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    • Groups and Coalitions: Politics Chapter V
      Previous: Identity (Introduction and Table of Contents) Politically active groups form because of ideology and identity: they have beliefs about how the world should be; those beliefs are emotional and create both identification with other people who have the beliefs and shared desire to change the world or keep the world in line with how the ideologies pres […]
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Are you better off now than you were 400 years ago?

My sample ballot for the New Jersey primary on June 5, 2012.

We all know what went on four years ago.  RBC hearing, rules manipulation, voter disenfranchisement.  All voters are equal but some voters are more equal than others, blah, blah, blah.  You know the drill.  You’ve heard it for so long now that it’s just a persistent, high pitched whine that has faded into background noise and can easily be ignored. Or avoided.

That’s not what I want to talk about today.  I want to talk about choices.  Back when I had to make a choice about whether I wanted to persist in taking math heavy science courses, which my years of switching schools did not prepare me for, or something less anxiety producing, my academic advisor suggested I go into law.  Yep, she said, you might make a good lawyer.  But did I listen?  Noooo.  All I could think of was that a class on torts would make my ears bleed.  So, now I am not only an unemployed scientist, I am also forced to figure out just what the heck a “kill list” is from a legal standpoint.  And the closest I can come to it is a Bill of Attainder.

It’s funny how Obama is falling back on Thomas Aquinas for moral guidance because a bill of attainder is positively medieval.  Basically, a bill of attainder is a sentence of punishment without the inconveniences of all that due process shit that just gets in the way.  King Henry VIII was the kind of monarch I have in mind when it comes to bills of attainder.  For example, Thomas Cromwell was stripped of all his worldly goods before he was executed and all he did to earn it, so the rumor goes, was arrange the disastrous, unconsummated marriage of Henry with the innocent Anne of Cleves.  With a bill of attainder, property could be confiscated, rights stripped and heads debodied with relatively little fuss.  You don’t like someone?  They threaten you, are treasonous or just phenomenally bad matchmakers?  Get a bill of attainder, problem solved.

Bills of attainder are legislative solutions, by the way, that were explicitly forbidden by the US Constitution, (Article 1, section 9).  Traditionally, an executive needed to go to a legislative body of government to get one.  I’m guessing that back in the day, this was probably pretty easy to do, considering parliaments were made up of your peers. If it was good for the aristocracy, by golly, it was good enough for you.  But then the commoners started taking their rights a little more seriously and government began to change in the 17th century to more of a constitutional monarchy and then to the US Constitution where bills of attainder were upstaged by the Bill of Rights and had to get around all those annoying amendments.  But the writers must have been really serious about banning this kind of activity because you’d think that the explicit prohibition of bills of attainder in Article 1, section 9 would have been sufficient.  Apparently not, so due process was spelled out in the Bill of Rights to put additional speed bumps in the way.

Bills of attainder have not disappeared.  In the past 230+ years, there have been attempts to fashion bills of attainders.  But they’ve been modified by the courts.  But the “kill list” takes bills of attainders right back to the divine right of kings.  It’s good to know that Obama has a moral conscience (that little bit from the campaign ops about the philosophers was probably aimed at the college sophomores) and consults with a bunch of other people (WHO are we talking about, exactly?) about who makes the list but that’s not really in his job description and it’s not a legislative solution.  Or is it?  Did we sign away all our constitutional guarantees with the Patriot Act and the NDAA?  Did we unintentionally (or intentionally) authorize bills of attainder through legislation?

It’s not the first time that losing basic constitutional rights, like Habeas Corpus, has triggered a bad reaction from me but this new twist blows my mind.

It means that the Democratic Senate and “Democratic” president must have wanted it to happen. How else should we interpret it?  Bills of attainder are about as loathsome as law gets. Anyone can be deprived of all of their rights and property by one or several individuals based on a sneaking suspicion.  It’s really hard to believe that the Supreme Court would let this stand.  But this is not an ordinary Supreme Court.  It would have been better to never pass or sign the stupid bills to begin with.  Why would any president do it?  Isn’t the US Court system adequate?  Or do we expect so many traitors in the next couple of years that the courts would not be expected to process them all?  If that thought doesn’t bother you, go to an Occupy march sometime and count the riot police in military gear.

