Thursday, December 3, 2015

Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States, Vladimir Putin

In which we follow our intrepid blogger into a rabbit hole of alternative future history, as a means, not of exploring the possibility that Vladimir Putin could actually be elected President, but of exploring whether or not, Congress could, by ordinary legislation, make his election possible.

A grueling two years has done little to provide confidence to him in a smooth bid for re-election. His base continues to suffer under the burgeoning federal debt.  While federal figures suggest declining unemployment, those figures fail to account for the permanently unemployed. His home State’s payroll sits below the national average, has the highest debt service to State income ratio in the Nation. While hopes can occasionally be buoyed by a successful Wildcats or Cardinals season in the college ranks, the outlook for the Majority Leader is not rosy.

Privately, his managers tell him to consider options for post-Senatorial service, perhaps lobbying, or leading a national think tank, or serving on corporate boards. He goes to bed night after night with a gnawing fear that he would have worked so hard to secure a Republican majority in the Senate but suffer being outcast because the public perception of that majority is that it has been a makeweight that has failed to rescue a nation suffering under two terms of a dour child’s presidency.

On this particular night, though troubled in the thought of laying down, his sleep medication, a lovely hot toddy featuring Kentucky’s Champagne of bourbon, Maker’s Mark, has done the job of smoothing the edges of his worries, and Mitch McConnell drifts toward what he hopes will be a dreamless and undisturbed slumber.

Our scene now shifts to the well of the United States House of Representatives. There is a buzz, a hubbub, and a roiling mass of humanity in the chamber. Just as every winter when the House plays host to the Senate, to the Supreme Court, and to honored guests to receive the President’s State of the Union address, so the scene appears as we look in on it. What is our vantage point? The scene we see before us as through the eyes of Senator Mitch McConnell, on the upmost dais of the House, seated just to the right of Speaker Paul Ryan.

There is a loud rapping on the door of the House Chamber. The door is opened. Members of the appointed reception committee enter, and one speaks aloud:
“Mr. Speaker, Mr. Majority Leader, Senators, Representatives, Justices, Honored Guests: Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation.”
Thunderous applause erupts from the crowd. Of course, the applause is not a gift offered equally by all. Democrats have fumed about the Joint Session literally from the moment that they learned of its planned occurrence. That Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell agreed to the idea shocked them deeply.

Given the history of the waning Obama administration, a history of failed initiatives, failed policies, failed leadership, the last thing that Democrats now heading into the 2016 fall elections needed had become their reality. The startling contrast between the vapid, prissy, weak-kneed, spineless, miasma of the President would now be stood up in stark contrast, if Putin succeeded in his historic address to the Joint Session of Congress, in portraying himself as a reasoned, seasoned, committed devotee of free markets, classic liberalism, and orthodox faith.

Of course, Putin had been positioning himself well to this end for some time. Now, as he ascended the dais, Speaker Ryan banged the gavel to draw the Chamber to order. Bang! Bang! Bang! The Speaker calls out, “Order!”

As the House grows silent, Speaker Ryan states: President Putin.

With a deeply Russian accent, Putin, having donned glassed, began to read from his prepared text, warming to the topics as he went:

My English is very bad.

