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“Democrats, Don’t Blow It”: Ask Yourselves, Whom Would You Prefer To Name Future Supreme Court Judges?

The death of Antonin Scalia has set off yet another epic partisan struggle as Senate Republicans seek to deny President Obama his constitutional right to nominate the next Supreme Court justice. They want to wait out Obama’s last year in office, hoping his successor will be one of their own.

If the Democrats choose Bernie Sanders as their presidential candidate, Republicans will almost certainly get their wish. Furthermore, the Republican president would probably have a Republican-majority Senate happy to approve his selection.

The makeup of senatorial races this November gives Democrats a decent chance of capturing a majority. Having the radical Sanders on the ballot would hurt them in swing states.

Some Sanders devotees will argue with conviction that these purplish Democrats are not real progressives anyway, not like our Bernie. Herein lies the Democrats’ problem.

No sophisticated pollster puts stock in current numbers showing Sanders doing well against possible Republican foes. The right has not subjected Sanders to the brutality it routinely rains on Hillary Clinton — precisely because he is the candidate they want to run a Republican against. Should Sanders become the nominee, the skies will open.

One may applaud Sanders’ denunciation of big money in politics, but a moderate Democrat in the White House could do something about it. A democratic socialist not in the White House cannot. Campaign finance reform would be a hard slog under any circumstances, but a seasoned politician who plays well with others could bring a reluctant few to her side.

Some younger liberals may not know the history of the disastrous 2000 election, where Republicans played the left for fools. Polls were showing Al Gore and George W. Bush neck-and-neck, particularly in the pivotal state of Florida.

Despite the stakes, prominent left-wing voices continued to back the third-party candidacy of Ralph Nader. You had Michael Moore bouncing on stages where he urged cheering liberals to vote for the radical Nader because there was no difference between Gore and Bush. Republicans, meanwhile, were running ads for Nader. That was no secret. It was in the papers.

When the Florida tally came in, Bush held a mere 537-vote edge. The close results prompted Florida to start a recount of the votes. Then, in a purely partisan play, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court stopped the recount, handing the election to Bush.

The bigger point is that Gore would have been the undisputed winner in 2000 had Nader not vacuumed up almost 100,000 Florida votes, most of which would have surely gone to him.

Same deal in New Hampshire, where Nader siphoned off more than 22,000 votes. Bush won there by only 7,211 ballots.

Now, Sanders is an honorable man running a straightforward campaign for the Democratic nomination. One can’t imagine his playing the third-party spoiler.

But what makes today similar to 2000 is how many on the left are so demanding of ideological purity that they’d blow the opportunity to keep the White House in Democratic hands. Of course, they don’t see it that way. This may reflect their closed circle of like-minded friends — or an illusion that others need only see the light, and their hero will sweep into the Oval Office.

The other similarity to 2000 is the scorn the believers heap on the experienced liberal alternative. They can’t accept the compromises, contradictions and occasional bad calls that attach to any politician who’s fought in the trenches.

The next president will almost certainly be either Clinton or a Republican. Democrats must ask themselves: Whom would you prefer to name future Supreme Court judges?


By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, February 16, 2016

February 19, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democrats, Hillary Clinton, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

“Whistling Past The Graveyard”: Why The Raging Dysfunction In Washington Is The New Normal

When Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy abruptly withdrew from his frontrunning candidacy to succeed John Boehner as speaker of the House, it underscored just how dysfunctional the “governing” Republican Party has become. The dispute within the party is not ideological — the degree of policy consensus within the Republican conference is remarkable. Rather, the dispute is tactical. Some party elites, like Boehner, understand that there’s no chance that Republican objectives like repealing the Affordable Care Act and defunding Planned Parenthood can be achieved with Barack Obama in the White House. Members of the Freedom Caucus, conversely, believe (or pretend to believe) that threatening government shutdowns and debt defaults can somehow force Obama to sign bills erasing his primary policy achievements. No wonder nobody wants the job.

It’s tempting to think that this rolling crisis, in which threats to the basic functioning of government become routine, is a temporary phenomenon. But there is a very real and frightening possibility: This is the new normal. The presence of two ideologically coherent parties, combined with the separation of legislative and executive authority, is probably going to produce similar results whenever there’s divided government.

There is a tendency to assume that the American constitutional order is inherently functional, and that there’s no problem that can’t be solved by replacing some bad actors in the legislature and/or judiciary. Nostalgic appeals to a more functional era are pervasive. In a recent interview with Gawker‘s Hamilton Nolan, for example, the dark-horse presidential candidate and legal scholar Lawrence Lessig asserted that the government “has no capacity to make decisions any more” and “it’s trivially easy for any major reform on the left or the right to be blocked,” but that “it’s a 20-year problem” based on the fact that “such a tiny number of people are funding campaigns.”

This is a happy story, despite the outward appearance of despair. If American constitutionalism is essentially functional, but has been ruined by some 5-4 campaign finance decisions issued by the Supreme Court, the problems can be solved. Not easily, but it’s possible to think that the next unified Democratic government can restore order.

