Attack on John Kline: A case study of our current political dysfunction

MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
ALG and Rep. John Kline, above, are, in a general sense, on the same side of the great policy divide and on the narrower set of contemporary issues relating to immigration and deportation.

For those, including your humble and obedient ink-stained wretch, who spend too much time following government and politics, there is no shortage of opportunities to document the nature and scope of the current dysfunction. But here’s one that happened to land in my inbox that, in no spectacular way — in fact, in a now altogether ordinary way — provides an entry point for understanding where we are.

It is a press release from Americans for Limited Government (ALG) attacking one of its own, Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, who voted for the most recent “clean bill” funding the budget of the Department of Homeland Security.

In this instance, “clean bill” means this version of the department’s budget that didn’t explicitly prohibit the executive branch from using any of the funds to implement President Obama’s executive orders to halt deportation efforts against various categories of immigrants who entered the country illegally.

In one general press release (and smaller localized ones focusing on the vote of each of each target), ALG doesn’t just disagree with the 75 Republicans who voted in favor of “cleanly” funding DHS, doesn’t just criticize them for doing so, ALG accuses them of cowardice, or aiding and abetting “the shredding of the U.S. Constitution,” and of violating their oath of office by voting to keep the Department of Homeland Security open with all of its employees getting paid.

As you can tell by the name, Americans for Limited Government is a righty group that thinks government does too much. And, as you can see if you take its name literally, it seeks to imply that anyone who favors the government doing anything that ALG thinks the government shouldn’t do must be in favor of “unlimited government,” although in a literal sense that describes almost no Americans. This is part of the modern way of using language to turn honest policy differences into clashes between darkness and light.

ALG and John Kline are, in a general sense, on the same side of the great policy divide and on the narrower set of contemporary issues relating to immigration and deportation. Kline consistently voted for building a fence on the border and opposes efforts to make it easier for undocumented immigrants to stay in the country.

ALG and Kline both oppose Obama’s executive orders granting “clemency” to certain categories of undocumented immigrants and both agree that he exceeded his constitutional authority in issuing them.

Key differences

Their differences on the recent vote come down to the question of whether House Republicans should have continued to insist on blocking funding for Obama’s orders after it was clear that to do so would mean the shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, furloughing many of its employees and requiring others to work without pay.

In the end, the whole thing had a bit of a kabuki theater quality. The Republican leadership in both houses of Congress has decided, and has announced, that it is anxious to avoid actions that make the party look too radical, crazy or dangerous. Trying to impeach Obama, risking the credit rating of the United States by refusing the raise the debt ceiling and shutting down important departments of the government are on the list of things they fear might make them look that way. Undoubtedly, there was some discussion behind closed doors and probably some polling about which party the public would blame if the Homeland Security shutdown had occurred, and it was concluded that the Republicans would be blamed.

So a certain number of Republicans had to join almost all the Democrats to pass the funding bill. The majority of House Republicans did vote in favor shutting down the department (although technically, all they favored was passing a bill to fund the department that would not have become law and ultimately would have resulted in a shutdown). Among House Republicans it was 167-75 (with three not voting) to reject the “clean” bill. But with all Democrats who voted (six did not vote), those 75 Republicans created a majority to end the “shutdown” crisis for now.

So to call this an example of the current dysfunction, as I did above, might be an overstatement. In our strangely structured constitutional form of government, when control of various top power positions is divided across party lines (as it usually is), compromises or bipartisan coalitions are necessary for almost any action to occur. ‘Twas ever thus.

But this action was not really a compromise. Obama, believing (correctly, after six years of waiting for it to happen) that a compromise immigration law could not reach his desk, chose to stretch the limits of his executive authority (using a power that he had previously said he lacked) to grant a form of “amnesty” to portion of the undocumented immigrants. The time to compromise was past and the Republicans had to choose between surrender and shutdown. After a couple of acts of the kabuki play in which they acted like they might choose shutdown, they chose a form of surrender that required only a third of their number to leave their fingerprints on the document of surrender.

Punish or threaten

Then comes a group like ALG to punish or at least threaten the quislings who collaborated. One of the reasons for the current dysfunction is that certain important players and funders and presidential aspirants, disproportionately on the Republican side, have decided that compromise is bad. So, at the end of a sad story like this one, they put out a press release shaming the quislings and warning them against future acts of similar perfidy.

