Of Bailouts and Toxic Asshats

The bailout didn’t work.

No, Gentle Reader, not the TARP (jury’s still out on that one, although fewer retail chains and banks collapsed after Christmas than I’d anticipated). No, I mean the shelving of my blogging.

oath of office mulligan

Roberts, Rules, Oath of Office Mulligan

i. a short expository lump

I need to stop blogging on such an all-consuming basis. That is the reality. I will be back, that’s reality, too. BUT, I don’t know when. (A little something called $$$ writing has to take priority.)

What to do? What to do?

It has been suggested to me that I adopt the schedule of the actor: you work the grind of the series, and then, during the hiatus, the show goes into reruns, while you go off and do a movie, hoping to escape from the hell of TV series work. (heh heh.)

So, reruns. There’s over two Lord of the Rings‘ worth of backblogs, and I have always had the peculiar talent to write “evergreen” stuff that bears repeating, rather than the ephemera of one day’s story.

And, when the Forces of Evil arise and nobody else is on the job, I can always return from the Cleopatra set to do a guest shot on the series.

ii. Roberts and Robert’s Rules

Infrequently Asked Questions #7405

Why is it Robert’s (singular possessive) and not Roberts’ (plural possessive) or even Roberts (plural, but maybe singular because it could be a last name, and not possessive in the least, but maybe a wee bit envious)?

Robert’s Rules of Order was written by General Henry M. Robert, who was assigned to the newly acquired territory of California, and witnessed utter chaos at public meetings because of a lack of parliamentary procedure (which was invented for just that reason). Here’s the stripped down version from the official website:

Henry Martyn Robert was an engineering officer in the regular Army. Without warning he was asked to preside over a church meeting and realized that he did not know how. He tried anyway and his embarrassment was supreme. This event, which may seem familiar to many readers, left him determined never to attend another meeting until he knew something of parliamentary law.

Ultimately, he discovered and studied the few books then available on the subject. From time to time, due to his military duties, he was transferred to various parts of the United States where he found virtual parliamentary anarchy since each member from a different part of the country had differing ideas of correct procedure. To bring order out of chaos he decided to write Robert’s Rules of Order as it came to be called….

So, let us consider what that has to do with anything. Anything in the news? Oh yes …

You see, of all that blather that I’ve seen about the Oath and the “Flub heard ’round the world,” nobody seems to have come anywhere close to what the hell this is about. The righties claim that the oath wasn’t properly taken and put on tin foil hats and yell “President Biden” (and even weirder stuff).

The lefties say that this is all meaningless pfiffle, fundum and flabberdyghast.


I say they’re both blowing smoke. It IS important, but not for reasons that I’ve yet seen elucidated. At the Washington Monthly’ Political Animal one of the best blogs out there, and run at a fever pitch by the hardest working blogger in the blogosphere, Scintillating Steve Benin — I witnessed a typically crazy non-sequitur comments interchange, and left this comment:

You know, this is a great opportunity.

First, you get somebody (mediagenic) and simply administer the oath in the Oval Office with a couple witnesses and the White House photog.

No big deal: five minutes max.

It’s a simple ceremony, and, as I recall, when Calvin Coolidge was informed at his farm in Vermont that Warren G. Harding was dead, his father, a Justice of the Peace, administered the Oath of Office. We all remember that iconic photo of LBJ being administered the oath on the plane, with Lady Bird and Jacqueline Kennedy in frame.


Because the oath is right there in Section II of the Constitution. OK?

THEN, you issue a press release (low drama) saying that it’s VERY IMPORTANT to get the law exactly right, and use that to show a clean break from the fast-and-loose legalism of the Bushies, i.e. “We are going to hold ourselves to a strict accountability.”

End of annoyance. Lemons made into lemonade.

And, you can (with proper, corny oath administerer) give a huge shot in the arm to the commemorative plate and defaced coin industry.

It’s a teaching moment, and Obama, as a Constitutional scholar (remember what he taught at U of Chicago) says that the law MUST be followed to the letter.

Any embarrassment to John G. Roberts would be entirely Roberts’ problem, but it would be a useful sting to someone who seems to have a very self-satisfied idea about how much of a legal know-it-all he is, but that’s merely a parenthetical.

THE issue of this election is, in a deep sense, about lawfulness, and it’s a grand opportunity to seize the initiative in a non-dramatic but profound manner.

And it opens the conversation on how strictly Bush et al should be held to account. Otherwise, it becomes a festering sore that one might have lanced in less time than it took me to write this.

Posted by: Hart Williams on January 21, 2009 at 11:26 AM ET PERMALINK

And, later in the afternoon, President Obama (it’s so great to be able to use that title again, after eight years of self-imposed gag order until we got a legitimate one) did me one better, and I bow to his wiser decision:

Obama takes presidential oath again after stumble
Wed Jan 21, 9:24 pm ET

WASHINGTON AP– After the flub heard around the world, President Barack Obama has taken the oath of office. Again. Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the oath to Obama on Wednesday night at the White House — a rare do-over. The surprise moment came in response to Tuesday’s much-noticed stumble, when Roberts got the words of the oath a little off, which prompted Obama to do so, too.


