Last time we covered the minimum things that are desperately needed, in order to save the Republic and our narrow, fantastic Enlightenment Experiment.
I listed 31 things that have been mentioned or invoked by Biden, Pelosi, Harris, AOC, Bernie and many decent Republicans as tremendous areas of common ground, allowing us all to end the cheating, restore our alliances, bring back accountability, resume respect for facts/science, end capricious abuses of presidential power, and so on.
Alas, you will find such a trim, straightforward list nowhere else, not even from Speaker Pelosi.
This time I will complete the chapter with proposals of my own! Some will look familiar to many of you… for example I have been shouting for two decades that all of the inspectors general of the US Government should report to a neutral officer – the Inspector General of the United States – who is insulated by law from the kinds of outrageous pressures we’ve recently seen applied, by those evading accountability.
IGUS may be familiar to you. But do you recall my proposed way to make it impossible for a majority to trample a Congressional minority’s power of oversight, ever again?
This chapter assumes we’ll win this phase of the Civil War and discusses what to do with that victory. It’s important that somebody do this.
But first… as usual… a few news items.
== Hot blips from this week ==
Trump is clearly lying with statistics when he said the economy before COVID was only due to him. Most of the improvement happened under the Obama administration. And yet, my own chart is even better!
In the early days of the pandemic, President Trump downplayed the virus, while his economic advisers were telling wealthy donors otherwise, enabling them to shift investments and profit from a crisis that hurt the rest of us. No wonder the Adelsons are using Chinese Communist Party cash – laundered in their Macao casinos – to funnel a staggering $75 million into a Trump-backing super PAC.
A different Pac – or pack of capering MAGA faux-intellects concocted this meme image to mock my ongoing challenge for any Fox-quoters to step up with large, escrowed stakes for manly wagers over any of their faux memes, from QAnon spells to Clinton incantations, all the way to ocean acidification and “deep state” allegations.
They always flee when you demand cash money on the line – escrowed, because they can’t be trusted to pay – in bets over provable/falsifiable assertions, to be judged by panels of senior, retired military officers.
It always works! Well, not to make money… the chickens always, always run away… sometimes squawking “I posted a jpeg-link and won!” Then, when the coast seems clear, as soon as the dust of their cowardice settles, they resume their traitor-fanatic war on all fact-using professions.
And now back to Polemical Judo… as if anyone pays attention to ideas anymore…
Second half — What we could accomplish, if the way ahead opened…
4. True Judo. Do the unexpected.
All right, those lists (that we posted here last time, from part 1 of Chapter 13) concentrated on measures that might be taken right away, even as committees and conferences begin pondering more complex issues, like long-term health care. Prominent Democrats should offer such lists, reminding splitters how briefly they held real power, in 1993 and 2009.
Now I want to do something that keeps faith with the title of this book. In section 4, below, we’ll offer judo moves that would make Newt Gingrich – at his most agile – seem a clunking doofus. We’re about to propose…
– 4.1 How the majority can both establish new precedents and gain huge public cred, by doing the unexpected… by honoring losing side.
– 4.2 A sudden and unexpected judo move: give every House member one subpoena per term. Plus modest suggestions about floor votes and filibusters!
– 4.3 We’ll know we’re emerging from this childish era – that Robert Heinlein predicted as the “crazy years” – when candidates agree to stipulation!
– 4.4 Here’s a choice one that’ll stick in their craws. Judo enact the ‘good parts” of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America!” This would convey a sense of maturity and willingness to take ideas from all directions. Plus it pokes the GOP, revealing that all pretense at reform was just another lie. But we’ll make it good. And it collapses the meme that Joe & Kamala are radicals.
– 4.5 And I’ll say more about one reform I think could make the most difference. Establishing the office and independent agency of the Inspector General of the United States.
Let’s begin with one of my older (lightly updated) political posts. And yes, it seems naïve in an era I now call civil war. But gestures like the following could help lure millions of citizens back to civilized argument.