Reps. Kline, Erik Paulsen and Tom Emmer — all three voted for the “clean” homeland security bill — represent relatively (but not extremely) safe Republican districts. It used to be that an entrenched incumbent House member didn’t have to worry much about a primary challenge. But the new normal, especially on the Republican side, is that many incumbents do have to worry about a Tea Party-ish or Libertarian or Moral Majoritarian primary challenger. And one of the ways to bring such a challenge upon oneself is to be among the rank-breakers from the righty line on an issue like “amnesty for illegal immigrants.”

Personally, I don’t believe the three Minnesotans have that much to worry about on that score. And they were not singled out for the ALG treatment. But the ALG denunciation is intended to warn all of the 75 rank-breakers that they need to worry constantly about drifting toward the mushy center or toward future hideous acts of compromise.

Here’s the full text of the ALG press release, which ends with a list of the traitorous 75:

“Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning today issued the following statement condemning 75 House Republicans who voted to fund President Barack Obama’s unconstitutional executive amnesty for 4.5 million illegal immigrants with U.S.-born children:

“The vote to fund President Obama’s unconstitutional executive amnesty will have a profound negative impact on our nation for years to come. The 75 Republicans who lost courage have aided and abetted the shredding of the U.S. Constitution by giving Obama the funds to rewrite federal law.

“Each of these Republicans took an oath of office less than two months prior to their vote. And in that oath, they swore to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Their failure may forever put Congress in a junior rubberstamp role for any presidential action. There is a time when every elected official is forced to make a choice. Unfortunately, the cowardly 75 chose to violate their oaths and break trust with America.

“I sincerely hope that the 75 find the heart to stand up to the President in the many upcoming battles.”

Correction: As originally published, this post contained an inaccurate description of a group active in immigration matters. FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, is not liberal advocacy group, as I described it, but a very conservative one. I have removed the inaccurate reference and appreciate the MinnPost reader who called the error to my attention. EB.

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/10/2015 - 09:05 am.

    Follow the Money

    It would, of course, be VERY useful and interesting to see which dysfunctional INDIVIDUAL(s) underwrite(s) “Americans for Limited Government.”

    We tend not to find, in such individuals, paragons of emotional/spiritual/psychological health,…

    but, rather, those with underlying issues which make MOST healthy folk stay clear of them on an interpersonal basis,…

    their entourages being made up of those hoping for a few crumbs to fall from their master’s table,…

    and/or those hoping to make up for their own sense of powerlessness by allying themselves with people they perceive to be, and grant the right to be, in possession of far more power than any one person can handle in non-corrupting ways.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 03/10/2015 - 10:49 am.

      If you REALLY wanted to follow the money

      it would lead to the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies who have been asking congress and Obama for open borders to take advantage of that cheap labor. The money trail leads to corporate America.

      The mystery of the universe is why labor unions and people looking for entry level jobs would support the democrats and those corrupt republicans on the immigration issue. Unless they have no interest in finding work, which would be believable too.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/10/2015 - 04:56 pm.

        Immigrants boost the economy

        pay taxes and stimulate demand,
        ultimately leading to more jobs.
        That’s why you have bipartisan support.

  2. Submitted by jody rooney on 03/10/2015 - 09:07 am.

    Does this mean there is hope of Kline?

    Or is it that he just wanted to make sure that his retirement buddies were employed.

    It would be nice if he returned to his pragmatic military roots.

  3. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/10/2015 - 09:08 am.

    I assume that the ALG

    has taken an oath not to consume any products grown or manufactured by these illegal immigrants.
    I also assume that all of the members of the ALG are Native Americans, since anyone else is the descendent of illegal immigrants.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/10/2015 - 09:29 am.

    About time

    The entire notion of “limited government” was always incoherent nonsense. No one on the US political landscape ever promoted “unlimited” government so the small guvmint agenda was never anything more than an attack on a self composed stereotype. The fact that so many people, liberals and conservatives alike, fell for it, just proves that a supposedly educated electorate can have serious intellectual problems.

    Forget the fact that no one promoting “limited” government ever actually described their objective, i.e. what exactly are you talking about? We already have a Constitution and a 200+ year record of working the limits of Government authority so what exactly are you offering? What even IS a small government? You mean like Somalia? The question was NEVER how big the government should be, the question is what do you want your government to do and not do. We settle that question with a little something we like to call elections and democracy. The government is a “big” and or “limited” as it’s needs to be in order to do or not do what citizens want it to do.

