Monday, October 30, 2006

What amendment could stop mudslinging?

I had started writing this before the November 2006 election, but had gotten distracted by RL issues. This is a continuation post-election, with concerns about how negative campaigning will affect the 2008 elections:

The closer we get to an Election Day, the more negative advertisements you get on your televisions. And your radios. And your telephones. If the campaigns had a way to broadcast directly into your heads, we'd be having psychic mudslinging 24/7.

Here's a set of examples from 2006:
  • Incumbent Mike DeWine (R) running an ad claiming his opponent Sherrod Brown (D) hadn't paid unemployment taxes years ago... whichwas false (the tax lien was paid but the paperwork on it wasn't filed by the government until recently). Even after the facts were laid out, the GOP refused to back down from the claim.
  • In Tennessee, well if I just say "Tennessee bimbo" you'll immediately recognize the infamous race-baiting ad that Republican Bob Corker had running that insinuated his African-American Democratic opponent Harold Ford had a thing for white women. (Sidenote: the SOB responsible for the ad, Terry Nelson, had been hired by John McCain to assist on McCain's 2008 Presidential bid. One more reason I no longer support McCain).
  • In Connecticut, Joe Lieberman pulled out a cartoon bear that attacked his primary opponent Ned Lamont of association with Lieberman's ancient opponent Lowell Weicker, implying that Lamont will share Weicker's weaknesses (absenteeism, wacky voting record, stealing people's picnic baskets, etc.).
  • Here's a site which has a list of some of the worst mudslinging across the nation, from both Republicans and Democrats.

And these are just the ones I can fit here. There's bad blood in nearly every state in nearly every election.

I'm not the only one complaining about this: here's a link to a Slate commentary on it. Pick your choice of newspaper and you're bound to find an editorial comment decrying the mudslinging and how worse it's become. Because, sad to say it, this sort of crap has been flung about ever since the parties came into existence here...

Let's go back to the first true open election, the one in 1796 when George Washington refused to serve a third term. For the love of all that's holy, we had mudslinging back then between the Federalists and the Republicans (they would evolve into Democrats waaaaaay later). And that was just the beginning of open partisan politics.
  • The election in 1800 was worse than that. Sally Hemmings *is* the original scandal girl.
  • Let's try 1824, with the mudslinging directed at Andrew Jackson, and specifically at his wife: her divorce hadn't been finalized when they married, so critics accused them of bigamy. She died during the election year, and Jackson believed those mudslingers had killed her.
  • Try 1860 and 1864. Southerners burned Lincoln in effigy in 1860, which kinda made it tough for him to campaign in those states. Race-baiting Democrats for the 1864 election, in the midst of the Civil War, actually invented a new word miscegenation to accuse Republicans of wanting black men to marry white daughters.
  • Try the greatest election scandal ever in 1884 when Grover Cleveland was running for the White House: "Ma! Ma! Where's my Pa?" Which the Republicans were using to hide the fact that their candidate Blaine was caught in business and financial scandals. Mark Twain famously noted that as Cleveland was honest in politics and Blaine honest in private life that Cleveland should be elected to public office and Blaine left to the private life.
  • Try 1964. LBJ's campaign painting Goldwater as a nutcase. The infamous Daisy ad, implying Goldwater would call down a nuclear countdown, the crowning achievement of mudslinging advertisements.
  • Try 1988. Willie Horton.
  • Try the Clinton years. Oh ye Gods. The Republicans are still throwing mud at Slick Willy, and he's not even in office anymore.
And again, I could go on.

And the problem is, how in God's name can we stop this?

Mudslinging may be traditional but it's a horrible one: it forces voters to look at the negatives, and sometimes those negatives are fabricated or unrelated to the issues at hand. Why worry about failing schools and low wages and almost no job security when you could worry instead about the snuke in Hilary's crotch?

The problem is, for all intents, this gets up close to the First Amendment if not fully under its protective umbrella. The rules allowing for free speech, for the right to assemble, to petition grievances. You have the right to point out the flaws of others, and especially the right to point out the flaws of potential political leaders. But honestly, does that give the right to insult and defame, which is all we really get anymore?

