Repost: Politics in 2009.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A great piece from Glenn Greenwald today on an interesting word choice from an obit in the NYTimes. American hypocrisy has not been so nakedly apparent on such a large scale in a very long time as it is when talking about torture.

What function do conservatives have in our national discourse? They aren't the limited government party, check the size of the military and the level of domestic surveilance they support. They aren't the personal freedom party, wanting complete state control over what you do with your body. They aren't even the "Country First" party, given the recent polls on the percentage of them that would like to secede (half of all Texas and Georgia republicans want their state to leave the union. It's 1840 all over again. I think John C Calhoun was at that pizza party they had in Virginia the other day. Calhoun/Palin would be a helluva ticket.)

But the traditional values party? Come on. If progressives definitionally want to move forward, don't conservatives have value in retaining tradition - in keeping us grounded on what makes America great?

You just can't believe that torture is okay. You just can't believe that. Not and pretend to uphold morality.

Americans have been tortured. And those who tortured Americans have been punished.

It's a moral issue. Black and white. Right and wrong. Conservatives are the people who understand the meaning of those terms, they're the party that scorns Foucault, that scoffs at the idea of "evolving standards" of "living documents" they are literalists - the Bible, the Constitution - words have fixed and unchanged meanings. Right?

So, if it was torture then, it's torture now. You break the law - you get punished.

What's more traditional than that?

Maybe a little hesitation is warranted in our condemnation/mockery of the fraudulent Iranian election.

Near as I can figure, it appears as if the candidate who got more votes lost.

Which sounds vaguely familiar.

This isn't about rigged voting machines or Katherine Harris or Bush v. Gore (but seriously, the next time anyone on the right talks derisively about judicial activism, gently direct him to Bush v. Gore. While I'm here on judicial activism, recognize as well that Republicans are simultaneously going to criticize Sotamayor as an activist while criticizing her for the Ricci decision, which was the definition of judicial restraint, as her vote was to let the democratically elected representatives of the city of New Haven make their own determinations about the merits of the firefighters exam; activism would be substituting her judgment for theirs. It's fair to argue that activism was warranted here; fair to argue that some concoction of law and the interests of justice require a ruling in favor of the white firefighters. The point here is that the right has continued to prop up this silliness about judicial activism as if it means anything, when they solely use it to criticize decisions they don't like politically) what this is about is the Electoral College.

We have, as we are often told, the world's oldest continuous democracy. Much of the rhetoric during the Iraq War has been a stated desire to bring democracy to the Middle East. Today, every news outlet will be criticizing the Iranian government for subverting democracy and watching the riots of the Iranian people as they ask the musical question "why didn't my vote count?'

But in 2000, in the United States, the candidate who got fewer votes won the election.

I taught government, including discussions of the electoral college prior to 2000, and while I didn't talk about it as a vestige like state legislatures electing US Senators, nor did I say it created a present day threat to democracy.

I should have ( I should have done a lot differently in my early teaching years; I worked hard and my intentions were good, but I was about a thousand percent too intense in tone and I apologize), I should have because, as I've mentioned in every government course subsequent to 2000 - if it happened in any other country that the candidate who got fewer votes won, we would immediately consider that democracy illegitimate.

Not unlike if any other country waterboarded Americans, we'd consider it torture.

And if any other government kept hidden the evidence of civilian casualties in its foreign wars, as we are doing this very second with the recent attacks in Afghanistan, we'd demand full disclosure.

John Quincy Adams once said the historian must know no country. What separates history from propaganda is the willingness to look at yourself as squarely as you look at others.

We don't do that. And not only don't we do that, but when we get near doing that, its criticized as anti-American.  There was a recent Washington Post poll that found that Americans are in favor of torture.  As long as it's Americans who get to be the torturers. 

And what does that say about us?

We all knew the electoral college existed, we all knew that theoretically even though it had been over a hundred years since it had happened previously that the losing candidate might win an election. But it was unexpected. A reasonable response by the world's oldest continuous democracy back in 2001 might have been to say "we botched this - it's a glitch in the system, a vestige of our framers undemocratic choices to limit voting to white, male property owners and to have direct elections not for the executive or judicial or the upper legislative branches. Much like the corrections that have previously been made, it's time to fix this too. Please don't riot in the streets. Please enjoy a complimentary screening of Erin Brockovich".

But we didn't. Because we don't do that sort of thing. Democracy means never having to say you're sorry.

An excellent piece discussing the Ricci decision is here, in Slate, by a Stanford Law professor. I'm less interested in discussing the merits of the decision (I'm with the minority - which, you know, received 4 votes as opposed to 0, despite what you might have heard on Fox) than reiterating a point I made prior to the decision in predicting this outcome (correctly).

Ricci could not possibly be a more activist decision - it is a decision that (1) substitutes the justices judgments for that of a democratically elected legislature and (2) forges brand new constitutional interpretation where law appeared to be settled.

That doesn't necessarily make it a bad decision on the merits; you can go to the Slate piece to read discussion about the merits, the point here is about Sotamayor and the rhetoric of the right about judicial activism. The truth is that the right labels as "activist" decisions it doesn't like in an attempt to say, "not only don't I want this result, not only don't I agree with this result, but this result is illegitimate, this result is not correctly within the purview of how judges should behave."

It's almost always a nakedly political argument; one could have a debate about the proper role of unelected judges within a democracy - but we don't have that debate, the debate we have is that conservatives criticize decisions they don't like by calling them activist.

