Originally published on The Huffington Post 7/10/13
The Arab Spring, astonishing and admirable, has been dogged from the start by often unrealistic expectations, a growing and deep confusion about the conditions that enable democracy, and a persistent lack of patience not only by participants but by busybody onlookers trying to jumpstart other people’s freedom march. The spirit of the original uprisings was rooted in compelling historical necessity and powerful moral conviction. But history is not always predictable and morals a less than sufficient guide for politics.
It is the politics of actual democracy that has generated difficulties: for democracy and revolution are not the same thing and not necessarily even causally related. In this stormy summer of an Arab spring in distress, it is vital to review some historical lessons. To be sure, there is no turning back — we can’t rewind history — but going forward demands that we understand just how contradictory and uncertain has been the path of earlier democratic revolutions. Here are eleven lessons history teaches: Continue reading
Originally published on The Huffington Post 4/19/13
Listening to President Obama’s angry diatribe against the gun lobby Wednesday night, you’d think the Senate majority failed to pass his modest legislation.The president railed against those who trumped the 90 percent of Americans who favored gun control, and he assailed individual senators for not meeting “the test.” But the outrage was not that a majority of the Senate had defeated the overwhelming majority of the American people who embraced background checks; it was that a 45 member minority had defeated the 55 member (substantial) majority that had actually “passed” the legislation — if majority rule had been in effect. The Senate agreed with the American majority: both went down to defeat at the hands of a rabid, deeply undemocratic minority abusing Senate rules.
The problem is with the filibuster, and its evolution from a sometime instrument of supposedly very special causes that occasionally merit slowing down a fast-moving and reckless majority into the everyday recourse of reckless minorities who hold democracy itself in contempt.
The Senate had the chance to change the rules at the opening of the current Congress (when it can alter its own rules by majority consent), but did not. The Democratic majority presumably once again worried that it might one day be in the minority and might want to avail itself of the blunt instrument now being used against it by the Republicans. Continue reading
Originally published on The Huffington Post 12/16/12
On Friday, December 14th, President Obama addressed the nation in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn. as a parent. Here is the speech I believe he needs to give to Americans now as president:
“My Fellow Citizens: I speak to you today not as a parent, though as a parent I grieve with you for our children. I speak to you not as a fellow citizen, though as a fellow citizen I share your pain and hope to assuage your sorrow. I speak to you rather as president and chief executive officer of the United States of America whose first duty it is to protect American citizens — above all, those who cannot protect themselves, our children. A sovereign government acquires the right to govern only when it keeps the governed safe. Before anything else, the social contract must confer security on its citizens.
As a parent, I grieve with the affected families. As an individual, I ask myself how we might better recognize and treat the mental illnesses that contribute to these heinous massacres. But as your president I am bound to ask what can be done — what I can do now — to regulate, control and where necessary ban the micro-weapons of mass destruction with which the unstable and sick are making war on the unprotected and the vulnerable. As president, it is not enough for me to share you grief and counsel your sorrow, I must and I will confront those who defend weapons more zealously than children; who confound sport and safety with automatic weapons, large volume magazines and military ammunition designed to maim and kill; who hide behind a 200-year-old constitutional concern for militias well-armed with muskets in order to rationalize ownership of modern weapons for which there is no conceivable civilian use. Continue reading