The Unfortunate Override

I’m not sure this qualifies as the biggest political story of last week but to a political junkie it is the most interesting. For the first time during the Obama administration Congress overrode a veto. From the standpoint of practical politics I can see why Obama vetoed the bill and I can equally see why the vast majority in both chambers voted to override the veto. This illustrates a flaw in our political system and I’d like to explore it a bit today.

The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act allows American citizens to sue foreign governments that allegedly sponsor terrorism. It was specifically aimed at Saudi Arabia in an effort to aid the families of victims of 9/11. President Obama vetoed it because it doesn’t really help the victims’ families while it is bad for America and he can disregard the politics because he will never stand for election again. The Senate voted 97-1 and the House 348-77 to override specifically because the vast majority of them will have to face the voters again in the future; most this November.

The original bill passed both chambers without a recorded vote. That saved everyone from having to publically take a stand. The members of Congress know it is bad legislation but they could all see the 30 second commercial a future opponent would make portraying them as taking the side of the terrorists over that of the families of victims of a terrorist act. While there is a significant amount of political self-preservation in Washington there is almost no courage.

The brief version of why it is a bad bill is that victims’ families will almost never be able to prove a foreign government’s complicity. Therefore from a practical standpoint the legislation is meaningless and worthless. It also opens the way for foreign countries to hold America and in some case high ranking American officials liable for the actions of Americans. The bottom line is this legislation accomplishes nothing while exposing America and Americans to possible harm. The problem is the damn things sounds good on the surface.

In the Senate the lone vote to uphold the veto came from Harry Reid of Nevada. Reid is retiring at the end of this session, not standing for reelection and has no intention of every running for elected office again.

I ask you to consider the vast majority of elected Republicans who are either endorsing Donald Trump or at least refusing to repudiate him. Again I think they are playing politics. They fear alienating the portion of the GOP base who actually likes Trump. To a lesser degree they fear not being looked upon as a team player by the more moderate portion of the base. It is simply easier to minimize conversations about Trump and pretend you are supporting him.

Notably retired Republicans and those who garner their positions via appointment instead of election are overwhelmingly coming out against Trump and in many cases in favor of Hillary Clinton.

I am viewing newspaper endorsements in a somewhat similar vein. As of this writing no major daily newspaper has endorsed Trump and that includes newspapers that have never endorsed a Democrat before. In fact Gary Johnson actually has more endorsements than Trump at a score of 1-0.  Many newspapers have gone so far as to print editorials denouncing Trump in addition to their Clinton endorsement. Newspapers increasingly operate in one newspaper markets and don’t have to fear losing loyal conservative readers as in days of old.

We have a situation where political practicality trumped (no pun intended) patriotism. While a progressive I view myself as politically practical. The sad reality is that had I been advising a non-retiring member of Congress I would have advised them to vote to override Obama’s veto. Had I been advising Obama I would have advised him to veto the bill. Therein lays one of the problems in our political system.

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