Belmont Club

Perro del Hortelano

One of the more interesting Spanish expressions is the cryptic phrase “ser como el perro del hortelano, que ni come ni deja comer” which literally means ‘to be like the gardener’s dog, who neither eats vegetables nor lets anyone else eat them.’  The English equivalent is “dog in the manger“.

‘A churlish envious Cur was gotten into a manger, and there lay growling and snarling to keep the Provender. The Dog eat none himself, and yet rather ventur’d the starving his own Carcase than he would suffer any Thing to be the better for’t.

The sense of it is conveyed by the example of a boyfriend who doesn’t love a girl any more, but keeps her around so she can’t go out with anyone else. If you listened to president Obama’s surly post-election speech it should be clear by now he’s realized that his sole remaining card is to be the metaphorical dog in the manger.

The media is full of stories about how the main challenge facing newly elected Republicans is to craft a defense policy, implement a working health insurance system and to get trade going. They have to drive, as it were from the back seat, because the dog in the manger is sitting up front, knowing he is important and will be humored for as long as he keeps the whole trip hostage.

Nikkei.com describes the Japanese point of view.  “The world cannot risk a standstill or retreat from the global powerhouse. The fight against the Islamic State terrorist group, or the containment of Ebola, would become even bigger challenges without strong leadership by the U.S. The lack of a ‘global policeman’ could also trigger another Ukraine-like crisis”

Therefore the GOP must be adult enough for two.  Nikkei continues, “there is a possibility that Republicans, who have until now been driven by the desire to block Obama’s every move, could be awakened by a sense of leadership and turn pragmatic with an eye toward the 2016 presidential election. Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, points out Obama may now have an easier time garnering support for the TPP, and for intervention in Iraq and Syria.”

This has led to a lot of Wishing Upon a Star.  Bill Gertz writes, “U.S. strategic nuclear forces, both weapons and personnel, are experiencing serious problems that must be addressed urgently. That is a central conclusion of a new study called the “Nuclear Enterprise Review” that the Pentagon is expected to release next week, according to defense officials familiar with the study.” The hope is that “someone” will fix all the stuff Obama broke.

And yet it’s hard to imagine Mitch McConnell being that someone; to envision him grabbing president Obama by both arms and doing a Humphrey Bogart. “You said I was to do the thinking for both of us. Well, I’ve done a lot of it since then, and it all adds up to one thing: you’re getting on that plane with Victor where you belong.”

Because like as not the president is likely to tell him, “Viktor Lazlo, the whole War on Nazis thing … that’s your problem now bub.”

It’s somewhat disconcerting to read, from Eli Lake, that “in an interview Wednesday, Sen. John McCain, the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he has already discussed a new national-security agenda with fellow Republicans Bob Corker and Richard Burr, the likely incoming chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.”

Other hawks like McCain have been around for years, but are now back in control of the powerful committees that exercise oversight of the Executive Branch’s foreign policy and war fighting.

McCain said his first order of business as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee will be to end the budget rule known as sequestration, which requires the U.S. military to cut its budget across the board. “I want to start an examination of our policies in the world and then find out whether we have the capability to meet these expectations,” McCain said. McCain also said he would use his chairmanship to root out overspending at the Pentagon, but he emphasized his desire to reverse sequestration.

Disconcerting because things probably can’t go back to business as usual. They just can’t pick up where things left off. In the first place, the very emergence of the Obama presidency strongly suggests that no traditional Republican policy can be pursued for any length of time beyond a single presidential term before the Left drags it down. In a very real sense Obama broke the bipartisan cycle. Unlike Eisenhower, he did not adopt his predecessor’s policy to make it bipartisan. Nor can Obama’s successor make the statesmanlike gesture of enshrining the current president’s policies either unless they want to commit America to program of bipartisan suicide.

Any holes the current GOP crop tries to plug can easily be reopened by the next Obama-like president because the political constituency which supports him has discovered a brand new power: the ability to leave their rivals with no where to pick up. They simply demolish everything their predecessors have built to make the point that unless things are done their way,  nothing gets done at all.   Ser como el perro del hortelano, que ni come ni deja comer.

For this reason, the 2014 midterms are merely a first step to resolving a very deep seated political division. I have written elsewhere that the key to resolving the underlying split lies to a great extent, within the Democratic Party.  Approximately half the country, in any given era, will lie to the left of a notional line down the middle.  For consensus to be rational, both the Left and Right must be fundamentally rational.  What has been conspicuously absent till now has been a movement in the left towards the 21st century.  That is an act that has yet to begin.  May it come soon.


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