One possible solution at hand is to point out that not all speech is protected: Speech that could could form a clear and present danger, for example, any speech that would incite violence or rioting - that's not protected speech. Calling out 'FIRE' in a crowded theater when there is no fire, almost certain to cause a stampede of doom, is certainly not protected speech. We should extend that a little further:

  • Lying is not protected speech.
That should be a given anyway. Hell, aren't we getting hammered for the need to put the Ten Commandments into our courtrooms and classrooms and offices and all? Isn't there a Commandment against false witness? Gee, you'd think a lot of politicians would support an effort to make false witness/lying a crime in all circumstances, right...?

The judicial system has penalties in place for things like Obstruction, Perjury, and Lying to investigators. We need something like that in the public arena of the media and in official political statements. Libel and slander laws don't seem to cut it anymore. We need laws that say a politician, or a spokesperson, cannot make statements that can be proven false. If we do have a law like that on the books (and why does it look like we don't?), then it needs to be renewed, reinforced, re-established. With succifient penalties to back it up.

If you think that would force politicians into revealing state secrets, relax. They can always rely on a truthful statement like "I cannot comment on that." There. Truthful without having to say anything. Of course, if your spokesman has to keep saying "No Comment," you're going to have problems of some kind anyway so...

All I'm saying is: If we can penalize those in office who lie, or those running for office who lie, that should have the proper effect of reducing a lot of the mudslinging and negative campaigning out there. Less mudslinging = more positivie campaigns = more voters with a positive view of elections and commitment to civic duties.

UPDATE: Oh great this is originally showing the post-date of October 2006, when I first started writing it, rather than the date I finally got around to finishing it (April 12, 2007). Wonder if this updating will fix it...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Amendment Suggestion 2: this is one I've offered before

This was something I'd posted at my WittyLibrarian site last year...

  • No candidate for elected office can announce, raise funding for, or organize a campaign until the first month of that year of election.

This was the original point I'd made then, and it's still relevant today:

This is a response to how the Presidental campaign has devolved. When you've got Senators and Governors already polling and setting up campaign groups for 2008, three years from now (Hell, we've had Ah-nold campaigning since 2003 for an amendment to let him run for President), then we've got problems. Problems in the form of money that they need to keep these campaigns afloat for so long; ergo, problems in the form of political dealing they make to keep that money coming in.
This is an attempt to shorten the campaign process, and to lessen the costs of an extended campaign. It's to keep campaigns focused, and interesting: people lose interest after two straight years of nudging and posturing and mudslinging and flat-out campaigning. By November of a three-year campaign, people are tired of it. By November of a one-year campaign, there's (with hope) only mild fatigue.
There are no problems to having a shortened, one-year campaign: in this day of instant media across the whole planet, there is no need for extended times to ensure the word gets out. The California Recall (NOTE: dang, was that 2003?) proves that a short, three month campaign at a state level was doable: a nationwide year long campaign should work as well if not moreso. England and other countries are able to hold elections within months of declaring for one.
The only ones who benefit from a multi-year 'campaign' are those who fund them, the lobbyists and deep-pocket groups that want to use their money to buy the influence they need to stay in power. ADDENDUM: The idea is that, the smaller the warchest, the fewer numbers of Quid Pro Quos the elected official will have to pay back. Everyone else benefits (even the candidates, who have to be under serious stress from the greet and meet, see how many of the good ones burn out from the extensive campaigning) from a shortened campaign period. This ought to be a no-brainer amendment to pass...except that the status quo will fight it to the last dollar...

When you look at politicans today, they are in a constant mode of Campaigning. Constantly asking for funds. Constantly building up warchests. Even in years they are not running for office. All that money, all that need for money, can put even the most noble political wonk in serious debt to people who are going to expect their money's worth. If there is any way to cut back on that, we ought to take it.

Also, this amendment should add a second item:
  • No funds collected from previous years, either directly by the candidate or by any group or party that would seek to fund that candidate, can be used in that year's election.
This means that any warchest saved over from previous elections no longer exist. This means the deep pockets can't hold in escrow or in any kind of saving account or lock box (sorry, Al, had to borrow the symbol) for their favorite friends running for office. Everyone starts from scratch at the same spot: zero.

