By Allison Stanger, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Allison Stanger is the Leng Professor of International Politics and Economics at Middlebury College and author of the forthcoming ‘Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Leaks: The Story of Whistleblowing in America.’ The views expressed are her own.
The chorus of voices condemning the undemocratic tactics of the Republican minority who forced a government shutdown are right on target. The Affordable Care Act was voted on, the Supreme Court upheld it, and efforts to repeal it failed. As Fareed Zakaria noted today, refusing to allow the government to function until you get your way is not how a democracy is supposed to work.
But the current embarrassing spectacle is no new development – the Republican Party in the Obama years has previously taken a win-at-whatever costs approach in seeking to overturn laws they don’t like by refusing to implement them.
Exhibit A for this approach is the Republican response to Dodd-Frank. President Barack Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Financial Reform and Consumer Protection Act into law on July 21, 2010. Its full title captures its intent: “An Act to promote the financial stability of the United States by improving accountability and transparency in the financial system, to end ‘too big to fail,’ to protect the American taxpayer by ending bailouts, to protect consumers from abusive financial services practices, and for other purposes.”
By Fareed Zakaria
It is the defining moment of a democracy – an outgoing leader celebrates the election of a new one, from the opposing party. Think of George H.W. Bush welcoming Bill Clinton, or Jimmy Carter doing the same for Ronald Reagan. Across the world, this is the acid test of a real democracy. Mexicans will tell you that they knew that they had gotten there when President Ernesto Zedillo, after 70 years of one-party rule, allowed free elections and stood with his newly elected successor and affirmed his legitimacy.
The basic and powerful idea behind this ritual is that in a democracy, the process is more important than the outcome. If a genuine democratic process has been followed, we have to accept the results, regardless of how much we dislike the outcome. The ultimate example of this in recent American history might be Al Gore’s elegant acceptance of the process – complicated, politicized, but utterly constitutional – that put George W. Bush in the White House.
It must also have been difficult for Richard Nixon to grin and accept the results of the 1960 election – a poll marred by voter fraud that John F. Kennedy won by a narrow margin – but he did. And as vice president, he reported the results to the Senate, saying:
“This is the first time in 100 years that a candidate for the presidency announced the result of an election in which he was defeated and announced the victory of his opponent. I do not think we could have a more striking example of the stability of our constitutional system and of the proud tradition of the American people of developing, respecting and honoring institutions of self-government. In our campaigns, no matter how hard fought they may be, no matter how close the election may turn out to be, those who lose accept the verdict and support those who win.”
By Fareed Zakaria
The entire political system creates incentives for venality. Consider just one factor – and there are many – the role of money, which has expanded dramatically over the past four decades. Harvard's Lawrence Lessig has pointed out that Congressmen now spend three of every five workdays raising money. They also vote with extreme attention to their donors' interests. Lessig cites studies that demonstrate that donors get a big bang for their campaign bucks – sometimes with returns on their "investment" that would make a venture capital firm proud.
Now, taking money out of politics is a mammoth challenge. So perhaps the best one could hope for is to limit instead what Congress can sell. In other words, enact a thorough reform of the tax code, ridding it of the thousands of special exemptions, credits, and deductions, which are, of course, institutionalized, legalized corruption.
The most depressing aspect of This Town, by Mark Leibovich, is how utterly routine all the influence-peddling has become. In 1990 Ramsay MacMullen, the great Yale historian of Rome, published a book that took on the central question of his field: Why did the greatest empire in the history of the world collapse in the fifth century? The root cause, he explained, was political corruption, which had become systemic in the late Roman Empire. What was once immoral had become accepted as standard practice and what was once illegal was celebrated as the new normal. Many decades from now, a historian looking at where America lost its way could use This Town as a primary source.
Watch the video for the full take and read more in the Washington Post
By Fareed Zakaria
Compared with other democracies, the United States has become not just an outlier but practically another planet. The total cost of the 2010 national elections in Britain — the mother of parliamentary government — was $86 million. The cost of the 2012 U.S. elections has been estimated to be nearly 75 times that number, at $6.3 billion.
