A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sometimes They Don't Need No Steenking Masks

The Washington post recently took a poll, described in the last paragraph of the article as:
The Post-ABC poll was conducted Jan. 20-23 among a random national sample of 1,003 adults, including interviews on land lines and with cellphone-only respondents. The overall margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
There is not enough information -- by far -- to evaluate the adequacy of this procedure. (What sampling frame did they use to access the adults? Land-lines tend to access whole households; cellphone-only will pick up a lot of teens. Was this a two-stage cluster sample? The only thing we know for certain is that the sampling error was probably larger than 3.5%-points. Why? Because the results of any poll are usually less certain than we think. As near as TOF can figure that is a sampling error based on a simple (unstratified) random sample, a very difficult thing to obtain.

But the scariest result of the poll is not

that respondents tended toward favoring the Democrats on abortion and the Republicans on gun control. (How's that for cafeteria politics!) Or that this president is as popular as George W. Bush was at the same point in their respective administrations (and nowhere close to Reagan or Clinton).  It is the response to this question:

That's right. Just over half the respondents supported the president's power to rule by decree. The terrifying thing is that 79% of soi disant liberals do so. Certainly they did not do so when Dubya was president. The Thing That Used to be Liberalism has fallen on hard times indeed, when they are the biggest supporters of rule-by-decree. But we now understand how Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, and others could be so acclaimed by the people and how republics die to the sound of cheers.

Stipulated, the Constitution allows for specific instances of presidential action, but not broadly speaking to "accomplish their administration's goals."   

Modern Role Model
Back in the Sixties, we used to denounce LBJ for usurping the Congressional power to declare war. Now presidents make war unilaterally all the time.  We are so impatient with democracy. We want Big Daddy to Get Things Done NOW!

Each party can be depended upon to denounce the power grabs of the other; but this sort of thing is never reversed because when the opposition party is in power, they will not voluntarily relinquish that power.


  1. Well, to be fair, the way the question is phrased isn't quite that bad: it states that "Presidents have the power in some cases..." which says we're talking about a power presidents already have - in some cases. This wording says we're talking about established law and practice - Presidents have the power - not new usurpations of power. So, read carefully, the question is if you think the President should have the powers he already has, not whether you think the president should be free to seize new powers.

    Now, is this what the respondents meant by their responses? Kinda doubt it - I would suspect they just look at the current president, and decided if they wished he could ignore Congress or not, and answered yes or no to that question. Which is why the poll should have included mention of polarizing presidents from both parties: "Remember that your answer would apply to Reagan and Clinton as much as to the current or any future president." Something like that.

    1. That's why I wrote:
      Stipulated, the Constitution allows for specific instances of presidential action, but not broadly speaking to "accomplish their administration's goals."

      I agree that few randomly-called respondents would parse the question so carefully. That's one reason for never (as in "not ever") taking a poll at face value.

  2. Each party can be depended upon to denounce the power grabs of the other; but this sort of thing is never reversed because when the opposition party is in power, they will not voluntarily relinquish that power.

    Not only that, but dismantling the massive, lawless, capricious bureaucracies they have set up would require acts of great power. For a President to simply relinquish his power would result not in power returning to the people, but merely in de facto dictatorship by politburo. To truly relinquish the power that the federal executive has usurped, the President would need to first exercise all the unconstitutional powers that he has inherited to their fullest extreme to smash all the bureaucracies, and only THEN relinquish them all willingly, and somehow arrange safeguards to prevent his successors from reclaiming them.

    Somehow, that doesn't seem too likely to me. I expect that federal power will be relinquished only when it becomes impossible to fund.

  3. Up to a point. In fact, Obama is more intemperate and lawless than Napoleon ever was. Napoleon had himself acclaimed in the early days by being the man who completed the long-stalled code of laws, signed the deal with the Pope, and generally re-established order. In fact, apart from the Code himself, his most enduring contribution to Western political culture is the concept of Administrative Justice - a concept virtually unknown, and more is the pity, to Anglo-Saxon countries. It is a curious story, and one wonders whether Napoleon would be happy with the results of his work: but, being - as an army man should be - a maniac for efficiency, he set up a body called the Council of State to advise all public bodies on the proper range and limits of their powers. Napoleon wanted each ministry or public body to do their own work and not intrude in others. Nonetheless, the idea of the Council of State was so obviously useful and interested so many people that the new body was soon besieged with requests for opinions and binding sentences. It was retained by Louis XVIII and all succeeding French Governments, adopted by neighbouring countries including the kingdom of Sardinia - later Italy - and developped the whole machinery of a full-blown court of justice and a number of ancillary courts. In most continental European countries these days the Council of State of is one of three supreme courts of appeal, and administrative justice is acknowledged as a separate branch of the law, as significant as civil and criminal justice (and equity/arbitration, where that is an independent field). It is s a formidable restraint on the powers of the State, and generally felt to be on the side of the appellant; certainly the Italian Consiglio di Stato would never have produced a monstrosity such as New London vs. Kelso, since the limitation of the powers of state bodies is part of the essence of its duties. So Obama is more lawless, and worse for law and justice, than Napoleon ever was.

  4. I was appalled by "polls" reporting 90% of Americans approved the declaration of War on Terror by the Flaming Bush. The Rubicon, drained and dried.


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