Sunday, June 23, 2013

Farm Bill Follies

Farm Bill Follies

A friend said something that struck me as being particularly interesting.  He’s a Republican, although not hard right, and he was talking about Kirsten Gillibrand, New York’s junior Senator, who used to be his Congresswoman.  He was a little disappointed that Gillibrand was less conservative as a Senator than she had been in the House, but he said he understood.  A Senator had to represent the whole state, and downstate (New York City and suburbs) was surely more liberal than where he lived.

Obviously, whether you are moving left or right or center is in the eye of the beholder.  I see Gillibrand as a centrist, but my friend was picking up on something both seemingly obvious, and grossly out of date.  Statewide and national candidates don’t necessarily move towards the center anymore, and that means that the center is no longer the place for governing. 

Conventional wisdom is that you get the nomination by pledging absolute fealty to the base of your party.  After the obligatory pandering, you then tack to the middle to appeal to the broader electorate, particularly the prized independents.  If you win the general election you (sometimes) need accomplishments to stay there, so your own partisans understand that reverting to the doctrinaire places you (and your seat) in peril.

That is what we all thought, but that is no longer true.  A lot of this has to do with the rise of the conservative blogosphere and the Tea Party.  To get the Republican nomination in many states you have to satisfy the angry purists, and they can be completely ruthless.  Being an effective legislator is not necessarily seen as a plus; effective has been redefined as pushing a partisan agenda to the max.

Last week, I wrote about immigration, which has consumed much of the headlines.  But another fight, smaller, but perhaps even more illuminating, is what became of H.R. 1947, or, as it is more commonly known, the Farm Bill. 

The Farm Bill is always a perfect time for bipartisanship, because it is a Christmas tree of goodies:  subsidies, crop insurance, forest management, low interest rate loans for farms and Big-Ag, rural electrification funds, SNAP (food stamps), the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center (yes, that’s Section 12101) etc. etc.  Every five years there is some ritual grumbling, the usual paean to the “backbone” of the nation and some serious trading in pork-bellies (and all other types of pork.)  Then everyone holds a well-perfumed silk handkerchief to their nose, and “aye’s” it through.  Campaign contributions flow shortly thereafter.

Like everything else, this year’s Farm Bill was going to be tougher.  SNAP is by far and away the largest segment of the bill, and needless to say, the GOP isn’t in favor of it (helps the poor to eat, helps the grocers who sell to the poor stay in business.)  Compromises (including cuts to SNAP) were made in the House Agricultural Committee, and they voted out HR-1947 by a solidly bipartisan 36-10.  The Senate had already passed their (more generous) Bill and with the expected yes, the two would go to Conference, where some minor adjustments and compromises would be made, and then on to Mr. Obama for signature. 

HR-1947 runs to 620 pages and was carefully negotiated between the Chair of the Agriculture Committee, Frank Lucas (R-OK) and the ranking Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota.  Peterson himself introduced it to the whole House.  Leaders in both parties privately said they expected passage with a healthy majority, even though most Democrats were opposed to the cuts in SNAP.

Done deal, right?  Not so fast.  Because, right after HR-1947 came out of committee, the GOP began running out the amendments, and while Peterson warned Lucas they could deep-six Democratic support, the GOP-controlled House voted in favor those amendments.  Eric Cantor himself stepped in to speak in favor of one (demonstrating, once again, how his integrity gyroscope needs some serious recalibrating.) Needless to say, these new amendments tilted the deal even further to the right, and the Democrats began to jump ship.  In the end, only 22 of a projected 40 Democrats voted for it, and HR-1947 died.  Cantor then found the nearest microphone to denounce Pelosi and a Cantor aide, Rory Cooper, added that the Democrats were “unable to govern.”

But wait, if you have been following closely, just exactly who runs the House?  That would be the GOP, right?  They have a 234 to 201 margin.   And they had the votes to pass the new amendments that the Democrats objected to. 234 plus 22 is 256, a winner? 234 plus 40 is a bigger winner.  But the final vote came out 234-195, against.  So, why didn’t the GOP have the votes to pass the whole bill?  

