The Lost Art of Loyal Opposition

Americans grunt and snarl, but the Brits have a way with words. That’s not just Shakespeare and Dickens. In the early nineteen century, the grumpy party out of power at the time decided they were tired of being called losers and fools, so in the middle of one of the usual acrimonious debates in Parliament, they decided on what we now call rebranding. They proclaimed themselves the loyal opposition – they oppose the policies of the guys in power at the moment, but for a reason. They didn’t want the current government, and thus the nation, to fail at everything, sweeping them back into power. That would be close to treason. They were loyal to the country – or to the King and then the Queen in those days – but they just thought their policies were better policies, and they were more than happy to explain why. Voters might eventually agree, and when they sensed they would, they’d force a call for new election, win enough seats to regain power, and take their policies out for a spin. Until that was possible, the loyal opposition performed an adversarial function, keeping the party in power on its toes. That’s not treason. That’s necessary in a democracy.

That was a fine idea, and the term stuck, but on this side of the pond it was seldom used. Even the concept seemed foreign, except to Barack Obama. In his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, he said there was no Red America and no Blue America, just the United States of America – the opposition was, in fact, loyal. Everyone wants America to succeed, and when he was elected president four years later, he was always saying that he never doubted the intentions of any and all Republicans; he just disagreed with their policy positions. Something could be worked out on all sorts of things. There was a Grand Bargain on spending and taxes in there somewhere, somehow. No one wants America to fail. That’s absurd.

After six years, Obama knows better. Early on, Rush Limbaugh rallied his side of the nation by saying he DID want Obama to fail, at everything, so America would finally come to its senses. If that meant America would fail at a few things, well, so be it, and the evening of Obama’s first inauguration, while everyone else was at the balls, the Republican congressional leadership met and agreed they’d oppose everything Obama and the Democrats tried, and stop it if they could, even if this that or the other thing was good for the country, and even if all the polling showed that was what people wanted. Mitch McConnell, the minority leader in the Senate, was asked what the Republican agenda would be. What did they think was good for the country? McConnell said the Republicans had only one item on their agenda – making Obama a one-term president. That was it. There was nothing else, and with forty votes in the Senate, the Republicans could filibuster everything in sight, preventing it from ever coming up for a majority vote – so nothing much got passed. McConnell later softened his stance, but it was worse in the House, where, after 2010, the Republicans held the majority and the Tea Party crowd had the other Republicans by the balls. Obamacare was passed just before the Democrats lost the House in the 2010 midterms – a close call – and since then the House Republicans have voted at least fifty times to repeal the whole thing, even if the Senate, still held by the Democrats, ignores them every time.

The odd thing, however, is that there is no Republican alternative to Obamacare. There’s no alternative policy idea. There never has been. That was never the point, as this was never about what’s good for the country. It was about the other guy failing, even if lots of people get hurt. That’s how the game is played. When the other guy’s a failure and the nation is a mess, they’ll turn to you. You win. We’re not British after all, so let the economy tank, shut down the government, default on the debt and collapse the world’s economy, keep cabinet posts and agency head-positions and judgeships empty, blocking the confirmation of everyone – it’s all good. A broken government proves that Obama, like all Democrats, cannot govern. Say what you’re doing is for the good of the country, all done as a matter of principle, even if no one believes that for a moment. Everyone knows what’s going on.

This was obvious. On Friday, October 2, 2009, Rio de Janeiro won the bid to host the 2016 Olympics. Chicago lost the bid, eliminated in the first round of voting, and Chicago’s own Barack Obama had flown over to Copenhagen to convince the Olympic Committee that Chicago should host the games, not Rio, or Tokyo or Madrid. Yeah, well, we came in fourth, dead last, and Obama was supposed to be overwhelmingly persuasive or something, and thus there was glee on the right – Glenn Beck called the news that Chicago’s bid had failed “so sweet” and Rush Limbaugh declared himself “happy” and “gleeful” and so on. The cable news channels were carrying clips of Republicans gathering in groups awaiting the decision, and then cheering wildly.

We lost! We lost! We lost! Fox News carried this as a great day, while MSNBC carried it as a sad day for America – something had gone terribly wrong if half the country is cheering for the country’s defeat in anything.

That’s one way to think of it, if you actually believe in that loyal-opposition nonsense. There’s another way to think of it. There’s only opposition, no matter what gets ruined. Loyalty of the British sort is for suckers – there’s no point in getting all sentimental about these things.

As a plan for an opposition party to regain power this was coldly logical – a bit treasonous in a way, but if done well, and consistently, it should have been effective. The only problem is what happens when we don’t lose. That happens, and it happened on May 1, 2012, when Obama announced we finally got Osama bin Laden – he was dead and gone. In spite of all his cowboy gunslinger posturing, Bush couldn’t pull that off, but the smooth-talking over-educated urbane effete intellectual snob did, and that called for a shift in tactics.

