Posted by Brad @ 8:32 pm on October 4th 2009

Playing out Domestic Politics Internationally: Crossing The Line? Is There One?

There’s a provocative post up at Talking Points Memo about a new trend among the GOP that many of its practitioners would have declared treasonous if it had occurred under Bush: namely, taking political disagreements with Obama about international policy “over his head” and to the world stage.

• Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is visiting Honduras in order to support the recent military coup against a leftist president, which has been opposed by the Obama administration and all the surrounding countries in the region. (Late Update: DeMint’s office says he is not taking sides during his visit to the current Honduran leadership, denying the New York Times reports that this was his intention.)

• Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) will be going to the upcoming climate change conference in Copenhagen, bringing a “Truth Squad” to tell foreign officials there that the American government will not take any action: “Now, I want to make sure that those attending the Copenhagen conference know what is really happening in the United States Senate.”

• House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) traveled to Israel, where he spoke out against President Obama’s opposition to expanded settlements. He also defended Israel on the eviction of two Arab families from a house in east Jerusalem, which had been criticized by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

• Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) boasted in June that he told Chinese officials not to trust America’s budget numbers. “One of the messages I had — because we need to build trust and confidence in our number one creditor,” said Kirk, “is that the budget numbers that the US government had put forward should not be believed.” Since then, he has declared his candidacy for U.S. Senate.

Thankfully, thus far, the examples are pretty small-scale. But it’s an interesting conundrum. On the one hand, there is obviously nothing illegal and I’m not even sure particularly unethical about this. Obviously, people (even politicians!) are free to express their personal and political opinions in any way and to any audience that they like. If the issue is international, it’s good that Congressmen and Senators are traveling abroad, engaging with the international community, and, in so doing, engaging with the issues salient to that community and those audiences. And obviously, who would expect them to silence or mute their own thoughts and instead just parrot the Official United States Line?

But as a practical matter, basic governance makes this problematic, and American tradition and political courtesy makes this unsavory. On the latter, of course, if a Democrat took a domestic political debate international, the GOP would have a field day implying that that was “un-American”, both along the lines that it undercut our executive-level interactions and, culturally, that it made said Democrat a dreaded “multinationalist”. There has long been an 11th Commandment of sorts that, with many exceptions boht hard and soft, the ideal is a boisterous domestic debate but a unified international face.

On the former, the practical issues involved, there is good reason that that is the ideal. Diplomacy, which is already complex and difficult, becomes much more so when you’re having to deal with competing messages from within your own “delegation”. Even as far back as our founding (when this was a very germane issue for Washington, Adams, Madison, Jefferson and the like), it was well understood, for this very reason, that the job (indeed, responsibility) of the legislature was to voice domestic dissent, but that, in matters foreign, the executive ought to be the sole Voice of America. When you’re going to the negotiation table with a foreign power, the basic premise that allows you to have any leverage whatsoever is the knowledge that you are speaking on behalf of your country. Without that, things fall apart, and conducting international business becomes very, very difficult and messy. Can you imagine if the United State had sent two delegations to the world stage on the issue of Iraq, one for and one against? Or Bosnia? Or Rwanda?

I’m pretty much on the fence about this at the moment, and like I said it’s still pretty much just discrete examples, but I can very easily imagine a scenario where this sort of thing gets way out of hand and creates a very, very problematic situation.

Posted by Brad @ 7:44 pm on October 2nd 2009

Au Pair State Watch

Plans to replace the traditional pint glass with one made of shatter-proof plastic will not be accepted by drinkers, the pub industry has warned.

The Home Office has commissioned a new design, in an attempt to stop glasses being used as weapons.

Official figures show 5,500 people are attacked with glasses and bottles every year in England and Wales.

“There’s going to be quite a push behind this in terms of the Home Office.”

The Home Office Minister, Alan Campbell, said the redesign could make a significant difference to the number of revellers who are injured.

He said: “Innovative design has played an important role in driving down overall crime, including theft, fraud and burglary.

“This project will see those same skills applied to the dangerous and costly issue of alcohol-related crime and I am confident that it will lead to similar successes.”

Brad Warbiany, passing this on, wonders:

Why don’t they just make stabbing illegal?

Posted by Brad @ 3:07 pm on October 2nd 2009


So, South America will host its first Olympics in 2016, as Brazil won its bid for Rio de Janeiro. The American bid for Chicago was the first one rejected, indicating that, despite high hopes, it was never really in the running. Even Madrid and Tokyo beat it.

I happen to be in Chicago today and spent most of the day in cabs or doing interviews (on an unrelated assignment), and clearly everybody’s reaction here is “Wtf”. The Chicago 2016 people spent about $50 million dollars making the bid, and of course sent the Obamas, Oprah, and seemingly every important or famous Illinois-centric human being to Copenhagen this week, and the IOC clearly loved the attention, as they always do, despite the fact that seemingly we were never really in the running at all.

Personally, I’m sort of glad. I’ll be moving very soon anyway, but I didn’t think, from a financial perspective, Chicago was going to be able to handle it. Its eyes tend to be much bigger than its stomach, and even though Chicago is already hurting and laboring under one of the biggest tax burdens in the country, it was going to throw everything possible at what is, in essence, another big city vanity project, and I’m pretty certain the impact would have made London seem like a good investment.

And, of course, good for Rio and South America. Now if they can only figure out how to prevent rich European tourists from getting kidnapped en masse (Step One: Send 90% of the City, the Shanty Town Residents, To the Amazon) it’ll be game on.

Posted by Rojas @ 9:31 pm on October 1st 2009

The grammar of liberty

You never quite realize just how convoluted the rhetoric in America’s founding documents is until you see someone attempt to diagram the sentences therein. This one’s for you, Bill Safire.

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