“Jackson Circle” Sidney O. Smith III

352644045_99d325593c "Some at Sic Semper Tyrannis have asked about the successful rise of David Addington — Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff and the leading apostle of the unitary executive theory. I’ll leave it to others to offer high octane legal insights, but Jane Mayer, in her excellent article “The Hidden Power”, goes into great detail when describing Addington’s approach. And, after reading her article, if someone asked me to choose one sentence to write on a chalkboard to sum up Addington and his weltanschauung, then I would offer the following: Addington doesn’t believe in the US Constitution.

What else does anyone really need to know? If you want an academic description, I suppose one could say that Addington’s intent to destroy the US Constitution is the source of his praxeology and thus drives all of his actions. One therefore can analyze his work based upon the assumption that he wants to decimate the US Constitution so as to create an imperial presidency. But, in simpler terms, this description of Addington simply sums up his "m.o.", or for those who believe he should face prosecution, his “mens rea”, that is, his “guilty state of mind”.

Of course, if you want to take it a step further and construct an argument against the views of Addington, then you must first decide the venue and audience. And because the tempo and motif of Sic Semper Tyrannis is one of The Butcher’s Cleaver and the Confederate Secret Services, I suggest tailoring such an argument with the specific intent of triggering a particular “collective memory” of anti-imperialism — a collective memory long forgotten. By relying in part on the insight of Dr. Christine Helms that the "collective memory is a toolshed" that may lead to social change, the hope is that the revival of this specific collective memory will help end the days of Addington and Cheney as a political power. .."

Sidney O. Smith III

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24 Responses to “Jackson Circle” Sidney O. Smith III

  1. zanzibar says:

    Thank you, Sidney!
    Until enough numbers of the American people recognize they are being sold down the river of greed and imperialism by our political and corporate elites the constant drum beat of the neocon message will be trumpeted by our corporate media.
    When will we have the next revolution? Sic Semper Tyrannis!

  2. Zed says:

    I have never written before, but I have been a long time reader. The stories that you choose to circulate are always relevant. Thank you.
    Machiavellian policies rationalized by patriotism. I would like to think that when this current administrations term is up, its backwards policies will dissolve; there will always be more like DA, those with above average intelligence holding contempt for people they perceive inferior.
    If the pendulum doesn’t begin swinging the other way soon, someone will have to push it.

  3. pbrownlee says:

    Not sure that the gods being pleased by the “victrix causa” are those of government but rather fate/luck/chance.
    And Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis might not pass the all-important “whom (“who”, more likely) would you rather have a beer with?” test.
    But the Pharsalia might have a lesson or two:
    “Events throughout the poem are described in terms of insanity and sacrilege. Most of the main characters are terribly flawed and unattractive; Caesar is cruel and vindictive, while Pompey is ineffective and uninspiring. Far from glorious, the battle scenes are portraits of bloody horror, where nature is ravaged to build terrible siege engines and wild animals tear mercilessly at the flesh of the dead…
    “The grand exception to this generally bleak portrait is Cato, who stands as a Stoic ideal in the face of a world gone mad (he alone, for example, refuses to consult oracles to know the future). Pompey also seems transformed after Pharsalus, becoming a kind of secular martyr; calm in the face of certain death upon arrival in Egypt, he receives virtual canonization from Lucan at the start of Book IX. This elevation of Stoic and Republican principles is in sharp contrast to the ambitious and imperial Caesar, who becomes an even greater monster after the decisive battle. Even though Caesar wins in the end, Lucan makes his sentiments known in the famous line Victrix causa deis placuit sed Victa Catoni – ‘The victor’s cause pleased the gods, but the vanquished pleased Cato’.”
    “Given Lucan’s clear anti-imperialism, the flattering Book I dedication to Nero — which includes lines like multum Roma tamen debet ciuilibus armis | quod tibi res acta est – “But Rome is greater by these civil wars, because it resulted in you” — is somewhat puzzling. Some scholars have tried to read these lines ironically, but most see it as a traditional dedication written at a time before the true depravity of Lucan’s patron was revealed…”
    (“Revealed” here naturally means “written up in grotesque and lurid detail by your enemies and former flatterers”.)
    Are we yet to see another year of the four emperors?

  4. matt says:

    Thanks Col., for the wonderful quote from Dr. Helms…I clicked through and read it. It serves as a short, sharp answer to the basic question “Why study History?” Every history teacher in America should have it posted in their classroom !

  5. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Well now.
    Sitting this evening in my home office looking across Main Street at the Lee Chapel in which the General is buried. My Llewellin setter named “Grey Ghost” curled up at my feet after an afternoon bass fishing. (He is looking ahead to fall bird season but puts up with fish.)
    Some points:
    1. Per Addington and the unitary executive theory first note the Minority Report from Congressman Dick Cheney, etal. in H. Rept. No. 100-433 and S. Rept No. 100-216, 100th Congress, 1st Session entitled “Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair” (1987). Particular reference to “Part II The Foreign Affairs Powers of the Constitution and the Iran-Contra Affair”. Note that Addington was on the minority staff which prepared this for Cheney, etal.
    2. Consider the penetration of US legal education/law schools and the profession by Leo Strauss proteges. Bear in mind Strauss was the protege of Carl Schmitt, the chief legal ideologist for the German Nazi regime. Note the “Federalist Society” of lawyers and its influence and mark the degree to which it is penetrated by Straussians.
    3. Hagee most certainly does NOT represent authentic Southern Protestant tradition. Hagee’s ideology, Dispensationalism, is that of the defrocked British Church of Ireland priest, John Nelson Darby who, with several other twisted cultists, invented “premillennial Dispensationalism” in the 1820s-1830s in the UK and Ireland. Darby brought it to the United States during a series of visits from about 1860 to 1872. Hagee’s Dispensationalism penetrated Protestant denominations in BOTH the North and the South of the US AFTER (AFTER) the Civil War/WBS era. American Fundamentalism was codified just prior to WWI (1910-1915) and Darby’s Dispensationalism dominates Fundamentalist eschatology. This is NOT Southern tradition. It is an alien cult invented in the UK and transferred to the US (both North and South) during the late 19th century.
    [My book forthcoming in December 08 or January 09 “Dark Crusade: Christian Zionism and US Foreign Policy” London: IB Tauris/Palgrave Macmillan gets into this issue in some detail.]

