Sunday, July 22, 2007

What's at stake here?

By Carol Gee

It is debilitating to the spirit to lose faith in the premises guarding the stability of basic U.S. institutions. Those of us in opposition to the current administration have looked in recent times to Congress and the courts to restore that faith. How are the legislative and judicial branches of government doing this week?

Institutional failure - Congress is seen as dysfunctional by a majority of the American people. Immigration reform failed not long ago, and last week the Senate was unable to pass a 2008 defense spending bill. Carl Hulse, writing for the (7/20/07) New York Times, presents and excellent analysis of the internal dynamics of the breakdown. Psychologically, Senators feelings have been bruised by the process. To quote,

. . . in stalemate, lawmakers of both parties said they had rarely seen the tone so poisonous and the willingness to work together on the floor at such a low ebb.


The Rule of Law - The judiciary is doing a bit better, in my opinion. There is consistent reason to believe that courts are upholding the rule of law regarding U.S. treatment of persons detained as suspected terrorists. The New York Times (on 7/20/07) reported that the ruling by a federal appeals court will once again reign in an out of control Justice Department. To quote,

A federal appeals court ordered the government yesterday to turn over virtually all its information on Guantánamo detainees who are challenging their detention, rejecting an effort by the Justice Department to limit disclosures and setting the stage for new legal battles over the government’s reasons for holding the men indefinitely.

Humane treatment for all - In a related matter, according to the (7/20/07) New York Times, the C.I.A. will be allowed to resume interrogations of terror suspects. The key to the terms of the order is not what must be provided to prisoners, but what is allowed to be done to them in the course of questioning. All that, unfortunately, is left to the imagination. To quote,

An executive order signed by President Bush allows the C.I.A. to use some interrogation methods banned for military interrogators but that the Justice Department has determined do not violate the Geneva strictures.

Separation of Church and State - In a disturbing trend for Progressives, since the turn of the century the lines between church and state have almost been obliterated. Federal funds go to religious organizations, the courts are clogged with religious litigation, and there is no rest for candidates for the office of President on this 7th day of the week. On this day of worship for Christians, these office-seekers will likely get questions about religion. Candidates' religious beliefs used to be a very personal matter. No more says the New York Times. To quote,

Polls in recent years have shown a clear shift in religious considerations. The vast majority of Americans at this point, . . . care less about sectarian affiliation . . . and more generally about whether the candidate believes in God and how that lends itself to a moral framework.

A national telephone survey released earlier this year by the Pew Research Center asked which traits, including being black, a woman, a Mormon, a Muslim, or a homosexual, would help or hurt a candidate the most. The worst trait for a candidate to possess? “Doesn’t believe in God.”

Electoral process and basic U.S. institutions - In addition to looking to Congress and the courts, we are also now looking towards a new administration of the executive branch of government. We are deep in the middle of the 2008 Presidential campaign. Both Democrats and Republicans are focusing on those states that are early decision makers. And lawmakers up for re-election next year are voting in ways they hope will make them successful. The very fate of the nations basic institutions will be deeply influenced by the decisions we voters are currently making. We will be deciding about our next national leaders as we find out what they think about the nation's basic institutions. There is absolutely that much at stake.

If your spirits are now debilitated as a result of this post, there is a wonderful antidote in Michael's post below, "John Constable: The Hay Wain (1821)." It is balm for the spirit and just lovely.

Cross-posted at South by Southwest

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