“Delivering The Promised Conservative Paradise?”: The Supreme Court Is Poised To Deliver Conservatives A String Of Big Victories
The Supreme Court’s new term begins today, and it brings with it a paradox. On one hand, the Court is poised to deliver conservatives a string of sweeping, consequential victories on issues covering a wide swath of American life. On the other, conservatives are up in arms about how they’ve been betrayed by the Court, and particularly by Chief Justice John Roberts, despite the fact that Roberts has in all but a couple of cases been as reliable a conservative vote as they could have hoped for.
Let’s look at what’s coming. Among the cases the Court will be hearing are an affirmative action case involving the University of Texas, a case asking whether congressional districts must adhere to a “one person, one vote” standard, a case testing state restrictions meant to shut down abortion clinics, a case asking whether public-sector unions can require non-members who benefit from their collective bargaining to contribute to those efforts, and yet another lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act’s contraception provision.
While a couple of them may be in doubt, it’s entirely possible that by the time this term ends next June, the Court will have driven the final stake into affirmative action, struck a fatal blow against public-sector unions, enhanced Republican power in legislatures by reducing the representation of areas with large Hispanic populations, given a green light for Republican-run states to make abortions all but impossible to obtain, and undermined the ACA. Even if one or two of those don’t go how Court observers expect, it’s almost certainly going to be a great term for Republicans.
And while they’ve had a couple of recent high-profile defeats at the Court, conservatives have enjoyed a conservative majority for a couple of decades now. Yes, Anthony Kennedy sometimes joins with liberals, as he did in the case legalizing same-sex marriage. But just in the last few years, they’ve seen the doors of campaign finance thrown open to unlimited spending by corporations and billionaires; the Voting Rights Act gutted; affirmative action all but outlawed; an individual right to own guns created for the first time in American history; corporations granted religious rights to exempt themselves from laws they don’t like and sectarian prayer allowed at government meetings; unions undermined and employment discrimination suits made more difficult; and a whole series of less well-known decisions that enhance the power of the powerful, whether it’s the government or corporations.
Nevertheless, when you hear conservatives talk about the Court, they don’t say, “We need to make sure we get more conservative justices to keep winning.” Instead, they say, “We’ve been betrayed!” So what’s going on?
There are a couple of answers. The first is that they’re demanding not just a record of wins, but absolute perfection. They want not justices who will bring a conservative philosophy to the Court, but justices who will never stray from whatever it is the Republican Party wants at a particular time. The recent decision in King v. Burwell is a perfect example: the lawsuit itself was a joke, based on a series of claims about the Affordable Care Act that ran from the clearly false to the laughably ridiculous. When John Roberts sided with the majority to dismiss it — despite a long record of being on the “right” side of all the cases I mentioned above, plus many more — they declared him to be an irredeemable traitor.
The second reason is that narratives of betrayal are central to how conservatives understand history. Whenever events don’t turn out as they would like, whether it’s a foreign war or a lost election or a societal evolution, the story is always the same: We were betrayed, either by our opponents or by the people we thought were our allies. Was the Iraq War a terrible idea? No, we had it won — until Barack Obama betrayed us by pulling out. Why was George W. Bush so unpopular? Because he betrayed conservative principles by not cutting spending more, just like his father betrayed us by raising taxes (while the younger Bush was still president, longtime conservative activist Richard Viguerie wrote a book entitled “Conservatives Betrayed: How George W. Bush and Other Big-Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause).” As Digby memorably wrote, “Conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed. (And a conservative can only fail because he is too liberal.)” And it goes back as far as you want. Why did the Soviet Union come to dominate Eastern Europe? Because FDR betrayed us at Yalta.
It isn’t that there’s never any truth in this story, particularly when it comes to the Court. David Souter, for instance, turned out to be a genuine liberal, not at all what Republicans expected when he was appointed by George H. W. Bush. But they’ve gotten so used to the betrayal narrative that they place even a single setback into it. Which may explain why conservative opinions of the Court have changed so dramatically in recent years. According to Pew polls, in 2008, 80 percent of Republicans approved of the Supreme Court, compared to 64 percent of Democrats. By 2015, the views of Democrats hadn’t changed — their approval was at 62 percent. But Republican approval had fallen to 33 percent, despite all they had won at the Court over that time. A full 68 percent of conservative Republicans call the Court “liberal,” an idea that is absurd by any objective measure, but one that is regularly fed by conservative media and Republican politicians.