  6. Kudos to Pat and Sidney. This praise is enjoined by my 81 year old mother, a Bryn Mawr grad and retired educator.
    Important to mention Darby and Schmitt, Mr. Kiracofe.
    SCJ Alito: “The case for a unitary executive seems, if anything, stronger today than it was in the 18th Century.”
    The irony is that the imperial wish is decidedly modern and tended toward a kind of nihilism; power at all costs.
    Zanzibar, on one hand, it could work that people wake up, and, on the other hand, (from my social psychological and anthropological prejudice,) I could offer that ‘it doesn’t work that way.’
    This dual possibility noted, were half the disengaged electorate to engage–for any reason–the result would likely be at least mildly revolutionary.
    The difference between the future-directed horizons of those eager to sustain and retain their power, and the ‘pay the bills’ horizon of most American householders, (and for the sake of stark contrast,) the many generations long horizon of the Arab tribesman, define the different ways in which different features are taken for granted.
    Addington et. al. aren’t, obviously, tuned to the divine right of Kings. But they are tuned to the coordinated effort over years the fulfillment of their ambitions require.
    Meanwhile, many Americans might report a minimal interaction with their Republic: taxes, keeping an eye out for speed traps, voting every now and then. This minimalist (modern!) sense of government presents the imperialist with an enticing opportunity.
    (And, the Arab tribesman of course has the longest collective memory of all.)
    The disturbing facet is that these matters of insults and harms done to our very form of self-governance and thus to the sovereign people, are far from the front burner in our political season, and distressingly, these hits add up to an almost esoteric issue for many people.
    I wonder what Madison and Jefferson would think?; to mention another essential Southern current.

  7. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Thank you very much for these “high octane” comments. I became so fired up that I started listening to the Allman Brothers. Just kidding…(well, sort of).
    Prof. Kiracofe: I look forward very much to reading your book. Although I live in the land where rapturists abound, I had no idea of their impact on foreign policy until I read Gershom Gorenberg’s book, The End of Days. And it was then that I discovered, much to my amazement, that some evangelical farmers in the South were working feverishly to send a “red heifer” to Israel, so as to usher in the rebuilding of the Third Temple. Of course, rebuilding the Third Temple means taking out the Dome of the Rock. As I believe War Eagle Raimondo pointed out as only he can, it will be a true pity if the world sees a clash of civilizations over the spreading of ashes from a heifer. To borrow a title from a Southern song, “Just ain’t my Cross to bear.”
    My guess is that Robert Kagan’s book, Dangerous America, offers the exact opposite message as that given to us by Moses Jacob Ezekiel. Time permitting, I would like to study Kagan’s book, as I believe inverting his thesis perhaps would lead to discovering an intellectual current that is best for the USA.
    Again, many thanks for the various comments.

  8. Cold War Zoomie says:

    The disturbing facet is that these matters of insults and harms done to our very form of self-governance and thus to the sovereign people, are far from the front burner in our political season…
    That’s putting it very nicely.
    If I see one more cable news blurb about Rev Wright or flag pins, or whatever trivial rubbish the MSM has decided is important, I’m going to bust a vessel!
    It’s time to start screaming at the TV again…and I don’t even have cable!

  9. Cold War Zoomie says:

    One cannot help but speculate that, after the war, General Longstreet and Colonel Mosby must have experienced from time to time the cognitive dissonance known as a “love-hate” relationship with the South while, of course, always holding onto
    an undying loyalty.

    Yet another excellent post.
    I have a love-hate relationship with the South. You probably do too.
    But the pride always wins out. She Who Must Be Obeyed, who is a Washington DC native, doesn’t quite understand why I view life in Georgia and Mississippi to be superior to DC in many ways.
    Oh! The horror!
    Luckily, Baltimore is a short drive from our DC suburb. And you can get great crab cakes and bread pudding.

  10. jon says:

    Patienza, Zoomie. You’re going to need those vessels. Those pebbles of flag pins, reverends, tax returns, board members, waffles, and cackles are about to become an avalanche.
    I take Sidney’s point as well. Sad that the most listened to foreign and military policy founts are best understood and most accurate only when filtered through the comic book tool of Bizarroworld.
    Opposite, backwards, upside down and in reverse – then you’ll get it right. Apparently the sight of two hands looking for one ass is a source of endless fascination for the press.