I cannot help but reflect on the honor you have bestowed on me, inviting me to address this body, which, taken together, expresses the legislative judgment of the world’s oldest government based on a written Constitution. I thank you for the honor you extend to me, and the courtesy with which you have extended it.
I am the wealthiest man, not just in Europe, but in the whole world. I collect emotions. I am wealthy in that the people of Russia have twice entrusted me with the leadership of a great nation such as Russia - I believe that is my greatest wealth. Today I feel as though I have now broken the bank of those collected emotions because of the gracious invitation this body has extended to me today.
Still, there are things of which we must together speak, some on which I confidently conclude that we share deep and abiding agreement, and some, though I am sorry that it would be so, I know that you will find difficult to hear from one who does, in fact, consider himself a true friend of your experiment in democracy.
It's a historical phenomenon that in 250 years, a nation could move from a colony into the most prosperous nation of the world and the leader of the world. It is indeed an achievement, a tribute to the talent of the American nation, the American people and an optimal political and economic system.
I know that your media has occasionally provided glimpses into my day-to-day life. As a result, I know some of you, at least, know my fondness for the martial art of Judo. Such sports as judo, in my view, teach people to relate to each other. They teach us to respect a partner, teach us to understand that an externally weak partner can not only put up worthy resistance, but, if you relax and take too much for granted, may even win.
Russia and the U.S. were allies during the two tragic conflicts of the Second and the First World Wars, which allows us to think there's something objectively bringing us together in difficult times, and I think - I believe - it has to do with geopolitical interests and also has a moral component.  It's not by chance that Russia and the U.S. forge alliances in the most critical moments of modern history. That was the case in WWI and WWII.
Hitler wanted to destroy Russia – everyone needs to remember how that ended.
Even if there was fierce confrontation, our countries united against a common threat, which means there's something that unites us. There must be some fundamental interest which brings us together. That's something we need to focus on first. We need to be aware of our differences but focus on a positive agenda that can improve our cooperation.
NATO was built to counteract the Soviet Union in its day and time. At this point there is no threat coming from the Soviet Union, because there is no Soviet Union anymore. And where there was the Soviet Union once, there is now a number of countries, among them the new and democratic Russia.
Sometimes it is necessary to be lonely in order to prove that you are right. This is how we have to pay for our natural will to preserve our nation, to maintain our state. Sometimes I think our bear should probably just sit quietly and just eat honey instead of hunting animals, maybe then they will leave the bear in peace, but, no, they will not. What they are trying to do is chain the bear, and when they chain the bear they will take out his fangs and claws. This is how nuclear deterrence is working at the moment. If they take out the bear’s fangs and claws, then the bear will not be able to do anything. It will just be a stuffed animal.
I think you realize how it has worn on the people of this great nation to constantly be pressed by its government to serve as the police in every international conflict, the first responder to every burgeoning crisis. [Your] society doesn't want to play the role of international policeman. [Your people are alarmed] that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States.
As for our drills and development of our military forces, Russia to a certain extent contributed to the tension, but only in a sense that we have been protecting our interests in a tougher way. We are not aggressive. We believe that we are right regarding the Ukrainian crisis.  
U.S. military bases are all over the world. And you are saying that WE are aggressive? Is it us who are moving our military structure closer to borders of other countries? What we hear is just, 'Mind your own business.' Who resigned from the ABM treaty unilaterally? The United States.
Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan, 'You're either with us or against us.' It is time to recognize that what we must be for, or what we must be against, are systems of totalitarian rule over individual liberty and economic freedom. If you would see that we are joined together in opposition to such systems, you could surrender what is otherwise a prideful view that we are joining you rather than that we are joining together.
Our world faces serious challenge. In our Mother, Russia, we do as well. A[] serious challenge to Russia’s identity is linked to events taking place in the world.  In many countries today, moral and ethical norms are being reconsidered; national traditions, differences in nation and culture are being erased.
Here there are both foreign policy and moral aspects. We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.  The excesses of political correctness have reached the point where people are seriously talking about registering political parties whose aim is to promote pedophilia.
People in many European countries are embarrassed or afraid to talk about their religious affiliations. Holidays are abolished or even called something different; their essence is hidden away, as is their moral foundation. And people are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world. I am convinced that this opens a direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.
If for many European countries, sovereignty and national pride are forgotten concepts and a luxury, then for Russia, true sovereignty is an absolutely necessary condition of our existence.
You know that Russia has committed itself to the free flow of capital and to free markets.  We are convinced that these are the engines by which our goals and aims can be reached. And what are those goals? Our aims are absolutely clear: They are a high living standard in the country and a secure, free and comfortable life.
Yet, at home, we face the same challenges you address in these chambers day by day: The unjustified swelling of the budgetary deficit and the accumulation of public debts [which] are just as destructive as adventurous stock-jobbing.