Because 62 GOP Congressmen voted no, including those who just voted yes on the Amendments that the Democrats objected to.  And those 62 weren’t just the odd bomb-throwing backbenchers.  No fewer than five Committee Chairman, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin (Budget), Jeb Hensarling (Texas, Financial Services), Ed Royce (California, Foreign Affairs), Bob Goodlatte (Virginia, Judiciary) and Jeff Miller (Florida, Veterans Affairs) also broke from Boehner and sent HR-1947 to a watery grave.  And, notwithstanding Cantor and his spokesman’s grandstanding, even if 40 Democrats had voted for it, it still would have lost. 

Bizarre, isn’t it?  The GOP wanted the bill, the Speaker gave his support, it was obviously unpalatable enough for the Democrats that most of them didn’t even like the version that came out of Committee, but that wasn’t enough.  Cantor and Co. had to extract just a little bit more pain, even when many of them had no intention of supporting HR-1947 even after the Amendments. 

To be clear, I am not even remotely suggesting that HR-1947 was a perfect piece of legislation. Spend fifteen minutes scanning it and you find plenty of eye-rollers, and maybe SNAP spending is too high.  But it’s the type of bill that has always been passed, because it largely reflects bipartisan wishes. 

Nor am I saying that the GOP is responsible for providing every last vote.  But it’s good politics to let the other side share a little.  Strict party line voting is a recipe for resentment and impermanent legislation.  Witness Obamacare and the 37 (to date) votes that have been taken to repeal it.  That is why you make a play for centrist and opposing party votes in the first place, and that is why Lucas and Peterson worked together.    

Given the result, they probably could have used more people like Gillibrand.  As a Congresswoman, she represented a rural and exurban district, and was on the House Agricultural Committee, so she would know a lot of the players.  As a Senator, she sits on the analogous Senate Committee.  As a Blue Dog, even one who has moved left a bit, she’s the perfect centrist who could have been a bridge-builder; knows the issues, not confrontational.   

But bridge building isn’t in vogue these days. Every vote seems to be an article of faith, or an opportunity to stick it in the other guy’s eye. What happened to HR-1947 is the new normal, and the new normal is really bad.

As a final aside, I should again note that Farm Bills come up for reauthorization every five years.  In 2008, the last time the Farm Bill came up, the Democrats controlled the House, it was more generous, and George Bush vetoed it.

Mr. Bush’s veto was overridden in the House in a vote that included 99 Republicans.  In the Senate (in case you were curious) the vote was 80-14.

But that was so…..2008?

There has to be a better way.  Kirsten, phone home.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Scariest Word In The English Language

The Scariest Word In The English Language

Immigrant.  Might as well get it out there as quickly as possible.

We have moved into Phase II of the immigration discussion, as the Gang of Eight compromise bill has now been properly strung up in the classic piñata position.  The sticks are out, and the swatting has begun.  I am not seeing any candy yet.

But, before we get to what’s inside the piñata, it is helpful to understand how a Bill becomes a Law.  The Senate passes a bill.  The House passes a bill.  If it happens to be the same bill, it then goes to the President for signature.  If it happens to be different, it goes to Conference; a compromise version is agreed to, then back to the respective chambers for ratification, and then, to the President for signature.   All very simple, and in normal times, the way things have been done for more than 200 years.  Some bills don’t make it out of committee, some bills fail in conference, some even get vetoed by the President, but, we have managed to accomplish this about 20,000 times.  There are good laws and some absolute stinkers, but the process has always gone on and the nation’s business (mostly) done.

However, let us not forget that past performance is no guarantee of future results.  Think of legislating now as a sort of game of Mad Libs, where the quotes and the parentheticals really tell the story.  So, “House” means “Tea/Limbaugh Block of not less than 115 to approve.” That’s just to get a vote.  And “Senate” means “Sixty Votes Because We Said So” for the same.  And just voting to vote doesn’t actually win.  There are a few old-fashioned types who will vote to vote out of respect for the institution, then vote against the bill itself.

Still with me?  The Founders likely wouldn’t be.  In Federalist 10, Madison wrote “If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote.”  

Silly Madison.  How quaint.  He never had the privilege of meeting the people who really run things these days, the ideological nihilists like Ted Cruz, and the cold-blooded operators, like John Cornyn.

Cruz has been getting a lot of press, but it is actually Cornyn who is more interesting. He was a judge on the Texas Supreme Court for seven years, which would imply at least the ability to be impartial.  But he’s also one of the most conservative Senators, one of only three to vote against John Kerry’s nomination for Secretary of State, and an expert in the game of naked power politics.  Cornyn doesn’t care what a majority of the Senate would vote for.