That was embarrassing, and Adam Weinstein covered the new talking points:

Obama took credit for Seal Team Six’s killing of bin Laden, even though the president once called them “Cheney’s private assassination team” and said bin Laden deserved a trial…

Obama was totally Photoshopped into that situation-room photo…

Obama was ready to blame the military if the raid failed…

Obama commissioned an opinion poll before ordering the raid…

Bush, not Obama, did all the work to get bin Laden…

Torture of terrorist suspects was the only thing that led the US to bin Laden…

Anyway, the president doesn’t really have a lot of say in these things! Or, as Mitt Romney put it, “Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order” to go after bin Laden (even though Romney previously said getting the al Qaeda leader was “not worth moving heaven and earth”)…

Obama refuses to admit we’re in a war with terrorists…

Obama thinks terrorists just need a good talking-to…

Weinstein goes into great detail about who said these things, and when and where and how often, and then how the arguments all fell apart – but the arguments were made. Weinstein doesn’t cover those who said bin Laden wasn’t really dead, that it was all a hoax, entirely made up to make Obama look like a real man when everyone knows he’s a girly sissy, or those who said George Bush led the raid and was the one who actually shot Osama dead, with a pearl-handled six-shooter. Dealing with things going right is harder to deal with than things going wrong, and here we go again:

U.S. Special Forces seized a “key leader” of the deadly Benghazi, Libya, attack and he is on his way to face trial in the U.S. for the fiery assault that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, the Obama administration announced Tuesday. It was the first breakthrough in the sudden overseas violence in 2012 that has become a festering political sore at home.

President Barack Obama said the capture on Sunday of Ahmed Abu Khattala sends a clear message to the world that “when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice.”

“We will find you,” Obama declared.

There’s only a little ambiguity:

As recently as last August, Abu Khattala told The Associated Press that he was not in hiding nor had he been questioned by Libyan authorities about the attack at the diplomatic compound. He denied involvement and said that he had abandoned the militia. Administration officials said Tuesday that despite his media interviews, he “evaded capture” until the weekend when military special forces, including members of the Army’s elite Delta Force, nabbed him.

Whatever the path to his capture, he was headed for the United States to face what Obama called “the full weight of the American justice system.” Obama called the Libyan an “alleged key leader” of the attack.

U.S. officials said Abu Khattala was being held on the Navy amphibious transport dock ship USS New York, which was in the Mediterranean Sea.

We got another bad guy, and this was a problem:

A couple of co-hosts from Fox’s Outnumbered Tuesday reacted to the apprehension of Ahmed Abu Khattala, one of the prime suspects in the 2012 Benghazi attack, by wondering about the timing of the capture given former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s book tour and interview with Fox’s Bret Baier later this evening.

“You have the former Secretary of State who is in the middle of a really high-profile book tour,” Independents host Kennedy said. “I think this is convenient for her to shift the talking points from some of the things she’s been discussing.”

Concerned Vets CEO and Fox contributor Pete Hegseth noted that Clinton was set to give an interview with Fox, that will almost certainly focus on her role in Benghazi, in just a few hours.

“Something clearly changed in the calculus of the United States and I think a lot has to do with the State Department,” he said. “I think this thing needs to be tied in a bow for certain individuals to have a clean break from an incident that will continue to be a scandal and an anchor around a certain individual’s neck who may want to run for president.”

“What a great thing to announce tonight at Fox News that the perpetrators have been brought to justice,” he continued. “It’s all too neat and it’s too cute. I always want to give the benefit of the doubt to our authorities, but in this case it feels too neat on the timeline.”

In short, Obama knew Hillary Clinton was sitting down with Fox News in a few hours, so he did her a favor – he grabbed the bad guy and announced his capture just before air-time, so they couldn’t nail her for anything because everyone would be feeling too good, and Steve Benen runs down the other talking points – (1) this is about Clinton’s book tour, (2) this is about the IRS “controversy” (a plot to distract attention away from a story), (3) Obama was golfing when the suspect was captured, (4) Obama should put Ahmed Abu Khattala in Guantanamo (John McCain and Lindsey Graham think he has magical powers and would escape our legal system, (5) Obama waited for the “perfect political opportunity” what with the world falling apart, (6) there’s nothing to see here (he’s only one bad guy), (7) this took too long – and there are a few more. Don’t Mirandize the guy – he’ll just shut up. Why just this one guy – there are so many others – and we could have had Abu Khattala sooner.

Benen has all the links and details, for those who care, but there was Harry Reid:

It doesn’t matter what your ideology is, you should feel good about this. There’s no conspiracy here, this is actual news. But the reaction of some of the Republicans, I’ve been told, is to downplay and insult the brave men and women of our special forces and the FBI. They’re trying to say, oh, it’s no big deal. I wonder if the men and women who captured the terrorist agree. But the Republicans said it’s no big deal.

Even in these days of polarization, created by the obstruction, the delay, and diversion of the Republicans, even in these days of polarization, their reaction is shocking and disgusting. They’re so obsessed with criticism, criticizing anything President Obama does. They’ll go so far as to sit here and insult the men and women in uniform and in law enforcement. They should stop and think, just for a little bit, about what it’s like to put your life on the line and to do something for our country – that’s what they did. They’re insulting these good men and women who did some courageous things, heroic things, in order to criticize President Obama. I think they’ve lost touch with reality; it’s really pathetic, there’s no other word for it.