To be clear, Republicans are right to focus on the Supreme Court during the campaign, and Democrats ought to as well. As I’ve argued before, there may be no single issue more consequential for America’s future in this election than what will happen to the Supreme Court in the next four or eight years. But Republicans aren’t just arguing that it’s important for them to elect a Republican so they can get friendly justices, they’re arguing that even Republican presidents and Republican-appointed justices can’t be trusted not to turn into judicial Benedict Arnolds.
If you’re someone like Ted Cruz, this idea fits in nicely with the rest of your message, at least during the primaries: the real enemy isn’t the Democrats, it’s the feckless and unreliable Republican establishment that has failed to deliver the conservative paradise we were promised. Which is why no one is louder in condemning Roberts than Cruz (who supported Roberts wholeheartedly when he was nominated). But I wonder, will they change their tune when the Court gives them one victory after another over the next nine months?
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, October 6, 2015
In the last national election cycle, the Republican losses obviously counted, but so too did the way in which they lost. GOP candidates, party officials later acknowledged, were catering to an increasingly narrow part of the population. The Republican Party’s base was getting older, whiter, and male-dominated.
GOP strategists were determined to change the party’s focus. They failed spectacularly.
Steve Schmidt, who served as Republican Sen. John McCain’s top strategist in the 2008 presidential election, said it’s problematic for the GOP to be seen as intolerant, particularly with moderate voters who help sway the general election.
“Of course it’s worrisome if you have a party that’s perceived as anti-Latino, anti-Asian, anti-gay, intolerant of Muslims,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt’s correct that the party’s problems are exacerbated by perceptions of intolerance and exclusivity, and this doesn’t just alienate Latinos, Asians, Muslims, and the LGBT community. It also has the effect of pushing away white mainstream voters who start to see Republicans as wildly out of step with a diverse, modern nation.
On Friday, for example, President Obama nominated Eric Fanning as the next Secretary of the Army. No one has questioned Fanning’s qualifications, but GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee condemned the nomination because Fanning is gay. “It’s clear President Obama is more interested in appeasing America’s homosexuals than honoring America’s heroes,” the Republican said, adding, “Homosexuality is not a job qualification. The U.S. military is designed to keep Americans safe and complete combat missions, not conduct social experiments.”
It’s an “Archie Bunker” posture in a “Modern Family” world.
Of course, the broader point is that the campaign to create a small-tent party isn’t limited to Huckabee. Ben Carson doesn’t think Muslims can be president. Donald Trump vowed last week that he’s “going to be looking into” non-existent Muslim “training camps.” Bobby Jindal said this morning that a Muslim could be president, but only if he or she took the oath of office on a Christian Bible.
It’s against this backdrop that many Republicans want to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood funding. And condemn the Black Lives Matter movement while ignoring the need for a Voting Rights Act repair. And push over-the-top talking points about “anchor babies” and mass deportations.
After the 2012 cycle, Republican officials concluded, “Our party is too small.” To which the GOP’s driving forces spent three years responding, “Let’s make it smaller and more reactionary.”
All of which brings us back to that Steve Schmidt quote: “Of course it’s worrisome if you have a party that’s perceived as anti-Latino, anti-Asian, anti-gay, intolerant of Muslims.”
The GOP presidential nominating process has several months to go. There’s every reason to believe the most “worrisome” developments are still to come.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 22, 2015
“Caring About The Political Fortunes Of The Causes”: If Bernie Sanders Wins, Centrist Liberals Are Morally Obligated To Support Him
In modern electoral politics, moderate and centrist Democrats are well-known for browbeating leftists with the lesser-evil argument. Democrats might not be particularly concerned about, say, child poverty, but they’re still better than Republicans on just about any issue you care to name. Obama might drone strike American citizens, but at least he doesn’t start full-blown wars of aggression that kill hundreds of thousands of people.
And that’s true, so far as it goes. However, there is a small but distinct possibility that moderates might find themselves on the receiving end of such an argument in the next election, if a leftist like Bernie Sanders wins the presidential nomination. As Matt Bruenig points out, they don’t seem to like this possibility. But they better be prepared for it.
