I know, I know: In Boulder you never know until you know … but, could it be that we get through the spring without a massive snowstorm or deep freeze that kills off all but the hardiest fruit?
Don’t want to jinx any of this, but our peach tree has a bumper crop for only the second time in its 10-year life (though there was the year with one — and only one — peach). Fingers crossed.
In recognition of a fine spring so far, a few blossoming political thoughts:
Who knew that the Confederate States of America had such a good idea, lo, these 150 years ago?
Not talking about states’ rights — good up to a point — or the distastefully pro-slavery aspects of the Confederate Constitution. We’re talking about an idea whose time has come again: a single, six-year presidential term.
I first learned of this Southern notion while reading “Battle Cry of Freedom” by James McPherson, by far the most comprehensive and detailed history of the Civil War era that I’ve ever encountered.
The idea has gained a little currency as a discussion topic of late, quaint pipe dream though it may be.
Those opposed froth and fret about the horror, the horror of having a lousy president hanging around for six years instead of merely four. But let’s face it, more often than not — about two-thirds of the time, in fact — presidents in the post-Franklin D. Roosevelt era win re-election anyway, so they get eight years, thanks in part to the sheer weight of incumbency. And keep in mind that among the one-term presidents are one who was assassinated (Kennedy), one who did not stand for re-election (Johnson), one who suffered from the sins of his predecessor (Ford), and one who arguably lost due to an insurgent third-party candidacy (Bush pere).
In other words, it’s no use whining about six, long years when what we usually get is eight often-longer ones.
A single term would free the chief executive from having to expend endless energy campaigning, fundraising, positioning and triangulation for re-election. He or she arguably would be less beholden to special interests. Yes, in a dream world, but still.
Some argue that reforming the executive this way wouldn’t go far enough, and would be all but meaningless without term limits for all members of Congress, too. I used to be adamantly opposed to that idea, but at a time when fundraising advantage and transparent gerrymandering have rendered all but a few scattered seats wholly uncompetitive, I’ve become more open to the idea.
Won’t happen — what really does, these days? — but score one for Johnny Reb.
Here’s another swell idea most recently popularized by another feller from south of the Mason-Dixon line. Ah, that ain’t quite right, ponder: Gov’nuh Rick Perry hails from Texas, and as any Texan’ll tell you, they make up a whole region unto themselves.
Perry, dubbed Governor Goodhair by the late, lamented Molly Ivins, mostly made a fool of himself in his flameout of a campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, finally foundering on a relentless series of flubs — on Election Day, the voting age, the Supreme Court. The best was his literal “oops” moment when he couldn’t actually recall the third of three federal agencies he would cut. It’s all right, though; he said just last week that God will forgive his “oops moment,” even if “American might not forgive you for it.”
But he floated a genuinely intriguing idea — not original, but no less good for that — that got little press (what a shock, eh?): How about term limits for Supreme Court justices?
Under the Perry plan — again, not a ghost of a chance of passage — justices would be limited to eight-year terms. Terms would be staggered so that there would be one retirement, and thus one appointment, every two years. This way, no president would ever get to pick the majority of justices, and we wouldn’t have to put up with duds like Clarence Thomas — so impetuous that he has not opened his mouth during oral arguments, because he says his mind is already made up: “I refuse to participate.”
No doubt always tainted by politics, since the 2000 Bush-Gore decision the court has plunged into utter partisan predictability. Under such circumstances, it has become the most authoritarian branch of the federal government.
Finally, what say we return the power to wage war to the Congress, where the Founders said it belongs?
Although the United States has been at war almost continually since the end of World War II, not a single one of those “police actions” or “conflicts” or “armed interventions” has actually been declared a war by the Congress. Not Vietnam or Korea. Not Afghanistan or Iraq (times two). Not Grenada (snork) or Bosnia.
Oddly, there are laws in place that are supposed to ensure that presidents — “unitary executives,” “Big Brothers” or whatever — don’t get carried away with this stuff. But a craven and cowardly Congress has given in, time after time.
First, there is the War Powers Resolution, which forbids U.S. military forces to remain deployed for more than 60 days, plus a 30-day withdrawal period, without a formal authorization of military force or declaration of war by Congress. In many cases, a wimpy Congress has opted for the former. But both President Clinton in 1999 and President Obama in Libya in 2011 ignored the resolution altogether. Every president has dubbed it unconstitutional since its passage in 1973.
Then there’s the Abrams Doctrine, named after General Creighton Abrams, which sought to link the deployment of “weekend warriors” — military reserve units — to major ground warfare. The idea was to get presidents to think twice before committing troops, since reserves come from the general population and their deployment might bring with it a political price.
Post 9/11, we’re heaving loads of reservists National Guard members overseas and the vast majority of citizens — the real “99 percent” ; not even 1 percent of Americans now serve in the military — don’t seem to give a hoot, beyond slapping yellow ribbons on the ol’ SUV, shedding a few tears at the latest belligerent/sappy/patriotic country tune and slinging hollow praise at vets, clapping in airports, calling every one a “hero.” Every active military member and vet I’ve interviewed for a book project I’m working on sees right through this hollow praise, by the way, recognizing it for what it is: a balm for our guilt over sending someone else’s kids to fight wars our politicians start and we reflexively cheer.
The end of the quasi-American empire is coming, and good riddance. Casual warfare costs too much in blood (both “ours” and “theirs” ) and treasure. Despite the Paul Ryans and Mitt Romneys of the world, who feel that a defense budget that nearly doubles that of the rest of the world combined isn’t enough, our days of military adventurism are drawing to a close. Too expensive. Good riddance.
So. How about them peach trees, anyway?