Thursday, January 17, 2008

Political musings...

Does it matter very much if I know that my favorite political candidate cannot win the office he is running for? In discussion I have heard it said that voting for an unelectable candidate seems like an empty gesture.

I have given much thought to this idea over the past couple of years. In part, because some of my associates express such strong feelings of contempt for that very notion. Perhaps this would be an interesting topic to develop further.

I've had to ask myself, what difference does it make, then, if my vote is wasted? Apparently I have wasted it anyway, voting for a candidate that I don't really want, who just seems to be the least awful alternative.

In an ideal situation, we would be presented with at least one good choice. I cannot recall that happening in the national political scene, not for a very long time.

We hear it said from time to time that the Founding Fathers believed in a caste system - those with education and land, versus those that do not. If you did not own land, you could not vote. If you were black or a woman, you could not vote.

I think this premise is subject to reasonable debate.

I would not characterize the colonial voting rules as a "caste" system -- unless you consider rules for establishing a certain minimum level of social responsibility as a way of imposing caste levels. The colonists were concerned that voters would be invested with an important measure of political power and influence. They were hesitant to extend this power to the uninformed, uninterested, or irresponsible.

The Founding Fathers apparently saw cause for imposing a rational check on voting entitlement. The property ownership requirement was calculated to eliminate casual voters. Women were vested through their spouses vote.

Who can say that today's system works better?

One of the more specious challenges in debating about national involvement in war is the assertion that they are somehow less than legitimate for being absent an "official declaration of war" from Congress.

Seems like quite a few armchair quarterbacks get really perturbed about this point. Isn't that sorta drawing a fine line, since most US Presidents and Congresses have largely ignored the absolute formality? I would have guessed that most of us know when we're at war because the Congress votes to fund the military action, thus giving tacit approval.

I've wondered a number of times, hearing this complaint, if perhaps the stricter meaning you're using isn't just a sort of political gripe, to be used when you want to find fault with someone you don't like.

Obviously, many Presidential administrations and Congressional constituencies do not subscribe to this specifically nuanced interpretation of the Constitution. Though in most instances, national "war" standing was ratified by the Congress, a formal document titled "US Congress Declaration of War" has seldom been issued.

Perhaps those who argue so can explain further why Constitutional policy should operate as they insist. Their interpretation seems to be at odds with most of those involved in actions directly related to this issue. As far as I can tell, the issue has never even been tested in the Supreme Court, which seems like the appropriate place to address such concerns, if anyone felt it was such a vital point.

Claiming the moral high ground in this instance does not seem very efficacious. To me it seems this argument has overburdened Article 1 Section 8 with arbitrary extra meaning that it does not contain, and perhaps never has. Proponents of the contrary bear the obligation to demonstrate proof of culpability of US Governments from historical precedent. According to my understanding, this is how US law and government work. Even the earliest practitioners of Constitutional procedure -- e.g. John Adams -- did not consider any specific formal Congressional declaration to be necessary. The issue has never been tested in the US Supreme Court, where Constitutional interpretation is properly adjudicated. That fact in itself indicates that any arbitrary application of "illegal" in this sense is stretching the issue.

By tradition, the President informs the Congress and obtains approval and support for waging war. This satisfies the "declaration" requirement. Current practice has been going on for hundreds of years. Now suddenly, some have noticed that if we nuance the interpretation of Article 1 a certain way, it would seem to indicate that long-standing tradition violates the strictest Constitutional mandate.

In reality, the textual document of the US Constitution actually contains very little specific information. Most of the practices that have evolved as a result of Constitutional interpretation are based on extraneous doctrine -- assumptions about interpretation, development of traditions and customs, general consensus, and formal legal challenges through the Supreme Court where there is disagreement.

Thus, I would assert that there is little basis for arguing that this is any kind of serious violation -- certainly not worth considering as an impeachable offense.

Nowhere can I find in the US Constitution where it says that the Congress must sit down and write out a piece of paper containing the assertion, "We hereby formally declare war". Nor is any other specific requirement iterated, other than the stipulation for "declaration of war".

Unless it can be established by historical example or logical argument that the current practice varies somehow from the traditional interpretation and application, I think the case carries no weight. I expect that actions of the members of US government, as practiced since the very founding of the Constitution, do reflect what those men believed to be the intent and will of the original framers. From the very beginning, the office of the President has had responsibility to formally identify challenges to the sovereign status of the country, to deploy responding military forces, and to alert the Congress of these threats. The Congress has traditionally ratified acts initiated by the President -- by title, the "Commander in Chief" of the US military.

Sometimes that ratification has taken the form of "rubber stamping". Other times, Congress has enjoined very lively debate about the President's actions, which have certainly had significant impact on how the President conducted war.

In current practice, the Congress is the primary oversight authority, and has responsibility to regularly approve deployment and funding of our military. This is far more interactive and regulatory than any mere issuing of a formal document of "declaration".

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