4.1 Honoring tens of millions of American “losers.”
As we launch into another Presidential campaign, get ready for the same tiresome metaphors relating politics to sports, to war and even to revenge. The front-runner will fight to maintain his or her lead over the underdog in key battleground states where crucial clumps of electors are awarded by winner-takes-all. Those on the victorious side will gather every marble, leaving citizens on the losing side bitterly muttering about getting even next time.
Are we really on opposing armies, bent on total victory over our neighbors? Yes, elections and majority rule constitute a vast improvement over coercive aristocracies of the past. Still, majority rule isn’t perfect. A nation that treats the losing minority with contempt is asking for trouble. (And yes, this includes those lonely “flyover states who feel so neglected – whether it’s true or not.)
In fact, majority rule is already tempered in American political life. Congress seldom passes a law supported by just 51% of the people, while vigorously opposed by nearly half. Minority objections are eased by negotiation and tradeoffs. Small but intensely passionate lobbies may effectively veto measures that are desired only tepidly by much greater majorities. This dance of factions can be frustrating when popular measures get sidetracked by vigorous advocacy groups like, say, the National Rifle Association. And yes, that is still a far cry from consensus – especially in recent years.
Things are different in the Executive Branch. Consider Ronald Reagan’s “landslide” victory over Walter Mondale in 1984, or Lyndon Johnson’s over Barry Goldwater in 1964. If your candidate wins by a 60/40 vote margin, you can legitimately call it a ringing victory, but it still means four in ten voting citizens did not want your guy in office. To that forty percent, the word “mandate” translates as – drop dead! All the more so after a close election, or – as we all saw in 2000 (and 2016) – when odd-suspicious electoral quirks put in office the man with fewer popular votes. Even if Al Gore had come out ahead in the Florida recounts – or Hillary visited Wisconsin – eking Electoral College victory to accompany their popular vote win, would that razor-thin endorsement entitle them to claim a clear cut mantle of history?
Can 50.1 percent legitimately ignore the wishes of 49.9 percent who disagreed?
The European model of coalition parliamentary government offers little to America. We’ve seen benefits to letting a president appoint loyal officers, governing without undue interference from within. Still, George Washington understood the temptations of human nature, which can transform well-meaning leaders into lonely monarchs, broody, isolated, and paranoid. It is disturbing to witness our top elected official insulate himself (as has happened often in living memory) with all access to the inner sanctum barred by an ideologically driven staff, justified by a sense of entitlement, cultural mandate and narrow-minded mission.
An inquiring press can help to moderate this trend, as do Constitutional checks and balances. Yet, more is needed, like some way to honor the millions of Americans who lose each election – whether by squeaker or landslide –ensuring that their concerns will at least be heard.
There is precedent. Originally, the Constitution awarded a prize for second place – the Vice Presidency. After near-disaster in 1804 the system was amended, making the VP more a deputy, chosen by the winning party. Still, it’s clear the Founders intended for the losing side to get something.
So, might there be some way to acknowledge the losing minority – or even a losing majority – without grinding their face in humiliation, making them determined to do likewise, when their turn comes around? First, here’s an idea that may seem a bit silly. Imagine how it might have mollified millions of Democrats, and created a more collegial atmosphere after the bitter election of 2000, if just one of George W. Bush’s electors had switched sides when it came to the vote for Vice President. By helping install a Democrat as VP, they could have made a gesture toward government by negotiation, consensus and respect, while still handing the reins of actual power to their chosen man. All right, that suggestion is far-fetched (if thought provoking.)
But here’s another one that’s plausible, requiring no miracles or kludges, no meddling in the Constitution or legitimate powers of the chief executive. Yet, it’s so reasonable that only a churl could possibly refuse. Imagine a candidate or new President-Elect making the following pledge:
“If I win, I promise to ask my honorable opponent to pick a panel of Americans who will have control over my appointment calendar one afternoon per month. And I expect my opponent to serve on that panel. On that afternoon, I shall meet with – and listen to – any individuals or delegations that panel may choose. Millions of Americans will then know that I do not live in a tower of ideological isolation. I will answer questions and hear dissenting points of view.”
