One of the most pleasant things about Canadian politics is the small-town aspect of it — if you are a doggedly engaged citizen, you really _can_ meet just about anyone.
Today, I got to meet Maxime Bernier.
More to come on the morning…
I am, dear readers, going to let you in on something.
Yes, the Speaker’s ruling was historical. Yes, we are going to have one heck of a fight on our hands if the government does not decide to co-operate with the opposition.
I am going to explain to you just what the heck is really going on.
September 17, 2007, was a significant day in recent Canadian political history. Those who remember it, remember it chiefly because it was the day that the Liberals lost Outremont, a downtown Montreal riding they had held virtually since Confederation, with the sole exception being the parliament chosen in the Free Trade election of 1988.
But that is not the day’s real significance. Its real significance is, that was the day Stephen Harper’s ministry lost the confidence of the House of Commons. It has yet to get it back.
I’ll elaborate. Outremont was not the only game going on that day — there were three by-elections in Quebec. In the other two, the Conservatives mounted a strong challenge to Bloc dominance — they won Roberval–Lac-St-Jean, a riding which included parts once held by Lucien Bouchard, with a 60% vote, and they came within less than 1,500 votes of taking Saint-Hyacinthe–Bagot, another riding held by the Bloc since 1993.
Gilles Duceppe, canny politician that he is, saw that Stephen Harper was eating his lunch — the Tories were his greatest threat. He had been a reliable vote (or abstention) on Conservative budgets in 2006 and 2007 — that would no longer be true. Duceppe withdrew his support from Harper for good.
Since then, the Conservatives have won every confidence vote. But it was not out of love — not out of real support from opposition parties — but out of fear. The Dion abstention show began with the new session of the 39th Parliament. It had not ended by the time Harper put that parliament out of misery himself. That continued until the parliamentary crisis of December 2008, which Harper ended by his first controversial prorogation; after that, Ignatieff lent his support to the Tories through the summer of 2009. In the fall of 2009, with Harper riding high in the polls, Layton lent him NDP support, to avoid a disastrous (for him) election. In March 2009, with Liberal fortunes looking grim, Ignatieff had enough of his MPs stay home with the flu to allow Harper’s latest budget to pass.
Over all of this time, the opposition, with a clear majority of the House, has gritted its teeth. Their members do not support Stephen Harper — they would prefer that he not be prime minister, and they do not agree with the direction of his government. But he has had them cowering in (political) fear — they do not want to fight him in an election; at least, they have not all wanted to fight him at the same time, save for a short while in December 2008. (Which is when they sought to replace him without an election — an election in which he would have crushed them into radioactive dust.)
They spend their time plotting — how can the opposition majority embarrass Harper next, short of defeating his government and forcing an election? They have tried Brian Mulroney; they have tried Omar Khadr; they have tried the environment; they have tried swine flu; and now they are trying to use the Afghan detainee issue.
It’s remarkably silly — if the opposition does not want to support Harper’s government, they should simply unite and vote him out. Face him at the polls, hold him to below 154 seats (a 154 seat Tory caucus would gain majority status by choosing an opposition speaker — Milliken again, most probably), and then vote him down on the Throne Speech of the First Session of the Forty-First Parliament of Canada — replace his government with a coalition government of the rest.
Till now, Harper has had them cowed — for some reason, their failure to replace him in December 2008 has left them unwilling to take the steps which follow logically from their loss of (real) confidence in him.
Till now, anyway.
Are they now prepared to take him on? Are they prepared to defeat him? Or will we again suffer through the spectacle of a parliamentary majority which is fixed on taking potshots at the PM, while continuing to vote confidence in his government?
We will see.
Watch his take on the Arizona immigration law.
Want my take?
The AZ law just makes federal crimes enforceable at the state level. 99.9% of the time the police powers are used, it’ll be to inquire about the immigration status of people already in custody.