Harry Reid was sounding positively British. He gave them the Loyal Opposition Lecture – not that it matters – and David Atkins is simply disappointed:

I will say this for the Bush-Cheney-Rove operation: they did seem to have a crack media team that actually gave a damn. These people just don’t. It’s not the post-truth media environment. It’s the post-effort media environment.

They know their base is lazy and completely uninformed, they know they’ve lost what little is left of the middle, and they’ve stopped caring what kind of slop gets thrown at the rubes. If the rubes are dumb enough to believe that oil company spokespeople know more about climate change than climate scientists, they’ll believe that capturing the Benghazi mastermind was orchestrated to promote Hillary’s book tour. Why not?

That sums it up, but for this wrinkle:

Ahmed Abu Khattala, the suspect captured by U.S. Special Forces on Tuesday for his role in the 2012 Benghazi attack, reportedly said he was motivated in part by the anti-Islam online video made in America, according to the New York Times.

“What he did in the period just before the attack has remained unclear. But Mr. Abu Khattala told other Libyans in private conversations during the night of the attack that he was moved to attack the diplomatic mission to take revenge for an insult to Islam in an American-made online video,” Times reporter David Kirkpatrick wrote in a story on Khattala on Tuesday.

Immediately following the attack, Khattala declined to say whether the video had anything to do with his role in the Benghazi attack, according to the Times.

The New York Times reported in December that the attack was fueled in part by the anti-Islam video, but did not link Khattala to the video in that investigation.

The scandal surrounding the Obama administration’s response to Benghazi was centered on whether or not the attack was related to protests surrounding the video.

There’s only one possible Republican reaction to this. Oh shit!

They had this all worked out, a foolproof way to hammer Obama and destroy Hillary Clinton’s chances in 2016, because she was our secretary of state when, two years ago, on another September 11, our ambassador there, and three of his aides, were killed by an angry mob, or somebody – and Obama and Clinton refused to send in any forces to save their lives. They let them die – Obama, because he’s always been on the side of the terrorists, starting with Bill Ayers, and Clinton, because she’s incompetent at everything she does.

What’s worse, they then sent out Susan Rice, their national security advisor, to explain what happened, and Rice said it was a mob inflamed by that anti-Islam video that had caused riots from Kuwait to Cairo to Casablanca that day, and a few local militias, when everyone knew it was an attack organized by al-Qaeda at its highest levels, probably planned step by step by the guys we’re holding at Guantanamo, which Obama wanted to close. It was September 11 after all.

All the pieces had fallen in place. Obama and Clinton and Rice lied about this because what happened at Benghazi proved that Obama really hadn’t done a damned thing to lessen the threat of al-Qaeda, ever. Hell, maybe that Osama fellow wasn’t really dead. The Navy said they dumped the body in the Indian Ocean. What’s up with that? And Democrats know nothing about national security anyway. They never have and never will – and now they grabbed the guy behind it all and he will say, as he has been saying all along, that it was the video that set off all this stuff – just as Susan Rice had said in the first place. Damn!

This is hard, and sometimes you just want to give up, and sometimes you do:

Glenn Beck led off his radio show on Tuesday morning with a stirring monologue about all the ways he believes the left and right can come together to “heal” America. As part of that, Beck suggested that perhaps all Americans can come together to recognize the blunder that was invading and occupying Iraq in 2003 – an act that he now regrets having supported.

Beck’s actual words:

From the beginning, most people on the left were against going into Iraq. I wasn’t. At the time I believed that the United States was under threat from Saddam Hussein. I really truly believed that Saddam Hussein was funding terrorists. We knew that. He was funding the terrorists in Hamas. We knew that he was giving money. We could track that. We knew he hated us. We knew that without a shadow of a doubt. It wasn’t much or a stretch to believe that he would fund a terror strike against us, especially since he would say that. So I took him at his word. …

Now, in spite of the things I felt at the time when we went into war, liberals said: We shouldn’t get involved. We shouldn’t nation-build. And there was no indication the people of Iraq had the will to be free. I thought that was insulting at the time. Everybody wants to be free. They said we couldn’t force freedom on people. Let me lead with my mistakes. You are right. Liberals, you were right. We shouldn’t have.

Hey, Glenn Beck just turned British – or hell just froze over, or a pig just flew past the window here in Hollywood. Actually that might happen here in Hollywood – it’s a strange place – but Beck did just do that loyal opposition thing. That’s where the opposition party says those things not often said these days, at least here. You have a good point there – well done – but this is where we seem to disagree, and here’s why, so let’s discuss this. Those in power at the moment say the same sort of thing, which is how Obama had been talking all along, even if he ended up talking to himself. Maybe that will end now. Maybe we can have a functional two-party system, where we work things out and no one works to assure the country fails.

Nope – another pig just flew past the window.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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