Such a pledge would cost a candidate and president little to make or to fulfill. There is no obligation to act on what the delegations say, only to be accessible, listening occasionally to more than one ideology. More than one brain trust of cloned advisors. Indeed, the legitimacy of any administration will be enhanced if we see the president receive articulate, passionate emissaries, representing diverse opinions and walks of life.
During the first era of our republic, private citizens used to knock on the door of the White House and ask to see their nation’s leader. As recently as the time of Harry Truman, there was a slim chance of seeing the president somewhere in public, buying socks for real, not as a publicity stunt. There is genuine peril in losing this connection between power and everyday life. So, if today’s president cannot safely venture among us, representatives of sundry outlooks should have a route to him or her. Not just public figures, but individuals from the ranks of the poor and dispossessed might win a chance to plead their case before the highest official in the land. Even if such meetings don’t benefit multitudes, at least a few worthy petitioners might get hearings, and possibly some justice.
Moreover, this would give those tens of millions who lost the election something. A token – or perhaps more. A vow to listen. If a nominee’s goal is to live as a potentate, insulated from his or her countrymen, this is one pledge to avoid. But if the aim is to be president of all Americans, then what harm could such a promise do?
4.2 The Subpoena Individuation
This idea’s simple. Spread the power of subpoena – and include the minority party!
Why should Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her committee chairs do this, when that minority party is Republican?
Seriously Congressional Democrats; remember, a day will come when you’ll be back on the outs. (The lesson of 1994 and 2010!) Now is the time to set permanent precedents and rules that ensure you’ll still have a little power to poke after truth. Establish processes now so that even a congressional minority can hold some future Bush-like or Trump-like administration somewhat accountable!
One way: give today’s GOP minority what they never had the maturity to give you – the general power to summon witnesses and demand some answers, even when their party is out of power.
Better yet, give every individual member of the House one subpoena per term, that can compel testimony from any person before one of that member’s sub-committees for three hours. Or if that’s too much, allow any three representatives to jointly issue one subpoena per year beyond those voted by committees – and provide a venue with some staff support. That should cause some backroom wrangling! One for every three members – that’s 140 member-chosen testimonies… maybe sixty a year – or per term – from the minority party. A large enough number to make sure that pokes-at-truth will keep going on, even during eras when a single party machine dominates every branch of government. And yet, it’s small enough not to disrupt House business overmuch.
Think about it. Pelosi and Schumer can afford that. It wouldn’t block legislation. Would some mad-rightists use their subpoenas to annoy? BFD! Just imagine how valuable that would have been for minority Democrats, during the first two years of the Trump Era.
There’s another aspect to this. Many Republicans would feel motivated to break party discipline and hoard their subpoenas for use in some way that impresses the home district. And thus, it could help shatter their caucus cohesion, encouraging individual autonomy!
The public relations benefits are clear, demolishing forever any accusations that “Democrats run roughshod over minority party rights.”
And if Republicans later reneged? That would also be a black eye before the American public. (And individual GOP reps might rebel.)
When I first offered this proposal it was 2007 and Democrats in the House seemed to be riding high. I added: “There is no way that Speaker Pelosi and the leadership will want to do this, now that the GOP is reduced to an irksome nuisance. Still, please think about it. Just giving them the right to grill a few people won’t let them do much mischief to an open and honest and competent Obama Administration. Meanwhile, such a precedent could guarantee we’ll never again have an era as dark as the Bush years, without the other side getting to light some candles.”
Was I naïve? Or would we have been better off right now, if this precedent had been set back then?
