Denver Bar Association
March 2002
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Both Left and Right Gridlock or Godsend?

by Doug McQuiston

 Yin Pulling Yang: Good Things Happen

 

As you read this, we will probably be seeing the daily video feed from Guantanamo Bay of the growing throng of Al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees there awaiting their disposition by military tribunal. CNN will have breathless analyses by notable liberal talking heads like Lawrence Tribe, Irwin Chemerinsky, et al. With worried expressions, they will decry our "violation of the Geneva Convention" by forcing the detainees to wear orange jumpsuits or feeding them bagels and cream cheese instead of halal lamb kabobs and rice. They will fear a Muslim "backlash" on the "Arab Street," just like they did when they argued that we would lose in Afghanistan if we "bombed during Ramadan." (Remember that? I’m still waiting for the backlash.)

Let me go out on a limb here and guess that the public opinion polls will, (how shall I put this) differ with this "progressive" view. By a margin of about 10 to one, most Americans will believe the detainees ought to consider themselves lucky they didn’t end up under a daisy cutter, and that three meals a day is too soft.

I know it will come as a shock, but I’m regarded as somewhat conservative around The Docket editorial suite. I go along with the latter view. But unlike many of my GOP brethren, I value the Lawrence Tribes of the world. It would not only be a very boring country, but also a dangerous one, if either liberal or conservative orthodoxy thrived unchallenged. I disagree viscerally with the wonks who refer to the Geneva Convention without ever reading it, joining the chorus howling about what a horrible bunch of savages we Americans are. I think their instinctive urge to hold American officials in low regard is unseemly and tiresome. But, like Voltaire, I would "defend to the death" their right to do it, even if I think it’s stupid.

Genius lives in the Jeffersonian concept of balance of power. Each branch of government, working in its own interest to try to accumulate and wield power, is held in check by each other branch, doing the same. The tension produced keeps the federal government moving in the center of the stream, and prevents it from fouling itself on the rocky banks of either extreme.

But it is the same tension, but between liberal and conservative, that percolates down even into the smallest town council or barroom argument, breathing life into Jefferson’s theories. Unlike the British parliamentary model, where the party in power at any given moment gets to select its executive, and the party out of power is limited to a castrated role as "the loyal opposition," here we do not fear the pull and tug of liberal vs. conservative; we relish it. The most recent example of the energy generated by this reaction is in the new field of "Homeland Security."

I am not so conservative that I cannot see the risk of going too far down the path of security that we forget civil liberty. Although I wince at the rhetoric of Ramsey Clark, the left’s favorite apparatchik, who recently argued in Federal Court that the holding of detainees at all was "unconstitutional," I am secretly glad he’s out there saying it.

The constant harping of such congressional lefties as Diane Feinstein or Paul Wellstone ringing in John Ashcroft’s ears is not a bad thing. Well, except for John Ashcroft. Has he tempered some of the more Orwellian aspects of his PATRIOT Act powers to try to quiet that ringing? Probably. While I do not doubt that he probably has weird nightmares starring Barbara Mikulski, and I feel bad for him, that’s why he gets paid the big bucks.

But doesn’t this constant pull and tug just result in "gridlock," you ask? Isn’t the government "paralyzed" if Congress is evenly mixed with Republican vs. Democrat? Well, maybe, but is that bad? There is mischief in an "activist" Congress. They seem to do some of their best work when political parity prevents them from getting away with what they really want to do. Didn’t George Bush’s flagship tax reduction bill, God bless it, pass through a virtually even Congress? At the same time, the education bill, the darling of Bush’s favorite hide-bound liberal, Teddy Kennedy, also passed in the same session. Yin pulled Yang, and two good things got done.

The American miracle continues to astound the world. European observers, from Toqueville on, have long marveled that we can get anything done. They don’t get that the tension between left and right creates the fusion reaction powering our success.

Were you a little sick to your stomach in the weeks following September 11 watching the solemn declarations of "unity" voiced by Democrats in Congress? Me, too. While its nice that they have rallied around the Commander in Chief, my queasiness was relieved in December when Tom Daschle shamelessly declared he would block Bush’s economic stimulus package from even coming to a vote in the Senate. "Attaboy, Tom," I thought— politics as usual is what makes America great.

In fact, it will probably be a good thing if Timeout Tom succeeds in preventing the stimulus package from ever getting to a vote. Then, Republicans can brand the Democrats as being the "enemies of economic progress" in the upcoming elections, and our economy can recover on its own, free from any government "help." My GOP will pick up a few seats in Congress, but not enough that they can do any real damage.

So to all my liberal friends, I say, "God Bless You." You are the yin to my yang (or is it the yang to my yin?). Let’s get together soon—we can talk politics. I promise I won’t make you wear an orange jumpsuit and blacked out goggles. Well, maybe just the goggles.


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