I’ve been stopped by the Border Patrol twice on American highways — once on a New Mexico interstate, where it dips south of the Rio Grande, another time on an upstate New York two-lane highway, when I approached the border-straddling Mohawk reservation near Cornwall. The world didn’t come to an end. Actually, the second time, I was relieved it was the Border Patrol — I was afraid I had missed a sign and was going to get another speeding ticket.
Oh, and I agree with Beck — the refried bean swastikas painted on the windows of the Arizona Capitol are probably pretty tasty.
… well, he had to. I mean, politics and national security interests aside, if Parliament asks for documents, Parliament has the right to those documents. That’s just kind of how it is.
What do I think? Well… I think the opposition has been irresponsible and borderline libellous on the issue at hand. That said, if a majority of parliamentarians want to be irresponsible and libellous, well, that’s really their right. (Otherwise known as “parliamentary privilege”.)
If the government ignores said libellous and irresponsible parliamentarians, they’re probably flouting the constitution.
Is there any way to enforce the (unwritten) constitution? Sure. Said majority of parliamentarians can vote down the government and run against them as a bunch of unparliamentary goons.
Will that work? Under ordinary circumstances, yes, absolutely, but do remember that the opposition would then be running on a platform of accusing Canadian high officials of war crimes and demanding that sensitive national security secrets be handed over to the traitors who represent two-thirds of Quebec ridings.
Update: It’s not that hard a question –
Milliken ruled Parliament had a right to order the government in December to produce uncensored documents to members of a special committee examining allegations that detainees transferred to Afghan custody were tortured.
He said the order was “clear” and procedurally acceptable but acknowledged it had no provision to protect sensitive information within the material.
“It is the view of the chair that accepting an unconditional authority of the executive to censor the information provided to Parliament would, in fact, jeopardize the very separation of powers that is purported to lie at the heart of our parliamentary system and the independence of its constituent parts,” Milliken told the House.
“Furthermore, it risks diminishing the inherent privileges of the House and its members, which have been earned and must be safeguarded.”
Rule no. 1: If the House wants the docs, the House gets the docs.
Rule no. 2: If the House doesn’t get the docs, refer back to Rule no. 1.
Or, go to the people and get a new House. Which way would it move? Not sure.
Update again: Historically, I believe this has been dealt with by a security clearance-like oath — that is, members of the opposition, or the leaders of the opposition parties were brought into the Crown’s confidence through a body known as the Privy Council: a council that is privy to the Queen’s top secrets.
That’s really how it should have gone — maybe that’s how it will go. Swear the leader of each party and his foreign policy critic in as Privy Counsellors (Ignatieff, Rae, and Layton already are, no?), and give them full access.
But no, that’s too logical a solution. We’ll be at it hammer and tongs for the next two weeks.
After reading this –
President Obama was sufficiently gracious in welcoming the World Champion New York Yankees to the White House today, as he has done for other winning teams from other leagues. But he did include a bit more snark in his remarks than usual, acknowledging the polarizing nature of Major League Baseball’s all-time winningest franchise.
Afterwards, the Yankees professed to be awestruck by their visit to the White House, even veterans like Derek Jeter who has visited four times before. But he did warn the president not to take too many more pot shots at the pinstripers.
“He better be careful with that. There are a lot of Yankee fans that vote,” the Yankee captain told reporters after the event.
And remembering this –
… I thought, “Huh. Is he…? No.”
But I can’t resist.
The country had just elected a man who vowed to move past the old polarities, who valued discussion and who clearly had some sympathy with both the Burkean and Hamiltonian impulses. He staffed his administration with brilliant pragmatists whose views overlapped with mine, who differed only in that they have more faith in technocratic planning.
Yet things have not worked out for those of us in the broad middle. Politics is more polarized than ever. The two parties have drifted further to the extremes. The center is drained and depressed.
History happened. The administration came into power at a time of economic crisis. This led it, in the first bloom of self-confidence, to attempt many big projects all at once. Each of these projects may have been defensible in isolation, but in combination they created the impression of a federal onslaught.