[Greg] Craig, the White House lawyer, said in a statement Wednesday evening: “We believe the oath of office was administered effectively and that the president was sworn in appropriately yesterday. Yet the oath appears in the Constitution itself. And out of the abundance of caution, because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice John Roberts will administer the oath a second time.”

The Constitution is clear about the exact wording of the oath and as a result, some constitutional experts have said that a do-over probably wasn’t necessary but also couldn’t hurt. Two other previous presidents have repeated the oath because of similar issues, Calvin Coolidge and Chester A. Arthur.

And — the New York Times notes — it took less than 25 seconds — far less time than it took me to comment above.


This is not a sideshow. This is important, and I am gratified at the result — but alas, the bloviasphere doesn’t seem to have anyone out there who understands WHY.

It bespeaks in the most profound manner possible, a return to the rule of law. No man is above the law, is its essence, and the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court and the President of the United States of America mutually recognized and honored the Constitution, Article II. Section I, which I learned by heart in high school, in Lt. Aguilera’s Citizenship (or, Civics or Government) class.

Or, if you prefer the math: POTUS + SCOTUS = RULE OF LAW

Which includes the presidential oath of office.


It’s called FOLLOWING the bylaws.

One of the most important things I learned in grassroots politics is that, while the bylaws of virtually all organizations, associations, political parties and unions state that Robert’s Rules of Order (which were based on congressional parliamentary rules) shall be used, no one uses them.

I won’t back up this assertion here, but the costs to democracy and democratic process have been incalculable. I remember several years ago, when an Oregon State Senator was the chair of the state Democratic platform convention, and had not a CLUE as to how parliamentary procedure worked — which is shocking, but, alas, common — and, worse, the parliamentarian* DIDN’T HAVE ANY IDEA, EITHER!

[* At least here out West, in the most vote-happy state in the Union, the position of ”Parliamentarian” is, these days, purely an honorary office, usually to mollify some passed-over would-be politician or college student, or even the Chair’s kid.]

Three hundred looney liberals and not a parliamentary procedure in sight? (The same holds for the GOP, the Greens and even the Constitution parties.)

Yep. We pass bylaws and don’t use them, to our extreme disadvantage.

Why disadvantage?



Because those rules for holding public and democratic meetings have evolved since Magna-freaking-Carta to ensure effectiveness, efficiency and fairness. By not using them, and imagining that they shall reinvent the wheel, political organizations at all levels operate in a vacuum of capricious, arbitrary, unfair and ultimately self-defeating power plays. Elections are disrespected from the moment of their outcome, and consensus is shattered permanently as grudges and vendettas overtake process.

The idea of constitutional government was the engine of our revolution (the oldest working constitution in the world is the Massachusetts constitution written by John Adams, and the model for the U.S. Constitution, with separation of powers, and independent judiciary, checks and balances and the rest.) And each state has its constitution and each organization its bylaws. In many cases, such bylaws and operating rules are required by law — in the case of most nonprofits.


So: when the bylaws aren’t followed, and the orderly, fair procedures prescribed in Robert’s Rules of Order (which used to be taught in high schools) aren’t followed, democracy is threatened. We’ve just seen eight years of it.

Here’s that all-important section of the bylaws:

Article. II.
Section. 1.

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:


Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:–“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Section. 2. (the departed Usurper’s favorite section)

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States …

It’s not a magical formula. But rules have to mean something, and the Constitution most of all. There are thirty five words there, to which, since Washington, has been added “So help me God,” but that last is not required by the Constitution, but, rather because if you don’t you’ll piss a whole lot of people off for a whole lot of reasons, so just say it.

Which President Obama did.



In 2006, at the state convention of a tax professional’s organization, the same thing happened. The president, an unctuous and somewhat bizarre Konservative who’s run quixotic campaigns for state office — and whom I personally find disagreeable, although he seemingly fancies himself the Queen of the May — made a great show of installing the new officers and completely screwed up the installation oath whilst ad-libbing, japing and generally gibbering.

You know, swearing in is swearing in, whether before 1.8 million people on the D.C. Capitol Mall, or in front of one hundred or so after a rubber chicken meal in a hotel banquet hall.

After the meeting, I apprised the incoming officers of the situation and noted that, as a legally chartered organization, required by law to follow their bylaws in this regard, they would have to have the officers retake the oath … which I suggested they might do quietly at the first executive committee, later.

When they talked it over, they came to the same conclusion, and it was done.

Tax preparers understood that the law has to be followed, whether it’s inconvenient or not. That is the price of the rule of law, and the price of a civil society.

And so, what everybody’s laughing off is, I believe, quite profoundly meaningful, and you will notice it “trickling down” in the weeks and months that follow.

A new president’s management style transfers almost by magical osmosis, to social organization at all levels. I don’t know why it’s so, but it’s so.

When Jimmy Carter was in office, everybody micromanaged, too. When Reagan came into office, “power naps” and delegation sprang up everywhere.


