in the impeachment proceedings … it’s time for him to man up.

If I was Ms. Pelosi or Mr. Schumer, the questions would be: Have the House impeachment proceedings created sufficient misgivings within the persuadable segment of the electorate that although the President is going to be acquitted in the Senate, they’ll prevail in the election – making Mr. Biden’s overture risky? Or are they concerned enough that the President will be able to spin his Senate acquittal into an “exoneration” such an overture by Mr. Biden would be a way to put Mr. Trump in a precarious, and perhaps no-win, position?

If the above assumptions about the Bidens are accurate, the advantages of the strategy for Mr. Biden (and in some ways, for the Democrats) are obvious: it elevates him to the presidential level against Mr. Trump, triggering a Democratic tribal instinct and essentially reducing his Democratic presidential nomination adversaries to a band of dwarfs; whether or not Mr. Biden testifies, it will raise doubts among even vehement Trump supporters as to whether he did anything wrong; it will leave all Americans with the impression that if Mr. Biden and/or his son are subpoenaed by the Republican-controlled Senate without a corresponding appearance by Mr. Trump and perhaps key Trump aides, the Republicans are unfair whitewashers; if Mr. Trump doesn’t testify – no matter what excuse he gives — he will look weak (and spawn endless Democratic ads declaring that he wasn’t man enough to face Mr. Biden); and if he does testify, he’ll most probably perjure himself in a manner that can be readily detected. An added bonus: with the possible exception of Trump Personal Lawyer Rudy Giuliani, any other high-ranking Trump Administration official called to testify – Messrs. Bolton and Mulvaney, or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — will almost certainly testify truthfully, because like Amb. Gordon Sondland, the witness won’t want to risk going to jail for perjury.

For Mr. Biden, the disadvantages – even if the introductory assumptions about the Bidens are accurate — are equally obvious: one illusory, one real. The illusory first: can Mr. Biden handle the Senate Republicans’ grilling? Will he wobble too much? If he can’t, he’s no longer up to the presidency. The real disadvantage: The Republicans would undoubtedly call Hunter to testify; even if the Democrats are successful in getting the Republicans to produce a high-ranking Administration official in return, how would Hunter fare? Even if he hasn’t done anything illegal, he’s not a public performer; can he handle the grilling? Republicans will wish to delve into parts of his background which, like his Ukrainian experience, are somewhat unsavory; can he be sufficiently prepared, through grilling by the nastiest Democrats, before he actually testifies? Does the senior Biden want to put him through that? Is the presidency worth that to him? At the same time: How likely is it that Hunter will end up testifying at the Senate trial anyway? If it’s likely, wouldn’t it be better to grab the high ground?

Now is the time to decide; if the Republicans announce that they are going to conduct an extended process and call the Bidens as witnesses, Mr. Biden has lost the edge.

How do the parties like the hands they hold? Does either want to raise the ante?

False Idol – the Christian Right and Donald Trump

Below is a link to a Rolling Stone article recently given me by a close friend, describing the genesis and evolution of the Christian Right’s support of President Trump. The author, Alex Morris, comes from an Alabama Evangelical family.  I found the article both insightful and poignant. While describing the bases of the Christian Right leadership’s rabid allegiance to Mr. Trump in stark terms, Mr. Morris also provides a helpful and sympathetic description of those of our people, including members of his family, who sincerely hold their views. Among his observations:

I’m [in Alabama] to speak with my family about Trump, though I don’t relish the prospect. Like so many in America, I watched their conversion to him happen slowly, grow from bemusement to grudging support, then to wholehearted acceptance, and then to fervor. In many ways, I was sensitive to the way they — and their thinking — were being portrayed in the media. But that’s not why I don’t want to talk to them about it. I don’t want to talk to them about it because I don’t want them to fear for my soul.”


Making Federal Election Day a National Holiday: A Postscript: V Day

In January of this year, I entered a post, “Making Federal Election Day a National Holiday,” noting that the then-new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives had introduced a bill that included a provision designating federal election days as paid holidays for federal workers, that Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had sharply criticized the bill, and that it was obvious that Sen. McConnell’s opposition was an admission that at least in politically purple areas of the country, the more people that vote, the better that the Democrats fare. At the same time, I acknowledged that at a time of spiraling federal deficits, it was appropriate to avoid increasing federal costs without attendant productivity gains, and accordingly suggested that we might in effect combine a “Federal Election Day” federal holiday and Washington’s Birthday, with Election Day being the holiday provided federal employees in voting years and Washington’s Birthday being retained as their holiday in non-voting years.