Jesus H. Christ. ”History” didn’t happen. You voted for an illusion. You thought you were getting a moderate centrist — you got a conventional big government liberal.
My liberal friends saw that they had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to push through their agenda, and they seized it. Good on them for that. (Bad for the country.)
Independents saw what they were doing, and they have fled back to the Republicans, who conveniently have been reverting back to Reaganesque tropes which are very familiar and, I suspect, rather comforting to these voters, many of whom voted for that twenty-five years ago.
What’s going to happen? Well, the Democrats are going to get shelled this fall. The Republicans are going to come in, and they’re going to have to share ownership of the government again.
Depending on how that plays out, we’ll go towards 2012.
Instant Update: Reactions to the development are fun.
For Andrew Sullivan, who still claims to be “conservative” somehow, this is yet another reason to support President Obama.
It seems to me that if, as David notes, it is history that has allowed the perception of Obama’s “big liberalism” to take hold, then it is the duty of moderate conservatives to resist this narrative, not cave into it. And that means the uncomfortable task for real conservatives of stoutly defending this president as the best option we now have. The epistemic closure on the right is how other conservatives still manage to blind themselves to the pragmatic virtues of this president’s remarkable 15 month record at home and abroad. Our job is to insist that the debate continue and that criticism of Obama be based on empirical reality, not ideological fantasy. If we do, we have a president open-minded enough to listen. But if we give up, the old divides win.
Ha ha. Ha.
Brooks seems finally to have stumbled on a more realistic view of where we’re headed:
BLOCK: It’s interesting when you look at Florida, David, because Charlie Crist was considered a potential vice presidential running mate two years ago with John McCain. Now, he seems to be floundering, doesn’t know if he’ll run as an independent. And you see this loyalty oath from the Republican Party. What do you make of all that?
BROOKS: Yeah, well, for people like me who’d like to see a more moderate Republican Party, this is why you just want to go suck on the gas pipe.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: Don’t do it.
DIONNE: Don’t do it, David, yes. Better hold you down.
I’ll bite my tongue on that one.
Whatever. If Brooks really wanted his big government Republican Party, he should have moved heaven and earth to elect John McCain.
He and his ilk didn’t, J-Mac lost, and now the GOP has chosen a different path: an old path, a familiar path — a Southern Californian path.
Update again: Since this is my “let’s kick around David Brooks” day, let’s add one more bit.
Look at this reflection on the Bush years, and on the Bush family.
There is a Reagan wing and a Bush wing of the Republican Party. Brooks likes the Bush wing:
David Brooks: I’m glad you brought up W. We’ve all rehearsed the pros and cons of his administration. But I’d ask you to take a look at W. in light of where the G.O.P. is now. In my view, his compassionate conservatism was a valuable if undeveloped impulse, which really could have broadened and deepened the G.O.P. It is an impulse largely lacking now from the party, in an age where the secular anti-government elements have the upper hand and the social conservatives are dormant.
Bush proposed and/or passed major initiatives on education, immigration, poverty, foreign aid and many other areas, which could probably not pass G.O.P. muster right now.
Right now, the Reagan wing is in the ascendancy.
This makes Brooks want to go suck on the gas pipe.
With regard to the Manzi-Levin fight over at NRO.
First, it’s kinda funny seeing Levin lumped in with the proles, given that he’s a lawyer and was Ed Meese’s chief of staff.
Third, this gets me back to another article I’m sympathetic to, PJ O’Rourke’s “I Agree With Me“.
This is an argument I have with my father-in-law, an avid fan of such programs. Although again, I don’t actually argue, because I usually agree with my father-in-law. Also, he’s a retired FBI agent, and at seventy-eight is still a licensed private investigator with a concealed-weapon permit. But I say to him, “What do you get out of these shows? You already agree with everything they say.”
“They bring up some good points,” he says.