  11. TomB says:

    Geez Sidney, what a nice post and article. Your article especially; rises almost to the level of literature.
    In large part though and in your heart of hearts don’t you think it’s a lost cause? Haven’t the American people spoken, again and again throughout history, and isn’t it simply a fact that they clearly like the idea of powerful, energetic Presidents who take their own initiative, and don’ t mind us being imperial very much either? And isn’t it the case that even when the exercises of that power and initiative and imperialism have turned out sour they keep coming back to liking those things all over again in very short periods of time?
    Of course to hearken us back you may not have felt you had to take things all the way back to the Civil War, but even back then and afterwards the people still seem to have liked it very much when we were marching across this continent colonizing Indian and Mexican and Hawaiin native land as fast as we could. And they liked it just fine at first at least when we did the same with the Phillipines and when we had Teddy Roosevelt and they liked it when Wilson was rounding up “subversives” and they didn’t mind it when FDR was baiting Germany and Japan and interning our Japanese and they liked it when Truman went into Korea without a shred of congressional approval and they’ve basically liked it enough any number of times ever since too. In fact isn’t it just this sort of thing that makes our Presidents “great” in our collective eyes? Who today even knows much less honors Ike for the fact that when the French came to him after Dien Bien Phu and pleaded with him to go into Vietnam big time he dutifully consulted with Congressional leaders and decided against it? Indeed, wasn’t it exactly this sort of thing that got his whole presidency not just repudiated in the 1960 election but even got him openly laughed at by the Camelot crowd and all its hellishly cool and sophisticated admirers?
    So insofar as this Addington guy and his new theory goes (which in fact is neither new nor his) I don’t know that it’s all that important on either of the two levels its can be thought of as addressing. That is, either the legal or the political, with the Constitution of course being a document having both natures.
    Certainly as your entire post and article recognizes the political or civic understanding of the Constitution is undoubtedly of even greater fundamental importance than the occasional and almost always narrow legal understanding that the Supreme Court hands down. So right there the legal aspect can be seen to be of limited importance only. But even as to that aspect and as that Wikipedia article you yourself cite indicates this Unified Executive theory just simply has had no real impact in the courts whatsoever despite it having been around for good while. And as we saw in that recent Medellin case talked about here awhile ago it clearly didn’t sway the present “conservative” Court even, with Chief Justice Roberts himself even signing on to good old Justice Jackson’s Steel Mill age-old idea instead, which seems so logical that it’s never going to go away.
    (Moreover in fact I wonder if the Solicitor General even tried arguing this Unitary Executive theory in losing the Medellin case and in fact I kinda doubt it since, esp. in the field of foreign affairs, it seems to me to be less a theory than a mere slogan. I mean … a theory purports to answer a question, but what question does this Unitary Executive thing purport to give a reply to anyway? As that Wikipedia article again references, okay, it may to rise to the level of a theory when it addresses the question of, say, whether one Executive branch can sue another because there it at least embodies some legal logic saying no, they are all part of one ((“unitary”)) branch so they can’t sue one another. But how does this “theory” answer the question of whether *another* branch—Congress—has the right to do X or Y or Z in the field of foreign or military affairs? To me at least whatever logic it has just seems mostly inapposite in such situations. So I just don’t see how shouting “Hey, isn’t the Presidency big and strong in his own domain!” over and over again is ever gonna carry much legal weight—as not only Medellin but all the other recent S. Ct. cases such as Hamdan too would seem to indicate as well.)
    And in the more important political or civic realm I guess I just don’t see it as all that important either because I don’t really see the history that tells me that Presidents have ever even *needed* such a theory to justify what they wanted to do. When Jefferson wanted the Louisiana Purchase, he purchased. When Lincoln wanted to suspend Habeas, he suspended. When FDR wanted to violate the Neutrality Act he did so (by, among many other things, giving those destroyers to Britain). When Truman wanted to go into Korea all on his ownsome, he did. And when JFK wanted his “Ph.Ds in fatigues” to go into Vietnam he sent over those Green Berets and then more. And none of those Presidents were impeached or even censured for same, and indeed they are all thought of by large swatches of the public as having been great.
    So recherche’ theory or not, haven’t Presidents always done what they think the public would support? And after all didn’t they get to be Presidents by having at least some feel for what the public agrees with? The same as with Congressmen and women? For all the nattering over “imperial presidencies” those Congresspeople have been so scared of the public response for opposing a President’s foreign affairs/military powers that they have damn near wet themselves in their haste to do whatever they’ve been asked in this regard. Even when we had millions in the streets against Vietnam they voted every cent to continue right up until the bitter end, and they’ve funded every jot and tittle of this Iraq thing too of course. And not only have they shown no interest in censuring a President who launched an invasion of a sovereign state that had not attacked us on grounds that turned out to have been cosmically wrong, they now won’t even pass a resolution telling Mr. Bush that if he wants to nuke Iran he ought to at least tell them about it beforehand.
    Consequently, much as one might share your sentiments (excepting perhaps your allegations about this Addington guy’s state of mind), one can also wonder if it all isn’t just kinda quaint now. The people have spoken and they disagree. So maybe it’s just like me and my friends sitting around wishing people would wake up and throw away all these damn newfangled plastic fly rods and automatic shotguns and go back to the good old days when bamboo and double-barrels were good enough: A nice thought perhaps, but….

  12. alnval says:

    Col. Lang:
    There is a quality of inevitability about Sidney’s essay and the comments of the readers. That without a ‘push’ to reverse the direction of the pendulum, or a revolution to defeat what one commenter refers to as the peoples’ minimalist involvement with government, it is almost certain that we will present the imperialists among us with the tools they need to destroy the Republic.
    I think this idea is best captured by Sidney’s amazement at discovering not that a rapturist theology exists but that it has genuine impact on the government’s foreign policy. With this, he conveys the reality of forces that we cannot easily discern which work to prevent us from accessing the tools of collective memory in Helms’ tool shed; tools that could help defeat the imperialist dynamic of the neoconservatives. Worse, as Kiracofe suggests, I believe that these neoconservative forces have been successful in chipping away at our ability to recognize and acknowledge that our survival depends on our nourishing and supporting a government that is free of imperialist ambitions and the corrupting power of a unitary executive.
    In these contexts, Helm’s tool shed can quickly become an empty storehouse. Even the memorials designed to remind us of its contents will ultimately lose their savor if no one is around who remembers what they stand for.
    I’m reminded of the books of Isaac Asimov and hope that we will be astute enough to create our own kind of Foundation that will again give substance to this aspect of our collective memory; a kind of modern day version of the monasteries which preserved scholarship and learning during the Dark Ages.

