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“Nothing Less Than Total War Will Suffice”: Why Republicans Will Face The Same Disaster No Matter Who They Crown Speaker

Liberals and conservatives can agree on one thing about departing Speaker of the House John Boehner: He was terrible at his job.

Liberals look at how Boehner was yanked around by the reactionary extremists in his party, kept staging showdowns that never got the GOP any of what it sought, and couldn’t unify his caucus for anything more meaningful than 50 futile votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and say, “What a loser.” Conservatives look at how he failed to actually repeal the Affordable Care Act (or anything else), blinked when he stared down President Obama, and generally failed to “stand up” tall enough to cut the administration down to size, and think, “What a wimp.”

They may both be right, at least in part. But what Republicans probably don’t realize is that their next speaker probably won’t be able to do any better — not now, and not after the next president is elected.

Right now Republicans in the House are in the process of picking that speaker, and it has turned into a real contest. Up until a week ago it was assumed that Kevin McCarthy, Boehner’s second-in-command, would waltz into the job. But after he said what everyone knows to be true — that the purpose of the select committee on Benghazi is to do political damage to Hillary Clinton — Republicans whispered “Ixnay on the ooth-tray!” and began looking around for an alternative (it’s amazing what an effect one ill-considered remark can have). Into that breach stepped Jason Chaffetz, a young conservative from Utah who has been seen as an up-and-comer, but nobody thought would be contending for this job so soon.

Unlike any speaker in memory, neither McCarthy nor Chaffetz has been in Congress very long. McCarthy is in his fifth term, and Chaffetz is in his fourth (Boehner and his predecessor Nancy Pelosi had each served 10 terms before becoming speaker). Neither one of them is known as some kind of legislative wizard with the ability to keep his caucus together and shepherd difficult bills through the Congress. That’s partly because they haven’t had the chance, but the truth is it won’t matter.

Think about what the next speaker of the House is going to spend his time doing. Between now and January 2017, the answer is, not much. Boehner is hoping to strike a two-year budget deal on his way out that would mean no more threatened government shutdowns between now and the election, essentially saving the Republican Party from its own representatives in the House. If he succeeds, the next speaker will spend his time bringing up symbolic votes to satisfy the party’s right wing, and maybe starting a new investigation or two (the Select Committee on Why Hillary Clinton Is a Jerk, perhaps?). But he won’t be passing any actual legislation.

That’s because the tea partiers who helped push Boehner out and whose assent is needed for the next speaker to win the office don’t want any legislating, and they don’t want any deal-making. This was what Boehner discovered, to his endless dismay. For that portion of the caucus, many of whom got elected since 2010, nothing less than total war against the opposition will suffice. That war isn’t something you do in order to achieve a policy victory, it’s the whole point of being in Congress in the first place. The measure of success is whether you “stood up” with sufficient strength and resolve, not whether you actually accomplished anything.

If a Democrat becomes president in 2016, that will not change. The vast majority of those House members come from safe Republican seats; the only way they’ll leave is if they lose a primary to someone even more doctrinaire. So we’d have four more years of what we’ve had lately: an endless stalemate punctuated by the occasional crisis, accompanied by conservative cries that the GOP leadership is weak and ineffectual.

And what if a Republican wins the 2016 election? Although it might seem like it would be an orgy of bill-passing as Republicans finally get the chance to do whatever they want without fear of a presidential veto, it might turn out not to be so easy, and not only because Democrats could still filibuster bills in the Senate. Remember how complicated it was for Barack Obama to pass the stimulus, Wall Street reform, and the Affordable Care Act? That was when he had large majorities in both houses. They got a great deal done, but it was a struggle every step of the way.

When your party can ostensibly pass whatever laws it wants, intra-party divisions come to the fore as members try to shape the legislation to their liking and realize that they can extract concessions by being difficult. When there’s actually a real accomplishment in the offing — let’s say a tax cut, or a big increase in military spending, or a restriction on abortion rights — the obstruction of a few members can have real consequences, and that will give every rump faction the ability to extort real concessions to whatever it is they want. The caucus could be riven by divisions between the extremely conservative members and the incredibly conservative members, in which case you’d need a speaker with some deal-making skills.