Here are a couple more judo procedural moves that could maybe dilute leader power, a little, but inspire citizens to know which party’s on their side:
– In both House and Senate, let any 45% minority bring up to five votes per month to the chamber floor.
– First replace the idiotic tacit filibuster (60 votes needed to advance a bill) with the old-style talk-filibuster. But even more effective a partial reform – try treating filibusters like sports timeouts. Your party starts each session with a fixed number. When they’re gone, they’re gone.
4.3 Why Candidates Should Stipulate
The previous two proposals for cross-party outreach don’t require that both sides be mature. They show how the winners of an election might gain favor with voters by both appearing – and truly being – the better and more grownup party, establishing precedents that could serve us all well.
The next one truly does require that both sides be capable of rising above the fray, with some sincerity and wisdom. Yeah, yeah, I’m a scifi-fantasy author. But as Garth said in Wayne’s World, “Hey, it could happen!”
Let’s start with a flawed example that stands out, instructive even in its failure. In 2008, Nancy Pelosi – then Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives – sat with former Speaker Newt Gingrich on a small couch in front of the Capitol, to film a brief joint statement. They began with a charming – some might say artless – admission that they had few areas of agreement. But the pair then went on to urge action on the pressing matter of climate change. No specific methods came up, whether government or incentives for industry. Both did avow faith in our ability to develop clean, efficient energy systems, if we make it a priority.
Alas, what followed was emblematic of this (so far) benighted century. Fox and the GOP establishment raged at Gingrich, eviscerating his betrayal of the Hastert Rule against seeking common ground with the enemy. So volcanic was the response, especially from Republican donors, that Newt unctuously swerved back into line. And yes, I’m beginning this section on “stipulation” with an abject failure – but a colorful one, that’s still a bit inspiring.
It’s been said that a politician gets to be perfectly honest just once in a long career – at its end. Refreshing candor sometimes pours after an old pol has faced the last campaign. No more fund raisers, or need to flatter voters. One final chance, before the cameras, to tell the truth.
Not all retiring officials spill their hearts, but when they do it can be colorful. Take the day in 1991 when both Republican Senator Warren Rudman and Democrat Paul Tsongas withdrew from public life. They made headlines by jointly suggesting that everyone was at fault for the country’s condition at the time, from then-President Bush to the then Democrat-controlled Congress, all the way to the American people. The pair castigated politicians of all parties for not telling citizens that burgeoning budget deficits threatened our economic well-being. Responsible economists agreed. A few even credit Rudman and Tsongas for spurring reforms that helped lead to the Clinton era surpluses.
A more recent example of post-retirement candor came with ex-Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill’s revelations about the second Bush Administration. It resulted in a fire storm of attacks from his own party. O’Neill’s explanation for this candor? That he was “old and rich” and unafraid to speak his mind.
However one feels about those specific examples, we can all agree they are rare. One of the chief flaws of our electoral system is that real candor is punished. Both sides may rail against each other, but they’ll never aim bad news at us. Even if both nominees believe in their hearts that the public needs to face some hard truth, neither will dare be first to say it, lest the other side take advantage. Think about it. Throughout the coming election we will learn how the candidates disagree on a myriad issues, plus platitudes that voters want to hear. But logically, there’s a third category – areas where these well-informed professionals agree with each other, but are afraid to speak out. We’ll never hear whatever topics or beliefs occupy that logical box, because neither candidate will dare speak first.
Now consider: there’s no political cost to telling voters what you really believe… if your opponent says the same thing.
Yeah, that statement sounds absurdly simpleminded. The metaphor for an election “give ‘em hell” combat. But wait. What’s wrong with two leaders finding a patch of consensus amid a sea of discord? We cheer when heads of state overcome differences between nations, finding common ground. Why not between candidates?
It’s called stipulation… as when the attorneys representing opposite sides in a trial agree to agree about a set of points, helping move the trial forward by focusing thereafter on areas where they disagree. So will you bear with me for a “what-if” thought experiment? A weird, but possible scenario?