As we are on the cusp of another federal election year, and being completely aware that no changes to our federal holiday structure that enhance Democrats’ electoral prospects will pass a Republican-controlled Senate, I nonetheless want to call attention to a Comment I received from a close friend not long after I entered my post. He agreed with my general premise but outlined a way to make it manifestly more practical, stating, in part, as follows:

“I would propose the combination of Veterans Day with Voting Day (Federal Election Day)…. By combining Veterans Day with … Election Day we would increase the acknowledgement of the sacrifice made by our veterans and be able to participate in that form of government for which it was made…. Also, Veterans Day is celebrated in November which would/could align with our normal November Elections.”

I discovered through a little research what I am a bit chagrined to admit that I didn’t already know – that Veterans Day is observed on November 11 to commemorate the formal end of the major hostilities of World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. While the rationale for observing Veterans Day on November 11 therefore retains significance, I will venture that perhaps no American alive today actually remembers the end of World War I. We have unfortunately developed thousands upon thousands of veterans of wars more recent than the Great War. Moving the Veterans Day holiday from November 11 to the first Tuesday after November 1 should seemingly raise little concern, wouldn’t increase our federal cost, and would, as our friend noted, enable more of our people to exercise arguably the most fundamental right for which veterans have made their sacrifice. It might also result in a broader and deeper remembrance of our veterans’ dedication, more akin to Memorial Day.

I have only a cosmetic suggestion to add to our friend’s substantive proposal: that the holiday might be called, “V [as in, ‘Veterans’ and ‘Voting’] Day.”

Although this change won’t be in effect in 2020, let’s hope that it is for all the Novembers thereafter.

V Day …

C’mon, Joe

Below is a link to a YouTube clip of a heavier-set Iowa voter who, after acknowledging the untoward behavior of President Trump and his cohort in Ukraine, challenged former Vice President Joe Biden face-to-face regarding the involvement of his son, Hunter, in the Ukrainian energy company, Burisma. While the voter made an unfounded allegation – that Mr. Biden had sent young Biden over to Ukraine to get a job at Burisma for which he had no experience so as to sell the Ukrainans access to the presidency – his tone didn’t seem to me to be particularly antagonistic.  Mr. Biden responded with what under the circumstances was, in my view, inappropriate fervor – not unlike how I would expect Mr. Trump to react — calling the voter, a “Damn Liar,” and not so obliquely poking fun at the voter’s physique by challenging him to do pushups. Toward the end of the exchange, Mr. Biden declared: “No one has said that my son has done anything wrong.”


C’mon, Joe.

Many of us have children, and we place the wellbeing of our kids above all else. We can understand your reluctance at a period in your life when your son, Beau, was dying during the waning months of your Vice Presidency, to deal with your other son, Hunter – who has by at least some reports achieved relatively little without using your name and position – and the lucrative, legal but patently sordid opportunity that was obviously offered to him only because he was your son and you were Vice President of the United States. The impeachment hearings made clear that the State Department raised concerns about the perception of conflict of interest manifest in Hunter’s Burisma arrangement. By all accounts, you’re an honorable man; we can sympathize with what we might surmise was your irritation and frustration that Hunter had placed you in such an embarrassing position.

At the same time, did you figure: What the hell? Hillary had the 2016 Democratic nomination sewed up; you’d never run for office again. In influential American circles, you were about to be somebody that used to be Joe Biden … so if Hunter could make a little money in a legal if smarmy way, what was the harm? If he managed to not fritter the money away, it might even help alleviate any worry you had about what would happen to him as you aged and died.

Any parent will get that. Play straight with us. We’ll understand if you use gentle language in describing your son, but play it straight. We already suspect that Hunter can’t run a two-car funeral on his own, and may have questionable scruples. We parents know that kids … are who they are. We’ll understand that you love your son, and wanted to see him get ahead as long as it was legal, even if he didn’t earn it.

Those reading these pages that know me personally are acutely aware that at times, I can be a bit … Irish, and that I’m very tribal about our children. Even so: Joe, you’re too obviously defensive. Don’t insult us by calling a voter who makes an incorrect but not (given the circumstances) entirely outrageous allegation, a “Damn Liar,” and impugn the voter’s physical appearance. Admit what all of us – even those of us that consider you the most qualified of the announced candidates to be the next president – know: that your son had no business on that board. It may not have been illegal, but it was, indeed, wrong. He should have declined the offer, but since he didn’t, you should have quashed it. Quit dodging it. Own it, and move on.