For an example of a Democratic partisan, here’s Mark Kleiman explaining why he doesn’t agree with “emo-progs” (i.e., left-wing critics of Obama), in a post from a couple years ago entitled “Confessions of an Obamabot”:
What the emo-progs refuse to remember — now, and in the run-up to the 2010 election — that I never for a moment forget is that, whatever the failings of Barack Obama the human being, “Barack Obama” the political persona is the leader of the Democratic Party (and thus, effectively, of the entire progressive coalition) in a battle with a well-organized, well-funded, and utterly dedicated plutocrat-theocrat-racist-misogynist-obscurantist-ecocidal Red Team, whose lunatic extremism is now actually a threat to republican governance. If I’m reluctant to help Rand Paul and Glenn Greenwald add NSA! to Benghazi! and IRS! and Solyndra! and all the other b.s. pseudo-scandals designed to make Obama into Richard Nixon, it’s not because I’m in love with “The One:” it’s because, for good or ill, the political fortunes of the cause I care about are now tied to Obama’s political fortunes. [Washington Monthly]
Interpreted narrowly, this is a reasonable point. It is very often taken too far, of course — as with the people who blame the 97,000 Nader voters in Florida in 2000 for Gore’s loss of that state, instead of the 2.9 million who affirmatively voted for Bush. I would further add that Democrats should not always be supported without question. Centrist hack Democrats like Andrew Cuomo do not care about left-wing priorities like affordable housing and quality public transit — indeed he has actively worked against both. In Cuomo’s case, it is worth risking a potential loss in order to change the political incentives in New York at the state level.
Still, in America, tactical voting must always be a consideration. And for voters in swing states, that consideration is powerful indeed. Republicans really could do spectacular damage — just look at the smoking wreckage the last GOP president left.
The question is whether moderates are willing to swallow such an argument if Sanders manages to clinch the Democratic nomination. It’s still an extreme long shot, but it’s not completely out of the question.
After all, something similar happened in the U.K. just last week, with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. The reaction was not encouraging. Moderate liberals, like New Labourite Tony Blair, who all but begged his nation on hands and knees not to vote Corbyn (and probably added 10 points to Corbyn’s victory margin in the process), are furious. Some Labour MPs have reportedly even approached the Liberal Democratic Party about defecting.
Of course, that’s in the U.K., a genuinely multi-party democracy. There is less of an obligation to support Labour when the Greens or Scottish National Party could end up being part of a liberal coalition. In the U.S., there are only two real national parties, thus greatly strengthening any lesser-evil argument.
So unless moderate liberals’ arguments were 100 percent hypocrisy, should Sanders lock down the nomination, they will be obliged to support him. If they really care about the political fortunes of the causes they care about — ObamaCare, climate change, women’s rights, a higher minimum wage, keeping 27-year-old Heritage interns off the Supreme Court, etc. — they best start saying “actually, democratic socialism is good” in front of a mirror. They may need the practice.
By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, September 20, 2015
“Chief Justice John Roberts Just Isn’t Far Enough To The Right”: When Even Conservative Justices Aren’t Conservative Enough
Over the weekend, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) added a new line of attack to his offensive against his party’s Beltway establishment: the Republican presidential hopeful insisted that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts just isn’t far enough to the right.
In fact, the GOP senator, who was an enthusiastic Roberts booster in 2005, even criticized former President George W. Bush for his reluctance to “spend some political capital” in support of a genuinely right-wing nominee.
Jeb Bush was asked in last night’s debate whether Cruz was right, and though the former governor’s answer meandered a bit, Bush suggested he’d nominate different kinds of justices than his brother: “Roberts has made some really good decisions, for sure, but he did not have a proven, extensive record that would have made the clarity the important thing, and that’s what we need to do. And I’m willing to fight for those nominees to make sure that they get passed. You can’t do it the politically expedient way anymore.”
Cruz added in response:
“I’ve known John Roberts for 20 years, he’s amazingly talented lawyer, but, yes, it was a mistake when he was appointed to the Supreme Court. […]
“It is true that after George W. Bush nominated John Roberts, I supported his confirmation. That was a mistake and I regret that. I wouldn’t have nominated John Roberts.”
Watching this unfold last night, some viewers might have been left with the impression that Chief Justice Roberts is, well, retired Justice David Souter. One President Bush nominated a jurist who seemed conservative enough, but who turned out to approach the law from a center-left perspective, and then another President Bush did the same thing.
Except, that’s not even close to being true.
When Cruz and others on the right complain bitterly about Roberts, they’re generally referring to the justice’s rulings on the Affordable Care Act. But the fact remains that both of the major “Obamacare” rulings were genuinely ridiculous cases – and it’s not Roberts’ fault that he took the law, court precedent, and common sense seriously.
Health care cases notwithstanding, though, Roberts is not a moderate by any fair measurement. We are, after all, talking about a court that handed down the Citizens United ruling. And then later gutted the Voting Rights Act. Roberts didn’t even support marriage equality.
Souter he isn’t.
If Roberts isn’t radical enough for Cruz, who exactly would the Texas Republican like to see on the court? Three times last night he mentioned Judge Edith Jones of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Given Jones’ jaw-dropping record, that tells us an awful lot about Cruz.
