Saturday, November 08, 2008

Adam K. in the Covenant Zone - Palinite

After warning us what the Obama administration will do if it is smart about irreversibly transforming America and its Constitutional order, Adam begins to unfold an inverse strategy for those full of (presently fantastic, but eventually possible) visions of how Washington could be turned back to the people. His is a message for the thinking representatives of the vast majority of Americans, those without any power or benefit in the present Washington game, or those who can disavow present interests in the name of a necessary freedom for the future nation, those who can now start producing thought experiments in hopes for making subtle changes in the culture at large, in the quest to erode the liberal fascist order and renew the constitutionalism proper to a self-ruling nation.

But note, this will require a discipline for building (imagined and real) covenants, a great love for, an understanding of, freedom and nation and ordinary people, and not just angry rhetoric obsessed with the evils of the present regime:
I haven’t spoken about the Palin phenomenon, but would like to now, because it is linked to a broader point: the absolute need, if we are to extricate ourselves from what seems to me to be a death spiral (the success of the 9/11 attacks), to demolish the Washington “establishment”: there is almost nothing actually existing in Washington, with the exception of Constitutionally mandated institutions, that I wouldn’t include in this imperative. The CIA should be abolished and replaced by human intelligence gathering groups directly accountable to the President; the State Department should be eviscerated; we should bring back the “spoils system,” so that a new Adminstration can be genuinely responsible for the actions it undertakes–I would like to set the major political parties on the road to extinction, first of all by removing any legal forms which elevate them above any other private association; the same for the big media. And that’s just for starters. All this is in the realm of fantasy (and, perhaps, liberating thought experiments) at this point, of course–I raise the issue here not because I necessarily think Sarah Palin would do any of these things, but because there is no doubt that official Washington and its media praetorian guard saw her as a deadly threat to business as usual. The frame-up of Palin revolved around her unfamiliarity with Washingtonese and media-speak–I would agree that she probably doesn’t know much about some foreign policy issues, but neither did Clinton or Bush before being elected, neither does Obama, and Biden knows a lot more that isn’t true than is. They have no more brains than she does: the difference, to paraphrase the Wizard of Oz’s speech to the strawman at the end of the movie, is that they have been “certified” by the establishment and she hasn’t. The most remarkable and prescient events of the campaign might turn out to be those disastrous interviews: what a careful and sympathetic viewer saw in Palin’s encounters with the “mainstream” media was someone torn between her lack of familiarity with the terms of a very hostile environment, her loyalty to her running mate which led, in turn, to her exaggerated deference to the standardized “official” discourse with which the campaign advisors tried to inculcate her, and her own, rather precise but largely unwelcome convictions and political instincts. Torn to the point of incoherence: when, in that cring-producing moment, Katie Couric asked her which newspapers and magazines she reads, and Palin answered “all of them,” as a writing instructor I saw the terror of the student desperate not to be “wrong” and rummaging through her store of commonplaces for a serviceable answer that won’t draw upon itself the dreaded red ink (”what is this essay about?”–”He is making a point about universal human nature”…)–I imagine that, running through her mind at that moment was something like “Oh my God, they didn’t tell me which newspapers and magazines I read!”

It was very good for us to see it and, I hope, in the long run, for Palin to have experienced it–because it is only those who are untutored in Washington’s ways, but skeptical enough to burst the bubbles of conventional wisdom (and there Palin certainly has some work to do) who can save us at this point. Margins of the political system must be sought where “unregulated” associations and agendas can be formed–there’s no need to ignore the pseudo-center, but no serious political activity at this point can allow itself to be dependent upon it either. My own favorite is a movement organized around constitutional amendments: let’s sit down a formulate the language knocking the media, the judiciary, the universities, and the political parties off of the pedestal they have erected for themselves; let’s see if we can revise the terms of accountability of elected officials for the programs they establish by forcing Congress, not unelected bureaucrats, to set the rules according to which laws will be implemented–I am confident that language in all of these cases, and many more, can be found that would gain the support of the 2/3-3/4 of Americans needed to pass new amendments, and such a campaign would be an unprecedented experience in trans-partisan political self-education. We could then hold politicians accountable to their stand on the amendments. Let’s see if we can be subtle and irreversible ourselves: all ideas conforming to our constitutional order should be welcomed into the discussion.