Voters should think about those questions this year.  If the idea of a bill of attainder on your head frightens you, think about what that means to the future of the country. What kind of system of government do we live under these days and who is really running the show?

Should you have seen this coming four years ago?  Yes, you should have seen it coming four years ago.  A guy who is willing to invalidate the elections of two states for his own gain is a guy who should have raised suspicions.  I know some fans were suckered in and got a little infatuated and acted like lovesick teenagers.  But to the rest of us, it just looked like a bad precedent to let the party mess with the elections on behalf of one guy.  One guy with money.  Money from a small group of rich bankers.  His peers.

Now that the orgasm has worn off, think about what it means to write off California, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas, Florida and Michigan (list not exhaustive) to award the nomination to a guy who won caucuses in the sparsely populated states on the prairie.  And what the f&*( happened in Indiana?  That was just bizarre.  We just wrote those big states off, like they never even happened and we did if for a man who was in many respects a tabula rasa.  There are a lot of lefties who think our “problem” has something to do with Hillary Clinton but that’s a gross oversimplification of the issue.  Our problem is that more than half of the voters in the primaries were not counted and were silenced at the convention.  If it were Howard Dean who got the Hillary treatment, we’d never hear the end of  how outrageously unfair and unethical it is to disenfranchise 18 million voters. Right, guys?  You know I’m right.  But it’s Ok when it happens to someone else’s candidate.

Did we learn anything in the past four years?  I think some people have realized, too late, that they screwed up.  But is there something we can take from this example to guide us in the future?  I think the answer is that if you find out that a party and a candidate are willing to rewrite the rules on the fly and to apportion delegates to a candidate who wasn’t even on the ballot in one state in order to get a predetermined outcome, they will be more than willing to bend the rules to get what they want after the election is over.

I’d like to believe that there are still good people left in the party apparatus (still waiting for data on that) and that  those people would be willing to stand up and do what’s right.  If the primary system is meaningless, and all indications are that it is, then there should be little trouble questioning whether the “choice of no choice” this year is in the best interests of the party or the country.  Once upon a time, conventions were controversial and nomination votes went on for days until a nominee was selected.  Maybe this is the year to bring that back.

And there is still time for some of the more populous states of the nation to have their say.  Next week, California and New Jersey have their primaries.  Both states have a write in option.  Now is the time for voters to express their disapproval of the loss of their rights.  Maybe the spin doctors were able to write off the aberrations in the Arkansas, West Virginia and Kentucky primaries as racism.  But it’s harder to use that against California and New Jersey.

So, I am asking all voters in next week’s primaries to use your write in option to express your anger at the way this president and this Congress has trampled on your rights.  Write in a name.  You can choose whatever name you want.  Pick someone.  If you’re concerned with social/economic issues, why not Bernie Sanders?  If you are concerned with constitutional issues, why not Russ Feingold?  If you want a well rounded politician with experience, why not Hillary Clinton?  If you still think Howard Dean meant what he said about “the Democratic wing of the Democratic party”, write him in. YOU decide who that person is and write that name in.  These are big states and a write in campaign against the sitting president *will* get attention.

The Democrats, and particularly the Obama campaign, would like to control this election year so that nothing happens to distract the voters from the inevitability of Obama’s nomination.  And I say, fuck that shit. Don’t go down without a fight. What this country needs is a choice and some controversy and the ability to talk about stuff that concerns us without having some party apparatus muting our voices and changing the subject.

People are always asking, “I know it’s bad but what can we do??”.  You always have a choice.  Your vote is your own.  And just because Obama is the only named Democrat on the ballot in your state for President on the Democratic party’s ticket doesn’t mean you have to go along with the program.  All you need to do is tell two people and have them tell two people and so on and so on until there is critical mass (I’m guessing 30% of the voting Democrats would get their attention in a state the size of California).

Now, stop wringing your hands in frustration and worry.  You have 3 months to turn this ship around before the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina.  You can either be passive and allow the party to corral you because you are afraid of what might happen if you don’t go along with the program, or you can challenge the party and tell it to straighten up and fly right. Introduce some chaos so that the party isn’t just phoning it in this year.  Make them sweat. The last thing the party wants is a sign of disunity going into the general so its going to fight you.  But stand your ground and force it to have a national conversation about where it is planning to take the country in the future.

Because 400 years backwards is not my idea of progress.