By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, September 17, 2015
“His Hands Are As Dirty As Anyone’s”: If Jeb Bush Wants To Be A Different Kind Of Republican, He Should End GOP War On Voting
Jeb Bush appears before the Urban League today — the only other Republican candidate who accepted their invitation was Ben Carson — where he will tell them that antipoverty programs have failed, and the path to greater success for African-Americans is the one the GOP wants to pave. Politically, Bush surely wants credit for showing up in front of an audience not exactly guaranteed to be friendly. As Eli Stokols noted, “Just about everywhere Jeb Bush goes, he talks about his willingness to go everywhere.”
But at a moment when his party is fighting with all its might to limit the number of African-Americans who make it to the polls, it’s going to be awfully hard to make a case that the GOP has their interests at heart.
That issue is on display in a trial now going on in North Carolina. But before we get to that, here’s part of what Bush had to say:
“I know that there are unjust barriers to opportunity and upward mobility in this country. Some we can see, others are unseen but just as real. So many lives can come to nothing, or come to grief, when we ignore problems, or fail to meet our own responsibilities. And so many people could do so much better in life if we could come together and get even a few big things right in government.”
That’s about as close as he came to acknowledging that racism exists, and about as much on the topic as you’ll hear from any Republican. And while Jeb will happily tout his record on things like charter schools as helping African-Americans, one topic he didn’t raise was voting rights. That may be because on that subject, his hands are as dirty as anyone’s.
When he was governor of Florida, Bush’s administration ordered a purge of the voter rolls that disenfranchised thousands of African-Americans, in a happy coincidence that made it possible for his brother to become president. The private corporation they hired to eliminate felons from the rolls did so by chucking off people who had a name similar to those of felons; people who had voted all their lives showed up on election day to be told that they couldn’t vote.
The remarkable outcome taught Republicans an important lesson. Here you had an election in which their candidate got fewer votes than his opponent, and the whole thing was decided in a state where his brother was the governor and the co-chair of his state campaign was the state’s chief election official. He won by an official margin of 537 votes, and the purge was just one of the things that made it possible. The lesson was this: when it comes to voting, we can get away with almost anything. What came out of that election, as Ari Berman documents, was a wave of Republican efforts to win elections by keeping people less likely to vote Republican from being able to cast a ballot. African-Americans aren’t the only people on that list, but they’re at the top.
So we see cases like North Carolina, where once the conservatives on the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act — a landmark law for which some African-Americans literally gave their lives — the state rushed to pass a menu of voting restrictions, all of which are designed to reduce the number of non-Republicans who make it to the polls. Young people are more likely to vote for Democrats? The North Carolina law eliminated pre-registering, where teenagers can register before they turn 18 if they’ll be of age on election day. African-Americans are disproportionately more likely to lack a photo ID? The law requires it. African-American churches mount “souls to the polls” efforts, bringing people to vote early on the Sunday before election day? The law ends early voting on that Sunday.
This law is on trial in a federal courtroom in Winston-Salem; closing arguments are happening today. To be honest, whatever happens in that trial, the five conservatives on the Supreme Court have made it clear that they are quite open to all kinds of restrictions on voting rights. So from a practical standpoint, Republicans may continue to enjoy success in their efforts to make voting as inconvenient and difficult as possible, at least for the wrong people.
But if Jeb Bush is wondering whether he can get African-Americans to vote for him, the answer is almost certainly no, and the continuing struggle over voting rights is one big reason. It’s awfully hard to convince African-Americans you love them when you’re still on the wrong side of a conflict that was at the center of the civil rights struggle. African-Americans look at places like Florida, North Carolina, Texas, or Wisconsin — or almost every state where Republicans are in charge — and say, “They’re still trying to keep us from voting, half a century after the Voting Rights Act!”
If Bush really wants to be a different kind of Republican, he could try to end the Republican war on voting rights. He could say, “We can have a secure voting system, and still make it easy and convenient for every American citizen to vote.” Because it really wouldn’t be that hard. He could advocate extended early voting (including Sundays), and looser identification measures that are geared toward allowing every legitimate voter to cast their ballot, not shutting out as many people as possible. He could acknowledge that in-person voter impersonation, the only kind of fraud that ID requirements can stop, is so incredibly rare (one investigation found only 31 cases in over a billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014), that it’s wrong to disenfranchise thousands of people on the off-chance you might stop it. He could acknowledge that members of his party have used voting restrictions as a way to give themselves partisan advantage.
Or he could hope that showing up to the Urban League and shaking black people’s hands will be enough to wipe out decades of history, his own and his party’s. I’m pretty sure that won’t do the trick.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, July 31