“That you’re going to use on whom? Do some of your retired-FBI-agent golf buddies feel shocked by the absence of WMDs in Iraq and want to give Saddam Hussein a mulligan and let him take his tee shot over?”
And he looks at me with an FBI-agent look, and I shut up. But the number and popularity of conservative talk shows have grown apace since the Reagan Administration. The effect, as best I can measure it, is nil. In 1988 George Bush won the presidency with 53.4 percent of the popular vote. In 2000 Bush’s arguably more conservative son won the presidency with a Supreme Court ruling.
A generation ago there wasn’t much conservatism on the airwaves. For the most part it was lonely Bill Buckley moderating Firing Line. But from 1964 to 1980 we went from Barry Goldwater’s defeat with 38.5 percent of the popular vote to Ronald Reagan’s victory with 50.8 percent of the popular vote. Perhaps there was something efficacious in Buckley’s—if he’ll pardon the word—moderation.
I tried watching The O’Reilly Factor. I tried watching Hannity shout about Colmes. I tried listening to conservative talk radio. But my frustration at concurrence would build, mounting from exasperation with like-mindedness to a fury of accord, and I’d hit the OFF button.
I’m not quite in PJ’s league. I enjoy Rush, and I enjoy his show when Steyn or Williams substitute in for him even more. But I hit a point of saturation at which I just shut the thing off, rather than listen to more arguments I tend to agree with.
Anyway, it’s no big deal. Life goes on, Limbaugh and Hannity make their millions, and we may or may not have a change in majority party in the Congress this November/next January.
Instant update: Stacy McCain has an interesting post on a related but slightly different topic — political true believers. (In fairness to the left-wing true believers — they probably would pick a different president as their “most successful”: FDR.)
There’s something bracing about New Jersey’s new governor.
The Wall Street Journal calls it “Reaganism with a Jersey twist”:
Budgets are serious business, but it’s been a long time since anyone in New Jersey has been serious about the budget. This year, gross mismanagement and accumulated fictions have left state taxpayers a $10.7 billion gap on a total state budget of $29.3 billion. Mr. Christie’s answer is simple: “a smaller government that lives within its means.”
However quaint that may sound, when you have to cut nearly $11 billion in state spending to get there, you are going to get a lot of yelling and screaming. Most comes from the New Jersey Education Association, hollering that “the children” will be hurt by Mr. Christie’s proposals for teachers to accept a one-year wage freeze and begin contributing something toward their health plans. What makes the battle interesting is the way Mr. Christie is throwing the old chestnuts back at his critics. …
In some ways, Mr. Christie can speak bluntly precisely because the state is such a mess. Indeed, that’s one reason he won election in a blue state. The challenge remains daunting: No governor has yet succeeded in turning around a state as overtaxed and overspent as New Jersey. Indiana under Gov. Mitch Daniels probably comes closest, but Indiana was not nearly as bad as New Jersey.
If he is to survive the headlines about budget cuts and pull New Jersey back to prosperity, Mr. Christie knows he needs to put the hard choices before the state’s citizens, and to speak to them as adults. He’s doing just that. One reporter for the Newark Star-Ledger summed up Mr. Christie’s rhetoric this way: “[F]inally we have a governor who is as teed off as the rest of us at how government spending and taxes have skyrocketed over the past decade.”
It’s far too early to declare Mr. Christie’s Jersey-style Reaganism a success. But it’s the one reality show truly worth watching.
Actually, there’s a bit of American history: California had to get into so bad a fix that the Democrats were budgeting twelve months of spending to fifteen months of revenue just before Reagan was elected governor. That’s how you end up with conservative governors of liberal states.
George Will is writing columns calling Christie “The Trenton Thunder” –
There are 700,000 more Democrats than Republicans in New Jersey, but in November Christie flattened the Democratic incumbent, Jon Corzine. Christie is built like a burly baseball catcher, and since his inauguration just 13 weeks ago, he has earned the name of the local minor league team — the Trenton Thunder.
