A Forum for Opinions on News, Politics, and Life
January 12th, 2012
By Dan Miller
When el Presidente Chávez took office in 1999, he began only slowly to implement his “reforms.” To a casual observer, few changes were apparent in Venezuela between 1997 when my wife and I first arrived and late 2001 when we left, probably never to return. We had a few concerns about the future of the country under Chávez but they were low on our list of reasons not to buy land and build our home in the state of Merida, up in the Andes. Mainly, we wanted to continue sailing and Merida is inconveniently far from an ocean.
Chávez’ initiatives increased dramatically in number and in magnitude only when he was well into his seemingly endless terms in office. Maybe he had heard the story of the frog put into a pleasantly warm but slowly heating pot of water. The frog failed to realize until too late that he was being boiled for dinner. By then the frog had become unable to jump out of the pot.
President Obama, flush with victory and perhaps not having heard the frog story, turned up the heat quickly at first. As a result, starting in January of last year, President Obama’s dinner was delayed by an uncooperative House of Representatives. The frog survived for a while longer. If reelected and given a compliant Congress, he seems likely to turn up the heat. We are the frog.
President Obama’s signature initiative, ObamaCare, for example
passed the Senate on December 24, 2009, by a vote of 60–39 with all Democrats and two Independents voting for, and all Republicans voting against. It passed the House of Representatives on March 21, 2010, by a vote of 219–212, with 34 Democrats and all 178 Republicans voting against the bill.
President Obama signed it into law on March 23, 2010, four hundred and ten days after he had assumed office on January 20, 2009. Few members who voted on the massive and highly complex bill had read it and Speaker Pelosi, asked about its constitutionality, responded “Are you serious? Are you Serious?” ObamaCare does raise serious constitutional questions and they are now before the Supreme Court for consideration.
President Obama moved blissfully ahead with his initiatives during the giddy time when his party owned the Congress. Then, along came the congressional elections of 2010 followed by a Republican controlled House in January of 2011. That forced President Obama to slow down — a bit.
Team Obama is now campaigning on the notion that with Democrats in control of the Senate, but with Republicans in control of the House, President Obama has lamentably been unable to get what he demands from the Congress — legislation the people need desperately — and it’s all the fault of obstructionist Republicans beholden to the rich. That strategy might work were his initiatives more popular than they are.
That’s a strategy that tells the public that the current situation in Washington is untenable and change is needed. Is that not an odd way for a Democratic incumbent president (whose party also controls the Senate) to run against a Republican outsider? It first of all exacerbates the public’s mistrust of government, which tends to reinforce Republican policy proposals (since those generally aim to take power away from government) but to undermine Democratic ones (which generally aim to give more power to government). It also implies that President Obama is having trouble doing his job, which can’t be a great re-election theme. It says that the problem we have is the result of a conflict between the president and Congress in a year when the Republican party, but not the Democratic party, will be led by someone who is neither the president nor in Congress and so is presumably not part of that problem. And it argues (understandably) that things could only get better if the White House and Congress were both held by Democrats—but the last time that happened was when we ended up with those unpopular achievements of Obama’s first two years. Is he proposing to do more of that?
Still, “We Can’t Wait” has become the campaign theme. Needing to show that he is the boss and knows how to be assertive, he recently took advantage of a constitutional provision permitting appointments, otherwise requiring Senate approval, to be made without Senate approval when the Senate is in recess. Relying on that provision, he brought four new luminaries into his administration — even though the Senate was not in recess and was conducting business. Many on the left consider that a good thing. Here’s a Huff ‘n Puff article praising President Obama’s courageous contempt for the Constitution. Some of the comments following it are a bit scary as well.
Give us more recess appointments, Prez!
President Obama pledged to work for ALL of America; it’s unfortunate that Congress doesn’t want to work with him. Tough job.
Obama should have done this long time ago…but better late than never.
Oh well. Here’s an article by an attorney defending President Obama’s “recess” appointments. Surely, he must see some problems with the non-recess recess appointments. He notes that
the lawyer in me says that a legal technicality, even one invoked in bad faith, can’t just be ignored. The rules on what constitutes a “session” of Congress are surprisingly fluid, and so there is a chance that clocking in for 30 seconds does not make a session. But most likely, even a blink-of-the-eye, loophole session constitutes a “session” for purposes of blocking a recess appointment.
However, he continues:
In any event, I don’t really care if Obama’s appointment of Cordray was legal. Where you come down on that has a lot to do with where you come down politically — and on the politics, this is nothing but a win for the president. Congress is being obstructionist with regards to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; they’re trying to kill the agency without actually taking a public vote. Every time a Republican talks about Obama’s “power grab,” there’s also the soundbite reminding people that Congress has been sitting on this appointment for two years, refusing to take an up-or-down vote. Americans like voting; they hate lawyers and technicalities.