Sure, it’s absurd to even imagine this happening with Donald Trump. But suppose, amidst the 2008 campaign, Republican candidate John McCain and his Democratic opponent Barack Obama were to suspend mutual attacks to meet for an afternoon. First, they and their staffs would cover issues such as scheduling debates, and how to prevent spirals of mudslinging. The people would applaud any agreement on fair campaigning principles. Heck, just seeing them talk to each other like adults might be refreshing. Think how the image might affect the rancorous mood we see in politics today, independent of policy disagreements.
So far, so good. Only then suppose the two nominees do something unprecedented. They go for a walk, unpressured by cameras and media flacks, seeking just a few points of consensus.
Don’t dismiss this too readily! For all his faults, McCain did this sort of thing before. So have Democrats like Bill or Hillary Clinton and Obama. Oh, neither candidate will change the other’s mind concerning major divisions. But here we have two knowledgeable public persons, concerned about America’s future. Surely there would be some areas of overlap? Things that both of them feel we, as a nation, should do.
Now imagine that this overlap results in a joint statement. Though reiterating a myriad points of disagreement, they go on to make public, simultaneously, their shared belief that America should, for its own good, pass law “X”, or repeal restriction “Y” or reform a particular flaw. Further, they agree that neither will attack the other for taking this stand.
No longer pandered to, a lot of folks might say – “Gosh, if both of them agree that the country needs this strong medicine, let’s give it some thought.”
This would not free candidates from the stifling effects of mass-politics. But it could let them display something we’ve seen rarely… leadership. Even statesmanship. Setting aside self-interest in favor of hard truth, telling the people what they need to hear, whether they like it or not.
Unprecedented? Well, actually, it happened before, during the Presidential campaign of 1940. When Franklin Roosevelt was running for a third term, he approached the Republican candidate, Wendell Wilkie, to negotiate just such a stipulated agreement in the area of foreign policy. Britain badly needed escort vessels for the North Atlantic and the U.S. had over-age destroyers to spare. But Roosevelt feared political repercussions during a campaign in which he was already under attack for breaking neutrality. Wilkie agreed to FDR’s request, and declared that lend-lease would be his policy too, if he were elected.
Everyone benefited – Wilkie rose in stature. FDR got his policy implemented, and the world was better off because political advantage got briefly put aside for the common good. On other issues, Roosevelt and Wilkie battled as fiercely as ever. Yet, that historical act of stipulation shines as in memory.
How might today’s politics differ if two adults – each the standard bearer of a major party – agreed to let it be known how, in a few ways, they agree? Might they take on some of our most politically impossible subjects? Perhaps a cow as sacred as the Social Security retirement age, a compromise on gun control, some campaign finance reform, or perhaps shifting strategy in the endless, brain-dead War on Drugs? That would still leave plenty for us to fight over, don’t worry.
Is this quixotic proposal too much to ask of today’s opportunistic brand of politician?Perhaps. Still, American politics can evolve. Only during the most recent generation has the tradition of Presidential debates become so entrenched that no front-runner can now duck them. Ancient hurdles of age, race, and gender are falling. So why not barriers against candor?
Might the Candidates’ Post-Convention Stipulation Summit become traditional, like doldrums in July and mudslinging in October? Someday, the whole nation may look forward to the occasion, once every four years, with a sort of delicious, nervous anticipation – awaiting the one day when two eminent politicians will say not what is politically wise, but what is simply wise.
Now let’s put that dreamy fantasy aside, and get back to metaphors of war.
4.4 Judo enact the ‘good parts” of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America!”
All right, I am beating this drum pretty hard. But the best way to learn judo is by defeating it! Remember, too, that the “good parts” truly did attract millions to believe (*cough*) that Gingrich’s party wanted reform:
Among the better “contract” ideas that were betrayed:
– requiring all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply equally to the Congress;
– arranging for regular comprehensive audits of Congress for waste, fraud or abuse;
– limiting the terms of all committee chairs and party leadership posts;
– banning the casting of proxy votes in committee and law-writing by lobbyists;
– requiring committee meetings to be open to the public;
– guaranteeing an honest accounting of our Federal Budget.