GABlog » Blog Archive » Subtle and Irreversible


Dag said...

Adam's points,point for point might not be transnational, but I do think they are universal in a meaningful sense. Palin has nothing to do with Canada, for example, or France, but Palinism is universal within Modernity, and Modernity is universal if unattained elsewhere.

The goal needs strategies. A team, and many teams. Sarah Palin might not be the ultimate political palin but for now she is our best hope, so long a there is any hope that people care at all about Human decency rather than the narcissism of Obama-love.

maccusgermanis said...

The proposals are recklessly populist. Washington doesn't need to be turned from elitism to populism, but rather recalled to proper federal restraint. He warns of a "media Praetorian guard," in the same piece that he suggest the CIA be directly accountable to the president. Congress doesn't need to be more accountable about programs, that they've no Constitutional authority to create in the first place.

He shows himself a fan of censorship with the following, "let’s sit down a formulate the language knocking the media... off of the pedestal they have erected for themselves." The pedestals may be of the design of the media, but are erected by those that defer the manufacture of their opinions to such mills.

If there is to be a "Palinite revolution," then it should be more about strengthening the individuals power to assert their Constitutionally protected, and otherwise reserved powers, than making a more efficient tyranny of dumb masses.

Vancouver visitor said...

Since it's impossible to know everything, Palin necessarily must rely on advisers. What you need to watch for in Palin is clear evidence that she is good at reading, choosing, and using people. With all the media bias and the McCain camp shielding her, we do not know whether or not she has those qualities.

truepeers said...


My take on Adam is that he is not any kind of classical populist, in the sense that he does not advocate for new and improved demagogues riling up the masses every four years and then exercising power with an eye to throwing the crowd some meat at opportune times.

"Populism", it seems to me, implies a certain kind of relationship between center and periphery; it is not solely or even largely a peripheral phenomenon but a way for the periphery to flatter itself by taking control of the center or allowing the center to flatter the periphery.

Adam is interested in how the necessary center of attention in any kind of human representation can be increasingly located in a peripheral circulation, a freer marketplace, while the old centers of power are reduced to their minimally necessary roles and engaged with the representatives of the peripheral flow through a well-articulated process. In short, he wants to further the process of making individuals into centers of attention in their own right, and not in the name of some particular populist creed taking power.

His is rather a vision of how individual freedom to take on iconic roles in representing the common nation, the freedom shared by all, can be renewed. And the representatives he envisions, while not part of a centralized elite, are not so much appealing to popular resentments of the center (though inevitably there will be some of that) as to the need for individual responsibility in the exercise of necessary freedoms (necessary so that we can move away from centralized scandals and crises that threaten to throw us all into unproductive and dangerous conflict).

The new iconic representatives' claim to have a say is not so much based on the kind of pandering that might win 51% of the vote, it is not often even electoral, but rather a claim on every citizen's right (something most don't well exercise and so something most are not fully a part of) to engage an ongoing conversation about our shared reality, a conversation that is the product of some decentralized network, a network that needs various, more or less self-selecting people, to take public stands in ways that usefully reveal our shared reality, and symbolize the work of defending and renewing the constitution that allows this conversation to flourish.

This work must be as much about individuals doing what only responsible individuals can do, by taking a temporary role in fighting for intellectual, legislative or administrative changes (and then leaving the public scene to participate with others in the new and open-ended possibilities of the change) as it is about movements focused on particular interests winning control of centralized powers and holding on to them.

I don't think he is advocating censorship. I think he might argue that there is today a nexus of political-academic-media elites that benefit from a certain regulatory order and constitutional interpretation that is elitist. He wants to question this order and suggest ways a newer and freer order might evolve within a new framework.

