By Mark Green
Arianna and David Frum (coiner of "Axis of Evil" and "Conservative Entertainment Complex", author of e-book Why Romney Lost released on November 8!) discuss several attempted re-boots of early 2013. A "New GOP" may be emerging after its miserable performance in the last election; a re-elected Obama is unleashing his inner-Brandeis; private citizen Hillary Clinton is attempting to "un-tire" herself and putting up new smiley web-site. Any of these succeeding? And are Drones necessary or barbaric -- or both? Or perhaps even coming to a police department near you?
*On the "New GOP." Our panelists have an inside-out understanding of a Republican party that Arianna left in the 90s and far-right critics hope David does now. We listen to Colin Powell observe that a GOP lurching to the right has lost two straight presidential election because it's out of touch with a changing America. We hear Majority Leader Eric Cantor give a relatively mellow speech suggesting a Dream Act for immigrant children and urging an agenda for "health, happiness and prosperity." Did Cantor answer Powell?
David acknowledges that he was "dispirited" after 2008 "when an ice age" settled on his party and froze thinking in place... but now there are signs that "the ice is cracking" as several party leaders are trying to think anew, like Kantor.
But he's missing the central point, continues David, by ignoring the recent economic calamity when one-third of American families suffered some kind of job losses as well as huge losses in family asset values. "Where's the opposition party's message on jobs rather than just deficits?"
Arianna applauds this analysis (see every page of Third World America) and threatens to hug Frum in direct violation of Both Sides Now protocols. While the GOP has ended up on the unpopular side of such wedge issues as immigration, gun safety, Social Security, Medicare, climate change, tax loopholes, and minimum wages, she agrees, their big opportunity now is to show leadership on middle class issues, even if only to spur the Administration to do more. Her hope and belief: "Electoral realities will force them to face up to these big issues. How can the conservative party in America not try to conserve our infrastructure?"
That sounds rational, adds the Host, but how can the party do that so long as its far-right base stays hooked on Fox and reality-free policies? How do they take on inequality and stagnant wages if they rely on big corporate donors who profit from inequality? David acknowledges that Republicans will stay the party of business and wealthier Americans but predicts that in today's civil war between the Rove-Barbour establishment wing and the Tea Party-religious right-wing, the former will end up on top; "the only question is how many elections will they lose before that happens? Like Labor in Great Britain in the 90s, parties do what they need to" to survive.
*On the "New Obama." The President certainly seems comfortable in his new out-side-the-beltway/over-
To quote Joan Walsh, David concurs that a re-elected Obama is now "saying what he wants rather than what he thinks he'll get." But our panelist imputes Machiavellian motives: on issues like immigration and guns, he knows he'll fall far short and, "like a master chess player with more pieces, is goading his opponent into mistakes."
Arianna, however, argues that Obama believes in his immigration reforms and proposals for universal background checks and limited magazine clips. Still, she disparages the release of a "pandering" White House photo of Obama skeet shooting and is impatiently waiting for bigger proposals on jobs and growth [which apparently are coming in Tuesday's State of the Union address].
*On the "New Hillary." She's out of public office but, with a new web site three days later, not out of our thoughts. What did she learn in her consequential four years as Secretary of State and how might that affect her decision whether to run for president again?
Arianna hopes that she'll become "a role model for women and men so that success doesn't require such an unbelievable schedule" that you end up falling and getting a concussion (as she herself did a few years back). And presumably, her "experience as a successful Secretary of State making decisions with this President has helped her conclude that she could do a great job as president, not to mention that she has a husband who'd love to be back in the White House."
Neither, though, will play the game of speculating about 2016. David explains that what matters more than who is what the parties will stand when conditions will have probably changed in four years. After eight years in power, "Democrats will go through alot of soul-searching and question whether they just want to continue policies that go back to the early 1990s, something that happened to the party in 2000 when it couldn't figure out whether to continue with Gore or go in a more Nader-like direction."
*On Drones -- in Middle East. This not-very "covert war" gets center stage with the leak of a Justice Department "White Paper" summarizing the Administration's legal case and with John Brennan's CIA confirmation hearings. Are Drones in the air better than boots on the ground -- is that even the right question when it comes to an American "kill list"?
Arianna strongly opposes the current policy: "imagine if Bush were doing the same thing -- there'd be an outcry!" So why isn't there with Obama? "People are giving him a pass because they trust that he won't do something unconstitutional." She questions both the morality of innocent children dying and a backlash creating even more "hatred of America," such as the 75 percent of Pakistanis with an unfavorable opinion of the U.S.
So is David with the large majority of Americans in polls who favor the current Drone policy or with those who think it too secret, arbitrary and counter-productive? "I have the same standard for Presidents Bush and Obama," he answers, concluding that it's both lawful under the 2002 Authorization of the Use of Force Act and not unlike when Lincoln allowed snipers to kill thousands of confederate soldiers without jury or trial.
Also, as compared to invasions and troops, the current Drone policy saves American lives and has so disrupted al Qaeda that recent terrorist attacks on American soil have been unsophisticated and largely unsuccessful. Would he support at least a FISA court-like review when Americans were targeted to avoid too much unilateral power in this or future Executives. "No. I don't want judicial review of [Commander-in-chief] decisions; if people don't like the policy, they should get Congress to change it. It's outlandish to imply these are civil liberties abuses."
Host: as a civil libertarian who saw the World Center attack, the issue is not whether death results from a sniper or missile or manned/unmanned aircraft but whether it's ok to kill suspects far from the theater of traditional war. This is a real quandary when the battleground is nowhere and therefore everywhere, as Anwar al-Awlaki's collaborations with the underwear bomber and Ft. Hood shooter demonstrated.
But because of both precedent and blowback, the president and Congress need to sharpen current criteria. In the real world, it's hard to leave an al-Awlaki immune from retaliation if he's indeed beyond capture and plotting online rather than from a battlefield bunker. But if such decisions are made according to soft standards, what happens shortly when a hostile government or, worse, non-state terrorist cites American precedent to deploy a drone with facial recognition capacity to take out an American official walking down the street in D.C.?
*On Drones -- in America. Since that drones are affordable and available civilly, are they a desirable technology for local police departments (assuming no missiles) to spot crimes or a 24/7 Big Brother? The city of Charlotte just suspended its use for two years pending closer study.
Arianna explains that we have to draft clear rules that distinguish what's useful/permissible and what isn't. In these cases of first impression, "we need checks and balances."
David agrees: "Like the way we adapted the Fourth Amendment to the new technology of wiretapping by police in the 1920s, we need standards that presumably say we can't peer into your window but can track your license plate."
Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.
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