  13. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Ah yes…I was waiting for the legal expert to weigh in with his trenchant insights. Obviously I’ll have to spend some time mulling over your extremely well written views. But very briefly, while reading your post, I thought I noted a sense of resignation on your part as to the inexorable march of the US as Kagan’s Dangerous America. True? False? Are you suggesting we just jump on board, grab a bag of popcorn, and watch mushroom clouds rise around the world all in the name of the Cheney Law?
    In any event, I hope I did not give the impression of promoting a quaint lost cause. Far from it. I think the US is undergoing a tremendous realignment of historical currents after 9-11, as this event shattered all preconceptions. Traditional organizing principles are disintegrating (hat tip to Durga?), and I think this disintegration is taking place everywhere in the American landscape. Subsequently much “recollection” is occurring, as there is nothing to hold onto anymore. You are seeing this occur in the Jewish American world (Philip Weiss and the “J” lobby”), in the traditional black church (no need to mention names here). I can speculate that it is taking place in the American military culture. (Andrew Bacevich vs. Keane). So I may as well mention the Yeats’ cliché. The center is no longer holding. Actually it has already been blown apart. (Honestly, I believe the work by Col. McMaster says the same — uncertainty rules the day).
    I am offering for consideration that in an emerging realignment, the South has something very important to offer as there is an opportunity for historical threads to weave together into a new pattern and form. To ignore Southern history is a terrible mistake because (once a person is willing to move beyond the deep apprehension of actually seeing that the South may have had a valid point), it becomes obvious that the Civil War left us many lessons. And one is the concept of “blowback”. So by denying the validity of the message of Moses Jacob Ezekiel, odds increase that the US has a major blindspot due to arrogance and hubris.
    As to your point re: people accepting the march towards expansionism and imperialism, I think you make a valid observation up until a point. But the American people will not accept this change if it brings the ruin of America. And more and more people are waking up to what is going on.
    I am not sure what you meant about the role of the US Supreme Court. Initially I thought you were suggesting that the federal judiciary would act as a last line of defense against the rise of the imperial presidency. But this seems to run counter to your suggestion that we are part of an inexorable march. (BTW, I think you have a voice for the unitary executive theory on the USSC. For more info, see Scalia).
    This leads to my last point and it may or may not illuminate our differences. While reading your post, I started wondering if you consider yourself part of the Duncan Kennedy school of “critical” legal studies out of Harvard. If so, that would seem to suggest you accept the idea that the individual can do little to influence the historical wave moving through time. I tend to think that the individual can affect the historical wave, which granted is an antiquated idea.
    A federal judge once told me that historical change can indeed take place within the traditions of the USG. In another realm, I think the 07 NIE is proof positive of what he believed, as it demonstrated individuals affecting the historical wave. And I still believe in the words of this federal judge, although, perhaps like you, I am tempted at times to resign myself to the inexorable march. If what I write is true, then I kindly suggest the words of Fr. Kruger to Claude Devereaux in Col. Lang’s novel. Despair is a sin.

  14. jamzo says:

    i think the attention being given to addington, yee et al is a distraction
    i will never forget new gingrich being provided prime time television by the major networks after the “contract for america” elections in which the republicans attained a majority party in the house of representatives
    an unprecedented event
    bill clinton, a democratic president, was in office
    yet the speaker of the house was addressing the nation
    announcing a “republican revolution”
    a major change in washington politics that was of profound benefit to the agenda of the bush administration
    under gingrich the republican majority in the house and later in both houses began to act with a “new” kind of party discipline
    the described themselves as the “ruling” party
    they provided a united front to thwart the proposals of the opposition president
    they were strong enough to attempt impeachment
    strong enough to overthrow the adminstration of the “discredited” bill clinton
    when gw bush came into office as president the party machinery was in place to support the new president
    the role of the legislature was seen as an extension of the president
    the president interpreted the republican agenda and the role of the legislature was to get it into law
    they were not a co-equal branch of government, independent and with powers of oversight
    they were operatives of the republican party and the president was their leader
    this theory of legislature created the space in which the “boy” president and his guardians cheney and rove (and his k street allies) exercised such great power
    the theory of the
    “unified executive” is a distraction from the significant change in the balance of power beteen the three branches of government
    addington, yee and other explainers are just that
    they are explainers
    they provide rationale, justification which distracts attention from the abdication of power by the republican legislators
    the republican party knowlingly tilted the basic power dynamic between the three branches was tilted to the executive branch
    the president was powerful enough to install bill frist as senate majority leader
    i am not confident in my historical knowledge to know if the degree of abdication of power by the legislative to executive branch is unprecendented
    i think it may be unprecedented in degree
    i cannot say that the power of the republican party during reconstruction was greater
    i don’t think WWII context compares with this one
    i think the threat to the nation in WWII makes it a distinctly different executive-legislative power context
    it would appear the days of the “ruling” party are are ending
    the democrats may hold power in the legislature and the executive branches
    after the 2008 election
    i predict that the legislature will take back much of their traditional oversight and indpendence from the executive branch
    pelosi and reid will be partisans but they will assert themselves as leaders of a co-equal branch of government

  15. Walrus says:

    I’m sorry, but I believe your doom is already sealed.
    From what I can see, political events in America for the last Ten years at least, appear to me to be consistent with the conversion of America from a democracy into an oligarchy based on great wealth.
    Addington’s behaviour is consistent with this assumption.
    So is the behaviour of mainstream media and corporate America.
    So is the entire behaviour of the Bush Administration.
    Under such a system you can still preserve the trappings of democracy – choosing which oligarch you would like to represent you.
    Fine words and appeals to history over the internet aren’t much use in the current situation. The Addingtons of this world don’t care, and if the dissenting voices become a nuisance, they are easily and quickly silenced by making a few examples, as Hitler did.
    The rot set in long ago and the tree is now hollow and waving in the wind.

  16. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Thanks for the comment. It really got me thinking and I believe I know what you mean about the DC-Baltimore area. Home but not home. Not a bad place to be at all. Best of all worlds.
    From what I can tell, I agree with your observations about the South. And, you are right, Atlanta is not what it once was.
    You mentioned Southern pride winning out. I need to think about that one. Like you, my Southern roots run deep. But to be honest, part of my deal about living in the South is that I have had so many damn good times and really have loved all the characters I have met in my life. I lived for a few years in Athens, GA during the Hershel Walker and (since you are a music person) REM years. My God. I am still recovering.
    But believe it or not, I think about any place in the world can be fascinating. I decided awhile back that a person just has “gotta’ go where-ever he is suppose to go”, if that makes any sense. I lived several years outside the South and was very close to “settling down” in California. And I must say that it is hard to top watching the sun set on the West coast. Boston is ok too.
    If I recall correctly, you are from NC and you have spent time in Central America. And you were recently in Hawaii. I know a lot of people in tired corporate jobs who would like to have those experiences.
    But back to the idea of Southern pride. For some reason, Pat Conroy’s book, Prince of Tides comes to mind. Not sure why. It’s beautifully written, and the man can turn a phrase but it’s safe to say Conroy did not have a good time in the South. He captures that tidewater feeling though.
    I remember one scene in the book (memory is a little sketchy, so pardon inaccuracies) where the main character Wingo from SC was at a Manhattan dinner party and simply got sick of all the pretentious bs of a NY snob, who was the controlling husband of another character. He was a classical musician, so Wingo grabbed his violin and waved the violin out the window. All the while the pretentious NY snob nearly wet his pants.
    For some reason, I find that relevant today. Analogy to what needs to happen to neoconservatism? Maybe.
    Regardless, I mention Southern literature as a source of pride. Of course, you are the Southern musician par excellence. I have a few musicians in my family and I have always realized it must be nice to just sit back and play an instrument. As for myself, I don’t have that talent, so I ended up with the terrible Southern habit of reading the sports pages too much. Hey, it’s okay but count yourself lucky that you are a Southern musician!