So, as both our nations face challenging economic circumstances, our solutions must likely be the same. The taming of government excess that adds to indebtedness, the releasing of regulatory restrictions that stifle growth and opportunity. After that, growth is inevitable, due to a changing foreign economic situation among other things. For both our nations, a growing world economy will require additional energy resources. [] I have no doubt that we will be able to do a great deal to diversify our economy, because life itself will force us to do it. There is no other way we could function.
Russian democracy is the power of the Russian people with their own traditions of national self-government, and not the realization of standards foisted on us from outside.
I see that not everyone in the West has understood that the Soviet Union has disappeared from the political map of the world and that a new country has emerged with new humanist and ideological principles at the foundation of its existence. History proves that all dictatorships, all authoritarian forms of government are transient. Only democratic systems are not transient. Whatever the shortcomings, mankind has not devised anything superior.
The path towards a free society has not been simple. There are tragic and glorious pages in our history. And though that day may yet come, Russia will not soon become, if it ever becomes, a second copy of the United States or England - where liberal value have deep historic roots.
We live in a world much troubled by organized threats and actions in the name of the religion of Islam. It is not my intention today to argue that Islam is, itself, the problem, rather than a perversion of it by thugs and criminals. But these terrorists, armed and organized, must be addressed. So I speak these words to them now.
If you want to become an Islamic fundamentalist and be circumcised, come to Moscow. We are multiconfessional. We have very good specialists. I can recommend one for the operation. He'll make sure nothing grows back.
I think the international community should unite to fight such inhuman phenomena as terror attacks and the murder of totally innocent people. We will chase terrorists everywhere, if in an airport, then in the airport. So if we find them in the toilet, excuse me, we'll rub them out in the outhouse. And that's it, case closed.
Pardon my observation of this reality. Under President Bush, you seemed to understand the dangers of such people. Then, there were the great danger. If America presented any threat then, it was in its bluster for what we all agree was, in fact, right. Under your current administration, our perception is that you have lost the ability to distinguish the very real evils of terrorism from those comparatively minor evils that often accompany less desirable forms of government.
All attempts to appease the Nazis between 1934 and 1939 through various agreements and pacts were morally unacceptable and politically senseless, harmful and dangerous. In this respect, terrorists are no different. Terrorists are always a threat to someone. We face a grave danger within ourselves in how their terrorism moves us.  If we'll be scared of them, it means they have won. We shall fight against them, throw them in prisons and destroy them.
Of course, at the same time, no references to the need to fight terror can be an argument for restricting human rights. People should always criticize the government, the president. When there's criticism, it's good. You can look at things in different ways. It's healthy.
Still, there are hard patches here too. The revelations of the last few years regarding American eavesdropping on allies, in the offices of national leaders, do not inspire a sense of camaraderie. It's difficult to talk to people who whisper even at home, afraid of Americans eavesdropping on them. It's not a figure of speech, not a joke, I'm serious.
I would like to assure you that there is no organization or any sort of repression against people who don’t agree with our actions, for example in Ukraine, Crimea, or any other external issue, no one from official government organs do this. This commitment we have had to make because we have concluded that nobody and nothing will stop Russia on the road to strengthening democracy and ensuring human rights and freedoms.
For example, your Federal Communications Commission is currently examining rules that would give your federal government control over private businesses and how they participate in providing access to the Internet. I think we should not control the Internet. Like the fax machine’s role in the Velvet Revolution, the Internet offers an alternative to force in reasoning with those with whom we may hold deep differences. We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.
Yet, your government’s so-called rule of Net Neutrality appears to be nothing more than a grasp at holding sway, keeping power. The worst thing for a politician is to try and cling to power by every possible means, and focus only on that. If the nation is not capable of preserving itself and reproducing, if it loses it vital bearings and ideals, then it doesn't need foreign enemies - it will fall apart on its own.
Russia has made its choice in favor of democracy. [I]ndependently, without any pressure from outside, it made that decision in the interests of itself and interests of its people – of its citizens. This is our final choice, and we have no way back. There can be no return to what we used to have before. And the guarantee for this is the choice of the Russian people, themselves.
No, guarantees from outside cannot be provided. This is impossible. It would be impossible for Russia today. Any kind of turn towards totalitarianism for Russia would be impossible, due to the condition of the Russian society. Russian democracy is the power of the Russian people with their own traditions of national self-government, and not the reali[z]ation of standards foisted on us from outside.
History proves that all dictatorships, all authoritarian forms of government are transient. Only democratic systems are not transient. Whatever the shortcomings, mankind has not devised anything superior. Russia does not and cannot have any political choice but democracy. I want to say, and even stress, that we share those universal democratic principles taken around the whole world.
As I draw my remarks to a close, I reflect on the impending exercise by the People of this great land of the stupendous power to choose their own rulers for the next term of elective office.
From a distance, much of these affairs are intriguing yet difficult to uncover the subtle nuances that make one a stalwart supporter or a principled opponent. Yet in Russia we still celebrate so much of your process as is still a true reflection of the judgments of your People. The transfer of power is always a test of the constitutional system, a test of its strength. I think the American people should express their preferences, and we'll accept their choice.
I bid you well, and thank you for your courtesy in receiving me today. God bless you, and God bless both our Nations in His wisdom. **
The stunned silence left by the conclusion of Putin’s address was deafening.

