“Celebrating The Nation That Can’t Stay Still”: The Purpose Of The Past Is To Serve The Present And Future
It is the birthright of all Americans to be patriotic in their own way, something worth remembering at a moment of great political division. Instead of challenging each other’s love of country, we should accept that deep affection can take different forms.
There is, of course, the option of setting politics aside altogether on the Fourth of July. Anyone who loves baseball, hot dogs, barbecues, fireworks and beaches as much as I do has no problem with that. Still, I’m not a fan of papering over our disagreements. It is far better to face and discuss them with at least a degree of mutual respect.
When it comes to the varieties of patriotism, I’d make the case that some of us look more toward the past and others to the future. Some Americans speak of our nation’s manifest virtues as rooted in old values nurtured by a deposit of ideas that we must preserve against all challengers. Others focus on our country’s proven capacity for self-correction and change.
As a result, one stream of reverence for our founders flows from a belief that they have set down timeless truths. The alternative view lifts them up as political and intellectual adventurers willing to break with old systems and accepted ways of thinking.
These are broad categories, and many citizens are no doubt drawn simultaneously to aspects of being American that I have put on opposing sides of my past/future, continuity/change ledgers.
Nonetheless, most of us tilt in one direction or the other. Standing at either end of this continuum makes you no less of an American.
Eighty years ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt went to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, to offer an Independence Day address insisting that the inventors of our experiment created a nation that would never fear change. He spoke nearly seven years after the onset of the Great Depression in the election year that would end with his biggest landslide victory. FDR was in the midst of the boldest and most radical wave of reform that the New Deal would produce, and you can hear this in his speech. It still serves as a rallying cry for those of us who see our founders as champions of repair, renewal and reform.
What, he asked, had the founders done? “They had broken away from a system of peasantry, away from indentured servitude,” Roosevelt explained. “They could build for themselves a new economic independence. Theirs were not the gods of things as they were, but the gods of things as they ought to be. And so, as Monticello itself so well proves, they used new means and new models to build new structures.”
Not the gods of things as they were, but the gods of things as they ought to be: Thus the creed of the reformer.
As for Jefferson himself, Roosevelt said, he “applied the culture of the past to the needs and the life of the America of his day. His knowledge of history spurred him to inquire into the reason and justice of laws, habits and institutions. His passion for liberty led him to interpret and adapt them in order to better the lot of mankind.”
Here again, the purpose of the past is to serve the present and future. History is about testing institutions against standards and adapting them, as Roosevelt put it, to “enlarge the freedom of the human mind and to destroy the bondage imposed on it by ignorance, poverty and political and religious intolerance.”
There is a straight line between Roosevelt’s understanding of our tradition and President Obama’s as he expressed it in his 2015 speech on the 50th anniversary of the voting rights march in Selma.
“What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished,” Obama declared, “that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?”
No doubt many Americans celebrate a narrative on our national holiday that has a more traditional ring than FDR’s or Obama’s. We can jointly honor our freedom to argue about this but perhaps agree on one proposition: If we had been unwilling in the past to embrace Lincoln’s call to “think anew and act anew” and to find FDR’s “new means” and “new models,” we might not have made it to our 240th birthday.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 3, 2016
On the very eve of a Democratic National Convention 20 years ago, at the very peak of Dick Morris’s one period of true political power, he was knocked from his pedestal by a story in the Star tabloid detailing his romps with a prostitute that included not just toe-sucking and other unusual carnal delights, but the sharing of material from White House political briefings.
It somehow seems appropriate, then, that at the tail end of his long career in politics and punditry, Morris has signed on with another tabloid:
The National ENQUIRER today announced that renowned Author and Political Commentator Dick Morris would be joining the magazine in the role of Chief Political Commentator & Correspondent. The appointment of Morris to the editorial team further establishes The ENQUIRER as one of the leading voices of this political season.
For his part Morris made it clear what sort of perspective he would lend to the Enquirer‘s political coverage:
As this critical election approaches, I am thrilled to have a perch from which to tell the unvarnished truth, particularly about Hillary Clinton — facts other publications just don’t print because it doesn’t fit.
What’s most interesting about the Enquirer hire is that the tabloid is almost certainly more credible than Morris. In 2012 he lost whatever small shred of authority he had left with predictions — right up to Election Day — that Mitt Romney and the GOP weren’t just going to win, but were going to win big. To call him a laughingstock after Obama won is an understatement.
Old folks may recall that Dick Morris would have never had his famous White House career had Hillary Clinton not encouraged her husband to bring him in after the Democrats’ 1994 electoral debacle — but whatever. No good deed goes unpunished in this quintessentially nasty man’s world.
