Going Bourbon

After the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the exile of Napoleon in 1815, the victorious allies decided to restore the Bourbons to the throne of France. They didn’t last very long. Somehow, neither brother of the executed Louis XVI ever stopped to wonder why the French people had  begun the French Revolution. The restored monarchy was supposed to be a constitutional monarchy but the last two Bourbons insisted on ruling as absolute monarchs and enacted the same sorts of policies that had gotten them overthrown the first time. By 1830, the French had had enough. Charles X was obliged to abdicate and leave the country. Years later, in 1871, after the disaster of the Franco-Prussian War and the overthrow of Louis Napoleon III (the famous Napoleon’s nephew), the French were once again called to create a new government. There was some talk of restoring the Bourbons. They sent emissaries to Charles X’s grandson Henry who responded that he would be delighted to come back to France and be king, as long as they forgot all that silly talk about constitutions and the rights of man. The French had had their fill of autocratic kings and emperors and opted to create the Third Republic. Talleyrand said that the Bourbons had “learned nothing and forgotten nothing”. It didn’t occur to them that they ought to change with the times.

Mark Levin warned that President Obama might go “full Mussolini” after the election, but I think there might be a danger of his going full Bourbon, doubling down on the sort of policies that have caused such enormous losses for the Democrats in 2010 and 2014, especially if he follows the advice that Katrina vanden Heuvel gave in this article in The Nation.

If I were advising the White House right now, I would encourage President Obama to take advantage of the end of this year’s election cycle—the next fifty or so days—to immediately try to change the subject, in a big way.

The Obama administration should act right away to use its executive powers to take steps to deal with long-ignored issues that need to be dealt with for the good of the nation.

This cannot be done quietly. To change the media narrative, issues acted upon will have to be controversial enough to dominate the news. President Obama should embrace good progressive public policy while expecting—indeed, hoping for—a massive outcry from the wing-nut section of the GOP.

Controversy is not the enemy here. And issue clarity—or issue polarization—can be helpful, if the administration seizes the initiative and chooses public policy issues on which to fight.

The president should go big right now, undertaking a quick series of high-profile executive actions on issues that the Republican House has not acted upon, and will never pass. President Obama should be very visible, with photo ops and speeches and social media and grassroots backup and appearances on Between Two Ferns, moving hard and fast from one executive action to the next.

Here are a few suggestions. (And I’m sure people as smart as John Podesta and David Axelrod can think of a couple more.) Whatever is decided, act big—and act fast.

Why not draw the line in the sand this week?

She then gives a list of issues Obama should act upon, with  basically the same sort of policies that caused the catastrophic losses for the Democrats this week.

1. Start with serious immigration reform. Announce a serious executive action, to make up for the fact that Beltway Republicans will not act on this critical issue.

Go to the South Valley of Texas and/or the Arizona border, and make appearances with some of the little girls and boys who are trying to come to the United States to avoid their dangerous, hard-scrabble lives in Honduras and Guatemala.

Pick a fight with Rick Perry and/or Jan Brewer, if need be, and be glad that you’re in a high-profile fight with them. Let the right-wing come unglued—which they will!—and don’t back down when Steve King and Louie Gohmert and Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin start calling for impeachment. Not only will the wing nuts threaten impeachment over perfectly legal executive actions, and their actions dominate the airwaves, it will turn off independents and moderates, and create a no-win situation that leaves most of the Republican presidential candidates twisting in the wind. (Remember: they can’t get sixty-seven pro-impeachment votes in the Senate, any more than they could when Bill Clinton was impeached—and the foolish, overwrought attacks on Clinton helped clarify to most Americans that the GOP was the big problem in DC.)

Americans hate the idea of amnesty for illegal immigrants. They hate politicians who try to grant amnesty for illegal immigrants. This is one issue that really, really hurt the Democrats this election cycle. Americans do not hate the idea of amnesty because we are a bunch of racists. We welcome legal immigrants. The trouble with amnesty is that most Americans do not believe that someone who cuts ahead in line should be rewarded for their behavior. It seems unfair to the people who filled out all the paperwork and waited patiently in line. If the Republicans decide to impeach Obama over this, it will not be a repeat of the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Obama’s supporters will not be able to dismiss this as a matter of personal peccadilloes. This will be a president trying to push policies by executive order that the majority of the American people reject. I think that even a few Senate Democrats might go along with taking some action to stop Obama from granting amnesty through executive order, even if to save their party from another defeat.

