Congressman Jim Matheson responded to the story about his brother's nomination to the federal court--just as President Obama is trying to persuade the congressman to switch his vote from No to Yes on health care--with this statement to Fox News:
"I am happy for my brother... The federal 10th Circuit Court will gain a judge devoted to judicial integrity, fairness and knowledge of the law. The Weekly Standard's piece is rubbish."
By pretending that the issue is whether or not Scott Matheson is qualified to be a judge, Congressman Matheson and Jonathan Chait are deploying a "weapon of mass distraction," to quote another estimable Democrat, Alan Grayson. No one has questioned Scott Matheson's qualifications; my original post included his sterling credentials, as detailed in a White House press release.
The real question is whether or not the White House used the nomination to influence Congressman Matheson's vote on health care. Did the White House engage in an explicit quid pro quo, i.e., did someone in the administration threaten to hold up the nomination until Matheson agreed in private to vote for the bill?
If empires are complex systems that sooner or later succumb to sudden and catastrophic malfunctions, what are the implications for the United States today? First, debating the stages of decline may be a waste of time -- it is a precipitous and unexpected fall that should most concern policymakers and citizens. Second, most imperial falls are associated with fiscal crises. Alarm bells should therefore be ringing very loudly indeed as the United States contemplates a deficit for 2010 of more than $1.5 trillion -- about 11% of GDP, the biggest since World War II.
These numbers are bad, but in the realm of political entities, the role of perception is just as crucial. In imperial crises, it is not the material underpinnings of power that really matter but expectations about future power. The fiscal numbers cited above cannot erode U.S. strength on their own, but they can work to weaken a long-assumed faith in the United States' ability to weather any crisis.
Ferguson's larger essay, from which the op-ed is adapted, is available to subscribers of Foreign Affairs here. Whether Ferguson is an American declinist is an open question. For what it's worth, I think Josef Joffe and Joel Kotkin are right and the pessimists are wrong: the evidence shows that America isn't going anywhere.
This was one of the best national political debates in many years. Citizens who watched the event were impressed, by many accounts. Journalists and commentators immediately responded by continuing the conversation of the ideas put forward by the president and his opponents — even the cable news cycle was disrupted for a day.
America could use more of this — an unfettered and public airing of political differences by our elected representatives. So we call on President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader John Boehner to hold these sessions regularly — and allow them to be broadcast and webcast live and without commercial interruption, sponsorship or intermediaries.
The White House seems eager to repeat the Baltimore experience with the Senate Republicans. But before we go about institutionalizing an American version of question time, let's consider a few things:
(1) America is not a parliamentary democracy. The president is half-king, half prime-minister. He is separate from and coequal to the Congress. The Constitution stipulates only that he make an annual report to the Congress. He does not have to make an overly long televised speech that serves to buck up partisans and set the agenda for the year. He does not have to regularly submit to questions from his opponents. Why?
The international community lies at the center of the Obama foreign policy. Unfortunately, it is a fiction. There is no such thing. Different countries have different histories, geographies, necessities, and interests. There's no natural, inherent, or enduring international community. What community of interest is there between, say, the United States, Iran, Zimbabwe, and Burma?
The international community is a Hobbesian state of nature with no universally recognized norms. Anarchy is kept in check not by some bureaucracy on the East River, not by some inchoate expression of world opinion, not by parchment promises adorned with disingenuous signatures, but by the will and the power of the Great Powers and, most important in our time, the one remaining superpower: namely, the United States.
President Obama will deliver his first State of the Union address (or SOTU in D.C.-speak) today, in the midst of a full-scale Democratic panic attack. Read Jim Treacher's preview. Drinking game here.
Typically, the State of the Union is the worst sort of presidential address: a mind-numbingly tedious laundry list of foreign and domestic initiatives, with another list of feel-good or sob-stories appended to the end for easy applause. Tonight's speech is worth watching, however, just for the chance to see how Obama deals with the setbacks of the last week. Based on the lines that Robert Gibbs previewed on the morning shows, I expect Obama to focus heavily on the economy while denouncing the "special interests" that stand between the American people and the "change" they voted for in November 2008.