In other words, every market reality is framed by a prior and more fundamental political reality. In the final analysis, politics or ethics always has the last say over economics. We cannot simply think in terms of market freedom; we cannot avoid the political question of what regulatory framework is best to maximize media freedom. And so we have to have ways of saying our politics needs to be articulated in a way that can help us get rid of the old powers, not by censoring them but by making a freer arena in which they will have their limits revealed and discounted. For example, if Obama sneaks in a new Fairness Doctrine, do we have the ability to articulate an alternative constitutional vision that will bring out people, especially those in responsible positions, to stand up and create insurmountable obstacles to the Fairness Doctrine?

Anonymous said...

I'll just add briefly the following:

1) Regarding censorship, I have quite the opposite in mind--something as simple as an amendment making it unconstitutional for any particular member or branch of the media to be privileged legally. For example, if there are going to be campaign finance rules governing who can put on a political ad and when, then the in-kind campaign contributions offered by editorials in newspapers (for starters) should be included as well. We should, then be able to investigate any possible "coordination" between campaigns and media outlets (although I hope that in this sphere, at least, the result would be to break up the campaign finance laws which merely protect the "media-political party complex"--and I suspect the media's support for these laws would evaporate as soon as the laws were to be turned against them). The TV stations are no different than anyone else with cameras and computers. The same for any "press shield" laws--a reporter who witnesses or participates in the commission of a crime has exactly the same responsbilities and liabilities as any other citizen. The big media, in other words, is treated both tacitly and officially as a kind of 4th branch of government, and that is what should be eliminated (that's the "pedestal" I am referring to). It's got absolutely nothing to do with telling anyone what they can publicize or expose or argue--it is about establishing different classes of citizens and rights, which is anathema to our founding principles. If we sat down to talk about these rights and privileges, we might find that the big media has already arrogated to itself a lot more than we realize.

2) Regarding populism--obviously, if I am arguing for tighter accountability on the part of elected officials, which in turn implies those officials are doing much less (only what lies within their competence), I am in favor of securing the power of the government by restricting it to what it can and should do. This is why I argue for the general and usually "austere" language of constitutional amendments, which furthermore require supermajorities to the much more concrete, prescriptive and majoritarian referendum. If my proposals would give more power to the people, it would be a power in the private sphere which would ultimately influence a government now restrained within its proper boundaries: for example, as political parties are marginalized, we might discover all kinds of new ways of putting up candidates for public office. The government is reduced to providing security and ensuring the sanctity of contracts. (The President actually is empowered to defend the country; the media is not empowered to defend some self-serving "people's right to know")

As for which Congressional programs Congress has not the Consitutional right to establish, I look forward to debates over the language through which we can "re-encode" the limitations which our eroded constitutional order no longer respect. Most of the necessary amendments would simply affirm what is already in the Constitution and its founding assumptions but has been allowed to whither.

Thanks for the discussion...


maccusgermanis said...


While defending the writer, whom I never meant to attack, you failed to address my charge that the proposals are recklessly populist. I may agree with the writer in general principles of a more free discussion, but think his actual proposals counter-productive. -In actual fact, I think the piece poorly considered all together-

Bringing back the, "spoils system" would grant over-reaching power to one tyrant, and then to the next. It fails to address either need for continuity, or for foils to popular passions.

What exactly are the "legal forms which elevate them [DNC/GOP] above any other private association?" Most distinctions that I am aware of are limiting, rather than elevating. Which does paradoxically give established parties a leg up on compliance issues, but is no special "elevating" license. Dragging down the established parties wouldn't be as effective in leveling the playing field for newcomers, as would repeal of McCain-Fiengold.

There does exist a problem among the populace in their deferment to media elites. But this is not created nor solved by government intervention. No law forced Palin to say, "all of them." Timidity when confronted with a elitism that she conspires in did. The common American, like VonStuben's soldier, should be able to look the elites in the eye and say, why should I read your paper?

The structure of gov't isn't the problem. The elitism is an illusion in which the masses want to believe. Break the belief, or better yet the desire for the belief.

maccusgermanis said...


1) I would argue for equal protection, rather than sum total zero protection. And would further prefer that the issue be left to the States, as it currently is.

2) Well the super majority requirement is good news, as the amendments you've proposed so far can easily be defeated.

truepeers said...