  17. Nancy K says:

    I think your point is well taken, the average American doesn’t care too much what is happening and likes as you say strong presidents who take the initiative. However this generation of Americans is not like the past generations. We, because I have to include myself, have had a fairly easy life, and when push comes to shove, we will probably not be too happy to have to give up our expensive SUV’s, our expensive tastes in food, our McMansions, you get the picture.
    This country has a large middle class and I do not think they will be so willing to give up their life style.
    There is always a tipping point, and perhaps Bush nuking Iran will set into motion that tipping point.

  18. Twit says:

    Re Walrus: “the conversion of America from a democracy into an oligarchy based on great wealth.”
    Walrus, I think this comes most to the heart of the matter. May I propose one revision though, from ‘great’ wealth (i.e. top .00001%), to let’s say just ‘good’ wealth (i.e. top 5%).
    So, more Victorian Britain than contemporary Russia.
    Two examples to illustrate. 1. I went to a wedding in the northern half of Florida recently, and even though they mentioned the Lord so much that I thought he was getting married, the rehearsal dinner was at the garden club, the reception at the yacht club, and the brunch at the country club. I don’t see oligarchy, but I do see consolidation of wealth and power, and then redistribution to those on the inside (in this case on the inside of the church – as they all worshipped, worked, and banked together).
    2. The Ivy Leagues, which are no longer the best academically, but do continue to produce ‘tomorrow’s leaders.’ Evidence is to look at any foreign policy related think tank or journal, etc and you will see almost all the interns/research assistant/juniors come out of the ivies, despite Ivy League research (other than Columbia) in the areas of political science and international relations being decidedly mediocre at best (i.e. mostly op-ed pieces by politicized professors). Consolidation of wealth and power again, but not really oligarchy, per se.
    I think that the counter to this is for we Americans to not hope that Obama or any other government figure will save us, or that there will be some kind of revolution. The answer is to go out and consolidate wealth and power. But to do so in the service of the principles we discuss here. In other words, to seek to be part of that 5%, and then work towards breaking up that system.
    A good role model of this kind of political-economic judo is Warren Buffet.

  19. Cold War Zoomie says:

    Sidney – thanks for the kind words but you may be confusing my musical talents with Taters. I just beat my drums every now again to the utmost enjoyment of my neighbors. Taters is the pro.
    It’s hard to explain the Southern pride. Compared to DC, Southern culture seems mature. Sometimes I feel like DC is just some huge Junior High School. All I can say is that I feel more at home down south than anywhere else, even though I have no desire to live there year round. Oh, and I’m from Atlanta – grew up near Clarkston and Stone Mountain. But my mother’s roots are deep in NC. Yes, ‘Lanter has changed a lot!
    I really enjoyed TomB’s response. If my memory serves me right (which is getting more rare as the years pass), one of the reasons we have a Bill of Rights is because many of our Founders understood that people in general, not just Americans in particular, tend to fall for Royalty. Remember the old military saying – “Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way.” Well, most people are followers. We are prone to the Tyranny of the Majority.
    This argument about presidential power isn’t new by any means. The pendulum swings yet again.
    Always good to get back to our roots:
    THERE is an idea, which is not without its advocates, that a vigorous Executive is inconsistent with the genius of republican government. The enlightened well-wishers to this species of government must at least hope that the supposition is destitute of foundation; since they can never admit its truth, without at the same time admitting the condemnation of their own principles. Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks; it is not less essential to the steady administration of the laws; to the protection of property against those irregular and high-handed combinations which sometimes interrupt the ordinary course of justice; to the security of liberty against the enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction, and of anarchy.
    Federalist No 70
    Walrus – always the optimist!

  20. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Nancy K
    Thank you and I think you summed it up well. The tipping point.
    I also think you make a great point about a large part of the US population having little appreciation about the suffering and horror caused by war. Woodstock nation has scored very low in that regard, as at least some of Woodstock nation ignored the tradition of those that truly experienced the Vietnam War and they refused to respect and acknowledge the lessons learned. I think the build up to Iraq in 03 has proved it, and it is the first historical judgment against Woodstock nation. Looks like more to follow. Won’t be pretty, especially when you realize what we are leaving to future generations.
    I always go back to Luti calling General Zinni a “traitor”. Both were of Woodstock generation age. And who was right?
    A theory: a lot of those civilians of Woodstock age in the Pentagon who did not go to Vietnam simply could not deign to acknowledge the insights of those who did, such as General Zinni. Pride got in the way. To do so, in their mind, would be an admission that they were wrong back in the 60’s.
    I am not talking about all of Woodstock nation. I have always believed there were good folks on both sides. I am talking about those who, out of pride, refused to respect the tradition that went to VN. Since Woodstock nation is the captain of the ship of state now, much of US foreign policy comes down to this false pride and a lack of respect.
    A quick anecdote to make my point. Back in 04 or thereabouts, when I’d myself at dinner parties both in the South and out West, I’d just hang back and listen. And you’d be amazed at how many of the Woodstock nation crowd were saying things like, “I missed my chance to be a warrior” and so on. Really ridiculous and sentimental damn stuff. Then they’d get drunk, go back to their computers and play war games bombing Iran. That basically sums up those of the OSP who agreed with Luti. It may sum up the McMansion crowd as well.
    Finally, a provocative point. I merely suggest that the flag of Virginia and the Addington approach are mutually exclusive. Only one truly represents America. You have to choose one or the other. And if you choose the Virginia flag as more representative of America and choose to fight under its colors, so to speak, then you may realize how some Southerners felt in the 1850’s. It is amazing because now that same emotion is felt by people from all classes, races, and regions of the nation.