He inherited a $2.2 billion deficit, and next year’s projected deficit of $10.7 billion is, relative to the state’s $29.3 billion budget, the nation’s worst. Democrats, with the verbal tic — “Tax the rich!” — that passes for progressive thinking, demanded that he reinstate the “millionaire’s tax,” which hit “millionaires” earning $400,000 until it expired Dec. 31. Instead, Christie noted that between 2004 and 2008 there was a net outflow of $70 billion in wealth as “the rich,” including small businesses, fled. And he said previous administrations had “raised taxes 115 times in the last eight years alone.”
So he closed the $2.2 billion gap by accepting 375 of 378 suggested spending freezes and cuts. In two weeks. By executive actions. In eight weeks he cut $13 billion — $232 million a day, $9 million an hour. Now comes the hard part. …
In the state that has the nation’s fourth-highest percentage (66) of public employees who are unionized, he has joined the struggle that will dominate the nation’s domestic policymaking in this decade — the struggle to break the ruinous collaboration between elected officials and unionized state and local workers whose affections the officials purchase with taxpayers’ money.
The wages of that fight? Well, there is a poll out there putting Christie’s approval rating at 33%.
Still, I like his attitude: ”You don’t like the job I’m doing, vote for someone else next time.“
I’m not sure I believe that poll is accurate. As a momentarily worried Allahpundit at Hot Air points out, Rasmussen has him at 53% approval — not great, but as good as you’re going to get in a deep blue state for a governor who is doing the necessary work of confronting the public sector unions.
If he can ride that bus to re-election in 2013 somehow — he seems to have mobilized fiscally conservative voters to defeat school budgets statewide, so there’s at least some purchase for this approach – expect to hear more things from and about this man.
Why do I think Christie has such an opening? Well, he’s media-friendly, he’s pushing conservatism, and he’s doing so in a liberal state. Moreover, he hasn’t made the sorts of compromises that, say, a Mitt Romney has, that would tar him nationally.
The last Republican governor who came to national prominence in that way was… well, you know who.
Still, Governor Christie, you’re going to have to show me the money.
Show me that you can make these budget cuts and convince New Jerseyites to re-elect you.
If you can do that, maybe we can look at hiring you to do the job nationally.
In a certain sense, yes.
Despite some liberal wishful thinking, in fact, Obama and his party’s fortunes now look even worse than before health care passed. On April 12, Gallup recorded Obama’s lowest approval rating ever (47 percent). The next day, it reported that Republicans have opened up a lead in generic congressional balloting (“Which party’s candidate would you vote for if the midterms were held today?”). Intrade now predicts that Democrats will lose seven seats in the Senate and 36 in the House. …
Yes, Republican victories this fall will likely wreck Obama’s chances of passing big legislation in 2011 or 2012. But presidents don’t usually pass big legislation in the latter half of their first term anyway. Most administrations are subject to what political scientist Paul Light calls the “cycle of decreasing influence.” A president wins election and gains power over Congress, which generally dissipates unless replenished by a momentous outside event (say, the 9/11 attacks) or another election victory. …
The legislation Republicans block will be less important than the legislation Obama and the Democrats have already passed. Even when it comes to the Supreme Court, the conservative cavalry will be too late. In all likelihood, Obama’s second nominee will already be on the bench. …
If, as looks likely, Congressional Democrats get creamed this fall, pundits will spend Election Night pondering what they and the president did wrong. I’ll be thinking about the stimulus, health care and financial reform, and pondering what they did right.
It is a good trade-off for the Democrats, passing their legislative agenda in exchange for a midterm defeat.
If the Republicans cream the Democrats this fall, that just keeps us in the game.
The real battle is in 2012 — and that will be on terrain friendly to the president. (Unless he keeps on floating that VAT.)
… I give you 2012:
(It’d be fun. It’d be so much fun.)