By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, June 3, 2016
“Chuck Grassley’s Supreme Court Coup”: To Protect The Court From Politics, Seat Nine Chuck Grassleys And Go Home
Sen. Chuck Grassley is in a tough spot. The Republican from Iowa, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has to decide whether or not to grant Judge Merrick Garland a hearing or to continue the unprecedented obstruction of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. When a guy dressed like Ben Franklin is trolling you through town halls in Iowa, you know you’re in trouble.
But Grassley’s bigger problem is that he has indicated in the past that he knows better than to take a torch to the Supreme Court for the sake of partisanship. Like most court-watchers, Grassley is well aware that the institution is often political, and that it always has been. But like most court-watchers, he is also aware that the continued viability of the institution rests on the jagged myth that the court can transcend politics and those moments when the court actually lives up to that ideal.
Grassley surely knows better than most that the court has only the public’s esteem to shore it up—and he knows better than anyone that the public trust demands at least some confidence the judicial project is about more than brute power and party loyalty.
Grassley knows all that, but as pressure on him has ramped up to hold hearings—and a vote—on a seat that remains empty, he’s apparently decided it doesn’t matter anymore. On Tuesday, Grassley gave a speech that went after the Supreme Court as a purely political institution, pantsing the entire high court, and Chief Justice John Roberts by name, on the floor of the United States Senate. In so doing, he not only damaged the Senate’s relationship with the court in a way he may not be able to repair, but also exposed his own hypocrisy as chairman of a judiciary committee tasked with ensuring that the court can function.
Grassley went after Roberts specifically for having the temerity to give a speech before Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, where he noted that “the [nomination] process is not functioning very well” and that well-qualified nominees—including current Justices Samuel Alito, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor—should have been confirmed along bipartisan lines.
No way, said Grassley. If politics have overtaken the nomination process, it’s the court’s fault. “What’s troubling is that a large segment of the population views the justices as political,” Grassley said. And whose fault is that? “The justices themselves have gotten political,” he declared. “And because the justices’ decisions are often political and transgress their constitutional role the process becomes more political.” In fact, Grassley added, (apolitically) his own constituents believe that Roberts “is part of this problem.”
“They believe that the number of his votes have reflected political considerations, not legal ones,” Grassley continued, adding with a flourish “so, physician, heal thyself.” To add a little mob flair, he then warned the chief not to insert himself into Garland’s nomination fight.
To be fair to Grassley here, we should consider: Isn’t he just telling the truth about politics influencing court opinions?
The problem with this defense is that the judiciary chair’s double-helix of hypocrisy gives him no standing to call out Roberts or any member of the court. Grassley has—at various times in his career—argued that the court is different from the other two patently political branches. For instance: In January 2006, with Alito having just been appointed to the high court, Grassley argued that the politics had nothing to do with the nomination process, nor the court. “The Senate’s tradition has been to confirm individuals who are well qualified to interpret and to apply the law and who understand the proper role of the judiciary to dispense justice,” he said. This coming from the man who is now arguing that politics is the reason we can’t have a hearing.
But the extra special hypocrisy sauce here is that Grassley now says that the only way to depoliticize the court would be to appoint nominees who conform their political views to those of the Republican Party. “Justices appointed by Republicans are generally committed to following the law,” he said. And then he argued that the court is too political because Republican nominees don’t act sufficiently politically. “There are justices who frequently vote in a conservative way,” he said. “But some of the justices appointed even by Republicans often don’t vote in a way that advances conservative policy.”
Wait, what? So the problem for Grassley isn’t “political” justices—it’s justices appointed by Republicans who don’t advance “conservative policy” 100 percent of the time. And with that, he revealed his real issue. His Senate floor attack isn’t about depoliticizing the court at all. It’s about calling out Roberts for being insufficiently loyal to the Tea Party agenda when he voted not to strike down Obamacare.
What is really being said here is that there is only one way to interpret the Constitution and that is in the way that “advances conservative policy.” According to Grassley’s thinking, a justice who fails to do that in every single case before him or her is “political” and damaging the court. By this insane logic, the only way to protect the court from politics is to seat nine Chuck Grassleys and go home. And to achieve this type of court he will stop at nothing, including trash talking the entire institution from the Senate floor and threatening the chief justice who will, because he is chief justice, decline to respond.
Again, remember back at the time of the fight over Alito when the same Sen. Grassley warned, “the Supreme Court does not have seats reserved for one philosophy or another. That kind of reasoning is completely antithetical to the proper role of the judiciary in our system of government.” What that seems to have meant in retrospect: There is only a single judicial philosophy and if I don’t get a nominee who shares that philosophy, I’ll happily slander the whole court.
