An Air of Disloyal Opposition

When we started this blog over a year ago, we not only began posting our thoughts about the creation and sustainment of a New American Center,US Constitution we also proposed a framework of Principles that might guide our analysis and writing about the events that shape our nation. Our intent was for these principles to fully embrace and support our American Constitution. Several of our early posts referred to using our electoral processes to ensure our leaders at the national level could appreciate the value of loyal opposition, regardless of disagreements; this was and always has been fundamental to our success as a nation.

Events of this month of March, 2015 have indicated that there is in fact a body politic that manifests an air of disloyal opposition. Both the GOP sponsorship of the appearance of the Israeli prime minister before a “joint session” of Congress and the recent letter to Iran by a partisan body of GOP senators reflect this semblance of disloyal opposition. It’s up to voters to decide if in fact the electoral process we described in the Principles is working to create a loyal opposition or not, but this month’s turn of events seems to indicate the electorate is looking the other way as we vote for our representatives.

About 5½ years ago, a New Zealand commentator named Paul Buchanan wrote a piece called Disloyal Opposition in the United States. [1] Buchanan proposed a definition of “disloyal opposition” that’s worth reading and reflecting about how things seem to be headed in the US today. Buchanan wrote:

Disloyal oppositions are, by definition, unprincipled. Not because they lack conviction in their beliefs (some do), but because of their disrespect for the rules of the democratic game. Their view of political rules and procedures is purely instrumental: if they suit the pursuit of ideological or policy objectives they can be used. If not, they can be circumvented. The goal is to bring down the government of the day regardless of cost or consequence. Hence disloyal oppositions hold little regard for established rules and institutional norms even if it suited them when in government or as a historical precedent…For disloyal oppositions, politics is war and the ends justify the means.

Interestingly, Buchanan wrote this piece about the imminent battle lines America’s Fox News and the recently inaugurated President Obama had apparently drawn. His commentary reflected thought and analysis that could have inspired our own thinking about the lengths partisanship activities have taken in this nation since 2009, even as revealed by an international perspective.

A relevant sense of perspective is now starting in our own nation, as well. No less a voice than the Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker, a self-described conservative, wrote about it in her 3/11/2015 column in the Post, “Tom Cotton’s Grandstand Play”. Parker noted in her assessment of the letter to Iran, “So what was the rush to tell Iran, essentially, ‘You’re wasting your time’? The 47 senators are like food critics who condemn a chef before he has finished preparing the entree. Their letter also signals to the world that they have zero respect for our president, or for the other world powers attempting to try diplomacy first.”

Parker also wrote that “there are other ways to accomplish our goals than profiling for political profit. The 47 may have felt like Zorro, inking their opposition with the bold felt tips of their swords, but they were acting like children at the school fair whose single purpose is to dunk the principal.” It was important for the President to make this effort so that America did in fact deliver “… a message to the world that, if and when we do take military action, it will be as a last resort.”

Another Washington Post conservative commentator, Michael Gerson, substantiated Parker’s perspectives. “This was a foreign policy maneuver, in the middle of a high-stakes negotiation, with all the gravity and deliberation of a blog posting. In timing, tone and substance, it raises questions about the Republican majority’s capacity to govern,” Gerson wrote. “Congress simply has no business conducting foreign policy with a foreign government, especially an adversarial one,” Gerson added, noting how important the negotiations might ultimately be in future attempts to isolate Iran.

Retired US Army Major General Paul Eaton characterized the 47 senators’ actions as “mutinous.” The Post reported that Eaton said “‘What Senator Cotton did is a gross breach of discipline, and especially as a veteran of the Army, he should know better…I have no issue with Senator Cotton, or others, voicing their opinion in opposition to any deal to halt Iran’s nuclear progress. Speaking out on these issues is clearly part of his job. But to directly engage a foreign entity, in this way, undermining the strategy and work of our diplomats and our Commander in Chief, strains the very discipline and structure that our foreign relations depend on, to succeed.”’

We are willing to assume that intellectual laziness, partisan “combat fatigue” or just sloppiness may account for some of the 46 other senators who signed the letter of their freshman colleague, but it is still a serious lapse in carrying out their Statesmen roles and responsibilities. Credit goes out to the GOP senators who refrained from this reckless behavior. We can only hope that they exercised their restraint in the interest of maintaining a loyal opposition. [2]

What the vast majority of the GOP senators did was to declare to the world that the concept of loyal opposition was not in their vocabulary. These elected leaders reflected what Buchanan wrote in his definition: “disloyal oppositions hold little regard for established rules and institutional norms even if it suited them when in government or as a historical precedent.”

These 47 senators certainly set precedence, but the voters in these senators’ states should next time look in the direction of loyal opposition as a foundational component of our success in America. We have no room for an air of disloyal opposition in this nation.

Posted by Carl Hunt and Chuck Hunt, 3/15/2015

[1] Unfortunately, the title to the piece was misspelled as “Disoyal (sic) Opposition in the United States,” but we took the liberty to correct this misspelling here.

[2] The Washington Post recorded that the list of GOP senators who declined to sign the letter included Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker of Tennessee, Maine Senator Susan Collins, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, Indiana Senator Dan Coates and Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran.

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