And Cornyn has just delivered on the GOP’s most troubling issue, how to deal with that word, immigrants. The GOP is in a bind.  It has what are three essentially hormonal imperatives.  The first, very clearly, is to deal with the wing of its party that simply cannot abide non-white, and particularly Latino immigrants. The second is to satisfy the business and farm interests, who are major campaign contributors and who very much like cheap, undocumented labor to do dirty jobs and depress wages in general for American workers.  And the third is purely electoral; since Latinos (and other immigrants) voted for Obama, anything that keeps down their vote is considered a positive.   

So, while Marco Rubio’s dalliance with the Gang of Eight made many Republicans queasy, Cornyn has just provided the deus es machina.  The Gang’s bill is by no means a waltz into full citizenship—it couldn’t be.  Instead, it is a compromise two-step.  Undocumented aliens can gain provisional status, permitting them to remain in the country legally and work. Following that, there could also be a green card and even citizenship, but only if certain border security measures were met to trigger the second part of the plan and allow it to move forward.

Cornyn's amendment makes the trigger threshold essentially unattainable. The Gang’s threshold would require 90 percent apprehension of border-crossers and full operational security at designated high-traffic areas of the border, which was pretty formidable, and tougher than liberals wanted. But Cornyn's amendment goes further, by extending that to every place along the border, meaning, in effect, that you could theoretically be interdicting 99% of all border-crossers, but have one or two small trouble areas, and that would be enough to kill the entire second stage.  Cornyn also goes further than the Gang’s pilot biometric entry and exit system for airports.  He requires full implementation in all airports and seaports.  And, he adds 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents.

It is a huge tactical victory for the GOP.  It keeps the cheap labor in the country for their business and agricultural supporters, massively graces Red States with huge dollops of pork, and prevents Latino immigrants from ever voting Democratic, because they will never be able to vote.  It’s a trap for Democrats.  If they oppose it they are soft on enforcement, and will get the blame for not passing something.  Support it and they have doomed the possibilities for any normalization.  We will end up with a permanent underclass of guest workers and even more restrictions on legal immigration.

And, it makes Cornyn the key player on immigration.  Marco Rubio now works for Cornyn.  Despite his promises to the Gang of Eight that they move together, he’s now embraced what another Gang member, John McCain, calls a “poison pill.”  Whatever the Gang of Eight may be saying in public, they all know Rubio sold them out.  That may help Rubio with his Presidential ambitions, but it’s not likely to help him be an effective legislator.  Integrity, even among thieves, matters.  Rubio, by stepping away from his own compromise and his personal commitments, is showing he may have a deficiency.

But Cornyn’s coup may only be a tactical, albeit an important one.  Because there is one demographic fact that will not go away; for the first time, the death rate among whites in this country was higher than the birthrate.  The total number of whites increased because of white immigration from Europe, but the white “rootstock” is withering.  Population growth is coming entirely from the non-white populations, because of higher birthrates and immigration.

And that is a monumental problem for any Republican who isn’t driven simply by cultural fears. Because the face of the party right now is unwelcoming to immigrants in general and distinctly hostile to Latinos.  This doesn’t just come from obscure Congressmen from safe Districts spouting nonsense.  Romney himself, to my great surprise, went out of his way to be critical in a very personal way, even going so far as to criticize Sonia Sotomayor on a trip to Puerto Rico, where she is universally considered a hero.  Maybe he thought that the base’s baser instincts needed to be fed, but it was a very peculiar decision.  Romney is a very smart man, and if he didn’t get how people would take that, it is only because he didn’t care what immigrants think. He didn't think he would need them, and so he didn't want them.

The one person I am sure does understand it is Jeb Bush.  He tried to communicate it this week at the Faith and Family Forum (the new branding for Ralph Reed’s Christian Coalition.)  Bush went there to tell conservatives that immigration reform was really a conservative idea. "Immigrants create far more businesses than native-born Americans…. Immigrants are more fertile, and they love families, and they have more intact families, and they bring a younger population. Immigrants create an engine of economic prosperity."

