Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Against Fortress Congress; For Continuity

I fully agree with both Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein that Members of Congress are getting bad advice about how to protect themselves in the wake of Tucson.  I'm not exactly thrilled about the increased security that's been in place on Capitol Hill (and the rest of Washington, for that matter) over the years...but as Yglesias says, there's a much better case to be made for it, based on both the history of Congress and the consequences of something going wrong.

If, however, Congress wants to do something actually responsible in the aftermath of the attack, what I'd recommend is that they dig out the recommendations of the Continuity of Government Commission, which are gathering dust (including digital dust), and act on them.   Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein have been waving their hands and trying to get people to pay attention to their (that is, the commission's) suggestions for almost a decade now, with very minimal results.  No surprise; there's very little political mileage to be gained by passing process reforms that have no interest group supporters and, with any luck, would never need to be used anyway.  Still, it would be a very good thing for the nation if legal and Constitutional means were in place to deal with various easily imagined emergency situations.  First order of business: fix the presidential succession situation (as Yglesias  and I have both talked about before, although mine was better titled).  The point is that there's a plan ready to go, it seems to me like a solid plan, and a succession of Congresses have ignored it.

Now, can we get real-life politicians to focus on "what happens in case of a catastrophe to the nation?" rather than "how can I marginally decrease the already small chances of a catastrophe befalling me?"  Well, given the situation, we can only hope.  What I'll do is to cite anyone who rejects Fortress Congress (especially out in the districts) and takes action on continuity issues as personally courageous, and I'll ask fellow bloggers, political scientists, and pundits to do the same.


  1. Apologies for the slightly off-topic post, but tonight's Obama speech got me thinking about Andrew Sprung's recent observation that the Plain Blog was too accepting of machination and insincerity from political actors.

    I loved Obama tonight. I think I may have felt more affection for him then any other politician ever. I also cried more than I have in a political speech, and when he got to the puddles in heaven part, I was a mess. I loved the fact that he too struggled to keep his composure, thinking as he must have been about his own daughters so near in age to Christina Taylor Green. He left a tremendous personal impression on me tonight.

    However, folks that consume extremist rhetoric and perpetrate these acts of violence tend not to be fathers who love their daughters dearly. Those that produce such rhetoric may be marginally more likely to have children, but they may not be likely to prioritize a child's well-being the way Obama does.

    Which leads to a troubling conclusion: if we accept that the rising tide of threats against public figures is correlated with a rising tide of extremist rhetoric, spilling over in the Giffords shooting and who knows where else, perhaps we didn't want to see the 'real' Obama tonight.

    For while we may love the real man we saw, a less likable, more Machiavellian speech, one that deployed tactics relevant to the audience that is creating the problem, might have moved the boulder forward on a significant (?) national problem more effectively than tonight's (admittedly very beautiful) speech.

    For some reason I am reminded of a book long ago on how to interview, which pointed out that every job ultimately has the same description: solving problems. For a President, this means getting people/society to act together in a way that strengthens the country. Perhaps tonight is a great illustration of how some cynicism is actually an appropriate tool for a President to achieve job objectives (said, again, as I love Obama on a personal level for tonight's speech).

  2. A more on-point comment: I followed the Continuity of Government project, from a distance, back in the day, and it always struck me as more than a bit naive, to be honest. I think the "realist" answer to the question of "what happens in the case of a catastrophic attack that wipes out significant portions of the government" is military control, at least for the short-term. Although "military" here has to include federal law enforcement and the national security state. I'm not advocating this, just stating what I think is the obvious. It would take one hell of a Laura Roslin to override the chiefs of the military-intelligence-law enforcement agencies in the case of such an attack.

    So a plan for the unthinkable is really the kind of blue-ribbon commission B.S. that dominates lots of issues (entitlements reform, the budget deficit).

  3. Anon,

    Perhaps. But exactly what "short-term" winds up meaning, and what comes out of it, might well be affected by whether there are sensible mechanisms in place. The other part of this is that some of the continuity stuff could matter even with a medium-level disaster; there's really no good reason for the Speaker to be in the line of succession at all, and absolutely no reason for the oldest Senator to be involved.


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