Bringing back the, "spoils system" would grant over-reaching power to one tyrant, and then to the next. It fails to address either need for continuity, or for foils to popular passions.

-well this isn't something to which I have given a lot of thought; but it seems to me that if the desire is for minimal and responsible government, making properly political actors politically accountable may not be a bad idea. Why must we imagine a "return" to the spoils system will take us back to the old games of ethnic ward heelers? Would any imaginable spoils system necessarily be tyrannical?

Perhaps the question is one of reconsidering which government jobs are properly political and which in need of disinterested people.

The problem Adam is reacting to, of course, is that large numbers of tenured officials whose tenure is premised on the notion that they are disinterested and serving the national interest in its own security have just spent the last eight years undermining the Bush administration, and often in ways that threaten national security and the lives of individual Americans/military personnel. The State Department, most famously, refused to serve the President in good faith, believing Gore, and liberalism more generally, was the only legitimate outcome of the 2000 election. They have become unaccountable patrons to those who use victimary blackmail to guide the course of international politics.

It seems to me that undermining tenure - making it more accountable - in all kinds of institutions would be a good thing. This is not to say there won't still be some space for it, nor need it mean substituting the most venal patronage system. Could we not imagine an American citizenry with the ability to watch and punish the potential for abuses, putting a pressure on leaders to make good, if frankly and honestly political, appointments?

As for your question regarding the political parties, I am not familiar enough with American electoral and financing laws to answer. But what about Adam's point that the media have basically become shills for the Democrats (not to forget a large class of heavily subsidized transnational bureaucrats/NGOs/academics and rentier economic interests of all kinds) and are not subject to any kind of election spending laws? Look, for example, at the kind of high-end consumer/housing advertising that supports many of the major newspapers that are unabashedly liberal in their politics?

Anonymous said...


Equal protection for all media producers? Yes, of course--the protection against censorship guaranteed by the First Amendment. But that is hardly a state matter--not even primarily, much less exclusively. Unless I'm misunderstanding you.

Easily defeated? I suppose right now they might be (certainly the media would wage a ferocious campaign defending its privileges)--any such political movement would have to choose wisely where to begin--perhaps with an amendment disallowing the judiciary from ruling on gay marriage; or restoring certain rights and responsibilities to the states.

One way or another, it's hard right now to see where the effective and sustained challenges to the victimary regime would come from. I'd willingly concede that my own proposal might provide some productive ways to think about these things more than realistic maps for change. We'll see where the political energy flows in the near future.


Anonymous said...

I "misplaced" an earlier comment; very quickly:

1) As truepeers is suggesting, the point of the "spoils system" is to attack all kinds of "tenure"--of course, over time, cadres who are trusted by one adminstration after another would emerge, and so there would be the required continuity--it wouldn't be a permanent bureaucracy, though, with interests of its own. And I think the more open system I am suggesting would militate strongly against the corruption of the party machine which was associated with the spoils system prior to the Progressive reforms early in the 20th century.

2) Government structure must be important--otherwise, why argue against "reckless" proposals? Presumably you think changes in government structure can cause harm. More important, though, is simply opening up new discussions by focusing attention on sacred cows and the taken-for-granted: I genuinely support what I am arguing for here (I'm not just being "provocative"), but would be just as happy to see others, recognizing problems and possibilities my "wild" proposals point to, suggest alternatives, perhaps more realistic ones. Those of us outside of the Obama cult will probably have time and "leisure" for some free and wide ranging conversations. And a good starting point might be to identify what objections and remedies to the current state of affairs we might be able to get 65-70% of Americans to agree on.


maccusgermanis said...


Bush could have replaced more officials. Clinton did. I think keeping an eye toward continuity wise. Just what amendment is thought necessary to bring accountability anyway? Are these officials not now subject to executive, judicial, and even legislative over site?

And who would you replace them with? The theories, that I suspect we might agree to be objectionable, are taught to students of the various disciplines at various universities. We can't lose in the populace, and in the schools, and honestly expect a magical pool of qualified replacements to fill our spoils.