My question is: What was the appropriate legal manner Obama should have employed to get somebody appointed to this duly authorized entity? Look, nowhere in the Constitution does it say “Congress shall have the power to… obstruct the proper functioning of a duly created federal agency by refusing to vote on an executive appointment should it be politically untenable to publicly come out against said agency.” As far as I read our founding document, Congress does not have that right.
To paraphrase, the Constitution is unimportant when the good guys, ours, are in charge. Without President Obama to look courageously after our best interests, only the rich one percent will live well. Besides, the Constitution is ancient and therefore obsolete. President Obama is The Won and needs more power, not to be shared with other, lesser, branches of government. For President Obama, might there be a revival of this charming song for the campaign season, already in full swing?
How can any even slightly compassionate person dismiss ideals so passionately expressed by such sweet children? Or, for that matter, by their parents.
How does President Obama measure up to el Presidente Chávez? There is really no comparison — yet. Having seen what happened in 2010, when public disenchantment with ObamaCare and other federal excesses produced a Republican dominated House of Representatives, and realizing that many more Democrat senators than in 2010 will be up for reelection in 2012 — and more to the point, that he will be as well — President Obama may have been a bit timid in exceeding his constitutional powers, unless enabled thereby to lambast the Republicans in the House as obstructionist. If he has been “timid” since 2010, there will be no need whatever for such timidity should he be reelected and given Democrat majorities in both houses of Congress.
I’m bigger and more important than the constitution!
What would el Presidente Chávez do in that circumstance? He is already there and beyond, so let’s look at some of the things he has done in recent years.
In an election for the National Assembly last September , Venezuelan voters sent a clear message to Hugo Chávez, their autocratic elected president. Slightly more of them voted for opposition candidates than for the ruling party and its allies. Thanks to the government’s manipulation of the electoral rules, the opposition’s votes only translated into 67 seats, whereas the chavistas ended up with 98. But even that was not secure enough for Mr Chávez.
He has used the final three months of the outgoing assembly, in which he has an overwhelming majority, to render irrelevant the incoming legislature, due to be sworn in on January 5th. The centrepiece of this effort is an enabling law which grants the government the power to rule by decree for the next 18 months.
The assembly’s other functions have been curtailed too. Under a swiftly approved reform of its internal rules, the legislature will now meet as little as four days a month. All parliamentary commissions will be controlled by the government, and speeches to the assembly on any given topic will be limited to a total of 15 minutes per member. Debates will only be transmitted by government television channels, allowing the authorities to gag dissident voices. …
The new assembly was due to appoint several supreme-court justices to replace those due to retire. Such appointments require a two-thirds majority, and thus would have involved an agreement with the opposition. To circumvent the need for that, the outgoing assembly rushed through the naming of nine new justices (and 32 stand-ins). All are chavista loyalists, and four are retiring assembly members.
The outgoing assembly also rubber-stamped other far-reaching measures. A new higher-education law ends the autonomy of the main universities and gives administrative and blue-collar staff equal rights with (more troublesome) academics in electing rectors. Non-governmental organisations will not be allowed to receive funding from abroad, a change which may force many to close.
Another new law allows the president to transfer the powers and resources of local government to socialist communes, potentially neutering the opposition’s electoral victories in many big cities in 2008. Reforms to the broadcasting and telecommunications laws, which have now been extended to cover the internet and mobile telephones, seek to restrict the distribution of information critical of the government by making the carrier of the message liable for the content. Punishment will be meted out for messages deemed to promote disrespect for the country’s institutions or “alarm” among the population.
Although an amendment to the Venezuelan Constitution that would have allowed el Presidente to run for reelection indefinitely failed to pass in 2007, another amendment passed in 2009 abolishing term limits, allowing him to run for reelection indefinitely. El Presidente has expressed confidence that he will be reelected in 2012. Death may overtake him, but that’s a different matter the implications of which are complex. Still, if he survives he may not have to worry very much about his reelection prospects. As noted here, Rangel Silva, then a general in the Venezuelan army, said a few months ago that the army would refuse to recognize any new president elected in opposition to el Presidente Chávez. On January 6th, el Presidente elevated him to Minister of Defense. In that capacity, he “will be supervising the October elections which are monitored by the army….”
Venezuela under Chávez has become a basket case and even the straw of which the basket is woven is deteriorating. If anything less than his death can make Chávez’ continuation in office after the election impossible, Venezuela’s continued decline might conceivably do it. The economy continues to deteriorate, perhaps to the point that even Chávez won’t be able to spend enough to win. The demand of Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Venezuela pay a “USD 298 million debt that the Venezuelan government has contracted with state-run Iranian companies” won’t help matters. Lying, something at which el Presidente excels, may work.