Note that, in the Slate pieces and like minded pieces from the left to disagree with Ricci on the merits, you won't see similar demagoguery; you'll read disagreements with constitutional interpretation and notions of what justice requires, but instead of saying "only liberal judges are real judges - conservative judges just act politically" what you'll read (or should) is that all judges act politically. If I'm a judge (I won't be) I'm going to rule in ways that I feel are compelled by my understanding of what law and justice is.

The additional irony of Ricci is the opinion is loaded with (dare I say it) "empathy" for the white firefighters - which is related and also perfectly reasonable - effectively, when a court "empathizes" with a party, it isn't saying "I don't care about the merits, look how cute they are" a court is saying "there are qualities about the facts and circumstances of this party and this case of which judicial notice should be taken to serve the interests of justice."

However, none of this is likely to be understood by the US Senate in the Sotamayor hearings - conservatives will make a case against her based on her being "activist" and "empathetic" while simultaneously using the reversal in Ricci, which completely undermines their argument, as evidence to support these attacks.

Granted, nothing that will be said in the Senate is likely to be as, well, sad is the adjective I'm going to use because there isn't hyperbole sufficient to speak to it, as sad as Rush Limbaugh's reaction to the Ricci decision, which is that the Supreme Court ruled that Sotamayor was a racist.

(As it turned out, the hearings were...well, startling, really, not in their lack of legal content; neither party demonstrated even an ounce of legal understanding - the Democrats best argument, their best argument to support the confirmation of Sotamayor was how much like John Roberts she was, how much her record indicated she'd judge cases just like a conservative Republican - just how pro-business, pro-law enforcement she was - as if that's the full range of acceptible judical decision making.  Conservative judges are the only appointable judges at this point in our history.

As for the Republicans...I'd say "they have some splainin' to do" - but somehow they got got away without having to explain.  The entire performance from "hey, there was a Hispanic who we liked" to "why didn't you vote in Ricci like the other Hispanic did?' to the unbelievable (and I mean that literally, I did not believe it had happened from the written account, I had to actually see it) Ricky Ricardo impression, they have even less to offer than do the Democrats. 

I don't care if he's big or fat, and while I don't find him intellectually compelling, I don't think Rush Limbaugh is an idiot, but he's just not a serious minded individual. His role in our national discussion should be on par with Bubba the Love Sponge as opposed to William Buckley (did you hear him blame the Obama stimulus package for Sanford's "crossing the ultimate line - the sex line"?) and his place at the adult table makes the Republicans look like a dying party.

This is why I like writing about sports, and particularly using sports as a vehicle to write about everything else (the NBA Drafts have been good like that; I've been pleased with how those recaps have turned out) because you can see these same shortcomings in how the Sports Industrial Complex talks about things like chemistry.

Chemistry is bullshit, a label that sports media throws around when it wants to attribute dramatic elements to their made up narratives. Kobe wasn't a good teammate before and it fractured the Laker locker room and that's why they didn't win titles. Then Kobe won a title, so, he must be a good teammate now. Teams win not because of talent and execution that can be quantified and understood by sports fans - no, teams win because of a peculiar, mysterious alchemy that is only understood by sportswriters who are in locker rooms or at games and can look deeply in the faces of the athletes to read their body language and levels of heart and guts and moral fortitude. You know the essential position of the Catholic Church that helped lead to the Reformation was the Church was required to serve as mediator between you and god - you can't understand the holy book on your own - here is this entire structure that serves as a go-between - it will tell you what god says - the Church effectively said "there is universal truth - but you need us to tell you what it is." Conservatives claim a similar interpretive power over the Constitution - that only they are able to divine its meaning, that the framers had a clear and plain intent that must be followed - and they are the ones who are able to explain it. That it happens to line up perfectly with their political beliefs, that the same way they'd vote if they were legislators unconstrained by judicial robes, is entirely coincidental.

The self serving nature of that is evident - if you could figure out the truth yourself - if it were knowable without the church - then you don't need it.

If sports are quantifiable - if you can use statistics and your own observation to destermine who the best players are, who the best teams are - then you don't need the mysterious men in the giant robes on Around the Horn to tell you about the great chemistry of winning teams.

You should read/listen/watch sportswriters the same reason you should go to church, for the entertainment value of the stories.

But if you're looking for truth you're better off with math or science books.

Congratulations to Senator Al. Who would have thought that it would be the 20teens that would be the real Al Franken Decade? 60's a nice number, but the number of Democrats who belong to what the late Paul Wellstone used to call "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" is significantly smaller than that. Good to see (hopefully) one more.

1 comment

Anonymous said...

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes--that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. This national result is similar to recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado-- 68%, Iowa --75%, Michigan-- 73%, Missouri-- 70%, New Hampshire-- 69%, Nevada-- 72%, New Mexico-- 76%, North Carolina-- 74%, Ohio-- 70%, Pennsylvania -- 78%, Virginia -- 74%, and Wisconsin -- 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Delaware --75%, Maine -- 71%, Nebraska -- 74%, New Hampshire --69%, Nevada -- 72%, New Mexico -- 76%, Rhode Island -- 74%, and Vermont -- 75%; in Southern and border states: Arkansas --80%, Kentucky -- 80%, Mississippi --77%, Missouri -- 70%, North Carolina -- 74%, and Virginia -- 74%; and in other states polled: California -- 70%, Connecticut -- 73% , Massachusetts -- 73%, New York -- 79%, and Washington -- 77%.

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 29 state legislative chambers, in small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Oregon, and both houses in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington. These five states possess 61 electoral votes -- 23% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


Blogger Template created by Just Blog It