And in that period of 2009 to 2010, Democrats in Congress were led (and still are) by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, strong leaders with decades of legislative experience who understood how to corral and move the caucuses they led. Republicans may not like them, but nobody thinks they aren’t very good at what they do, particularly Pelosi. On the Republican side you might say the same about Mitch McConnell in the Senate, but would Kevin McCarthy or Jason Chaffetz be able to be as effective a leader in keeping their caucus together as Pelosi has been? Now consider that the Republican House can’t stay together when it has zero chance of passing anything into law. Just imagine what a mess it will be when there’s actually something at stake.

I could be wrong, but I’d be surprised if either McCarthy or Chaffetz is talking a lot to their colleagues about the complexities and difficulties 2017 and beyond could pose with a Republican president, and how their particular skills and experience will help them navigate that minefield. If they are, then they’re more forward-looking than I imagine.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, October 6, 2015

October 7, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, House Republican Caucus, John Boehner | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“This Callous Arrogance Is Nothing Short Of Staggering”: Carson Eyes Guns In Kindergarten, Boasts Of His Imagined Bravery

In the wake of the latest mass-shooting, Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson appears to have been thinking a bit about gun violence, and the often ridiculous candidate has drawn some curious conclusions.

For example, Carson said yesterday that if he had a child in kindergarten, he’d feel better knowing there were loaded firearms in the classroom. “If the teacher was trained in the use of that weapon and had access to it, I would be much more comfortable if they had one than if they didn’t,” the GOP candidate said.

Last night on Facebook, Carson added, “As a Doctor, I spent many a night pulling bullets out of bodies. There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking – but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away. Serious people seek serious solutions.”

To date, the retired right-wing neurosurgeon has offered no solutions, serious or otherwise, to combating gun violence. On the contrary, he’s begun rejecting solutions he used to support.

But Politico flagged Carson’s comments on Fox News this morning, where the GOP candidate was in rare form, first complaining about President Obama traveling to Oregon to meet with grieving families and a recovering community, then indirectly criticizing the victims of the mass murder.

Asked what he would have done had a gunman walked up to him and asked him to state his religion, Carson said he would have been more aggressive.

 “Not only would I probably not cooperate with him, I would not just stand there and let him shoot me, I would say, ‘Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all,’” he told the hosts.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

It’s genuinely shameful how common comments like these are. After the massacre in Charleston, S.C., a Republican state senator complained he wasn’t satisfied with how the victims reacted to the gunman. After the massacre in Aurora, Colo., a Republican U.S. congressman complained that the victims should have been armed so they could shoot back. After the massacre at Virginia Tech, National Review published a piece admonishing the victims. “Where was the spirit of self-defense here?” John Derbyshire wrote, adding, “[W]hy didn’t anyone rush the guy?

And now we see Ben Carson thinking along the same lines. He didn’t directly chastise the victims in Roseburg, Ore., but by explaining how brave he’d be towards the gunman, Carson was effectively complaining that the real-world victims should have displayed the kind of imaginary courage the Republican candidate described.

For a man seeking national office, this isn’t acceptable rhetoric.

It’s so easy – too easy, in fact – for anyone to imagine what they might do when faced with a life-threatening crisis, but until someone is confronted with such a nightmare, he or she should keep their bravado fantasies to themselves.

A madman entered a community-college classroom and began shooting people. Ben Carson, from the comfort of a television studio, wants to tell us about how heroic he’d be under the same circumstances.

But here’s the unfortunate truth that the unhinged candidate fails to understand: he has absolutely no idea how he’d respond to such a crisis. Almost none of us do.

Carson probably didn’t intend to insult the victims, indirectly blaming them for failing to meet his standards for bravery. But imagine being the parent of one of the young people killed in Oregon last week, and seeing a presidential candidate talking about how he graceful he’d be under fire – unlike those who actually faced the nightmare and were shot.

Carson’s callous arrogance is nothing short of staggering.

Who knows, maybe Carson’s rhetoric will resonate with Republican primary voters, who’ll cheer his latest comments. But to my mind, this represents a new low for the GOP candidate, one devoid of compassion and basic human decency.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 6, 2015

October 7, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Voters, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Walking In Justice Morrison R. Waite’s Footsteps”: Citizens United’s Legal Roots Lie In The Jim Crow Supreme Court

As John Roberts begins his second decade as the chief justice, a number of Supreme Court rulings during his tenure are once more in the news, perhaps none more so than Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. The 5-4 decision, which applied First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech to a private corporation, has been targeted lately by Democrat presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (“Citizens United was about me. Think how that makes me feel.”) and Bernie Sanders, who declared this week, “No nominee of mine to the United States Supreme Court will get that job unless he or she is loud and clear that one of their first orders of business will be to overturn Citizens United.” Americans are equally hostile to the decision: A national poll released by Bloomberg Politics this week found that 78 percent of respondents want Citizens United overturned, while only 17 percent support the ruling.

