Maryland To Tea Party: Stop Messing With The Constitution

Maryland has long prided itself as the only state that refused to pass the 18th Amendment, which imposed prohibition in 1919. Throughout the 1920s, the State House had its own official bootlegger, booze flowed freely through Baltimore, and Marylanders adopted the nickname of “the Free State” to signify their commitment to individual liberty and the fundamental right of every citizen to imbibe.

However, Maryland also failed to ratify another Progressive Era constitutional amendment, the 17th, which in 1913 instituted the direct election of United States Senators. The hope was that allowing voters to choose their own Senator would end, or at least limit, the out-of-control corruption that resulted from corporations bribing state legislators to appoint their preferred politician. While the 17th Amendment has long been uncontroversial, the rise of the Tea Party has brought opposition to this democratic practice back into the mainstream for the first time since before World War I.

However, in what the Baltimore Sundescribed as “a rebuke to tea party leaders,” Maryland State Senator Jamin Raskin is introducing a bill that would allow the state to finally ratify the 17th Amendment — and, in a challenge to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, offer a reminder of times when the guardians of the Constitution worried about the corrupting influence of unlimited money in politics. State Senator Raskin told The National Memo that his bill is a “great way to get everyone thinking in constitutional terms” about Citizens United. Raskin, who is also a professor at American University’s Washington School of Law, described that controversial decision to allow unlimited corporate donations to political campaigns as “a radical departure from centuries of our jurisprudence.” He sees his legislation as an opportunity for states “to be constitutional actors and to kick off a nationwide movement to deal with the electoral corruption.”

Although Maryland is a solidly Democratic state and the 17th Amendment has been the law of the land for a century, ratification there would still be meaningful. Direct election of Senators was implemented after the famed excesses of the 19th century robber barons. (President Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, was known as the “trust-buster” for trying to break up the giant monopolies that basically bought control of the political system.) Maryland lawmakers may no longer have their own bootlegger, but passing this bill would be well worth a celebratory toast.

The ‘Occupation’ Of Wall Street Spreads To Boston

In a square named after a Spanish-American war hero, crowds of middle-class youth stuck in economic despair listened to slogans about and speechifying on raising taxes on the wealthy and waved signs quoting Franklin Delano Roosevelt. A stray person on the outskirts handed out the lyrics to socialist anthem “The Internationale,” more in the hope than in an expectation that it would be sung, while the crowd of around 150 stood on improvised sidewalks of plywood over mud to hear the words of the speakers over a rickety PA.

But this wasn’t 1933. It was yesterday in Dewey Square in downtown Boston where the Occupy Boston protests continued onwards, an eclectic mix of humanity ranging from polite college students bearing signs about their questionable job prospects and certain student loan debt to anarchists hiding their faces behind black bandanas. Aside from the mentions of Roosevelt, there were no other mentions of political figures, unless one counted a t-shirt for “Bill Belichick for President 2004.” Nor was there any structure: All decisions are said to be made “democratically” by a group named General Assembly, which meets nightly for around three hours at a time. Even the guy wearing the tie who originally seemed like a professional organizer turned out just to be a minor YouTube celebrity from January 2008.

When the first of five busloads of members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association showed up, a representative of Occupy Boston with a scraggly beard walked up to them excitedly and asked if they wanted to march on Mass General — Harvard’s massive main teaching and research hospital. The nurses demurred. Instead, they agreed to stroll around a block of downtown Boston’s financial district.

“Garbage,” said one of the bankers or traders milling outside as he saw the protestors walking by. “They should get a job,” he said, which was, of course, exactly what many of those demonstrating wanted.

Others were more appreciative, with some people stepping out of bars and coffee shops to applaud. One sympathetic spectator who worked in the financial services industry downtown told me that he worked his way up from washing dishes. Now, because of layoffs, as he put it, he “was surrounded by empty cubicles.”

I spotted one sign during the walk — outside the towering skyscraper at 100 High Street was a sign asking all who entered “use the revolving door to save energy.” It was a striking counterpoint to the crowd walking by. They might not have an articulable list of demands, or a clear sense of how to go after “Wall Street,” but they knew one thing: a revolving door was not going to bring them change they could believe in.

Sarah Palin Sees Russia, But Acts French

Sarah Palin is a rather unique figure on the American political stage. Propelled out of obscurity by receiving the GOP vice presidential nomination in 2008, she became an instant celebrity. Everyone had an opinion on her. She was loved or hated; few were indifferent. In 2009, simply through Facebook posts, she almost derailed health care reform. However, her political acumen has been called into question since by variety of missteps and peculiar decisions, ranging from her abrupt resignation from Alaska’s governorship to her family’s penchant for taking part in reality television. In about three years, she has gone from being an unknown to a political juggernaut before descending to the level of a political sideshow, the Fox News equivalent to a Kardashian sister.

