A Pre-Speech Primer on American Politics

Separation of Powers is a cruel mistress. John Boehner, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, has the constitutional prerogative to invite whomever he chooses to speak before the House Chamber. There is nothing Barack Obama can do about it.

Then again, the speech is set to address the issue of Iran, and the negotiations which the Obama Administration is undertaking with our old antagonists in Tehran. Congress is even preparing a package of heightened sanctions against Iran – while they are at the negotiating table, no less – which Obama has promised to veto.

Veto-proof majority! Congress can enact a law over the objections of the President with a sufficient supermajority! Two-thirds!

Except, it doesn’t matter. Sanctions, to have the force of law, must be approved by Congress like any other law. However, sanctions are not like any other law – they are punitive actions against a foreign power. Whether or not Congress can ram sanctions down the throat of a President that doesn’t want them is another matter, especially as this is a matter involving foreign relations, where the President’s powers are broad and awesome.

The Supreme Court case of United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. is a long list of all the reasons why Barack Obama is going to win out over John Boehner, and Mr. Netanyahu for that matter.

Here’s the Power Chord from Justice Sutherland, writing for the court way back in 1936:

“It is important to bear in mind that we are here dealing not alone with an authority vested in the President by an exertion of legislative power, but with such an authority plus the very delicate, plenary and exclusive power of the President as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations – a power which does not require as a basis for its exercise an act of Congress, but which, of course, like every other governmental power, must be exercised in subordination to the applicable provisions of the Constitution.”

Can Congress enact sanctions against a foreign country over the objections of the President? Probably not. It would be a trespass on the President’s powers under Article II of the Constitution, as the President has “plenary power” in regards to speaking with foreign nations, which is inherent in the Executive Branch, and is far greater than the enumerated powers over domestic affairs. Congress is purely the second-fiddle.

There you have it, folks. The end of the controversy. This concludes the article, have a lovely day.

Wait, Wait! There’s “Politics” Involved

We in the US are currently stuck in a political cycling process that began almost immediately after the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004. The following year is seen as the year that the wheels fell off; when setbacks in Iraq began to sour the public mood about the foreign entanglements we’d found ourselves in, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina left a feeling that the governing structures of the country simply weren’t functioning as they should.

The Republican Party was defeated in the 2006 Congressional elections, and Washington fell into a state of contentious gridlock.

Then, the economic crisis hit, banks were bailed out, a scandal erupted regarding the poor state of the Veterans Administration hospitals, and the Republican Presidential candidate, John McCain, gave a recitation of “Bomb Iran” in front of a hot microphone, leaving many voters with the impression that the Republican Party didn’t know how to do anything except start wars. Especially land wars…. In Asia.

The elections of 2008 would leave Democrats in control of the White House and both houses of Congress. They were put there to punish the Republican Party as much as anything else, but somehow the Democrats managed to delude themselves into believing that they had been given a real, solid, mandate to govern.

The Democrats then blew billions on an “economic stimulus” scam and tinkered with healthcare, incurring the wrath and fury of the American people.

The Republican Party re-took the House of Representatives in 2010. John Boehner replaced Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, in a move by the American people to keep a leash on the Community Organizer in the White House. Gridlock again reigned on the Potomac.

The 2012 Presidential election came down to a contest between the Community Organizer-in-Chief and an oily haired fellow who fired people for fun and profit, Mitt Romney. Cynicism ruled the day; the incumbent was seen as the devil we knew, so Barack Obama got a second term. The Republicans kept the House – the American people were happy to have Obama as President, as long as he couldn’t actually do anything.

The most recent elections in 2014 saw the Republican Party increase its majority in the House of Representatives and capture control of the Senate. They won largely without a platform; it was general irritation that motivated the voters. The Republicans are still weakened by factional conflict and are in need of some unifying leadership. John Boehner even had to fight off a challenge for the Party leadership.

What the Republicans needed to do was dust off a biography of Benjamin Disraeli, come up with a factional coalition agreement of sorts, and draft some “One Nation Conservatism” bills that could get bipartisan support or at least force the Democrats to explain their intransigence to the voters. Coupling a full-scale tax reform bill with a minimum wage increase, for example. They’ve opted for another path.

Opposing Obama is the flag the Republicans can always rally around. Perhaps, inviting a foreign leader with a contentious relationship with the White House to speak to the Congress about a long-time antagonistic country while the President is involved in delicate, multi-party talks with that antagonist. It could certainly unify the Party; it could also hurry their demise.

If America’s independent voters think that the Republicans are preparing the political landscape for another war in the Middle East, this time against Iran, then the Republicans are likely heading towards another 2006-style defeat, and America will get another cycle of lather-rinse-repeat politics.

That is the current state of American politics –  politicians elected as the lesser evil convincing themselves that they enjoy real support, and proceeding to embarrass themselves, scandalize the political debate, and enrage the otherwise uninterested American public.

Tuned Out on The Home Front

Iran is not the top political news in my area, nor is Mr. Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to Congress. Iowans are currently discussing an increase in the state’s gasoline tax. When Iowa’s presidential caucus is held next February – the first contest in the presidential campaign – that will be no longer be the case, and the issue of American involvement in the Middle East is likely to be a major issue yet again.

Once an eccentric libertarian position, the idea that America’s long wars in the Middle East have damaged the nature of constitutional republicanism is now shared, at least in part, by voters from across the political spectrum.

The enormous costs in blood and treasure, the dead and wounded soldiers, the massive debts, and the shocking accretion of wealth in the government and in the Washington, D.C. area while the fallen cities of the old industrial heartland were filing for bankruptcy protection, have all contributed to a growing sense of mistrust towards federal institutions. One coping mechanism is to simply tune it all out, which many people have done.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech is very likely to be ignored by the bulk of the American populace, at least at first, but if his words are too aggressive and the Republican reactions are a little to bellicose, then the mild scandal of “Invite-gate” could be replaced by the backlash of an outraged public that has heard about weapons of mass destruction from the podium in the House before.

The speech will be made, Republicans will applaud, Democrats will whine, Obama will talk to the Iranians anyway, Israelis will worry about tensions with Washington, media will comment on what a big scandal it all is, and none of it will change anything.

Mr. Netanyahu would be wise to water down the “bad and dangerous Iran” talk in favor of a more “celebrating American power and friendship in a time of great change” tone. It would produce better headlines and video clips, cause fewer problems for Republicans next year, ease criticism from the Democrats, and be more palatable to the American people. It is too late to back out now, but he can still use the speech to mend a few fences – you know, diplomacy.

About the Author
Factory Worker with a Law Degree. Occasional Writer. Bored at Work.
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