What many Americans might not know, however, is that the manner in which corporations came to be granted personal rights is inextricably linked to a series of late nineteenth century Supreme Court rulings that disemboweled the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments and ushered in the Jim Crow era, when state and local laws were passed to create racial segregation.

The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, was aimed at securing fundamental rights for the four million newly freed slaves. Section 1 conferred citizenship on any person born in the United States, made them citizens of the state in which they resided, and guaranteed all Americans “due process of law” and “equal protection of the laws.” To the man who drafted that section of the amendment, Representative John Bingham of Ohio, this meant that the personal guarantees of the Bill of Rights would apply to state as well as federal law. Most in Congress who voted for the amendment agreed, and we take such guarantees against state action for granted today. And the Fifteenth Amendment, of course, guaranteed black men the right to vote.

But after Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase died in 1873, protections for black Americans began to unravel, all enabled and often mandated by the Supreme Court.

President Ulysses Grant had a great deal of difficulty filling Chase’s seat. Having failed three times to find an acceptable candidate, he settled on Morrison R. Waite. It was not a choice based on excellence. Waite was described by Grant’s attorney general as “sufficiently obscure for the occasion,” and characterized by the Nation as firmly “in the first rank of second rank lawyers.” Stung by the criticism and determined to make his mark, Waite decided to author the majority opinion in the most inflammatory case on the 1876 docket, United States v. Cruikshank.

On Easter Sunday, 1873, 250 heavily armed white men, dragging a cannon behind them, besieged 150 black men who, in the wake of a ferociously disputed gubernatorial election, had taken refuge in the courthouse in Colfax, Louisiana. The hopelessly outgunned black men surrendered, whereupon the whites proceeded to slaughter them. At least 100 died, some burned alive in the courthouse, others hunted down as they tried to escape into the woods. Federal prosecutors feared that state courts would acquit any of the whites charged, so they turned to a law that transferred race crimes to federal court and indicted one hundred whites for violating the Constitutional rights of the murdered black men. Only three were convicted. (The suspects could not be tried for murder, which was strictly a state crime.) The three appealed on the grounds that under the Fourteenth Amendment, the federal government had no right to restrict the actions of individuals, only states.

Waite agreed. Only if an attack could be proven to have been racially motivated could individuals run afoul of federal law, and the mere fact that 100 black men were massacred by an armed force of whites was not proof enough. Cruikshank and his fellow defendants went free.

Once emboldened, the Court continued to chip away. Also in 1876, in United States v. Reese, the Court ruled that the Fifteenth Amendment did not actually guarantee the right to vote, but only that the right to vote not be restricted on racial grounds. And such restrictions would be almost impossible to prove. In Virginia v. Rives (1879), the Court ruled that a state had to announce that a law was discriminatory in order to violate Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendment guarantees. In other words, that virtually no black men in Virginia were on the voting roles or called for jury service was not in itself proof of discrimination. As a result, restricting voting rights through such contrivances as poll taxes, literacy requirements, grandfather clauses, or other ludicrous tests was perfectly acceptable under federal law.

Then, in 1883, the Waite Court administered the coup de grâce to equal rights when it ruled 8-1 that Congress had no authority to outlaw discrimination by private individuals or organizations and declared the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional.

The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was perhaps the most far-reaching legislation of its kind ever enacted by Congress. Section 1 stipulated, “That all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall be entitled to the full and equal and enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement.” But it was also extremely unpopular. Few white Americans, in the South as well as North, were prepared to sit next a black person in a theater, dine in the same restaurant, or even walk in the same park. Restaurants and hotels closed rather than accept black customers. A New York Times editorial denounced the law: “It has put us back in the art of governing men more than two hundred years … startling proof how far and fast we are wandering from the principles of 1787, once so loudly extolled and so fondly cherished.”

It took eight years, but five cases were combined and brought before the Court. Three were from the North and none from the Deep South. Justice Joseph Bradley, writing for the majority, could not have been more clear. “Individual invasion of individual rights is not the subject matter of the [Fourteenth] amendment.”