2. For the next two years, do everything you can to create a climate legacy that will stand the test of time—a legacy that will look better and better as the decades go by, and the atmosphere heats up more and more.

Cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline before the right wing can draw a breath after your immigration actions. Then, Mr. President, elevate climate change as an issue, the way you took on healthcare reform (only without bothering to try to pass anything through John Boehner’s House).

Meet with China and India on climate issues, before the next round of global climate meetings. Set aside big chunks of public land and ocean, and hold photo ops in spectacular natural settings as you do so—very few executive acts are so popular with most of the public.

Host a national teach-in with real climate scientists, on C-Span, and use it to drive a nail in the coffin of the fake, corporate-funded, “climate denial” science.

Pull together a meeting of coastal mayors to talk about what “resilience” steps to take to prepare for the next Superstorm Sandy—this is not only necessary, it’s a good way to raise the issue of needed infrastructure spending.

Take the climate disruption issue head-on, and make it part of the Obama legacy. No previous leaders have met the challenge of global warming, a threat that affects both national and world security. President Obama could be the first to take it on. Future generations will thank him.

Global Warming/Climate Change is at the bottom of issues the American people are worried about right now. If President Obama follows this advice he will be easily caricatured as a President bent on destroying the US economy. I should add that China and India are not going to cooperate in destroying their own economies and condemn their people to perpetual poverty just so Obama can have a climate legacy.

4. Go up to the edge of normalizing relations with Cuba. Send Attorney General Eric Holder down to Havana to work out the details.

I understand that current law prevents a president from fully normalizing relations with Cuba, but there are a series of executive actions that a president could take that would weaken the embargo, increase American prestige in this hemisphere, and help stabilize working relationships with Cuba on a series of bilateral issues.

Even better, President Obama can take these executive actions just before the entire hemisphere meets at the Summit of the Americas in Panama in May, actions that will enhance his reputation—and America’s reputation—across Latin America.

What happened to 3? This isn’t really a bad idea and we should be prepared for a post-Castro Cuba. I don’t think there are many Americans concerned with Cuba right now.

5. Use changing national attitudes on marijuana to weaken the wasteful and ineffective war on drugs. Better yet, use presidential executive power to weaken our harsh and racist criminal injustice system.

Reclassify marijuana as a less-dangerous drug. Commute sentences of nonviolent pot prisoners (a disproportionate number of them young African-Americans!).

Appoint a blue-ribbon presidential commission on drug reform and criminal justice reform, with a mandate to report back quickly on issues from marijuana legalization to curbing police brutality to eliminating three-strikes-and-you’re-out policies to reforming harsh sentencing to ending the militarization and weaponization of local and state police departments to stop and frisk to racial profiling.

Again not an altogether bad idea, but this really should be a state and local affair. There is no reason the President couldn’t work with Congress on this issue, except, of course, that Obama doesn’t play well with others.

6. Nominate Tom Harkin to the Federal Reserve Board.


7. In the proud tradition of Franklin Roosevelt, issue a Good Jobs Executive Order that would reward companies that pay their workers a living wage, allow them a voice at the workplace without having to go on strike, adhere to federal workplace safety and fair labor standards and limit the pay of their chief executives to some reasonable ratio to that of their average workers.

The companies most likely to be rewarded would be those with connections in Washington. Just what we need, more crony capitalism.

8. Nominate a diverse set of progressives to fill every judicial vacancy at every level, and then make this a huge national throwdown fight when they are not approved. Given the poor public view of the runaway, activist, Citizens United–tainted Supreme Court, judges could become one of the big issues of the 2016 campaign.

I bet it would become a big issue, Obama stacking the courts with extreme progressive ideologues to fundamentally change the country even after his term ends. One of the reasons so many people are coming to dislike this president and progressives generally is their view that the constitution is more of a guideline than an actual set of rules for the government.

I think that it could rightly be said of Katrina vandel Heuvel that like the Bourbons, she has learned nothing and forgotten nothing about the experience of the recent election. Let’s hope that Obama, unlike the Bourbons can learn from experience.

Maybe we will.
Maybe we will.



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