Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Huey Test

John Cole gets it. If everyone would apply this test to every bloviation, if every blogger could tap into it somewhere on the line between "brain" and "keyboard," we could put partisan hackery on the endangered species list.

The issue in question here is the NSA spying debate. But it could apply to any issue relating to federal government.

Regarding this kind of question it shouldn’t matter where you stand politically. Does this theory make you comfortable? Eventually Hillary will win the oval office, or any other Democrat for that matter. The slime machine isn’t particular. Whether or not you love our government today, eventually it will be staffed by people you hate. Do you want them to have the sort of powers that John Yoo claims for the Executive? Does the new idea of legislating by signing statement ... make you comfortable? Look back at those two Clinton years when Democrats controlled Congress, and answer honestly.

Emphasis added. If you think you approve of what the president is doing -- any president -- on the basis of it being a right and proper use of his powers, imagine the politician you'd least like to see in the White House, and imagine him or her with those same powers, using them the same way. Do you still approve?

If you approve of what some pundit or politician says, however audacious, because it's directed at a politician you really dislike, would you consider it such a good thing to say if your likes were reversed? Here's an example. John Murtha goes on national television and says he wouldn't join today's U.S. military, and furthermore he agreed the average American was justified in declining the chance to serve in the U.S. military. Many people said this statement was unwise, at best, but the Bush Derangement Syndrome crowd rushed to his defense.

So, let's apply my standard to these reactions: Before you approve something a politician does you like, imagine the same thing being done by a politician you despise (or vice versa).

Let's say that in 1996, some powerful Republican legisltaor -- a Bob Barr or a Trent Lott, say -- had gone on national television and urged the youth of America to eschew military service, after declaring his opposition to Bill Clinton's policies on things like gays in the military and the attack on Serbia.

Would the anti-Bush commentators have been as rousing in their defense of that politician?

Ideally, you'd subtract individual personalities altogether and consider things abstractly, in the view of the Constitution and the balance of powers and the system created in 1787. But most people really can't do that kind of thinking, let's face it. And the 1787 system was broken apart in the 1860s by Lincoln and never really put back together again. Since then we've been pretty much winging it, balancing powers that didn't even exist in 1787, cobbling together a new system of government with every political generation, retaining only the names and the forms.

So what should we call this useful approach to thinking about presidents and powers? Give me a quick, snappy title for it. The "Do I Look Partisan In This Dress" Test? No, too long. You could call it "Cole's Law," but dang I was thinking of it, too, and he already has a whole lot of blog clout and I don't have any, so why should he get something named in his honor? Anyway, that sounds too much like "Cole Slaw."

My modest suggestion is to call it the Huey Long Test. Not only was Huey Long one of the most divisive politicians in American history -- the love-him-or-hate-him guy -- he's probably most people's idea of someone they wouldn't give free reins to, even if they did put him in office. If you can't quite imagine Hillary/Bush/whomever in the place where they could test the proposition, imagine Huey. And he has a memorable quote that fits this situation, by inverting it:

“The time has come for all good men to rise above principle.”