  21. TomB says:

    Sidney Smith wrote:
    “Ah yes…I was waiting for the legal expert to weigh in with his trenchant insights.”
    Hello again Sidney, but I sure hope you’re saying that mockingly because I don’t even play one on T.V. (And given all the experts who thought Iraq would be such brilliant fun before it began and to paraphrase what Herman Goering said about culture, when I hear the word “expert” now I almost think we should reach for our guns.) Plus the closest I’ve ever gotten to being trenchant was when I was digging one to bury some electric out to my barn.

    You then wrote further:
    “But very briefly, while reading your post, I thought I noted a sense of resignation on your part as to the inexorable march of the US as Kagan’s Dangerous America. True? False? Are you suggesting we just jump on board, grab a bag of popcorn, and watch mushroom clouds rise around the world all in the name of the Cheney Law?”
    Well Sidney, I guess I would just say that I’m pessimistic about halting particular instances of executive aggrandizement of power or adventures in imperialism. And I don’t deny for a second that indeed an instance such as we have now could cause us huge problems. I will admit though that one can argue that the directionality of history is that they are getting fewer and lesser, and I’d also say that I’m somewhat optimistic that there’s some probable limits to them too when they do appear. So I suppose to me history, simple odds and William of Occam tells us that things probably aren’t going to result in Armageddon at least. And thus I’d be cautious about seeing the end of days at every remove.
    In my younger days—that is, in those days succeeding my really really younger days when history didn’t matter because of course it could easily be changed—I guess I would say my reality did get adjusted after reading of the length, strength and consistency of the kind of history I recounted in my prior post. As far as I can see there does seem to be some deep and fundamental impulse in the human breast to be “led” and “cared for” rather than to govern and care for oneself, and an impulse to lord it over and “improve” others too. And this unfortunately seems true to some degree of the American breast as well.
    But, you know, age has its effects, and I seem to see things like this now from a certain distance. Willa Cather of all people once said “[t]here are really onto two or three human stories in the history of the world, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.” And I think on a much more prosaic level this is also true of our U.S. foreign affairs history and battles over Executive and governmental power. Because if you look, say, at the anti-imperialist movement that sprung up when we were trying to colonize the Philippines, or indeed at any of the movements that sprang up in reaction to past instances of imperial presidencies or tyrannical government in general, boy they were just as fierce as the fight we’re in now, with many if not all of the exact same arguments, and the same portents of doom too.
    And yet … we’re still here, aren’t we? The Republic has endured. We haven’t become fascist or totalitarian or even too authoritarian, and in the main in modern times I think we’ve even managed to be an overall force for good in the world. And it’s all just a small part of the huge sweep of human history anyway, which in turn is just an infinitesimally smaller part of the grand natural history of this little mudball we infest. So I’ll admit to be somewhat taken by Arthur Balfour’s famous mot about “nothing mattering very much, and very little mattering at all.”
    In the end though I also recognize that given our limited life-spans we have every right to view our present point in history with “fierceness” given that it is the only context that matters to us that we can do anything about. And I do believe human affairs aren’t pre-ordained to move in a good direction only and so I share your concerns about the ultimate trajectory of the history I recounted and where it could eventually lead. So I very much admire the passion of all of you here and elsewhere who are optimistically standing athwart the history that I recounted and yelling stop.
    However, as much of that history was indeed our democratic history, I also question my wisdom to declare with absolute confidence that our fellow citizens who’ve made those choices over the last two centuries have been totally wrong. Do I nevertheless suspect they’ve been alot wrong? Yes. Sometimes even to the sad point of calling into question some of the fundamental propositions of our Founders. But do I know this with absolute certainty “in the bowels of Christ”? No, and as I said, I have to admit we are still here, so I do find myself suspicious of my fears and prejudices, and forced into some reserved distance. And I think we can take some comfort in the power of our national culture to avert total catastrophe: Somewhere in our American breasts there does seem to be a limit to the degree to which we’ll allow ourselves to be ridden. And given that the dangers of imperial presidents seems to arise mostly in connection with matters of foreign affairs, I think we can take some comfort too in what seems a limit in our national mind to the degree to which we will agree to be colonialists or imperialists. We can seem to like it very much sometimes, but eventually, in the end, we seem to have some indelible collective recollection that no, that’s just not who we are.

    And further:
    “I am offering for consideration that in an emerging realignment, the South has something very important to offer….”
    And I just want to say again that I simply loved your article. Just a great, startlingly perceived cultural and historical observation it seems to me, with absolutely pitch-perfect tone in talking of the terrible but subtle distinction between duty, honor and etc., and mindless enthrallment to tyrannical authority. Just wonderful Sidney, just wonderful.

    And further:
    “As to your point re: people accepting the march towards expansionism and imperialism, I think you make a valid observation up until a point. But the American people will not accept this change if it brings the ruin of America. And more and more people are waking up to what is going on.”
    And I say … I hope so too. But don’t you worry about the terrible human tendency to fundamentally change only when complete disaster forces same? And I worry too if we aren’t so huge and rich that we aren’t like some giant … diplodocus, so big we won’t even realize it when we’ve gashed our leg and cut an artery. This is a huge rich country, and here we’ve been able to go and spend our own peoples’ lives and untold zillions in treasure in an offhand fashion that would stupefy Croesus, and turn the world of however-many million Iraqis into flames and flight, and yet we feel it not at all. Our malls are full, our worries are of our 401K’s, and we seem very far from perceiving what we seem to be sowing. And who even connects the dots between the OPEC oil shock of ’73 and all the genuine misery it caused here and our meddling in the Middle East back then? And now we have 9/11 and are told we must absolutely convulse ourselves and our system and rights because of same—possibly forever—and what’s the reaction? To examine our fundamental policies in the Middle East to make sure they’ve really been in our national interest? No, it’s instead to apparently accept the utterly vacuous bromide (coming from both parties essentially) that it happened because “they hate us for our freedoms.”
    So I’m envious of your optimism, but wonder if you aren’t overestimating the state of the present awakening.

