Obama and the Democrats have laid the groundwork.
1) The President has nominated three highly-qualified justices.
2) They've spread the word that the Republicans in the Senate have delayed confirmation of Obama's judicial nominees WAY more than was the case with such nominations in the past.
3) They've let it be known that filibuster reform --the nuclear option-- is being contemplated if the Republicans continue their unprecedented obstruction on these judicial appointments.
The Republicans have obliged by once again demonstrating their grotesque disrespect for clear or truthful speech by denouncing the President's batch of appointments as "packing" the court, even though these are to fill actual vacancies on the bench and have absolutely nothing to do with court-packing (as when FDR sought in 1937 to expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court).
We'll see how this plays out. But how should we hope it plays out?
I'm wondering: Is getting the judges onto the bench worth more than getting the filibuster rules reformed?
[Y]ou say, people ARE excited about the environment on Daily Kos! Haven't I seen all those Keystone XL diaries? And yes, to some degree, that interest is growing. But compare candidate fundraising for Robin Kelly in the Illinois 2nd Congressional District-a race that revolved around the NRA (white hot topic), and that of Ed Markey in the Massachusetts Senate special election, who would be among the biggest environmental champions in the entire Senate if elected. Kelly raised $114K from nearly 6,500 community members. Markey has raised $3,277 from 138 of you.
When we sell Markey, we do so on environmental grounds, and quite frankly, the environmental community on Daily Kos hasn't responded. Some of you may not like that. We at Daily Kos HQ don't like that, but the broader community guides us. After seeing several appeals for Markey fall flat, we pretty much gave up on it.
It should be noted that stakes in these two issues are not at all comparable. Not even of the same order of magnitude. Not even within one order of magnitude.
But we humans have many millennia of being concerned about individual people killing other people. The problem of people collectively killing the planet we live on is new to us.
And habits of thought and feeling change slowly. Hard wiring even slower.
Homo sapiens is not ready to be responsible for the fate of the biosphere. Unfortunately, our species has that responsibility anyway.
This week I got a mailing from the National Review, a conservative magazine. Printed on the envelope was
"RESIST! He may have won the election. But he hasn't won the fight."
The "He," of course, is President Obama, whose picture was also visible on the outside of the mailing.
So what fight is the National Review calling its readers to join?
It can't be the fight to reduce the deficit. The deficit has been falling for several years, at the fastest rate in history.
It can't be the fight to boost our tepid economic recovery and get more Americans back to work. The Republicans did everything they could to block the initial Obama stimulus in 2009, even though they supported President Bush's tax-rebate stimulus just the year before. Since then they've succeeded in imposing cuts that put additional hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work.
It can't be the fight to improve our healthcare system, which costs us twice as much as any other nation's while delivering a level of health care to the American people that doesn't rank in the top 25. The Republicans did everything they could to prevent health care reform from being passed, even though Obamacare is based largely on Republican ideas. House Republicans have voted to repeal Obamacare 37 times but have never made serious proposals of their own to address this most serious national problem.
It can't be the fight to make sure that the kind of financial crisis that collapsed our economy five years ago doesn't happen again. The Republicans did everything they could to prevent a restoration of the kinds of regulations that kept our financial system stable for seventy years, and now they're trying to dismantle the modest financial reforms that passed despite them.
It can't be the fight to turn back a bunch of "extreme" measures that President Obama has been advancing. Whatever else one may think of the President, nothing he has proposed is extreme by any reasonable criterion. There isn't one proposal he's made that's outside what, twenty years ago, both Democrats and Republicans would have agreed was the American mainstream. There isn't one proposal that would be considered all that "liberal" - let alone extreme or radical - in any of the other rich, capitalist democracies.
The fight isn't about these or any other substantive issues. The fighting is an end in itself, and it's a national disgrace.
One of my favorite places to visit is Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, a finite piece of urban land crafted generations ago by Frederick Law Olmstead so that it seems like a special world in itself. Another is the bonsai collection at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., each specimen of which is a beautifully executed work of art by, in most cases, generations of artists-and by the trees themselves.
The role of the trees in creating the beauty of the bonsais calls attention to a general truth: The art form of gardening/landscaping always represents a kind of collaboration between the artist (the gardener, the landscaper) and nature.
But the proportion of each - how much the artist imposes his vision, how much nature has scope to allow the life force to take its own path - varies greatly.
At one end of the spectrum is a garden like that at Versailles - the formal garden - pictured here. The human concept completely dominates the life elements provided by nature.