But the truth is considerably darker. First of all, Lessig underestimates how difficult major social reform has always been in the United States. It was “trivially easy” for any major reform to be stopped before the author of Citizens United had even been born. The vast majority of the federal welfare and regulatory state was passed during two very brief periods: FDR’s first term and LBJ’s first three years in office. Otherwise, the alleged Golden Age of American politics was largely defined by statis.

Furthermore, it’s not a coincidence that the brief periods of reform occurred during periods of unusually large Democratic supermajorities in Congress. And even these periods were far from unalloyed liberal triumphs: The New Deal, for example, gave disproportionately fewer benefits to African-Americans to win support from Southern Democrats. The American constitutional order was designed to make major changes difficult, and it has largely succeeded.

Lessig is right, however, that some things have gotten worse in the last 20 years. It’s never been easy to pass major reform legislation, and as the first two years of the Obama administration shows, it’s still possible given enough Democrats in Congress. What has changed is that it used to be possible to do basic tasks like keeping the executive and judicial branches properly staffed and the government funded. Congress could also at least pass compromises on issues of lower-order importance. Things have gotten genuinely worse in recent decades in these respects.

Where Lessig is wrong is to think that there’s a magic bullet that can fix the problem. Reducing the role of money in politics and increasing access to the ballot are salutary initiatives that would improve things at the margin, but the dysfunction of American government is rooted deeply in the American constitutional order.

As Matt Yglesias recently explained at Vox, the fundamental problem is the diffusion of accountability that comes from separating the legislative and executive branches. As Yglesias observes, “Within a presidential system, gridlock leads to a constitutional trainwreck with no resolution.” Whether Democrats or Republicans are blamed for dysfunction in a period of divided government depends largely on who voters tend to support on a tribal level.

A paradox of the American separation-of-powers system is that actions like a government shutdown can hurt the reputation of Congress as a whole without threatening the electability of most individual members, a paradox Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has exploited brilliantly. Whereas congressional leaders in the opposition used to think that they had to collaborate on at least some issues with a president to avoid being punished, McConnell and other contemporary leaders have recognized that denying the president accomplishments hurts the president more than it hurts them. And lest any Republican member of Congress consider returning to the old norms for the good of the country — I know, but let’s pretend for a second — they’re likely to face a viable primary challenge.

Does this mean, as Yglesias argues, that American democracy is “doomed”? This is unclear. But it does mean that the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., is likely to get worse before it gets better. And pretending that any single reform — no matter how worthy in itself — can solve these deeper problems is whistling past the graveyard.


By: Paul Lemieux, The Week, October 20, 2015

October 24, 2015 Posted by | Democracy, Governing, Separation of Powers | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“What The RNC’s Pathetic Loyalty Pledge Says About The GOP”: They’d All Endorse Charles Manson If He Were Running Against Hillary Clinton

Some news outlets are reporting that Donald Trump will sign the loyalty pledge that the Republican National Committee has demanded of its candidates, in an apparent effort to foreclose the possibility that Trump will run as a third-party candidate if he doesn’t win the GOP nomination. Trump has scheduled a news conference for this afternoon where he’ll make his announcement.

Something tells me that Trump figures that by the time the party gets its nominee, either it’ll be him, or he’ll be bored of running for president by then and won’t want to bother running a long-shot third party candidacy almost sure to fail. On the other hand, if he really wanted to break the pledge because America so desperately needs his super-classy, gold-plated leadership, then he would do it in an instant.

But beyond the question of whether Trump will honor the pledge, this whole affair is an excellent demonstration of just how limited the modern political party’s power is.

Back in the good old days, parties picked their presidential nominees in the proverbial smoke-filled room, where the bigwigs would get together and make whatever choice they thought was best. There was plenty of factional maneuvering, infighting and intrigue, but the voters were only a tangential part of the process. Then between the 1968 and 1972 elections, both parties reformed their nomination processes to ensure that convention delegates would be selected by primaries and caucuses, which delivered power into the voters’ hands. That meant that anybody could run and potentially win, whether he had the support of the party establishment or not. When the 2010 Citizens United decision created a wide-open campaign finance system, the ability of the establishment to guide and shape the nominating contest was reduced even further, because now anyone with a billionaire buddy or two can wage a strong campaign whether they have the support of party leaders or not.

That doesn’t mean that those party leaders have no more influence. They can still deliver key endorsements, raise money, and help candidates move voters to the polls. But in the face of a phenomenon like Donald Trump, none of the tools at their disposal seem to mean very much. Just look at how that establishment helped Jeb Bush raised $100 million, a “shock and awe” campaign that was supposed to drive other candidates from the race and make Jeb the obvious nominee. It’s not exactly working out as planned; in the current average, Jeb is in third place behind Trump and Ben Carson, with an underwhelming eight percent support.

Trump, on the other hand, doesn’t need anyone else’s money, doesn’t care about who endorses him, and gets more free media attention than pretty much everyone else combined every time he opens his mouth. If this race comes down to a contest between someone like Bush and someone like Carson, the establishment could help tilt the field in Bush’s favor. But against Trump they’re almost powerless.