But, in short order, Senators and Congressman knew that this moment was unlike any other in the history of their chambers. To a man and to a woman, they rose as one, in a thunder of applause and cheering that was sustained for nearly a quarter hour. By then, Putin had been introduced to the Chief Justice, John Roberts, and Justices Scalia and Thomas, with whom, as he knew, they had a common connection in faith. He had greeted and shook hands with dozens of elected officials, as he was guided from the chamber.

Still, there remained the formalities of the session. Speaker Ryan stood, gavel in hand, rapped the gavel again. BANG! BANG! BANG! He paused. Then again, BANG! BANG! BANG! Then, yet a third, and fourth, and fifth time, BANG! BANG! BANG! Eventually, the Chamber came to order, and the Speaker declared recess.

Our scene shifts back to the McConnell home, to the Senator’s bed, where McConnell awakes in a delirium.

“Goodness gravy! What a dream!”

McConnell lay for a while just thinking of the dream, thinking of its meaning, and thinking about the impact that such an event might have on his own prospects in the fall election. Early the next morning, he told his Chief of Staff to arrange a meeting with Speaker Ryan.

Within two months, the invitation had been extended and accepted, and a date for the event selected.
Consternation from the administration over yet another instance in which the Congress went around the President to extend such an invitation to a world leader was nothing more than a blip on the radar of the Majority Leader’s agenda. History was in the making. Our scene again shifts to the House Chamber, but this is no dream, and the momentous remarks of the Russian President draw precisely the ebullient reaction of which McConnell dreamt.

Headlines the next day, as had the evening news the night after Putin’s speech, erupted with effusive praise for the temper, warmth, insight, of his remarks. That he acknowledged the need of Russia democratic revolution, the keen ties of our two nations in times of international turmoil, and both the greatness of the land, and current distresses of it, made some aspects of his remarks remarkable to nearly all the talking heads.

The next phenomenon, the one that McConnell had not envisioned, occurred when his Chief of Staff interrupted his morning thoughts to inquire about the Majority Leader’s reaction to word that a joint resolution was in the works to declare that any person that had addressed a joint session of the United States Congress would be declared, under law, to be a citizen of the United States from birth. On the close heels of speeches by Benjamin Netanyahu, Pope Francis, and Vladimir Putin, it could be that the legislation was intended for Bebe or Francis, but McConnell, who harbored no presidential ambitions, but loved his office, wondered how to position himself on the idea.

“What’s the harm in it,” he posed to his Chief of Staff.

