Tuesday, 11 June 2013

When the mighty stumble

Things happen when our leaders start to feel the heat for their behavior, and the secondary effects often are more telling than their direct reactions to the criticism. For example, yesterday’s announcement by the Obama Administration that it won’t keep suing to block access for girls under 18 to the morning-after contraceptive known as ‘Plan B’ is curious. After brushing off the Dems’ natural constituents among reproductive health advocates for most of his five years in office, Obama suddenly reverses course. Hmm. Maybe he needs all the allies he can get this week.

When the Tea Partyers start slamming you from the left over the NSA/CIA snooping, it might indeed be time to firm up your more reliable supporters. Let’s see if Obama’s defensiveness over trying to turn the U.S. into East Germany results in a few concessions to environmentalists and economic liberals in coming days.

Here at home, our mayoral candidates are slugging it out in preparation for the fall primary, and voila, suddenly City Council chief Christine Quinn has allowed a vote on suing the NYPD to come before the full membership. It’s the first time in eight years that she’s permitted the Council to approve something she opposed, another good example of what happens when people start to feel their control slip a tad.

And up in Albany, Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver snapped pissily at the news media yesterday for being ‘unfair’ to him over engineering a cover-up of the gross sexual harassment antics of his buddy, Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez. The nasty mess stinks so badly that Silver’s iron grip over the state legislature is being questioned for the first time in years.

A large part of the problem with our notoriously corrupt state government (and to a lesser extent the city’s as well) is that leaders like Quinn and Silver are supposed to be first-among-equals, not dictators. But they jigger the rules so that no one can get anything through without their nod; in essence, they end up substituting themselves for the entire legislative function. Where’s the democracy when a majority of deliberative body can’t vote on something unless the boss agrees to it?

Both at the city and state level, we have electoral caudillismo more than popular rule. The other members, duly elected by us in a fantastical imitation of sovereignty, are turned into sounding boards, critics and/or claques, but are crippled politically unless the top guy, or gal in Quinn’s case, says yes to at least something they want. It’s a good working metaphor for the concentration of power nationally, too—multiplied by 10,000.

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