And the concept of "to the victor got the spoils," actually undermines the thought of over site. Can the new president choose whomever he likes or had we rather put, "a pressure on leaders to make good, if frankly and honestly political, appointments?"

and are not subject to any kind of election spending laws?
As with gun control, spending laws only effect those that will be governed. An equitable solution would be to repeal spending laws.

maccusgermanis said...

But that is hardly a state matter--not even primarily, much less exclusively. Unless I'm misunderstanding you.

Various States have varying "shield laws" for press. In Alabama, it has been ruled that, Newspapers, Radio, and Television are afforded such protection, while Magazines are not. I think it a silly distinction, but prefer local solutions, however imperfect, to nationally misfit ones. I would sooner favor an amendment that declared every citizen a potential, therefore equally protected, agent of news gathering than to strip protection from those that have it.

1) The dispersal of power that has been unconstitutionally collected in Washington will change the nature of politics. To exert the same control would require hive mentality of all local governance. Your proposed, complete fluctuation between disparate poles does only make a continuity of upheaval.

2) 65% of Americans should be able to agree that we don't actually agree on all matters, recognize that the borders and governance of 50 States are well enough established, and stop trying to nationalize every problem.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'll end this discussion by saying that I would be quite happy to see a movement for constitutional amendments get its start with attempts to reaffirm a more reasonable division of powers between state and federal governments, one more conformity with the original terms of the constitution.

truepeers said...

Bush could have replaced more officials. Clinton did. I think keeping an eye toward continuity wise. Just what amendment is thought necessary to bring accountability anyway? Are these officials not now subject to executive, judicial, and even legislative over site?

-i can't pretend to know much about the system, but I've read that it is very difficult to fire people in the State Department, for example. Not only do they have all kinds of union protections but if the top civil servants take an anti-President position, as they have done with Bush, there is no internal policing and it's very difficult I imagine for anyone else to manage them, unless the President took it upon himself to fight what probably he can't fight effectively without a lot of political support, or Congress had the courage to legislate the entire lot out of existence.

And who would you replace them with? The theories, that I suspect we might agree to be objectionable, are taught to students of the various disciplines at various universities. We can't lose in the populace, and in the schools, and honestly expect a magical pool of qualified replacements to fill our spoils.

-obviously we can't win back the culture in short order. But we do need to think about where and how to start, what positions might be captured and how. There are always some students (and even a few academics) who buck the mainstream; and there are always some people getting their real education, through various means, once they leave school.

And the concept of "to the victor got the spoils," actually undermines the thought of over site. Can the new president choose whomever he likes or had we rather put, "a pressure on leaders to make good, if frankly and honestly political, appointments?"

-well if you're talking Congressional oversight, that could be factored into any system. But a lot of oversight would have to be internal to the various political alliances as each person in the network could be held accountable for failure, etc. Surely the President wouldn't know enough people or have the time. There would have to be various ways of delegating decision making and holding people to transparency and accountability. Anyway, it's all a matter for much reflection, something I certainly haven't done. In any case no system will ever be perfect or free of corruption. But that shouldn't stop people from discussing alternatives to the current system if they see real problems with it.

Anonymous said...