    And further:
    “I am not sure what you meant about the role of the US Supreme Court. Initially I thought you were suggesting that the federal judiciary would act as a last line of defense against the rise of the imperial presidency. But this seems to run counter to your suggestion that we are part of an inexorable march. (BTW, I think you have a voice for the unitary executive theory on the USSC. For more info, see Scalia).”
    And Alito and Thomas too as I read them, but all it seems to me only to a degree, and to a limited point at that. (And as I tried to say earlier, obviously poorly, I think that this Unitary Executive idea is itself also a very limited thing, although of course I could be wrong.) And I’d further guess that in the end, and while of course we may disagree with them as to a matter of degree before that, none of them really want to see a truly imperial presidency and recognize that same is not only emphatically not what the Framers intended but is dangerous too. And, you know, for anyone who takes pride in their words and pronouncements—and Supreme Court Justices are nothing if not prideful in this regard—you know you have to be careful because, well, the worm can turn so quickly, can’t it?
    What if, for example, we had a jingo-spouting, self-interested little claque controlling Congress tomorrow that was mercilessly beating the drums for some imperialist war? (“Remember the Maine!”, or “Remember the Cole/Attack Iran!”) And what if this Congress was then saying—with at least some logic—that its power to “declare” war naturally also means the power to force the President to fight one, and indeed (via laws directed to the State Dept., or the military, or via funding language in same and binding resolutions or etc., etc.) to provoke it and then fight it in a certain way so as to win it too? (I.e., a “Unified Legislative” theory?) And what if we had a President who was valiantly trying to resist same on that vague grant of “Executive ” power to him and his CinC powers in the Constitution? Might we not suddenly find ourselves at least a little more persuaded by a Cheney or Addington tigerishly defending a President’s right to resist same by citing his broad and “unitary” rights in the foreign affairs and war fields and his sole right to tell his Executive-branch officers what to say and do as regards same?
    So as to your larger point I guess I would say that while I think there is some hope that the Court could be a “last defense,” it’s still an ‘iffy thing. There are so many considerations making that questionable, not least being the need for that last line appearing in just the right circumstances to be susceptible to the Court’s attention. And perhaps firstly just being the possibly difficult task of recognizing where that last line of defense is even needed, true?
    And I think our history too shows that an awful lot of our big important changes just somewhat “flowed around” the Court. From being isolationist to interventionist, for example. Developing as it would on its own in the political realm, with the Court only very occasionally sticking a finger into same.
    Because we are a democracy then, I suspect if disaster comes it will fittingly be because of the irresistible misjudgment of the majority of our fellow citizens, which no Court of nine unelected judges are going to be able hold back. And while of course it’s a terrible thing, the public can make mistakes, but that’s just the way things are with life holding no bottom-line guarantees against even the most terrible ones. Luckily the latter seem relatively rare. But just look at all those optimistic faces on all sides of the European public when they happily sent their boys off into the abattoir of World War I’s trenches.
    And isn’t there yet another irony with that war that’s just fantastical too? As I said not just in every age but in damn near every year people have perceived this or that spelling the end of the world. And yet with WWI damn near no one saw that beforehand, did they? They all marched off singing and thinking it was going to be a brilliant lark, and yet of all things it was this that turned into a horror of epochal dimensions. Like some giant practical joke on humanity, it always reminds me to be at least as skeptical of my own ideas as I am of any others’ since the complexity of history and our extreme fallibility in predicting its future can be so boundless.

    And you then concluded:
    “This leads to my last point and it may or may not illuminate our differences. While reading your post, I started wondering if you consider yourself part of the Duncan Kennedy school of “critical” legal studies out of Harvard. If so, that would seem to suggest you accept the idea that the individual can do little to influence the historical wave moving through time. I tend to think that the individual can affect the historical wave….”
    No, not a CLS guy at all really (even though coming from a school that was indeed somewhat of a big CLS hothouse at one time I guess). So I suppose our differences just get to be more microscopic and a matter of relative perspective, optimism and fervor all the time. I just feel that the subject of the law—like indeed the subject of history or politics or any such thing—is such that it is so huge and complex and subtle that no one “school” or ideology can really grasp same to any good degree. And while I think I’m too thick to much understand those CLS guys, what I do grasp of their somewhat Marxian slant on history is I believe just dead wrong. In point of fact to me perhaps the central tragedy of history is that the lives of so many can indeed be so determined by a frighteningly small number of individuals. As I think I said in another post, look at the crazed Kaiser’s role in World War I, or Lenin taking over the whole of the Russian Empire with a core group of maybe 50 or so like-minded fanatics, or Hitler, whose rise I don’t know was all that different from Lenin’s. Indeed in fact I suspect that if only history had never birthed at least those latter two remarkable and monstrous individuals we never would have seen either a Soviet Union nor a Nazi Germany.
    Of course if there’s any protection against such individuals it is democracy. But this can have its “factions” too for sure (such as of the neo-con flavor), and so again I hardly deny the need for constant and even “fierce” worrying about democracy of the kind that you and so many others here are so well and conspicuously doing. And I also have some faith that this will have some effect and that at worst things are not going to fall totally apart. Again at least that’s what both Occam’s Razor and hisstory suggests to me anyway, regardless of what T.S. Eliot might say to the contrary. The center will hold, I think. Probably. For awhile.

    So cheers, and thanks again for the wonderful article.

  22. taters says:

    A heartfelt thank you. Superb.
    We were recently in Portsmouth and went to Norfolk and saw the Confederate Monument. I spent a little ‘quiet’ time there, as much as I could – although not nearly as much as I would have liked. And it wasn’t long before my thoughts came to SST. What a wonderful community we have here.

