Tuesday, January 13, 2009

This Too Will Change When I Am King

So Barack Obama has admitted that despite campaigning on a pledge to shut down the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention facility ASAP, it might not be a priority once he actually takes office. He's using the usual types of dimwitted political excuses, mumbling about the situation being more complicated than he had realized. This always translates to, "Turns out the people who were actually doing the job understood it better than I did. Oh, well, as long as the voters are as uninformed as me, I win!"

CNN is spinning furiously on the matter, with a current front-page headline reading "Obama will act fast to close Gitmo, sources say." As throughout the election, CNN has two journalistic priorities: making sure no one questions the infallibility of the Obamessiah, and making sure no one questions their objectivity.

Bill Clinton pulled a similar stunt sixteen years ago, and I've thought ever since that he owes George H.W. Bush the mother of all apologies. During the 1992 campaign, Clinton bashed Bush for expanding trade relations with China, citing China's atrocious human rights record. This is one of those rare occasions when I agree with Bill Clinton. China is run by thugs and barbarians, and we need to stop giving them money to use against their citizens.

Well, I need to revise that. I'd agree with Clinton on this point if he had actually meant it. Instead, once he took office, he adopted a policy of licking China's boots at every opportunity. He extended their Most Favored Nation trading status with the U.S., justifying it on the grounds of the situation having been more complicated than he had realized. I have a feeling that the menu at Denny's is too complicated for Bill Clinton to understand. I'm not questioning his intelligence, but his mental prioritization. If that Denny's menu had pictures of Catherine Bach circa 1980 (the only real Daisy Duke) on it, Clinton's cerebral cortex would be all over it.

Bill Clinton owed (and owes) G.H.W. Bush a large apology for continuing to do exactly what he'd condemned his opponent for. And in a few months, Obama will owe G.W. Bush a large apology for the same reason unless Guantanamo is closed. That's not the policy I would prefer, but it would show me a bit of integrity from Obama, which I haven't seen yet.

If I could reform the democratic system tomorrow (and I might), the first change I'd implement would be to require all candidates running for any public office to write and sign a list of their campaign promises. This written list would then be a contract. Once in office, the successful candidate would have one year to at least attempt to implement everything on their list. If they fail to do so, then a new election is held immediately.

The "at least attempt to" qualifier is there because in a system of checks and balances, the candidate may not (and should not) have carte blanche to do whatever they want. Therefore, a reasonable attempt to keep their promises, for example, by proposing a bill, even if that bill dies somewhere in the process, would suffice. Unfortunately, there would need to be some sort of bipartisan (or nonpartisan, if such a thing could exist) committee formed to determine what constitutes an honest attempt, but I think that adding one small component to the government bureaucracy would be a very small price to pay for being able to hold lying politicians accountable.

A candidate could easily avoid writing such a list under this system: just don't make any promises. A candidate could still spell out what they hoped to do, or what they would try to do - the only danger to them would come when they say, "If elected, I will." They could always decline to sign a binding position list. Of course, I would expect their opponent to get great mileage from their unwillingness to risk their position for their principles. "My opponent will not commit to action. How can you trust them about anything?"

I've had people hear this proposal and disagree with it because "then the candidates wouldn't promise anything."

I'm pretty sure that's exactly the point.

I try not to use the word "promise", or any other words that unconditionally commit me to an action, with my son unless I'm sure I can follow through. Politicians should show the electorate the same respect.

(Quick sidebar: the "When I Am King" in the subject implies that this change will come when the system of government in one or more nations is changed to monarchy with me at the top, meaning that "democratic reforms" won't actually work. Fear not. My last act as King, probably within hours of coronation, will be to abolish the monarchy and institute representational democracy.)

To her great credit, I can think of one politician who has shown the integrity to do this on her own. Sheila Copps, a former Canadian Member of Parliament, ran on a party platform of abolishing the GST (a federal tax that adds 7% to the price of most goods and services in Canada). She said publicly that she would resign if her party won and didn't follow through. They did, and then didn't. Jean Chretien, who wouldn't make my list of favourite Prime Ministers by any measurement, hauled out the usual line about the situation being more complicated than he had realized, and the tax stayed.

Ms. Copps showed a backbone and stood by her word. It may have taken a little prodding, but she resigned her seat and a by-election was held. Her constituents re-elected her despite the broken promise, which would always be a possibility under the system I propose. I don't agree with her on much of anything, but I respect her integrity.

If Guantanamo is still open when Saint Patrick's Day rolls around, we'll find out if Barack Obama is as much of a man as Sheila Copps.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture taken at a "peace" rally in San Francisco (surprise!). It should come as no shock that crazy people are often illiterate as well. Nice to see Mom teaching good old-fashioned values like Free Expression, Civic Awareness, and Kill The Jews to her younglings. Thanks to Zombietime, always a great place to go see some good crazy, for the picture.

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