And as I noted before, the status quo is going to fight this amendment idea tooth and nail. The buying of politicians is how they reap billions later from the earmarks and the pork barrels and the tax cuts and the favorable anti-union, deregulatory decisions and... yeah, keep adding. That's what they do.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Amendment Suggestion 1: Checks and Balances

Here's the first amendment idea I want to toss out there:

  1. The President of the United States is NOT above the law.
  2. The checks and balances established in the Constitution of the United States shall be upheld at ALL TIMES.
The George W. Bush administration has, in its last 6 years of operation, gone out of its way to assume, take, and seize political power and authority away from not only the two other branches of government but also from the states. This is a product of the last 40 years of Republican planning: ever since the era of Nixon, hell even before, the GOP had its factions obsessed with Authoritarianism, of having power reside in a powerful unyielding Chief Executive who would never have to answer to the whims of a crowded noisy Congress or an intrusive, 'activist' Court. Think back to what Nixon said to David Frost in the post-Watergate interview he gave in which he expressed the theory: "If the President does it, it's not illegal." See, if a Senator does it, it's illegal. If a soldier does it, it's illegal. If an average citizen does it, it's illegal. But if the President does it, for him and him alone, it's legal.
Under that theory, the President can suspend habeus corpus, not Congress, and the Courts will have nothing to say about it because without habeus there's nothing they CAN say. The President can ignore any treaty he feels like, without the Senate raising a stink. The President can ignore any law Congress passes without even worrying about the Constitutional requirement of a Veto, simply by signing a statement on how he interprets the law as he sees fit. The President can knock over gas stations if he felt like it, under this idea of the President being Above The Law.
This theory is best found under the title of Unitary Executive Theory: that the President is vested by Article II of the Constitution to 'Take care' that the laws are faithfully executed. But if you read that wiki article I linked to, you will see that at nearly every time the President used that theory to expand powers, the Courts struck it down or limited that administration's reach. In the few times that the Courts failed to enforce their ruling, such as when Andrew Jackson ignored the Supreme Court's ruling that he could not force Indians out of their tribal lands, the results were inhumane and ended up being a dark stain in our nation's history.
If you do look at the history of when the President overreached his authority - Jefferson's refusal to seat Adams' midnight judges that led to the Marbury v. Madison; Andrew Jackson's explusion of the Cherokee from Georgia that led to decades of wrongs committed against the Native Americans; Lincoln's suspension of Habeus Corpus that led to Ex Parte Milligan; FDR's internment of Japanese Americans that led to reparation payments after the war; Truman's strike-breaking effort that led to the Youngstown decision; Nixon's domestic spying abuses - there is something wrong with this whole idea of a super-powerful Executive. And as you see there's been a pattern of abuse by these previous administrations, all overshadowed by the horrific excesses of the current administration, that shows something, ANYTHING, needs to be spelled out in black-and-white.
This amendment is meant to spell it out: The President has his limits, and it's the law. Anything defined as illegal by Congress, he can't do, period. Anything ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, he can't do, period. This is a reminder that power is shared in this government, that there is a series of checks and balances, that the President cannot make the law or define the law, he just enforces it and does his job and does it right.
The second part of this amendment idea is that the laws are to be upheld at all times under all circumstances. John Yoo, George W. Bush's legal defender on authoritarianism, argues that during wartime power shifts to the Executive branch. The problem is that becomes an excuse to use the powers as he sees fit, even if they don't relate to the War Effort. And legal history has proved Yoo wrong: Lincoln's suspension of Habeus during the Civil War was ruled Unconstitutional; Truman's strike-break efforts were during the Korean War, again was ruled Unconstitutional. The Courts, interpreting the Constitution as is their authority to do so, has determined that the President cannot claim wartime as an excuse to override the laws of the land. The second part of my amendment spells that out clearly, so there will be no confusion or deception regarding this: THE PRESIDENT IS NOT SHOULD NOT WILL NOT BE ABOVE THE LAW. EVER.
This isn't the best legal argument anyone can make: but it's the right argument to speak for.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


I've been busy in the real world with a move to a new job and a new home.

I've also been swamped by the thought of figuring which amendment idea I'd like to toss out there first. Given the sheer scope of stupidity and criminality going on out there, it was hard to think on which amendment would be a surefire argument starter that will get me branded as a traitor or delusional.

I think I've got a good one to start. See you tomorrow with it.