Saturday, April 16, 2011

Weimar Republic redux

We’re looking more like the Weimar Republic every day. Without the hyper-inflation. But with the same panicked populace.

There may even be some of you who remember a post that I did after the legislative session in Minnesota in 2009, quoting Sandy Levinson, a constitutional law professor at the University of Texas, who wrote:

Constitutional design buffs should certainly find much of interest in today's newspapers, especially with regard to the oft-argued role of American states as "little laboratories of experimentation." One state is offering us an example of American-style "constitutional dictatorship," [Minnesota]  while another demonstrates in spades the ravages of a dysfunctional constitution [California].

First, on "constitutional dictatorship," there is, somewhat surprisingly, Minnesota, where Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a favorite of the Republican right wing (assuming there is anything else than a right wing in the GOP these days) is apparently going to use all of his powers under the Minnesota [Constitution; others] have exercised such powers, but Pawlenty's exercise in unilateral government seems to be of a different magnitude. Perhaps we should view Minnesota as having the equivalent of a Weimar Constitution Article 48, the "emergency powers clause" that allowed the president to govern by fiat. Throughout the 1920s, it was invoked more than 200 times to respond to the economic crisis. Pawlenty is sounding the same theme, as he prepares to slash spending on all sorts of public services. The fact that this will increase his attractiveness to the Republican Right, for the 2012 presidential race that has already begun, is, of course, an added benefit, since one doubts that he is banking on a political future within Minnesota itself (which didn't give him a majority at the last election; he was elected, as was Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, only because of the presence of third-party candidates). One might also look forward to whether he will refuse to certify Al Franken's election to the Senate even after the Minnesota Supreme Court, like all other Minnesota courts, says that he has won. Whoever thought that Minnesota would be the leading example of a 21st-century version of "constitutional dictatorship" among the American states? [when Coleman threw in the towel, Governor Gutshot signed the certificate]  [italics are mine]

Levinson was making his observations about Pawlenty’s exercise of the power of unallotment, a maneuver ultimately determined to be unconstitutional by the Minnesota Supreme Court, in a cause entitled Brayton v. Governor Gutshot. Well, okay, it was really Brayton v. Pawlenty.

A similar exercise – governing by executive fiat – is happening now in Benton Harbor, Michigan:

As you probably know, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder recently signed legislation passed by the Republican-dominated House and Senate that gives State-appointed Emergency Financial Managers (EFMs) historically broad and sweeping powers. These new powers allow the EFM to cancel or modify contracts (including with unions) and even to fire the municipality's government.

Today, for the first time, a EFM did just that. According to a press release from the Michigan AFL-CIO, Joseph L. Harris, EFM for Benton Harbor, Michigan issued "an order prohibiting all action by all city boards, commissions, authorities and other entities, except as authorized by the emergency manager."

Pawlenty’s unallotment is of a piece with this action in Michigan. Both are arrogant and authoritarian power grabs by Republican government executives, antithetical to core notions of a democratic society. We ignore or suffer this stuff at our peril. It is in economic crisis when the charlatans appear: Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip. {Windrip was the authoritarian dictator in the US in the ‘30s in Sinclair Lewis’ novel It Can’t Happen Here.)

And by the way, it’s Sinclair Lewis that people ought to be reading and watching, not the shallow pseudo-intellectual Ayn Rand.

A thump of the tail to E.C. Fish for a link to the Michigan news.

Update: Governor Scott Walker has a similar plan coming for a state near you.

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