Hugo Chavez has a mind of his own. He goes on TV and tells lies and stories just as if they were facts, sometimes lying about things a President should not even know about. Case in point is housing, Hugo needed housing built for his Mision Vivienda, in the absence of sufficient housing units built, he started making up numbers, claiming by the end of 2011 that 92% of the 150,000 promised housing units had been built. Experts do not even believe half of that was built as the program did not even begin until April.
Would President Obama lie about anything? “Are you serious? Are you Serious?” Maybe telling lies is acceptable these days if for a good purpose. However, his is the most transparent administration in the history of the country. Just ask President Obama and he will tell you, fast[ly] and furiously.
Meanwhile Daniel Duquenal (pseudonym) at Venezuela News and Views reports the latest on what the Chavistas and the opposition candidates are doing in preparation for the October elections. As to the Chavistas,
chavismo campaign strategy starting this week: money, and more money thrown to buy votes, cheating, and more cheating, and if it does not work, negotiation with the opposition so that at least a portion of chavismo saves its ill acquired goodies. Chavez knows the new game but will he play? That is the question………..
As we know full well, the integrity of national elections in the United States is assured by our
Minister of Defense Attorney General. With him in charge, there is no need for voter ID cards to prevent dead people and others lacking the right to vote from voting. That sort of thing just doesn’t happen, except when it does. Vote buying? Hardly ever, except on a large scale as befits the most powerful nation in history.
Is any suggestion that the Obama and Chávez strategies have at least peripheral similarities excessive? I don’t think so. Chávez has long used the class struggle meme to gain and consolidate power, and President Obama has followed a similar path. In Venezuela, the way to riches is the Chavista way; those with power under Chávez live pretty well as long as they retain his favor. Others? Not so great, but Chávez provides hope for change; they are anxious to believe and slow to disbelieve. A difference is that poverty in Venezuela is real poverty; that in the United States far less so.
The 2012 campaign is heating up and we can see the outlines of an impending us/them class war. But in our strange 21st-century world, lots of crazy things blur the president’s 1%/99% divide. We watch the super-rich struggle for ever creative ways of blowing their money to distinguish themselves from the rest of us (cf. Johnny Depp’s [$50 million in income last year] hosting of a creepy, expensive costume Halloween party at the White House, in the style of the idle 18th-century French court).
Meanwhile we see the “poor” near rioting over buying the first few pairs of Michael Jordan $200 sneakers, or mobbing for big screen televisions on holiday shopping sale outings. Are we mad that too many are really poor, or that too many are simply unequal, in the sense of not having what “they” enjoy — a “they,” however, that cannot quite figure out how all their money leads to all that much better a life? I am sorry, Mr. Obama, but for all the Vegas-junketeering, no-time-for-profit rhetoric, I simply do not believe the one-seventh on food stamps, or the 48% who pay no income tax, are suffering like the starving 19th-century Norwegian immigrants on the windswept Dakota plains of Ole Rolvaag’s epic Giants in the Earth.
The royal spending of the Obama White House on vacations and other entertainments has become a subject of legend and scorn.
We are the Won!
Victor Davis Hanson closes the lengthy article quoted above — which rather persuasively disposes of the myth of true poverty in the United States — with this observation:
The dangers of the underclass here in the poorest quadrant of the poorest county in poor California are obesity rather than malnutrition. The local state dialysis clinic is tragically full of far more heavy than lean poor. (Yes, I grant that arugula costs more than Hostess CupCakes). More suffer from an expensive ingestion of an unlawful drug than the unavailability of a cheap ingestible prescription drug. The parking lots are full of Tahoes and Yukons; the public trolley for the indigent goes by empty.
Keep all that in mind as we enter the most divisive, class-warfare campaign in recent memory. We are living in the upside-down world Orwell wrote about. A president who likes upscale golf a lot, and Martha’s Vineyard even more, who has hired three “fat cat” bankers as his chiefs of staff (how odd that Emanuel and Lew probably both made a lot out of the Freddie/Fannie bubble), and who is the largest recipient of Wall Street cash in history now argues that half of America suffers from the hands of “them.”
Being unequal is not poor. And not having what the “rich” have hardly means having it bad. Sorry, that’s just the way it is.
President Obama hasn’t yet promised a “chicken in every pot,” probably because that would seem much less than the great treat it did back in the days of Herbert Hoover. Nor is there any sense in promising soup with a bit of meat everyday, because there are very few in the United States who can’t enjoy that “luxury.” That sort of promise is for the unfortunate peasants of North Korea.
Only by convincing enough people that they are miserable for reasons beyond their own control, that only he can make life better for them and that unless given enough unilateral power even he won’t be able to serve them as he wants to can he gain reelection.
We really do need to agree upon the best conservative candidate for President who can win and avoid Democrat Party control of both houses of the Congress.
(This article was also posted at Dan Miller’s Blog.)
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