In the wake of the Court’s decision and after a number of other cases where the Court claimed to adhere to the letter of the law while bulldozing its spirit, every southern state rewrote its Constitution in a manner that effectively removed black citizens from the political process. Between 1897 and 1900 in Louisiana, for example, the number of black men registered to vote fell from 130,344 to 5,320. And so Jim Crow was born. Between 1890 and 1903, 1,405 black Americans were lynched in the United States.

Then, having rewritten the Fourteenth Amendment to the detriment of African-Americans, the Court rewrote it once more to protect American corporations. It was an era of burgeoning corporate power, particularly railroads, and many of the justices had specialized in corporate law before being elevated to bench. In a seemingly innocuous 1886 case, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, a unanimous Court ruled that a railroad could not be taxed for fences that had been erected by the state and were therefore not part of the railroad’s property. More significant, however, was an aside taken down by a court reporter, in which Chief Justice Waite asserted, “The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.”

From there, corporations began to receive the very same Fourteenth Amendment and Bill of Rights protections that had been denied to black Americans, so much so that the eminent legal historian Edward S. Corwin wrote in 1909, “This tribunal began a reinterpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment in the light of the principles of Lockian individualism and of Spencerian Laissez Faire, which traverses the results it had previously reached at every point.” Corporate power soared still more in the wake of the Court’s stance, with critics accusing railroad men and other corporate giants of trying to buy the country.

And these corporate protections, wholly extra-Constitutional, continue to be reinforced today. So in Citizens United, when Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority to grant free speech rights to a corporation established for the sole purpose of trying to buy an election, he was walking in Morrison Waite’s footsteps. Not a particularly exalted place to be.

 

By: Lawrence Goldstone, The New Republic, October 2, 2015

October 7, 2015 Posted by | Citizens United, Jim Crow, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“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

October 7, 2015 Posted by | Conservatism, Conservatives, John Roberts, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Obama’s Case For Single-Issue Voting – On Guns”: Make Sure That Anybody Who You Are Voting For Is On The Right Side Of This Issue

Two weeks ago, before the mass-shooting in Oregon, Quinnipiac released national poll results on a variety of issues, including guns. When respondents were asked, for example, “Do you support or oppose requiring background checks for all gun buyers?” the results weren’t close: 93% of Americans support the idea.

In fact, while bipartisan consensus seems difficult in these polarized times, this is an issue where Democrats and Republicans are on the same page. According to the Quinnipiac results, 90% of GOP voters support mandatory background checks for all gun buyers, 92% of independents agree, as do 98% of Democrats.

And yet, the idea stands no realistic chance of success in the Republican-led Congress. It won’t even get a vote. Elected lawmakers know what the polls say, but they don’t care.

Why is that? Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum explained the other day, “Most polls don’t tell us how deeply people feel. Sure, lots of American’s think that universal background checks are a good idea, but they don’t really care that much.”

I think that’s generally correct. On issues like background checks, progressives have effectively won half a battle: on key elements of the policy debate, the left has persuaded the vast majority of Americans on the merits of an idea. The second half of the battle is more complicated: making the transition from passive agreement to genuine passion for constructive change.

All of which leads us to something President Obama said on Friday, which was a departure from his previous rhetoric on the subject.

“[W]e’ve got to change the politics of this. And that requires people to feel – not just feel deeply – because I get a lot of letters after this happens. ‘Do something!’ Well, okay, here’s what you need to do.

“You have to make sure that anybody who you are voting for is on the right side of this issue. And if they’re not, even if they’re great on other stuff, for a couple of election cycles you’ve got to vote against them, and let them know precisely why you’re voting against them. And you just have to, for a while, be a single-issue voter because that’s what is happening on the other side.

“And that’s going to take some time. I mean, the NRA has had a good start. They’ve been at this a long time, they’ve perfected what they do. You’ve got to give them credit – they’re very effective, because they don’t represent the majority of the American people but they know how to stir up fear; they know how to stir up their base; they know how to raise money; they know how to scare politicians; they know how to organize campaigns. And the American people are going to have to match them in their sense of urgency if we’re actually going to stop this.”

I’ve seen President Obama talk about gun violence many times, but I don’t recall seeing him speak this explicitly about single-issue voting before.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 5, 2015

October 7, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , | 5 Comments

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