    D.J.Tice has a funny commentary in the last Sunday’s Strib. Our erstwhile conservative voice of reason catalogs a number of government “fails” in recent years. Strange isn’t it? You spend decades attacking government, cutting budgets, demolishing revenue streams, and firing government workers, and the government ends up not being able to function properly. Who saw THAT coming?

    Kline and his ilk had some electoral success with their stereotypes for a few years but it was always destined to implode under the weight of sooo much ignorant intolerance. What always struck me as funny is the fact that all these self appointed defenders of individual liberties find it so impossible to tolerate a difference of opinion. This is way totalitarianism always emerges from the end of the political spectrum, in the end they can’t reconcile freedom with ideological compliance. Reason #367 why “libertarianism” ends up being incoherent on a basic level. Compliance with rigid ideology always ends up trumping individual liberty.

  5. Submitted by joe smith on 03/10/2015 - 10:31 am.

    Any Govt that big enough to get the USA close to 19 trillion in debt is too big. When elected officials go to Washington DC broke and leave as multi millionaires 10 yrs later, it is too big and too corrupt. When deficit spending annually is expected, even when the Federal Govt takes in 3 trillion dollars a yr, it is too big. When the CBO reports 10’s of billions dollars in waste and fraud every year in the budget and no one even raises an eyebrow, it is too big. The too big list goes on and on.

    • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/10/2015 - 12:57 pm.

      You Are Confusing “Big Government”

      with government that is currently in the position,…

      (which it already was, quite a bit before, but now TOTALLY is after “Citizens United,”)…

      where politicians are being enriched and corrupted by their association,…

      with K Street lobbyists.

      Those who desire to impact and influence the politicians who are supposed to be working on the behalf of those of us who elect them,…

      and for the overall good of the country,…

      are the ones responsible for growing the size of the government and incurring our current level of deficit and debt,…

      for all of which, if they could manage it, they would refuse to contribute even a single penny to help pay, even though they are the ones in our society who currently have all the money.

      Shorter version – it’s not “government” but BUSINESS AND FINANCIAL CONCERNS and the ability the ability they have to manipulate government (and the media) on their behalf that have grown too “BIG”.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/10/2015 - 03:30 pm.

      Basic math ….

      The government doesn’t have a $19 trillion debt because it’s too big. The debt exists because Americans thought they could have a government, fight wars, and build Aircraft Carriers without paying for it. Someone somewhere (I forget who) kept telling Americans that if they just kept cutting taxes and making the government “smaller”, the debt would magically go away and no one would have to pay for anything because tax cuts pay for themselves. Who was it said again?

      As for these other claims, government costs what it costs. If it costs $3 trillion a year, that’s not “too much”, that’s what it costs. You don’t make those expenses magically disappear by cutting taxes. As for waste and fraud, again, if you want more efficient government, make government more efficient. Laying off the people who monitor fraud and compliance won’t magically produce more efficiency. Cutting budgets and taxes doesn’t magically produce efficiency. And anyways, compared to the private sector the government a lot more efficient to begin with… but I’m all for making it better.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/10/2015 - 08:19 pm.

        And of course

        about half of the debt is owned by Americans, so we’re in debt to ourselves.
        National debt for an economy the size of ours is not like family debt.
        Rather than diverting our resources to some outside entity, we’re reallocating our resources within our own system.
        And some of the debt is necessary simply for the government to operate. We don’t ship gold bars around any more, so we need some way to transfer funds symbolically. A good portion of the debt is therefore short term.
        If you want to eliminate government spending, we could make all roads toll pikes, have everyone pay for their own police and fire protection, etc. There was a time when this was the norm. These days, most of us prefer to pay for these services as a package under the supervision of our elected representatives.

  6. Submitted by joe smith on 03/10/2015 - 10:29 pm.

    The reason they spend 3 trillion of our money is 50 million on conventions for IRS in 2 yrs, 350,000 on how massage affect rabbits, 5 million dollars on signs telling you the Govt is doing the road work you are driving on. Always easy to spend other peoples money. My favorite spending is the 95 BILLION spent annually on redundancy programs that their own accounting office said were not necessary. That is why our Fed Govt needs to be smaller.

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