It is unfortunate that one inelegant word (fertility) muddied the rest of his message because Jeb was clearly trying to show a path forward.  His own brother got 44% of the Latino vote in 2004, and Latinos are much closer to the GOP on social issues than they are to the Democrats.  Latinos are gettable, and so are Asians and South Asians, if only the GOP would try.  But the Faith and Family folk weren’t buying it, and neither, it seems, is the rest of the party.  That they don’t seem to want to, despite the urging of Jeb Bush and people like Haley Barbour, tells you about the stranglehold the extremists have.  They aren’t worried about demographics.  They obviously think that voter suppression, gerrymandering, and even changing the Electoral College will keep them in control.  After all, they still have the House, despite the fact that a majority voted Democratic in House races in 2012. 

I am betting they are right.  For the moment. 

“Immigrant.”  Not unlike saying “Frau Blucher” in Young Frankenstein.  



Sunday, June 9, 2013

Takers and Trustees

Takers and Trustees

I grew up in a segregated Northeastern suburb. 

There weren’t separate bathrooms or water fountains, or any of the overt symbols you would have seen in the South in that era, but it was segregated nonetheless. Segregation was enforced geographically; there places, even whole towns, where certain people could live, and others where they couldn’t.  In my second grade class there was an African-American boy (Tommy) who lived on the other side of the four-foot fence that separated the back of my school yard from a development populated exclusively by African-Americans.  I was too young to notice anything unusual about that: it was walking distance from where I lived, and a couple of blocks from my parent’s pharmacy.  The cop who walked the beat was Irish, and nearby were the German deli that sold Schaller & Weber, the kosher deli with Hebrew National, the Chinese laundry, the Italian baker who snuck me sprinkle cookies, and the candy store owned by people with the decidedly un-trendy tattoos on their arms from the camps.

This was the world I lived in, with a lot of different looking people.  But by third grade, Tommy was gone, and so was his entire neighborhood.  The city fathers had decided to build senior housing on the other side of that fence, and the white-washed houses with the green trim and the laundry lines were now a large vacant lot. Like a palimpsest, they wiped it clean; without conscience, they took those people’s homes and tossed them in the street. 

I have no idea what happened to Tommy or his family. I don’t even know whether the land was owned or leased.  As an adult, it’s easy to see that his community was moved, en masse, because it could be.  They were powerless.  More than 100 years after Dred Scott, in my town, at least, African-Americans had "no rights which the white man was bound to respect." 

I was reminded of that story when I read an obituary in The New York Times of Bob Fletcher.  In 1942, FDR declared part of West Coast a war zone, and 120,000 Japanese were rounded up and placed in internment camps.  Mr. Fletcher was, at the time, working as an agricultural inspector for the State of California.  A member of a Japanese farm family from the town of Florin approached him with an offer: manage the farms of two of neighbors, pay the bills and take all the profits until they could return.

He accepted.  For the next three years, he ran the Tsukamoto, Okamoto, and the Nitta farms, living in a bunkhouse for migrant workers on the Tsukamoto farm.  When he married, his wife joined him in the bunkhouse: neither felt it was appropriate to occupy the Tsukamoto’s living quarters. When the Tsukamotos returned, they found their house cleaned and money in their bank account; Mr. Fletcher had only kept half the profits.

Many of the Japanese left Florin after the war.  Some had lost their homes and farms when they were unable to pay the taxes while they were interned.  Fletcher’s efforts saved the three farms.  He was not especially popular with his non-Japanese neighbors, before the war, Japanese children had been required to attend segregated schools, after, many local businesses didn’t want to serve them.  Apparently, he didn’t care.  He felt they were mistreated, and acted with courage and conviction.  Without the formal title, Bob Fletcher became a Trustee, someone who holds something for another’s benefit, and acts as a fiduciary, with integrity.  

Representative government is a form of Trusteeship, not so much in the way Edmund Burke articulated it, but as a form of legal Trusteeship, to follow the law and act prudently within that context.  We elect people to serve our interests.  We give them power over our persons and our property.  We expect them to exercise their best, unbiased judgment for all of us, not unduly benefitting themselves, or their party, unduly.

We have to be careful in the way we use the T word.  Trust can’t be situational; if you always distrust one of the parties on every single issue, then that is no longer an issue of integrity, it is one of ideological purity.  If you would trust Obama with the NSA snooping, but not Romney (or vice versa) then you are missing the point.  Because the power of the government is immense, like a stupendous machine, and unless you are comfortable with any sane person using one of the high-tech gadgets on it, then you should reject that gadget.  I just read polling numbers that indicated that roughly 80% of Americans support the installation of cameras in public areas, and facial recognition technologies with those cameras to root out terrorists.  I find that mind-boggling. Walk outside the confines of your home (or maybe stay in your home if the curtains aren’t drawn) and it’s OK for Barack or Mitt to say “Pull up Joe on screen 3, let’s see if he shaved this morning.”

