Monday, July 12, 2004

Security and Politics: Electoral "Delay" Fuss

Quite a lot of people are fussing about the Ridge proposal to provide legal authority to the executive for a delay of elections in case of terrorist attack.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. officials have discussed the idea of postponing Election Day in the event of a terrorist attack on or about that day, a Homeland Security Department spokesman said Sunday.

The department has referred questions about the matter to the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel, said a spokesman, confirming a report in this week's editions of Newsweek magazine.

Among the people talking about the Newsweek scoop are (along with my assesment of their attitudes) are Dan Drezner (mildly concerned), Kevin Drum (cynical to the point of idiocy), Matt Yglesias (well intentioned but naive), Josh Marshall (appropriately skeptical), etc. The oldman's two cents on this issue is that it seems a lose-lose situation. Billmon's thoughts (perplexed with slight bit of bile) are along the same lines.

In scenario A, a terrorist attack happens and GWB stands on the rubble and rallies the nation. A panicy nation votes in GWB for another four years. Critics are silenced by cries that Administration plans to delay the election had been attacked as power grasping conspiracies. Along the way, Kerry get's introduced to the nation in advertisements as "bin Ladin's preferred candidate".

In scenario B, the Administration suspends elections anticipating a loss for GWB and simply seized power in an orchestrated coup. Witness end of democratic Republic of America.

Now there are other scenarios. In either case, the Bush Administration can overreach as it has done so many times before and alienate the American public. The encouraging aspect is that each time they have backed down in the face of concerted public attention and outrage. Forced either to backdown or confronted by an outright rebellion or mass civic disobedience it could decide to fold. In addition there could be no terrorist attack before the election, and it could occur peaceably to its natural outcome.

Brad Delong has a chart that is interestingly cheery in that it confirms a general downtrend for Bush even if his recent numbers have popped back up.

The other scenario is that a terrorist attack happens, elections are held, and the American public decides to hold the Bush Administration responsible and votes in a Kerry-Edwards Administration. Hey, it happened in Spain right? Granted the level of public dissent there was much higher than it is here, but as many people have noted that it's a long time until election day.

As for those complacent individuals who argue or imply that it is a conspiracy theory to consider the realistic possibility of the Bush Administration might attempt to seize power well as a long time former Republican the oldman has to say that they are naive, idealistic, complacent, and idiotic fools. The evidence the oldman has for this is that he has noted that mainly these are the same people who argued that either a) we should give the President the benefit of the doubt on the WMD in Iraq or b) even if they disliked the Bush Administration that there was too much at stake for the Bush Administration to allow cronyism, ideology, incompetence, or stupidity to interfere with the rebuilding of Iraq.

I note furthermore that many of these commentators were wrong about not just one, but both those issues.

Bush and co. may attempt to seize power, or they may not. The main determinants of such a choice will be a) what they perceive as their prospects of winning fair and square and b) if they think they can get away with it. The same people who were complacent, naive, and idiotic before are being idiotic now. They've been burned twice but they haven't figured it out yet apparently.

Let us recuse ourselves from impugning the character of the Bush Administration in particular, and simply invoke the grandfathers of all western political discourse: Machiavelli and Thucydides. If you had Machiavelli and Thucydides on your left and right hand shoulders whispering in your ear about the true nature of the struggle for power, what would you conclude about the dispositional receptivity of any politician in the shoes the Bush Administration is in right now? That there would have to be a temptation.

Now let us intrude the issue of characer, not as espoused or perceived but observed. If we follow lord Acton's maxim about the corruptive influence of power, and observe the Bush Administration's habitual and characteristic tendencies regarding how they utilize privlege and authority (need we mention the attempt to expand toture sotto voce?), then there is simply no question about whether or not they would be tempted. They have shown no self-discipline or ethical virtue whatsoever. Ethics are the limits we impose upon ourselves so that we may not be consumed by power.

I'm of a mind that they will not try to suspend elections, simply because it would start a civil war if they attempted to seize power. However I should point out that the Bush Administration has done many things which I thought pointless or too stupid to contemplate. So therefore I suspend judgement knowing that what I consider insane or irrational, they may yet find a rationale to approve of it in the future.

That is part of wisdom: understanding that one should never expect someone else to feel the same way as one's self does.

NOTE: The end of the Republic as we know it? Billmon notes that ...
In a previous post, I noted the curious fact that the history of the U.S. Constitution can be divided into three periods, each of precisely 72 years. The first began with the Philadelphia convention and ended with the firing on Ft. Sumter, which rung down the curtain on the aristocratic republic the founders had created. The second period stretched from Ft. Sumter to FDR's Hundred Days, and the peaceful revolution that created the modern welfare state. The third will take us to 2005, and the inauguration of the next president - assuming there's an election to be followed by that inauguration.

I've been wondering whether this year's election would prove as momentous as 1860, or 1932 - or whether the 72-year pattern is just historical coincidence. I guess at this point all we can do is pray that the former theory isn't proven true by another 9/11.

I think we can consider the next two years as a watershed period. Whatever emerges from this will dominate the direction we're headed for the next seven decades if the rule holds.

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