Elsewhere I point to ways that this good promise – and subsequent hypocritical betrayal – could launch into genuine Congressional reforms, starting with restoring independent advisory agencies for science, technology other areas of skilled analysis, to counsel Congress without bias or dogma-driven pressure. This might ensure that technical reports may not be re-written by politicians – or worse, lobbyists -changing their meaning at the last minute.
As I’ve said repeatedly it would convey a sense of maturity, plus really dig at the GOP, saying clearly that they had been liars. And yet still, we’ll cull the bad and enact the stuff the people really wanted, turning lies into truth.
4.5 Create the office of Inspector General of the United States…
…or IGUS, who will head a uniformed agency akin to the Public Health Service, charged with protecting the ethical health of government. It’s something I’ve long pushed – (it’s in the FACT Act) – that could make more of a difference than any other proposal.
And yes, I saved this one – likely the most important suggestion of all – till the very end of the chapter.
Currently, the inspectors – or IGs – in all government agencies experience some conflict of interest, having to investigate people who appointed them and to whom they are beholden. That will change when IGs are appointed out of a dedicated and disciplined service, reporting directly to IGUS.
The Inspector General of the United States will advise the President and Congress concerning potential breaches of the law and will have authority, independent of the Justice Department, to summon grand juries. IGUS will create a corps of trusted observers, cleared to go anywhere and assure the American people that the government is still theirs, to own and control.
 Honoring the losing side. http://www.davidbrin.com/nonfiction/losingmajority.html
 Candidates might show their maturity through… stipulation! http://www.davidbrin.com/nonfiction/candidatestipulation.html
 Originally posted: http://www.davidbrin.com/nonfiction/losingmajority.html
 Yes, I wrote this long before Donald Trump got installed by elements wishing us harm.
 President Lincoln famously appointed former Whigs and Democrats to his Republican Cabinet. The Team of Rivals. https://www.amazon.com/Team-Rivals-Political-Abraham-Lincoln
 Again, if gopper reps used theirs, while in minority, then it could establish a firm precedent for when – not if – Democrats slump back into exile! Think how valuable that would have been, during the 22 out of 26 years the GOP owned the House. Especially 2017-2019, when that rule could have peeled away at Trumpian travesties.
 Pelosi-Gingrich “couch commercial” jointly urging climate action. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qi6n_-wB154
 So furious was the reaction from the right that Gingrich made abject pilgrimages of abasement before the Koch Brothers and other GOP powers, banishing forever-more his science-loving-statesman side and doubling down on the ‘loyal-gladiator.’ His reward for vociferously supporting Donald Trump was to be the only major GOP leader between Reagan and Ryan honored – or even mentioned – at the 2016 Republican National Convention. Pelosi, too, took some flack from her left – which she easily shrugged off, as a large majority of Democrats approved. The lesson? Courage and enlightenment ain’t easy. https://www.foxnews.com/politics/gingrich-feels-the-heat-for-appearing-in-global-warming-ad-with-pelosi
 Again, this book is a mélange of edited and update essays, articles and postings I’ve written over the years. That explains much of the irksome repetition! And also some of these time travel artifacts that I’ve decided to leave in place.
 Reminder, except for some light updating, this essay is from mid 2008. And yes, I know how absurd it looks, slipping Donald Trump or Mike Pence into this scenario. But, times can and must change.
 IGUS will be appointed by a commission consisting of all past presidents and retired justices of the US Supreme Court, with advice and consent of Congress. Note a historical item. When Sun Yatsen crafted the 1911 constitution of the Republic of China, he established the Inspectorate as a separate branch of government, independent of the Executive and even the Judiciary.