accountabilitybloke (old blog)

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Sunstein for Attorney General…and/or Justice of Supreme Court

The CEO model of the US presidency implied in the unitary executive theory has become so ingrained in our governance psyche that it clearly shapes the  rhetoric of campaigns such as the one we have just been through. I cringe whenever I hear the cliche of choosing between the lesser of two evils, but often that is the case when it comes to the presidency. Both candidates tend to play to the biggest base of them all: a public that is blindly committed to the idea that we have (and should have) a White House-centered system.

I suspect I am far from the typical “liberal” in my commitment to an “anti-unitary” theory of executive power — and a view of the American constitutional system as Article I (Congress) centered. Whatever might be owed to the heroic ideal fostered by the Roosevelt (TR as well as FDR) presidencies, the past 8 years demonstrate the wisdom of a more “conservative” notion of US governance. (Damn the labels!)

[Interestingly, the individual perhaps most responsible for pushing the unitary theory in practice, David Addington (he of the soon-to-be-history Dick Cheney regime) claims to “not know” what it is — unless you ask him the right way. See]

For all the rhetoric of the Obama platform and campaign that implies a belief and commitment to the CEO model, I found flashes of a real understanding in some of his comments during the race that give me some hope of a commitment to bring some sanity and balance back into the separation of powers. His most direct response to issues raised in this regard are found in December 2007 interview: (Also see

The other indication that Obama may bring the practice of executive power back in line is his (alleged) close relationship with Cass Sunstein — an brilliant scholar/lawyer who has (along with Lawrence Lessig, of “Code” fame) provided us with the clearest analysis of the theory and its problematics (see for Sunstein blog post on issue).

Which makes me think that Cass Sunstein would make one hell of an Attorney General — if not a great Supreme Court Justice.

November 5th, 2008 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | one comment

Unleashing the Know Nothings…

One of the first things you do in an election when running a campaign is mobilize and secure your “base” — those voters who, by custom or inclination or even “reason” should be voting for you on election day. Ignoring that base — or assuming its turnout for you (or your candidate) — can be fatal. Thomas Dewey learned that the hard way in the 1948 presidential election…. Karl Rove and the Bush campaign understood and used that truism more than once, and applied it in the conduct of the Bush Administration’s business as well as in the elections.

The problem is that a candidate’s “electoral base”, like all other things, is a political construction — it needs to be “imagined” into existence and sometimes “shaped” (or re-shaped) before it can be targeted for mobilization. Certainly the raw material of disenchanted or indifferent potential voters must be out there, but the key task is giving them definition and cultivating a self-awareness. Not an easy task when talking about an imagined collective. The talent of folks like Rove is that of the sculptor confronting a huge ball of clay — they can see its potential and work their skills into an artistic form.

The problem is that often the more relevant metaphor is that of Dr Frankenstein who seeks to give life to a corpse with a brain transplant. Risky business that….

John McCain confronted his Frankenstein yesterday in front of live camera at a very public town meeting, and you go the distinct impression that it scared the hell out of him.

October 11th, 2008 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | no comments

Obama backgrounder….

Today’s New York TImes has a a front page piece that offers an interesting picture of Barack Obama’s political rise in Chicago — and the style he developed there. What emerges is a picture of an intelligent political novice who turned into a politically savvy operator.

One of the highlighted quotes from the article comes from Rashid Khalidi: “People think he’s a saint. He’s not. He’s a politician.” Although perhaps meant as a criticism of Obama, the line is actually both a good summary of the lessons to be drawn from the article and a damn good reason for backing him for the presidency. No doubt we would like to elect saints to political office, but assuming that is unlikely (and probably undesirable — the arrogance of power driven by egomania is sufficiently dangerous; an individual convinced of his or her saintliness would be catastrophic!), a politician with the intellectual capacity to be reflective and the skills of a political mediator is exactly what we might need.

Although I tend to assume a “keep them guessing” posture when it comes to my political leanings (if for no other reason than it keeps my students baffled about some of my comments in class), it should be clear that I am an Obama supporter at this point — and have been a regular (if small) contributor for some months now. That said, although I am fascinated by his charismatic style and his stands on many issues, what really attracts me is his well-honed political savvy and what promises to be a very different and very intresting presidency — if we are lucky and wise enough to make it happen….



Another article in this AM’s NY Times reinforces my argument of the need for the pragmatic, bridge-building style that Obama would bring to the presidency. In the short Magazine piece, William Galston and Pietro Nivola present the case that the political geography of the US reflects a much more polarized landscape than two decades ago. Read in conjunction with the Obama backgrounder and one can see the benefits….

Finally, my daughter just sent me a link to the Saturday Night Live “Message from Hillary” skit that opened their show last night. Funny….

May 11th, 2008 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | no comments