In the end, trust has to be based on two concepts.  The first is that whomever is in charge will abide by the Constitution.  If they do that, then we can’t have a gripe with them in that context.  That is the covenant we all entered into 230 years ago.  The second is that, while we know partisan politics means that our elected officials will have their thumb on the scales, that thumb can’t be too heavy.  In short, they must be Trustees and not simply Takers.

But the temptation to be a Taker is great.   Power is intoxicating; a prize that people ache for, and few want to give up.  Inevitably, despite the best intentions of the best people, it can be abused.  The Barack Obama of 2007 opposed the massive surveillance by the NSA.  The 2013 version, freighted with the responsibilities of keeping the country safe, now sees the value.  The opposite is true of Republicans, who were more than happy to have it so long as Dick Cheney was getting the read-outs, but now rush to the microphones for ritual denouncing.

That reflects a troubling trend in this country, an intensifying situational ethics.  You can see it wherever there is single party (or single person) dominance—the Takers are carrying the day.  Whether it’s Mike Bloomberg (someone I generally admire) trying to legislate personal behavior, or Red States such as Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, and now even North Carolina, who are rewriting the tax code to benefit their contributors and re-writing the parts of the Constitution they disagree with, it is the same principle.  Get in charge, do what you want, ignore the wishes and even the rights of everyone who is not a member of your club.  Take. 

That has to be wrong.  It is irrelevant if two-thirds of New Yorkers support gun control laws that are greater than Heller allows.  And it is irrelevant if two-thirds of Arkansans would ban abortions, in contravention of Roe v. Wade.  In the end, it is no different than the people who took Tommy’s home, or herded the Tsukamoto, Okamoto, and Nitta families into the camps.   Power is not the equivalent of right.  We cannot be Vandals, sweeping in once elected and taking what we want, regardless of the law.

Gandhi once said, "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”  He might have added that a Democracy’s greatness is measured by how it treats those presently out of power.

Bob Fletcher obviously understood that.  And I would imagine his widow, Teresa, does as well. She was the person who cleaned the Tsukamoto’s house before they returned.

That, I suppose, at its most elemental level, is what being a Trustee is all about. 


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Bachmann and the Budget Buccaneers

Bachmann and the Budget Buccaneers

There is a wonderful bit in The Philadelphia Story. It’s the morning of the wedding, and a couple of hangovers are being nursed.  Things are tense between Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) and her fiancée, George Kittredge. Kittredge is understandably upset that the somewhat tipsy Tracy has just had an “affair” with another man, Mike Connor (Jimmy Stewart.) George demands an explanation, and Connor obliges. “Mr. Kittredge, it may interest you to know that our so-called affair consisted of exactly two kisses and one rather late swim both of which I thoroughly enjoyed and the memory of which I wouldn't part with for anything.”  When Tracy protests by asking whether she was so unattractive and forbidding, Connor replies she was very attractive, and as for forbidding, on the contrary, but she “was also a little the worse for wine, and there are rules about those things.”

All of us know that there is no way that Jimmy Stewart would ever break the rules.  He’s Jimmy Stewart, an exemplar (as was Henry Fonda and, in a different way, John Wayne) for a type of distinctly American integrity.  There are things you don’t do, no matter how tempted, even if you can, and sometimes especially because you can.  I love those rules, not just because I’m the father of a teenaged daughter, but also because I’m a social contract kind of guy.  I think democracy works best when there is little less purity and a little more give and take.  If one side is picking up all the chips, just because it can, the losers are just going to be lying in the weeds, waiting for the first time there’s a kneecap exposed.

Up until about twenty years ago, Washington was populated by people who also believed in the rules.  That doesn’t mean they were saints.  Rather, they shared a consensus about basic facts, how things should be done, and what regular order meant.  They horse-traded, swapped votes, shared earmarks, fought when they had to, and compromised most of the time.  There were always crazy people and rules-breakers; the Republicans had their Bob Dornans and the Democrats their Cynthia McKinneys, but policy was made from the center out, not from the fringe in.  People respected the process.