  23. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Thank you very much. Sen. Webb wrote a few years ago that he regularly takes walks at Arlington National Cemetery. I hope he still does. Wish he would give us an update.
    Just so you know, when I was in DC last, I spent a little time at the Grant memorial in front of the Capitol. One of my main thoughts was that if Grant were still alive, he might request that the memorial be turned around so that his statue now faced the Capitol and , in fact, looked as if he were charging up the Capitol steps to unleash an attack on Congress. In that regard, Jackson Circle, Arlington National Cemetery and the Grant memorial are all aligned properly!
    I think it is safe to call your post a very thoughtful one (understatement) and I appreciate the time you took to share your wisdom. When I read your earlier posts, I began to assume that you were a very good attorney or at least thought like one. After your comment at this thread, I am beginning to wonder if you are Qoheleth. From an attorney to Qoheleth. Now that is a significant character transition.
    Of course the analogy to Qoheleth, in my mind at least, is offered as a great compliment. I always believed that Qoheleth had it figured out. No visions of fiery wheels descending from the heavens. No, not at all. The essence of life comes down to a good dinner. All else is vanity. Since I have not a wit of religious talent (I may have wasted what little I had in my youth by following college football in the South), Qoheleth has great appeal to me.
    I am going to spend more time pondering your comment later on in the week but, very briefly, if one could give a title to your extraordinary post then I am tempted to offer, “Just chill”. On a different level, I am trying to determine if there is an inner cohesion in your post between optimism and pessimism as well as despair and hope. I see evidence, perhaps, of an oscillation from one to other, or, to cast in better light, a union of these opposites, which is rare achievement indeed.
    With the caveat that I need to spend more time with your post in a few days, I want to emphasize that I agree with much of what you wrote, particularly the following: “However, as much of that history was indeed our democratic history, I also question my wisdom to declare with absolute confidence that our fellow citizens who’ve made those choices over the last two centuries have been totally wrong.”
    I could not agree with you more and for proof, I should tell you that I am an apologist for Dean Rusk — a man I deeply admire and respect. I have even defended him here at sst and will do so in the future, if the occasion so arises. So I hope that I have not left the impression that my approach is one that today goes by the name of “Manichean”. Far from it. If anyone on earth should refrain from taking an Manichean approach, it is someone with Southern roots. Trust me on that one.
    That said, the best that anyone can do is try to lean towards the right side in the human drama, unless of course you want to transcend the drama entirely. So assuming that you are correct and fewer choices are available in the direction of history, you still must make some choices. Since you mention Willa Cather, I would like to respond with a passage from Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. (Depending on the edition, the passage is highlighted on the back sleeve. ) The scene is in the opium house where a character says, “I envy you your means of escape.” The response: “’…It’s not from the war. That’s no concern of mine. I’m not involved”. And then…”You will be. One day…You will take a side…We all get involved in a moment of emotion, and then we cannot get out.’”
    “We all get involved in a moment of emotion, and then we cannot get out”. At some point, a person takes sides. The defining moment does not have to be dramatic. No fiery wheels. It can occur during a conversation at a dinner party. And from there, you start on a path. At least that is how I see it.
    But again, I want to stress that this approach I describe is not Manichean, although it may suggest the idea of absolute truths. There is a difference. And to make this point, I offer the work of Flannery O’Connor for consideration. I am only beginning to understand Flannery O’Connor but in her letters, she wrote about the relationship between what is referred to as the “grotesque” with what she referred to as the “operation of grace”. Now, being a Qoheleth admirer, I am not sure I understand the word “grace” so perhaps a more psychological description is apt: a heightened psychological awareness or something of the sort.
    But perhaps like a combination of despair and hope, Flannery O’Connor in her works combined the grotesque with the operation of grace. (of course, we have to apply the same to our postmodern selves). But one can only speculate what she would have written today had she outlived lupus. Her thinking behind such short stories as “A Good Man is Hard to Find” has application to today’s global village. We no doubt have the grotesque: John Hagee fulminating from the pulpit and Douglas Feith having lunch at the Georgetown faculty club while thousands of Iraqi children die. Maybe somewhere we have the operation of grace that arises from the grotesque or, for those uncomfortable with such words, at least a heightened sense of awareness.

  24. TomB says:

    Hi Sidney.
    You know, with all your reliance on literary matters it just reminds me of my sneaking suspicion that about the only real ways available to us to even begin to apprehend the whole, enormous, strange phenomenon of life is either through comedy, or art. Like Karl Kraus said, life is an effort that deserves a finer cause.
    I can’t remember who but someone also once said something to the effect that “to the thinking man life is a comedy, to the feeling man a tragedy,” but of course we’re all both to some degree. So I don’t know that when you so politely and delicately called into question my “cohesion” that my incoherence (the right word, let’s face it) isn’t shared by everyone to at least some degree.
    Like Einstein said about the cosmos that perhaps its greatest mystery is why we can understand anything about it at all, I don’t know why we can’t just accept the mystery that there seems to be any number of equally valid ways of looking at life.
    You know, I just love that quote the Colonel used and you repeated to the effect that “[d]espair is sin” for example. (And in fact just used it on a colleague.) And I love that Graham Green line too. And for whatever reason I too feel that once you sign on to a cause, damnit you live or die for it, to the great or bitter end.
    But I think everyone’s also had the experience of being the last one nobly taking one for the cause, only to look around and see that all the cause has done is chewed up the best of one’s friends and left those with the previously most ardent mouths somehow standing. And in this regard I think of guys like Siegfried Sasson or Wilfred Owen in WWI and them seeing how quickly duty, honor and all that just turned (unintentionally even! with no one to blame except ourselves and our own romanticism) into an equation for turning the finest human beings into quivering bags of blood and gristle and shit. Or Paul Fussell or E.B. Sledge and their experiences in WWII, and how the world could possibly say to any of these folks after all they’d seen that they should just buck up and start being ardent or true believers in humanity and its enthusiasms again.
    Though I could never hope to keep up with you, (I don’t even know who “Qoheleth” is), I got a literary line I like too, albeit from a writer I don’t even care for all that much oddly enough. “Life punishes us for taking it too seriously as well as not seriously enough,” says John Updike, and I suspect that each of us just has to feel his or her own way towards deciding when we are doing either.
    (And with your sense of subtlety the last thing you should worry about is appearing Manichean, my friend. As the Brits might say, what a larf.)

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