“Honestly, Mitch,” his right hand man replied, “I haven’t come up with the downsides yet. On the upside, his speech was a powerful tonic against the slow disintegration of the West that has been much discussed in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Paris last November. And, even though there was criticism of our Nation, he spoke things that we can clearly cast at the President’s feet.”

“I want to have an analysis by Legislative Counsel, and I want it today,” he dismissed the Chief.
Later that day, as staffers were slipping out for a dinner meeting here and there across the Hill, the Majority Leader, together with his Whip, sat and listened as McConnell’s Chief Legislative Counsel explained the points and counterpoints.

“Mr. Majority Leader,” Legislative Counsel intoned, “there are many provisions of the Constitution that have been the subject of close and careful analysis by the Supreme Court, with careful mincing of sources, language, and applications. The Presidential Eligibility Clause, however, at least as respects the ‘Natural Born Citizen’ requirement, has not been subject to a thorough analysis and construction by the Supreme Court. Still, the meaning of the phrase has been subjected to considerable vetting, and I think that we can rely on that vetting to show that the proposed Joint Resolution is within the power of Congress.”

The next half hour included Counsel’s summarization of scholarly discussions of the meaning and application of the phrase “natural born citizen” by former Solicitor General Paul Clement and former ActingSolicitor General Neal Katyal, in a post on the Harvard Law Review Forum, among other sources. Ultimately, Legislative Counsel expressed a confident conclusion that, if the Congress enacted the statute, it would survive constitutional scrutiny. All that remained, as he reminded Senator McConnell, was to decide whether the Joint Resolution made for good policy.

“Good policy?” McConnell chortled. “If it aids my re-election,” he continued, “that’s good policy. After all, what more can come of it than just a nice gesture by the Congress toward three internationally regarded figures that have already been honored by the Congress with an opportunity very few ever attain. It isn’t as though the Pope will run for election!”

His Chief of Staff chimed in, “True enough, even if he did, the Democrats have certainly locked in on Hillary despite her baggage!”

Now our scene shifts to the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, site of the 2016 Republican Convention. Despite several primary successes, Donald Trump had not secured a clear primary victory. For the first time since the 1948 “brokered” convention that selected Thomas Dewey, the prospect that multiple rounds of votes by acclamation would be required to produce a nominee for the party. Some Jeb Bush supporters, often heard to say that they would rather cast their ballot for Vladimir Putin than accede to the selection of Donald Trump, eventually decided to express their disgust for the popular candidate by doing just that.

To the consternation of Jeb Bush, and the Convention Committee, and the Republican National Committee, those delegates announced, one after another, that their vote would go to Vladimir Putin. Putin, of course, by operation of the recently passed Joint Resolution was, technically, a natural born citizen. While some media analysts continued to argue against the eligibility of Putin on the basis of his status as an alien, there seemed to be few legal analysts that would stand and argue against the power of Congress to define “natural born citizen.” Equally confounding was the revelation that Putin had, some sixteen years previous, purchased a loft apartment in New York’s Soho District, seemingly satisfying the only other relevant condition of eligibility on which his election might be challenged, that he had been, for the fourteen previous years, a resident of the United States.

Trump, whose bluster before and during the primaries seemed incapable of harming him in anyway, began by amused chuckles as Bush delegates cast their ballots for Vladimir Putin. His robust demeanor, however, took a decided turn when delegates from several States in which he was the clear primary winner announced splits in their votes, or outright cast their ballots for Putin. Although that round of balloting did not produce a winner, the disturbing shift in the tide of Trump’s fortunes became obvious on his deeply reddening face. When the final round of balloting resulted in the selection of Vladimir Putin as the nominee of the Republican Party for the 2016 General Election, Majority Leader McConnell was uncertain if his late night fantasy had been a dream, or a nightmare.

**Those portions of the Vladimir Putin speech to the Joint Session of Congress offered above that were not in italics are the actuals remarks of Vladimir Putin,  gathered from numerous sources over several years. The italicized portions belong the author of this post, who apologizes if they have failed to provide sufficient context and continuity to give the impression that these remarks could have been offered in a single speech.