That was then.  We live in different times, where craziness is now seen as a desirable attribute and rules as almost corrupt. This past week, one of the truly great rule-breakers, Michelle Bachmann, announced that she would not run for reelection in 2014.  Her eight-plus minute announcement, posted on her website, is a classic of the Bachmann genre, and I urge you to drink it in.  The thumbnail version is a hard slap at the mainstream media, of which she is the victim; several over-the-top slams at Mr. Obama in particular (“despicable”) and the Democrats in general, a large dollop of self praise for supporting both a balanced budget and the pork for her District, and her personal bravery in calling out Muslims everywhere.

Of course, Bachmann is not the type of person of whom you would expect either great self-knowledge or modesty. But to demean her is to ignore her obvious appeal to a portion of the GOP electorate, bizarre utterances or not. Remember, this is a person who won the Iowa Caucuses, and who briefly led in the primary polls.   She did so by laying out a program that distinguished itself by it’s uncompromisingly hard right approach sprinkled with enough sheer kookiness to satisfy the paranoid set.  Bachmann is the surströmming of the political system.  Some people, unaccountably, really like it. 

Bachmann, for all of her national prominence, was a particularly ineffective legislator.  In her eight years in Congress, her record is completely devoid of any accomplishments. That, unfortunately, is in concert with much of the rest of her caucus.  The House these days seems to exist for only two purposes, a) to obstruct, defund, and repeal Obamacare and b) to conduct endless investigations. 

What about the budget?  Well, the House did vote out a budget, the steroidal Ryan Plan.  But the Senate won’t cooperate.  Senate Democrats also voted out a budget, as the GOP demanded, and it included Mr. Obama’s proposal (thoroughly loathed by liberal groups) for a substantial hack at entitlements.  Like the House’s version, it also passed on a party line vote.

So, now we have two bills, the House’s GOP version, and the Senate’s Democratic/Obama version.  Next stop, the “Conference Committee” where senior members who are appointed by the presiding officers of the committees that originally dealt with the bill are sent to bargain and hash out a compromise.  Sounds good; maybe the Congress can actually do the job we send them there to do?

Not so fast. Having a Conference requires Conferees.  And the Senate doesn’t have any.  Why?  Because three Republican Senators say no Conferees until the Democrats who go agree not to utter the phrase “Debt Ceiling.”  And, why the gag order?  Because these three have no intention of bargaining in good faith.  Instead, they want an extra bite at the apple: concessions in the Senate, more in Conference, and then even more extortion when the debt ceiling has to be raised. They don’t care that the Senate just voted and they lost.  Like pirates, they will hold the sword to the throat of the damsel in distress until they get what they want, process, and rules, be dammed. 

Now, you might ask yourself who these hostage-taking buccaneers might be?  Three Men of Tea:  Utah’s Mike Lee, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Marco Rubio of Florida, supported by the ever-amiable Ted Cruz of Texas.   That is a lot of ambition in one room.  Paul and Rubio really want to be President, as soon as possible, and this the way to raise their street-cred with the hard-right gunslingers.  Cruz doesn’t need more street-cred, but he aims higher--more in the Henry VIII line of King and Supreme Head of the Church. By the way, in case your were counting, these four have a combined six years in office. 

What about Mitch McConnell?  He knows what the rules are.  But he’s also worried about a primary challenge in Kentucky, so he’s met privately with the four almost a dozen times, and is tacitly supporting them. In the meantime, the country will just have to wait.  Personal and ideological agendas are far more important than the national interest. 

In fairness, there are a number of other GOP Senators trying to find a common ground. Senators McCain, Collins, Corker, and Blunt are pushing back.  There is concern among rational conservatives that scorched earth can’t support any type of life.  And, because these are practical people, at least most of the time, they understand that you fracture the bargaining process when you keep moving the goal posts, and you do so at your future peril. You don’t necessarily have to go as far as Churchill, who once said If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”  But sooner or later, the shoe will be on the other foot, and people have a funny war of remembering who stepped on them.  Rules matter.

That doesn’t always mean it’s pretty, or you will want to send flowers to the other side.  As much as I love Hepburn, Stewart, and Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story, some of the best lines come from Ruth Hussey, who plays Liz, Stewart’s savvy and occasionally sardonic photographer and girlfriend.  After Connor defends Tracy’s honor and pronounces his devotion to the rules, she follows with “I think men are wonderful.” 

And Liz responds “The dears.”

The movie does have a happy ending.  Maybe we should send the DVD?