Grassley’s aides like to claim that he believes in his heart that this unexpected election-year vacancy offers the country a rare opportunity for a national debate about the role of the Supreme Court. We have a forum for just such a debate. It’s called a confirmation hearing. But Grassley doesn’t want a debate. He wants a coup.
Speaking Thursday afternoon at the University of Chicago Law School on the court’s role, President Obama warned against exactly this form of dangerous and destructive politics. When people “just view the courts as an extension of our political parties—polarized political parties” he warned, public confidence in the justice system is eroded. “If confidence in the courts consistently breaks down, then you see our attitudes about democracy generally start to break down, and legitimacy breaking down in ways that are very dangerous.”
Sen. Grassley has made the choice to hold no hearings and have no vote for an eminently qualified jurist because—as he has now openly stated—there are only two legitimate justices on the Supreme Court, the two who agree with his viewpoint 100 percent of the time. Grassley, and the rest of his Republican colleagues who continue to refuse hearings and a vote on Merrick Garland, have seamlessly and shamelessly turned the entire judicial branch into their own, private constitutional snowglobe.
By: Dahlia Lithwick, Slate , April 7, 2016
“State Of The Union Vs. State Of The Trump”: Our Political Spite And Meanness Have Gotten Out Of Control
Barack Obama really does not have it so bad. He gets $400,000 a year in salary, $50,000 in expenses, a fleet of planes, a car and driver, and almost all the golf he can stand.
In other words, the president’s life is almost as good as Donald Trump’s.
With one major exception: President Obama feels actual remorse. And considerable responsibility. And Trump may never have felt either.
In his last State of the Union speech Tuesday night, President Obama spoke of something presidents rarely speak of at such moments: regret.
Pointing out how “our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention,” Obama said, “Most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter, that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.”
He went on, “It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency: that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.”
And who is to blame, according to Obama?
Obama is to blame. At least a little.
“There’s no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide,” Obama said, “and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.”
But he won’t hold the office for very much longer — only a little more than a year. And Obama said that if things are going to improve, somebody else needs to bear some blame around here: you and I.
Which made it an unusual political speech. If there is one rule of politics, one unbreakable commandment, it is this: Thou shalt never blame the voters.
The voters are holy. They can do no wrong. Or, rather, they can be blamed for no wrong. Because if you blame them, they may not vote for your party. And we couldn’t have that, could we?
Yes, we could, said Obama. Because our political spite and meanness have gotten out of control. And that must stop.
“My fellow Americans, this cannot be my task? — or any president’s — alone,” Obama said. “There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber who would like to see more cooperation, a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the demands of getting elected. … It’s not enough to just change a congressman or a senator or even a president; we have to change the system to reflect our better selves.”
We must “end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters and not the other way around,” Obama said. “We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics so that a handful of families and hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.”
In other words: Don’t hold your breath.
No, wait. That’s the kind of cheap cynicism that Obama wants to eradicate or at least reduce.
“What I’m asking for is hard,” he admitted. “It’s easier to be cynical, to accept that change isn’t possible and politics is hopeless and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.”
You bet it is! And if you get cynical and hopeless enough, they make you a columnist!
Obama blamed an array of people, most of whom turned out to be Republicans running for president.
Chris Christie was the target when Obama said, “As we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.”
Ted Cruz was the target when Obama said, “The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.”
And Trump was the target when Obama said: “When politicians insult Muslims … that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. It betrays who we are as a country.”
Making these statements — as true as they may be — will not do much to decrease the rancor in Washington, however.
Which Obama admits. He is not perfect. Often criticized for being aloof and academic, he is, in fact, proud of his toughness. If you are not tough in the world of today’s politics, nobody will respect you. Which means you have to be tough without being so tough that nobody will work with you, either.
“Our brand of democracy is hard,” Obama said Tuesday night. But there are good people in it who redeem it.
And Obama listed some of them, including “the American who served his time … but now is dreaming of starting over.”
“The protester determined to prove that justice matters.”
“The young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.”
“The son who finds the courage to come out as who he is and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.”