And, when George the Usurper squatted in the White House, I noticed that even the local Democratic party became secretive, authority-driven and bizarrely corrupt in an eerily Bushian way.*

[* MSNBC reports that the Washington Post has determined:

Bush vacation days = 2.8 years
(at taxpayer expense, with full use of 747, helicopters, etc.)

149 visits Camp David ………….. 487 days
77 visits Crawford, TX …………. 490
11 visits Kennebunkport ………. 43
TOTAL …………………………….. 1020 days

= 34% of time in office
= 2.8 years (2.7945) or 2 years 9 months 18 days]

So, this little FOLLOW THE BYLAWS episode may well have a beneficial effect that we will all benefit from in the months and years that follow.


Which brings us to the titular chapeaux for lower terminus of the alimentary canal .

iii. A Hall of Asshat Fame.

  • Sen. John Cornyn, (Asshat Supremo, TX), who held up Hillary Clinton’s confirmation vote on the senate floor for one day, even while he said — and did — he would vote for her. This is called ABusing parliamentary rules to bring chaos to the system. It serves no public good, and Sen. Cornyn has been acting like an Asshat Supremo possibly because he’s now the Chairman of the Republiklan Senatorial (re)Election Committee.

Just like Bob Dole: Party over Country, the poster child of the malaise of mindless partisanship that would rather wreck the ship of state than allow anyone else’s hand on the tiller.

And, you gotta hand it to Cornyn: it was particularly petty, childish and vain.

  • Diaper-wearing, hooker-lovin’ Sen. David Vitter, (Asshat, LA) who voted against Hillary Clinton because he was still troubled by Bill Clinton’s charity.
  • Sen. Jim DeMint, (Asshat, SC), who backed up his skating-around-the-law brother idiot from Looooozey-anna.
  • And, Senators Cornyn and Arlen Specter (Asshat, PA) have decided to delay the Attorney General confirmation a week, because they didn’t have enough time to waddle through the Clinton pardon trash (and they are nervous about a “witch hunt” — Cornyn — i.e. torture prosecutions).

Again, parliamentary anarchy. Soon, it may escalate to parliamentary terrorism (filibustering and obstructing) as seen in the last episode of “As My Stomach Turns” — that long-running Gingrichian soap opera of fear, queer and smear we’ve mostly all grown so sick of.

It would seem that the only strategy the Republiklans can come up with is to try and link the Clinton scandals (and non-scandals) to the Obama Administration, and, therefore, dredge up all their old Clinton stuff, like, you know, Vince Foster.

I guess I’m not the only one who’s going into reruns.

Tomorrow’s Rerun: Robert’s Rules. (But not on DD.)


Bookmark and Share

About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.

Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Of Bailouts and Toxic Asshats

  1. Ginny in CO says:

    Hey Hart,

    While on a very LONG hold I thought, geesh I could stop by the DD and see what’s up. Thanks for doing a drive by. Very good on Robert’s Rules.

    I’m a Unitarian-Universalist. The guy in Tennesee who had been reading Hannity and Coulter chose a UU church to go shoot people because we are uber liberal. Don’t accept JC as the savior, etc. I learned Bob’s Rulz in Anchorage as a board member of the UU church there. As one other member put it, we will argue for a half hour on the price we are willing to pay for coffee cups that have to be sent to the dump vs washing real cups every Sunday. We used the rules, we generally got out board meetings and church (business) meetings done on time and without becoming enemies.

    NCLB was being discussed on Air America today. I suspect the Rules went off to the dump along with music, art, PE, American Government and the last 25 years of history because someone might put some political spin on it. Now we can start bringing them back. I’d like to also tax all the pro teams for what it costs the public schools to produce the star players they eventually make millions on. Hey, gotta have a dream.

    I wrote ‘President Obama’ yesterday and had to stop and just smile at it for awhile. I never put the title and the last name of 41 and 43 together in writing or speaking. If I needed to be respectful, it was just Mr Bush.

    Just for grins and giggles, I might just punish myself with writing President Barack Obama 100 times. 🙂 🙂 🙂


  2. Darrell Prows says:

    What better way for Obama to begin his behind the scenes lobbying of the Chief Justice/Court than by very discretely showing the dude that even he/they are going to be under the microscope?

  3. Hart Williams says:

    Good point, Darrell, although “lobbying” isn’t exactly the right word. Woodward in his The Brethren noted that the Supremes ARE a lot more aware of (and swayed) by public opinion than they’d care to admit. On the other hand, in the Nixon tapes just released last month, there is a phone conversation recorded between Nixon and Chief Justice Burger where they TALK about the landmark obscenity case Miller v. California, which was then BEING DECIDED. Which is totally beyond the pale, and IS lobbying. So, let’s make that distinction. Burger ought to have been impeached on the grounds of that phone call alone, because you don’t talk about cases currently in disposition while the proceedings are underway … at ANY level of the judiciary, from Justice of the Peace to Supreme Court.

  4. Hart Williams says:

    Thanks for that, Ginny. You were one of the names I couldn’t recall on “Thank YOU” and I always appreciate your comments. Robert’s Rules is almost dead, but perhaps it might revivify with a little of the old “Rule of Law” action.

    We can always hope.