Taking money out of politics is a mammoth challenge. Perhaps the best that one could hope for would be to limit instead what Congress can sell. In other words, enact a thorough reform of the tax code, ridding it of the thousands of special exemptions, credits and deductions that are institutionalized, legalized corruption.
By Alex Smith, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Alex Smith is the national chair of the College Republican National Committee. The views expressed are her own.
The Republican Party brand has become tarnished among young adults. Once the party of Reagan, who won the youth vote by 19 points in his reelection campaign, we’ve slowly lost our connection with the young. The GOP, which was once a proud reference to the “Grand Old Party,” has certainly lost some of its grandeur.
If recent elections are any indication, then perception has become reality. President Barack Obama won 5 million more votes than Gov. Mitt Romney among voters under the age of 30 in the 2012 presidential election. Despite Romney’s significant edge in other age groups, the youth vote proved decisive. Moreover, this was actually an improvement from 2008, when Obama won the youth vote by a 2-to-1 margin.
The Republican Party has won the youth vote before and can absolutely win it again. But it will take significant work to refine our message, and improve how and where we communicate.
By James Shields, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: James Shields is professor of French politics and modern history at Aston University in the U.K. and the first winner of the American Political Science Association’s Stanley Hoffmann Award for his writing on French politics. The views expressed are his own.
As 4.00 pm struck on May 21, a man walked to the high altar in Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral, placed a sealed letter on it, then killed himself with a single pistol shot to the head. Such was the final act of Dominique Venner, a 78-year-old former far-right activist and leading ideologue. Prior to this gruesomely theatrical suicide, carried out while some 1,500 visitors milled around the cathedral, Venner’s was not a name that would have resonated much in French public consciousness. But in his day, he was one of the most notorious opponents of the French Republic, its core values of “liberté, égalité, fraternité,” and its institutions.
Venner’s resume offers a tour through some of the most radical extreme right-wing political and intellectual circles in post-war France. The son of a militant pro-fascist father, he first came to prominence as an opponent of France’s return to democracy under the Fourth Republic and a diehard defender of French Algeria, engaging in violent activism and enlisting to fight as a volunteer paratrooper in the Algerian War. Having served a prison sentence for his role in the Organisation Armée Secrète (OAS) that waged a campaign of terror against President de Gaulle’s policy of Algerian self-determination, he went on to lead the ideological renewal of the French nationalist right in response to the new world order taking shape with decolonization and the Cold War in the 1960s.
By Fareed Zakaria
The debate over the sequester – the forced budget cuts that went into effect Friday – seems to have generated a lot of heat, but little light. So I have been studying the issue to try to fully understand what is going on.
The first question: how big are these cuts? Although they are not draconian, they are still significant. Why? For a start, you will have to find a year’s worth of savings in about seven or eight months, since that's all that's left of the year. But the big problem is that there are large parts of the budget that are either effectively exempt or where there are limits to how much can be cut. This means that the remaining parts of the budget are facing significant shrinkage.
It’s important to remember when thinking about government spending it has to rise every year even with no additional functions. The American population is growing, plus there is inflation of around 2 percent these days. There is room for discussion on how exactly factors like inflation should be evaluated, but some increase in spending is necessary if we are just to stay even. Of course, there are areas that should actually be cut or eliminated. But politicians rarely specify those and the truth is, the big money is in all the popular middle class programs (social security, Medicare, interest deduction, local tax deduction), most of which actually have relatively little waste and abuse in them.
Fareed Zakaria offers his take on why President Barack Obama should think big in his upcoming State of the Union address. Watch CNN's comprehensive coverage of the address, starting at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday.
On the president’s watch, we know that the country has now added 1.2 million jobs since he took office, but it’s not creating enough jobs fast enough to sustain a strong recovery. You see the housing market is coming back. The stock market is rallying. But how much can this president really do in the next four years to get the economy going again?
He could do a lot. We are actually in good shape compared with Europe, compared with Japan.
What this president should do is try to enlist Congress in recognizing that with borrowing costs at historical lows, what we need to do is rebuild America and gain jobs…and allow the economy to get to a kind of escape velocity.
