H2O ManH2O Man's Journal
"All politics is local."
-- Tip O'Neill, Speaker of the House of Representatives
It's been a strange couple of weeks in rural, upstate New York. In one town, I helped run three campaigns; in a town in another county, I helped to run two. Although the record of candidates I've backed in elections in the past two years won five of five contests, this year's results were not so good (two wins and three loses). But we continue the Good Fight.
Early on the morning following one of my letters-to-the-editor being published in a small weekly, I had one of those annoying anonymous calls: "I hope you have life insurance, you big-mouthed asshole." Not having consumed any coffee, I was at a loss for a glib response. And the fellow hung up immediately anyhow.
I did a radio ad, focusing on a republican candidate's record with dumping toxic wastes in the town. I noted that if he wanted, I would be glad to debate him on the issue. After five days of play, he went to the radio station, and demanded the ad be dropped. The station manager offered to arrange a live, on-air debate, if the fellow wanted to "correct the record." He declined; the ad continued to play.
Last Sunday, a friend and I did some door-to-door dropping off of a campaign flier. Most people were interested in the flier. But not all: one fellow wanted to throw stuff at me; another wanted to push me; and a third had to struggle with the urge to punch me. As we left his driveway, he was yelling, "Fuck you! And fuck the environment, too!" Yikes! It's as if "road rage" has seeped into people's lawns and homes.
Five to one, baby, one in five
No one here gets out alive now
You get yours, baby, I'll get mine
Gonna make it, baby, if we try
The old get old and the young gets stronger
May take a week and it may take longer
They got the guns but we got the numbers
Gonna win, yeah, we're takin' over, come on!
-- James D. Morrison
Happy Daylight Savings Time.
"What did the President know, and when did he know it?"
I was thinking about that famous line today, on the ride home from doing some campaign work. And not in terms of President Obama; I wasn't thinking about any particular U.S. President, but more about what Michel Crozier spoke of in his 1964 book, "The Bureaucratic Phenomenon" (University of Chicago Press). It's the idea that in most large institutions, be they the French experience of Crozier's focus, or the US government, newly empowered "leaders" find it difficult -- if not impossible -- to enact the changes they believe they have been given a mandate for.
Now, obviously, I was tired: how else could my mind dance about from the five local "town" campaigns that I'm helping to run, to presidential politics? While three of the candidates are seeking re-election, two are new to running for office. One of the two is a retired university professor, the other a young business owner. Both are highly intelligent, socially conscious individuals, running for all the right reasons.
But they cannot fully appreciate -- yet -- how difficult it is to make changes, once they are in office. The other three do. They know it, from learning it in their first terms in office (the range there being 2 to 16 years).
"Local" politics is, sadly, beginning to be as raw and acrimonious as the decay in the Congress in Washington, DC. I'm currently working with a three-county bi-partisan group on a range of issues, from an epidemiological study of the most polluted town in the most polluted county in New York State, to endorsing candidates who advocate a balance between economic development and environmental responsibility. Sometimes, I feel that we are but a tiny island of sanity in a sea of madness (though Neil Young was not playing on the radio on my ride home).
Senator Howard Baker, Jr., who made the quote about the President and what he knew and when, joined other former Senate Majority Leaders Bob Dole, Tom Daschle, and George Mitchell, in forming the Bipartisan Policy Center. Odd, how much such a thing is needed today. Odder yet how unlikely it is that this type of effort is so far out of style.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not a Howard Baker fan. But I do realize that for much of his career in the Senate, his positions would disqualify him for today's party. That may be meaningless. From time to time, we read where some person or another claims that Dick Nixon was "more liberal" than President Obama -- which is an absolute fucking lie, and kind of true, all at the same time, because there were and are tons of issues, and times change.
Still, it strikes me as worth considering five of the points Baker, as the VP of the Senate Watergate Committee, made in its final report. (Funnier yet, to remember that Nixon wanted to appoint Baker to the US Supreme Court in '71; terrible that when Baker hesitated, Nixon appointed William Rehnquist.)
 He felt there should be a full-time "Public Prosecutor" to keep the Executive Branch from engaging in illegal and/or unethical practices .....after all, John Mitchell had shown that the Office of the Attorney General could be inhabited by a crook. Yet, there were questions about the constitutional balance of powers: Congress can impeach; the Courts decide legal cases. But neither prosecute criminal offenses. Baker supported Senator Ervin's suggestion that presidents appoint an independent "Public Prosecutor" to serve six year terms, and that any president would need Congress to okay the appointment (or firing thereof, to avoid another Saturday Night Massacre).
 Oversight of intelligence agencies: a novel concept then, which may seem impossible today, but which really deserves attention.
 Protection of witnesses' constitutional rights, when testifying before congressional committees. I think that we can have interesting discussions, when we look at how we feel about Nixon's men versus those serving a president we like: what rules create a just balance?
 Campaign and election reform: "Only individuals can vote, and I believe only individuals should be able to contribute," Baker noted, when discussing how corporate contributions to Nixon had financed the huge array of crimes known collectively as "Watergate." That attempted theft of our constitutional democracy almost succeeded. Curiously, Baker believed the fallout from Watergate would prevent any president in the near future from attempting such things again. (This relates to #5 and then his gig with Reagan. Older DUers will recall when Baker took over for Donald Regan, towards the end of the Gipper's 2nd term; Regan believed he was the "prime minister" of Ronald Reagan's very Imperial Presidency.)
 Baker thought the description "Imperial President" was cliche, and that the "Strong President" -- with increased power and authority -- was a natural development in our maturing democracy. He was, of course, very wrong about that. However, he did express concern that US Presidents were becoming isolated by their growing personal staffs; more, Congress had less ability to exercise the checks and balances defined in the Constitution, because the president's staff, unlike the cabinet, was largely beyond their reach. Again, for both "good" and "bad" administrations, there might be a benefit for placing more power in a cabinet than staff -- from the public's point of view.
What do you think?
Bonus Question: Who was the far too often overlooked "6th buglar" at the Watergate? Hint: he wasn't caught inside, or ever charged. Next Hint: He worked for McCord for quite a while. And he was paid from Dean's "hush money" that was never accounted for.
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