My own gardening practices are pretty far toward the other end of the spectrum. Nature, in other words, has a will of its own that's expressed in the unfolding design of my garden.
Some of the reasons for this style of mine stem from my limitations as a gardener. But even if I had no such limitations - even if I were a master of the craft - I'd still work in that style.
First, the limitations. One is the limit on the time and energy I am able and willing to devote to the work of creating beauty on my land. I have other priorities, as readers here know, and with the time that I apportion to gardening I couldn't impose my will very thoroughly upon this place even if I wanted to.
Another limitation is money. With enough money, one can buy the materials to execute elaborate designs, and buy also the labor of professional gardeners to implement the plans. I'm not willing or able to spend big bucks to buy a highly polished landscape.
Last, but hardly least, there are the limits on my artistic talents in the medium. I admire greatly people with an artist's eye for fashioning beauty with the physical materials of gardening. But my own talents in visual media - which my mother saw to it very early in my childhood got every opportunity to flower - have always been quite modest. (I love Mozart and Bach, too, but that doesn't mean I can write great music. So also with gardening.) I get some reasonably good ideas, but I often find that nature has better ones.
I live in the midst of a forest, a powerful living system that could quickly reclaim its domain if we humans disappeared. I have no intention of disappearing, but - for those reasons of my limitations, plus one more - living nature has an ongoing powerful hand in sculpting my landscape. I do create and execute designs. I choose plants and where to put them. Here and there I shape the land a bit. But much of my role is to read what nature wants to do, and then to help it do it in a beautiful way.
• Like the way the mint and the Greek oregano that I placed in my little herb garden have both broken out of their spaces and create a lovely intermingling on the hillside above the official "garden."
• Like the way I'm allowing this vibrant and shapely sprout of an Alanthus
a tree the experts have enjoined me to kill off- to grow for a while out of the base of my stone wall, because this shoot is a beautiful brushstroke put onto the canvas by Nature. (Later I'll follow advice of the experts to extirpate all my Alanthus which, while being in some ways beautiful, is also a destructive, invasive plant that creates problems.)
• No poison ivy allowed. And every year I make casual war on snakeweed, the plant that killed Abraham Lincoln's mother, and that I feel junks up the place in aesthetic terms, at least until the fall.
Besides the limitations that hinder my own powers, the other important reason for my style is a philosophy that's grown out of my life experience in following my calling. What I do as a gardener/landscaper differs only in degree from what I do in the heart of my life's work.
This began in my twenties, when I received a vision that I then spent years crafting into a form to convey to readers what I'd been given in a matter of minutes.
It continues into the present, such as the past nine years, when I've been on what I've been calling "my mission": there's been something beyond me - omething springing up from the pulsing core of things - that's been running the show, while my job has been to channel that flow to get good results in the world.
Almost all the big insights, and almost all the important strategic choices, have seemed to come my way from some spiritual dimension of the life force.
To my craft as a writer, and also as a speaker, I bring more expertise than to my work as a gardener. But even so, the stream moving through me arises from beyond my control. It has a power that commands my deference.
And that respect and deference - the opposite of the formal gardens of Versailles - has become, over the forty years of my following my calling, my spiritual posture and artistic habit. Much of what I do - in my calling, as well as my gardening -- is to put the paddle into the whitewater surging around me, working with the powerful currents of the life force to reach a desirable destination.
After a lifetime of being guided by some sacred force from the heart of life, I'm comfortable being as much the midwife as the mother of what's created.
Were I a master of the genre of gardening, I'd choose for the artist's hand to play a stronger role in crafting the picture being painted on the canvas of the landscape. Nonetheless, I feel good about the work of collaborating with the life force to create my gardens. And in them, imperfect as they are, I find a degree of beauty that pleases and satisfies me.
[Pictured here, one of the more artist-shaped parts of my landscape.
David Weigel, conservative-leaning columnist on Slate.com, thinks so. After documenting the notion that more liberals than conservatives work in agencies like the I.R.S. (and offering an explanation, too: liberals believe in government, while conservatives want to cut it back), Weigel writes:
"[D]oes that excuse the IRS's behavior in what Tom Reed called 'Tea Party-targeting-gate?' No. It explains the behavior."My response: Maybe, but maybe not.
Observe that Weigel, a conservative, ASSUMES that partisan leanings lead to unfair favoritism of one's side, and unfair suspicion of the other side. In other words, he assumes that the ideal of "fairness" is not a reliable force in guiding a person's actions.
That certainly corresponds to the conduct of the political right in our times. But is it universal?