If the president were to announce he has a big, new infrastructure bank that is going to borrow money, but which is going to spend it to rebuild America – invest in the future, rebuild the bridges and highways, build a new generation of smart grid, build a new airport system, a new air traffic system – I think the public at large would like to hear that.
This is the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal. People said we could never do something like that. It was the largest and most expensive government project ever, but unleashed 100 years of economic trade.
So, we have to think in those large terms. If we do, we can do things. If we believe we are entirely constrained, we can’t do much.
"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed speaks with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore about democracy in the United States and why he thinks the campaign finance system needs an overhaul.
You feel as though a combination of special interests and money have essentially completely corrupted democracy in America.
Functionally corrupted it, yes. You know, we’re told that corporations are people, that money is speech and that might makes right. And we know all of [these] things are contrary to what the United States of America is all about. But because our elected representatives now have to spend most of their time begging rich people to give them money, begging corporations and special interests to give them money, they spend more time worry about the effect of their actions, votes and speeches on these big donors, some of them anonymous, than the time they should be spending thinking about how to serve the interests of the publics they represent.
And you were in the Senate. So when you are raising all that money, when – it's gotten much worse since you were there – those people are expecting certain lines and regulatory codes, lines in the tax code, correct? They’re not paying $50,000 to have breakfast with a congressman because of his personality.
No, not at all. Some of them still do that, I’m sure. But the request for a quid pro quo has become routinely far more brazen than was the case in the past. Fundraisers are often scheduled by special interests according to the legislative calendar when particular bills come up. The same conversations involve legislation and fundraising. Now there are exceptions. There are many honorable men and women. Don’t get me wrong. But there are good people trapped in a very bad system now.
Fareed speaks with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore about the politics of gun control. For the full interview watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS" this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
You and Bill Clinton passed the first big assault weapons ban. Do you believe that that was responsible for your losses in the midterm election, which has cast a shadow on the Democratic Party making even today's conservative Democrats or moderate Democrats very, very reluctant to embrace any kind of tough gun control laws?
I think it was only one of many factors, Fareed. Others, including some with keen political minds, have focused on that as a central element in the 2000 campaign. I think it was only one of many issues. And I think that some have given it way too much responsibility for the result in 2000.
I think that the tragedy at Sandy Hook school is really a watershed event that is likely to change the political discourse. I’m so heartened by the many pro-gun advocates who have said in heartfelt terms, we need to make some changes. It still remains to be seen whether our sclerotic political system can process this change. It’s an open question. But I certainly hope so, and I am encouraged.
And you would say to Democrats, don't run away from this, you're not going to pay a price at the polls.
I think the price – whatever price to be paid – pales in comparison to the duties that they and all of us have to respond to this tragedy.
"I think it’s really important that we be seen to be the party of hope, optimism and opportunity," former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker tells Fareed Zakaria on GPS. “That’s what Ronald Reagan taught us, instead of the party of doom and gloom, we need to be positive and not negative.”
“We need to appeal to those voter groups that we had trouble with. We need to appeal to all minority voters and particularly Hispanic and Asian voters. We need to have a credible and comprehensive immigration plan that we can put forth out there. We need to talk about urban issues and face the fact that we didn't get the votes we needed from urban areas. We didn’t get the votes and don’t get the votes we need from women. Therefore, we need to focus on our economic conservatism more than our social conservatism, because a lot of those issues cut against us in the general election.”
Watch the full interview on GPS this Sunday at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET
By Fareed Zakaria
Over the course of this campaign, commentators on both sides of the political divide seemed to agree on one point: this was a campaign about nothing. Barack Obama’s supporters wanted him to lay out a detailed and ambitious agenda for his second term. Mitt Romney’s fans wanted to hear more about the radical restructuring of government. But in fact, by the standards of most elections, this was a campaign about something very big.
Obama and Romney presented two distinct visions of how to rebuild the American economy. Romney emphasized the need to cut taxes and spending and, in general, shrink government. Obama talked about core investments that would allow the country to compete in this century. (Both agreed, without being specific, that they would pursue their agenda while reducing the deficit.) This is not a trivial divide, and the fact that Obama won should have consequences.