I know, I said I was finished, but just to follow up a bit on truepeers--if there is a criticism to be made of my proposals it is not that they are populist but rather that they are radical--they are radical hypotheses, aimed at initiating conversations regarding what is absolutely essential to our constitutional order and what has merely acquired the weight of habit and inertia. There is nothing wrong with habit and inertia as such--obviously, very few institutions and practices will be deliberately initiated or planned. But what is part of our founding would require either another founding or internal subversion to transform; what has been accumuluted through habit can be countered by installing other habits, even while we can't know what the final result will look like. It is true (I didn't claim otherwise on this point) that the President could fire and replace a lot more personnel than they usually do, so the point about amendments was only indirectly connected to that issue, as part of a broader attitude toward the cultural entrenchment of the Left in these institutions and the kind of focus and energy that would be needed, at this point, to displace those entrenched forces. If some President took upon himself the responsibility to put his stamp on the permanent bureaucracy, it might lead to catastrophe and scare future Presidents away from rocking the boat; or, it might lead to a very successful Presidency, in which case future Presidents would be held to that standard. For a President to pare down and focus in that way would require discipline and insistence upon accountability: he would need a tightly organized team, and each member of his immediate circle would have their own team, and so on, leading to substantial restaffing, and, I think, a narrowed focus, bringing us back to what the President was really meant to be. This was the kind of thing Bush was accused of back in 2002-5 (the so-called "unitary executive"), with regard to intelligence and war-making, and what is interesting is that the very idea of him doing what he had every right to do (take a personal interest in intelligence procedures, overrule generals, etc.) could be seen as something frightening. Those invested in habit and inertia were fighting back against "energy in the executive," precisely when it was necessary, leading to a veritable revolt of those bureaucracies against their President. Such inertia will be much less disturbing to a status quo, transnational progressive than to someone who genuinely wants "change" towards an exceptionalist American order organized around the articulation of liberty and accountability presupposed by the Constitution. What kinds of "attitudes" and starting points--where do we start to "probe" in order to discoved and exploit those vulnerabilities of the transnational, victimary order? That's the kind of question I am trying, first of all, to ask, and get others to ask.


maccusgermanis said...

Radical - roots = federalism

I am disturbed that, when I critique something as populist, then I'm meant to be soothed with, "energy in the executive." Inertia is a very positive thing, when would be reformers dream of giving their chosen executive greater power, while forgetting that the next executive gets the same. You're critisizing a system that I don't believe you well understand. The office of the president is more exposed to populist excess, than balance of power, that includes bureacratic inertia.

Anonymous said...

I am left disoriented by this debate. There are a handful of issues on which I feel I have common cause with the writers of this blog. The most important, and the one that keeps me coming back, is our mutual contempt for government restrictions on speech. The contemporary free speech battle happens to involve pushing back against the power of human rights tribunals, but in the past the lines were drawn around issues of libel or pornography. Even with the added clarification, the comments about knocking the media off its pedestal are still vague enough to be dangerous to the side of free speech. A vigorous defence of press freedom does not begin by wondering whether the editorial stance of newspapers should be investigated for violating campaign finance laws. Also, shield laws are a good idea. The jailing of journalists during the Libby investigation demonstrated excessive state power. I am sympathetic if you want to extend the definition of ‘reporter’ perhaps. Otherwise it is worth protecting the rights that exist.

The theme of using laws to marginalize political parties is also strange. Modern democracy is party democracy. There are ‘independent’ revolts every now and then but parties stay around. Even the Founders, despite their dislike of factions, couldn’t get away from the usefulness of partisan labels and ended up giving birth to parties. Passing amendments(!) attempting to curb party power is going to turn out either ineffective or non-democratic.


truepeers said...


Well, the stated idea behind the discussion is to disorient our minds a little. We shouldn't be complacent in our thinking so why not indulge from time to time in thought experiments to see where they can take us?

Anyway, it's pretty clear to me Adam isn't advocating censorship. He is talking about knocking off one form of media by replacing it with a freer form, a better business model for our times. Business in a free market is something akin to a Darwinian struggle. Every industry has its winners and losers but that's not usually seen as a question of censorship.

As for violating campaign finance laws, I think the suggestion here is not to engage in witch trials of the established media but to change the laws so as not to give one political camp an advantage - i.e. again the suggestion is in the way of freeing up people to do as they will, not fetter one side with spending laws while allowing the other side's de facto media supporters to go unfettered: the solution is free everyone.

Why do you think shield laws are a good idea if they are protecting journalists from consequences for sharing in the commission of a crime? Why should some kind of accredited journalists have a special license to engage, e.g., in the leaking of documents, in acts that would be for me as a blogger presumably still a criminal offense? Why should one camp have a special advantage? If there are legitimate state reasons for keeping documents secret, why should any kind of media be able to break the law with impunity?

Finally, as to the point about parties, yes it is hard to imagine a system without some kind of party institutions, but why not discuss how we might increase the degree of openness and freedom within these institutions, something which may well at times entail end runs around corrupt parties?