Thursday, February 28, 2019

Democracies, Scandal and Oversight: A Mighty Long Day

As a dual citizen of the US and Canada, I was quite conflicted: which country should be more embarassed, and should I be upset at the scandals or thrilled at the oversight being exercised?  Let's compare the two crises du jour and how they played out.

First, for those not familiar with the Canadian situation, here's the summary: The Trudeau government is in crisis because it kept pressuring the Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to push the prosecutors to give SNC-Lavalin (a big firm mostly based in Quebec and constantly mired in corruption controversies) a deal rather than prosecute.  Yesterday, JWR, who was shuffled out of that role to be Minister of Veterans Affairs and then left the cabinet when this story broke, testified after much discussion about confidences and prerogatives.  And when she did, she ripped a hole in the Liberal government, as she was quite persuasive that she was pushed out because she would not make a deal despite much pressure and much concern by the government that they would lose jobs, and, more problematically, votes in the next election in Quebec. To be clear, SNC-Lavalin did not pay off the government--they threatened to leave to London (UK), which is a dumb threat in the age of Brexit.  This whole thing is very problematic for the Liberals since the last couple of Liberal governments had their own scandals. 

There had been debate about who should be hearing what.  That a parliamentary committee (whose agenda is usually controlled by the government when it has a majority) gave JWR plenty of room to provide her side of things in an election year showed ... that parliament is not utterly irrelevant (my usual starting point), that it can do oversight, as it can put the government's feet to the fire. 

Meanwhile, in the US, the President's lawyer revealed that Trump has probably engaged in at least 14 felonies.  Oops.  That this happened in Congress is due entirely to the Dems winning the House.  The House under the GOP never did anything like this, and the GOP did not cover itself in glory yesterday.  They tried to defend Trump by attacking Cohen, rather than taking seriously that, well, yeah, the President might be a criminal.

So, which hearing wins?  Depends on what you mean by winning.  If you mean:
  • Salaciousness: then US wins as Cohen's stuff addressed all kinds of illegal activits.
  • Impact on elections: Canada wins since this scandal and yesterday's testimony may cause the Liberals to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
  • Identity politics: a draw as the first Indigenous woman to hold major office in Canada spoke out against mostly white men BUT in the US you had a white man use a Black woman as a stunt and then got called on it.*
  • Perfomance on TV: the big winners are the new women on the Oversight Committee who demonstrated discipline, focus, and strategery.  AOC did a great job of providing investigations with more names, more trails to follow on tax and insurance fraud.  Tlaib did a great job of calling out Meadows.   Pressley pushed on both the Trump Organization as a fake enterprise essentially for Trump's ego and then focused on Trump as racist.
  • Exhausted academics who had much grading to do: nope, we didn't win. 
  • Thrilled academics studying comparative legislative oversight (well, over the armed forces, bu close enough): winners all around!
I do think these events put the Trudeau government into deep trouble.  I don't think this will actually change things in the US--it may force the Dems to try to impeach Trump, but as the GOP showed, they will defend him, so the Senate will not convict

A good day for oversight, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.  It is going to be a mighty long year.

*Spare me the pity party for Mark Meadows--he knowingly tried to argue that Trump is not a racist because at least one Black person works for him and says he isn't a racist.  And no, this is not the first racist act for Meadows since he repeatedly made birther arguments.  

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