While this career trajectory may be relatively unknown in American politics — few have so quickly come to dominate the political landscape to her extent before rapidly falling in American history — it seems like a career straight out of European history, and French politics in particular. In fact, the arc of her political life bears a distinct resemblance to that of French General Georges Boulanger, who, in a period of political turmoil in the late 1880s, suddenly rose to political prominence until he squandered his opportunity and faded from the scene.

Boulanger electrified French politics in 1888, becoming the dominant political figure on the right, uniting all stripes of monarchists and Bonapartists under his aegis. His career culminated on Jan. 27, 1889, when he was successfully elected to the French National Assembly as a deputy from Paris by an overwhelming majority of voters. The time was rife for a coup, and his supporters waited for the signal. It never came as Boulanger hesitated. As a result of this prevarication, he fumbled away his opportunity for power and was eventually charged with treason and fled the country. He lived two years as a forgotten exile before killing himself in front of his mistress’ grave in Belgium.

While this may not match Palin line for line — it’s highly unlikely that Palin has any mistresses, dead or alive, let alone the desire to seize power in a monarchist coup — there are much deeper similarities. Both rocketed to political success on the right wing of politics outside the normal channels. They did not come to the establishment; the establishment came to them. But then through hesitation, miscalculation, or bad advice, they fumbled away the opportunity to seize power. (In Palin’s case, her party’s nomination). It was not that long ago that Palin seemed an unstoppable political force. Now, she is reduced to appearing at medium-sized rallies in Iowa, where she plays coy about her future while incoherently attacking “crony capitalism” in one breath and demanding an end to all corporate taxation in the next. As Michele Bachmann wins early tests of strength and becomes the favorite of evangelicals, and Rick Perry rides a wave of popularity thanks to his straight-talking anti-government bluster, Palin seems to have missed the main chance.

At this point, if Palin resembles any GOP candidate running, it’s Ron Paul. There is a strong and vocal minority that adamantly supports her — but very few voters she can convert. She has transformed herself from a political phenomenon into a glorified reality star. If George Washington was the Father of Our Country, she is the Octomom. Palin once wielded influence and power and could dominate the political conversation in 140 character bursts. But she missed her opportunity. Now, like Georges Boulanger, she’s likely to end up a quirky historical footnote, not a serious figure.

Redistricting In Massachusetts Could Hurt Anti-Health Care Rep. Lynch

In the 2010 election, many Democrats lost their re-election campaign because of their support for health care reform. However, in 2012, Massachusetts Congressman Stephen Lynch may defy that trend and become a rare Democrat to lose re-election because he opposed President Obama’s health care reform plan. Massachusetts will lose one seat in Congress due to the 2010 U.S. Census, and it seems the most likely redistricting scenario will be to pit Lynch in a district against freshman Democrat Bill Keating. Lynch voted against health care reform because he thought that it did not do enough to crack down on insurance companies — a position he was alone among Congressional opponents of the bill in holding.

Lynch has long been considered the “least liberal” member of the Massachusetts House delegation, a distinction that Lynch compared to being “the slowest Kenyan in the Boston Marathon.” (To Lynch, “it’s all relative” if not entirely all politically correct). However, with the exception of his vote on health care reform, Lynch has usually only steered from liberal orthodoxy on social issues, rather than economic ones. But Lynch’s opposition to health care reform, even if nominally from the left, already provoked one primary challenge in 2010 that Lynch won relatively handily.

However, unlike 2010, Lynch would not be facing off against a liberal protest candidate but against an incumbent Democrat congressman in Keating instead. This undermines the traditional strengths of an incumbent running for re-election, the ability to appeal to the advantages of seniority as well as the hesitancy of party regulars to ever back an insurgent. Further, Lynch has not exactly acquired the reputation of a politician that brings back federal money to his district as well.

If Lynch gets paired off against Keating, his peculiar dissent on health care reform would put a major target on his back for many Democratic primary voters. It also means that, despite being a five-term incumbent, he’s unlikely to find much succor among House Democratic leadership or the White House. Although Lynch’s opposition may have seemed expedient at the time, it will likely cost him next September. After all, every decennial redistricting process is a political maelstrom, and by being a fair-weather Democrat, Lynch has left himself all alone in the coming storm.