The loyalty pledge was sent to all the candidates, and as of yet none of them have said they won’t sign. And why would they? It isn’t as though Marco Rubio or Scott Walker is going to wage an independent campaign for president if they fail to get the party’s nomination. Of course, that means that they’ll be promising to support Trump if he’s the nominee, which might be a little distasteful, but all of them would endorse Charles Manson if he were running against Hillary Clinton.

Since the pledge would be happily violated by the only candidate who it was designed to constrain in the first place, it has little practical significance. But it does make the Republican Party look pathetic. They’re so scared of the guy leading their primary race (as well they should be) that they have to beg him to pinkie-swear that he won’t turn around and screw them over in the general election if they’re lucky enough for him not to be their nominee. But their real problem may be that by the time they get there, he will have already done enough damage that it’ll be too late.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, September 3, 2015

September 8, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, RNC Loyalty Pledge | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Supreme Sham”: They Call’m As They Prefer To See ‘Em

We can’t know yet how the Supreme Court will rule on same-sex marriage in June, but we already do know this: The decision won’t be based on a dispassionate reading of the Constitution. The 5-4 (or perhaps 6-3) ruling will be a reflection of the political orientation, values, and visceral feelings of each justice; as their “questions” (actually pronouncements) showed this week, every justice except perhaps Anthony Kennedy came into this case with his or her mind made up.

Each side will present elaborate rationales to justify its views, but legal merit will not determine which side prevails. The ruling will simply represent the results of a mini-election on a court as nakedly partisan and polarized as the country itself — a court with four “blue” justices, four “red” ones, and one swing vote. “It becomes increasingly difficult to contend with a straight face that constitutional law is not simply politics by other means,” says University of Chicago law professor Justin Driver, “and that justices are not merely politicians clad in fine robes.”

It was not always thus. Until recent decades, the court’s landmark decisions often came in one-sided rulings (Brown v. Board was 9-0). Presidents sometimes nominated distinguished jurists with indistinct ideologies, such as Byron White and David Souter, whose philosophies evolved over time. That hasn’t happened since Ronald Reagan appointed Kennedy, and it isn’t likely to happen again. So let’s drop any remaining pretense that the justices are impartial arbiters calling “balls and strikes” on the issues that divide us: gay marriage, ObamaCare, voter ID, campaign finance, religious freedom, et al. They call ’em as they prefer to see ’em.


By: William Falk, The Week, May 1, 2015

May 4, 2015 Posted by | Partisanship, Politics, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It’s A Sad State Of Affairs”: Is This Who We Want Driving Our Democracy?

On Tuesday, the Center for Media and Democracy released documents showing that mega-donor Charles Koch was a member of the far-right John Birch Society from 1961 to 1968, when the organization’s work opposing the civil rights movement was reaching a fever pitch.

From publishing materials calling the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King the “biggest” “liar in the country” and the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery a “sham and farce” to promoting pieces railing against the racial integration of schools, the 1960s saw the John Birch Society leading abhorrent attacks on the civil rights movement. According to The Progressive, Charles Koch was not simply a member of the society in name. He funded the organization’s campaigns, helped it promote right-wing radio programs, and supported its bookstore in Wichita.

Sound familiar? Though Charles resigned from the John Birch Society in 1968, he and his brother David are still using their wealth to support right-wing efforts — now through a complicated and secretive web of conservative groups. Put together, the groups in the Koch-backed network raised over $400 million in 2012 and have dumped heaps of cash into campaigns and projects to promote an anti-government and anti-worker agenda.

Unfortunately, today’s campaign finance landscape makes it easy for billionaires, corporations, and special interests to try and bend our political system to their will. In 2010, the Supreme Court infamously ruled in Citizens United v. FEC that corporations can give unlimited sums of money to independently influence elections. This year, the High Court made things even worse when they ruled in McCutcheon v. FEC that wealthy individuals can give significantly more money directly to candidates, parties, and committees than they could before, upwards of $3.5 million per election cycle.

It’s a sad state of affairs. But as the leader of a national network of progressive African American ministers, many of whom are working hard to raise awareness about the dangers of money in politics, I often remind people: Democracy is for all of us. Though it can feel like democracy in America today is only for the few — the elite donor class who can bankroll the candidates of their choice — I have faith that this is not how things will always be.

There’s an important proposal moving forward across the country and in Congress that would help shift the power in our political system away from people like the Koch brothers and towards everyday Americans. This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee is voting on a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizen United. Introduced by Sen. Tom Udall, the 28th Amendment would restore legislators’ ability to set commonsense limits on money in elections. While amending our nation’s guiding text is a weighty proposal, our country has a proud history of amending the Constitution, when necessary, to expand democracy and fix damaging Supreme Court decisions.

With the voices of everyday Americans increasingly being drowned out by the likes of the Koch brothers, fixing our democracy can’t wait.


By:Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, The Huffington Post Blog, July 9, 2014



July 10, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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