[My Benghazi piece, where it appears on opednews.com, elicited a comment that brought forth from me the following brief statement of what I am all about as a political actor in America today. Here's what I wrote:]
Lots of things are true. But there's one over-riding truth that we ought not let the clutter of the myriad little truths obscure. Here's a quick statement of that over-riding, most vital truth:
A sick and broken spirit -- a force more destructive and dishonest than anything ever seen at center stage of American politics-- has seized hold of the Republican Party. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has proved blind and spineless in its failure to face up to this sick and broken spirit in order to protect everything that is good and sacred in America. This combination has wreaked serious damage on this nation --and indeed on the world-- over the past more-than-a-decade.
I know that not everyone sees this. But it is my conviction that it is not only true but is the central truth about what is the greatest crisis to ever face this nation, with the possible exception of the crisis over slavery in the middle of the 19th century.
My conviction is not an off-the-top of my head thing. I've been elaborating and documenting this idea for almost nine years now, as well as providing a highly developed theoretical structure --the fruit of more than forty years' labor-- on how such forces and patterns operate in cultural systems through time.
I get the impression, [commenter], that you'll want to dismiss what I've here asserted. Free country. Still. For now.
First, there's been plenty of talk about the Republicans' "Benghazi obsession." Some (including --if I remember correctly-- Chris Hayes on MSNBC) have corrected that to say that it is really an "Obama obsession."
But that's not it either. What it is is AN OBSESSION WITH GETTING POWER. That's the big pattern. That's the consistent element over these years. That's what makes sense of what's going on.
Second, there was this quote from the President's statement to the press yesterday. Rightly calling attention to the Republicans' transparent efforts to attack him by making mountains of scandal over the molehills of the administration's handling of the Benghazi attacks, President Obama concluded by saying:
Spirit is something that one cannot see but that one can discern from the way things move. We see the spirit as we "see" the wind when trees bow before it
So it is with the sick and destructive spirit that now animates the Republican Party.
We cannot see that spirit directly. What we see are the actions of politicians like Bush and Rove and Cheney, and the words of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and the minions of Rupert Murdoch, and the way of doing politics practiced by the NRA, and by Liberty University and by the Republicans in Congress who made it their top priority, in a time of national crisis, to make our president fail.
Those things show us the force of the invisible wind that compels trees to bend in the direction the wind is heading.
And we see the sick and destructive spirit whose portrait, in that viral video, I painted like this:
• A spirit that makes a fight over everything
• A spirit for which there is no such thing as "Enough" of wealth or power
• A spirit that appeals continually to the worst in people, their hatreds and fears
• A spirit that lies about everything
When we see a force that acts coherently and that consistently inflicts damage, we infer that there's something operating that we do not see.
True, some of our fellow citizens were killed and many more were injured. But during that week an explosion at a fertilizer factory in Texas killed more people, and injured more people, than were killed or injured in Boston. And yet, the Texas disaster probably received less than one percent of the Boston coverage.
Maybe the difference was because what happened in Texas was an accident, even if caused by negligence, whereas the Boston bombing was a deliberate attack not just on the victims but on all of us.
Terrorism is a real concern in our era. An attack on a major public festivity like the Boston Marathon is not trivial. Still, the question remains: Should the nation allow its consciousness to be so dominated by every terrorist attack?
All this attention rewards the terrorists, and is an incentive to others who may be lurking in the wings. We're telling the world - in which there is no shortage of potential suicide bombers who would like to make as big a splash as those two young Chechen immigrants -- that if you want to completely capture the attention of the world's leading nation for days on end, just come and blow up a few of us.
The report confirmed what we all should already know, but that political dissimulation has kept unofficial: the United States engaged in the practice of brutal torture, sanctioned at the highest levels of the U.S. government in a manner unprecedented in our history. This, despite there being no evidence that such practices serve any useful purpose.
If the purposes are not utilitarian, the reasons must lie elsewhere. And here we see the dark spirit. Forget the issues of American law, and international treaty, violated by those during the Bush presidency. Look at the place our leaders were coming from. Torture is as far as you can get from "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Torture, for which there is no practical reason, is an expression of the kind sadistic cruelty that stains the darkest pages of human history. This is the spirit that finds expression in dungeons, on the rack, in the chambers of the Gestapo. And here it found expression through the people nominated by the Republican Party and re-elected by half the American people.
And prosecuted by no one, including a successor who said we must look forward and not backward.
Is there in America a crisis at the level of the spirit? One need look no further.
Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. He is the author of various books including Out of Weakness: Healing the Wounds That Drive Us to War.