And Obama ended with a Carl Sandburg-like list, saying Americans are “cleareyed, bighearted, undaunted by challenge, optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
By: Roger Simon, Politico’s Chief Political Columnist; The National Memo, January 13, 2015
“How Pathetically Low Diversity Is On Capitol Hill”: The US Senate: The World’s Whitest Deliberative Body
In the last couple of years racial politics have dominated our political discourse. Regardless of party affiliation or racial identification, most Americans have probably grown to agree on at least one thing: There are no easy policy solutions for solving America’s racial discord and the inequality that fuels it. But I would go a step further and say this is even truer with the current Congress we have in place. While lack of bipartisanship gets most of the credit, or rather blame, for the ineffectiveness of the American Congress, new data highlight another culprit: lack of diversity among senior Senate aides.
A new report out from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that “(p)eople of color make up over 36 percent of the U.S. population, but only 7.1 percent of top Senate staffers.” While the numbers are not good for any ethnic minority population, they are abysmal for black Americans. According to the report, “African-Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but only 0.9 percent of top Senate staffers.” This is particularly troubling given how lacking in diversity the Senate already is. There are currently two African Americans serving in the U.S. Senate (Cory Booker of New Jersey and Tim Scott of South Carolina), one Asian American (Mazie Hirono of Hawaii), and two Hispanic Americans (Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas.)
But lack of racial diversity isn’t the only problem plaguing Congress. Last year, for the first time in history, the majority of members of Congress reported being millionaires. This in an age in which the median wealth of America’s middle class is just over $44,000.
Now I’m not here to argue that white millionaires should be excluded from Congress. But I am here to argue that they shouldn’t comprise most of Congress.
Well for starters, ideally we should have a legislative body reflective of the people it represents. But beyond idealism, there is a very real policy deficit we face as a country when we have people who have never experienced problems firsthand, tasked with crafting solutions for those problems.
For instance, for years there has been little done at a federal level to address the issue of racial profiling or police brutality. The reason is not hard to understand: For a white member of Congress who has likely been treated with respect and deference by most members of law enforcement he or she has come into contact with, it’s easy to fathom that he would not consider this a serious or prevalent issue.
Thanks to camera phones, now many elected officials know what black Americans have known all along: There are great members of law enforcement, but there are also far too many who abuse their power and position. Just think for a moment how many lives may have been saved if elected officials, either from their own experiences, or the experiences of their senior aides, had known to prioritize this issue years ago. It is not a coincidence that a black senator, Tim Scott, has been a driving force behind efforts to secure additional federal funding for body cameras for law enforcement to help address this issue.
Similarly, it is not a coincidence that President Obama has made college accessibility and affordability legislative priorities during his time in elected office. Neither he nor his wife came from wealthy backgrounds, and financial aid enabled them both to attend elite universities that allowed them entrée into the halls of power in which they now reside. Is it possible that another president could have been knowledgeable on this issue? Sure. But consider this: Gov. Mitt Romney, President Obama’s opponent in the last presidential election, came from a wealthy and prominent family, so he never endured the hardship of not knowing whether he would graduate college because of his financial status—something I and millions of other Americans have endured.
To be clear, the issue of diversity, or rather lack thereof, within the Senate is not party specific. The Joint Center report notes that while African Americans vote overwhelmingly Democratic, black Americans comprise just .7 percent of top Democratic Senate posts. It could be argued that lack of diversity among Senate aides is even more problematic than lack of diversity among elected officials because senior aides do much of the heaving lifting when it comes to actually writing legislation. So what can be done to change things?
For starters, elected officials and the parties that support them need to make a concerted effort to diversify their internship pools. As someone who started her career as an intern, I speak from experience when I say it is not uncommon to see the most plum internships for prominent candidates and in prominent offices become a resting place for the children of political donors and their friends. These internships can often serve as a pipeline to jobs in the Senate or the White House down the road.
Additionally, both major parties need to begin setting aside some of the money they reserve for attack ads on each other for money to be spent on well-paid racial and class diversity fellowships. Very few young people, except the children of wealthy donors or the wealthy period, can afford to work on campaigns for next to nothing and live with the financial instability early campaign life provides.
But I would say the real responsibility falls into the hands of those of us who claim we’re fed up with our do-nothing Congress. If we’re not happy with them, simply threatening to throw them out during the next election cycle is not enough. We should be asking them the right questions while they’re there representing us. But how many of us bother to ask who our elected officials hire once they get in office? And whether those people are representative of us and have our best interests at heart? In the same way we demand our elected officials keep us updated on their legislative accomplishments, why don’t we demand more regular transparency on who they are surrounding themselves with?
For anything to really change, more of us fed up non-millionaires need to be willing to run for office, or encourage someone we trust to. Or at the very least we need to tell as many bright, young people from underrepresented groups that we can that if they really want to make a difference instead of just expressing outrage on social media, they should become a Senate aide.
By: Keli Goff, The Daily Beast, December 27, 2015