Tuesday, January 31, 2006
the Alito Senate Vote weighted for population
If we weight each Senator's vote with half the population of his or her home state the following totals represent the Alito Senate Vote weighted for population:
The 58 Senators voting YES on Alito = 146,713,748 citizens
The 42 Senators voting NO on Alito = 146,397,932 citizens
Now, each Senator, according to our Constitution has an equal vote. Senators represent their states, and each state, regardless of population, has two Senators. I print this weighted analysis simply to make a political point:
Do not let anyone tell you our nation is not closely divided about our Supreme Court and Samuel Alito. Do not let anyone tell you that the support for Samuel Alito was a "slam dunk." Every Senator must go home and justify this vote to the citizens he or she represents. The 16 vote difference in the Senate does NOT equal a commensurate difference in the population of the states those same Senators represent. In a word, Samuel Alito's votes in the Senate came from Senators representing less populous States.
Either party neglects that reality at their own peril.
(Population Statistics 2004, US Dept. of Commerce and the Census Bureau)
First, I think, as a basic political principle, debates regarding strategy within a political party should be done with respect and realism. That was why I thought Markos's Reality Check post showed leadership. Markos did two things:
That's significant. It highlights a broad common ground where we can come together.
That being said, my post in support of Markos, this moment, added something to the mix that I'd like to revisit: We need a generational shift in strategy and tactics and leadership...We need to define new strategies for a new Democratic Party.
I'd like to talk about strategy in the wake of Samuel Alito's confirmation to the Supreme Court...
I'd like to talk about strategy in an open-ended way, to start a discussion, not end one. Personally, as a 37 year-old Democrat, I think the confirmation of Samuel Alito, as inevitable as it now seems to have been, is highly significant for this generation and the netroots. I think it will have real consequences for our grassroots activism in the next three years.
I would like to focus on how we might best define those consequences ourselves and move forward together.
As a veteran, like many of you, of Gore 2000, I cannot emphasize enough how significant the impact of Howard Dean's message in 2003 was. In 2000, Ralph Nader ran a campaign that lambasted the Democrats as essentially indistinguishable from the GOP. He mocked the Democratic Party's lack of discipline and fight, our lack of willingness to take a principled stand. That hurt all of us who were trying to win votes for Gore in 2000; essentially, we had to overcome an enormous surge of activist energy that accepted Nader's arguments. (In part, of course, because aspects of those arguments had real merit and grassroots appeal.) We Gore supporters had to convince even life-long Democrats that our party was still willing to fight, that we were different from the GOP.
Howard Dean's "people powered politics" of 2003 changed the playing field. While always insisting that his political views were centrist and mainstream, Howard Dean talked frankly about doing a "backbone transplant" on the Democratic Party. The grassroots were hungry for the Dean message. It formed a powerful antidote to Nader's cynicism. In many ways, many of us would not be here on dailyKos or working in the netroots had that message not resonated for us. Following Howard Dean and the DFA phenomenon, we rallied around the idea of defining the Democratic Party as a party of "willing to fight" for its principles.
I would like to point out that this "we" is primarily the Democratic grass roots. The "liberal base" of our party and its close allies; us political junkies, the people who "show up" whether to DFA or other organizations like the Young Democrats and Wellstone Clubs. The reality is, however, that Dean's message and his movement, let's call it the "Centrist, Nationwide, Fighting" Democratic message, is still working its way out across the nation and our party. It is still being defined as we speak. As Chairman Dean has always said, this wasn't a "flash in the pan" movement; people-powered politics is a long-term national strategy.
The Alito confirmation, both in its results and in how it proceeded, is a serious challenge to this movement and this concept.
What we just went through forces us to ask what "fight" means. It forces us to ask what "centrist" means (especially, I think, of Howard Dean). It forces us to ask what our principles are. It forces us to ask what "Fighting in all 50 states" means. The Alito confirmation reopens, once again, the latent cynicism about our Party exploited by Ralph Nader.
If you ask me, at its core the Alito confirmation forms a very real challenge to Chairman Dean's emphasis on "backbone." What the hell does backbone mean now?
I think you can read that question between the lines of Meteor Blades excellent post yesterday:
...every time I walk a precinct or call somebody for a financial contribution this election year, I'm going to run into a lot more "Screw the Democrats. They don't stand up for me." And my only reply will have to be a sheepish, we have to elect more Democrats so those unwilling to stand up for you don't weigh as heavily on the party.
In agreement with Meteor Blades, what I would like to argue is that we in the grassroots need to seize this moment, and these questions, and define them by saying more than simply that it's time to redouble our efforts to elect more Democrats. That is frankly not enough; it is an insufficient response.
I think the Alito confirmation deeply challenges us to do two things:
Chairman Dean and Rep. Rahm Emannuel have put "fight" and "backbone" at the core a proposed reinvention of the Democratic Party. In the wake of Alito, and for the good of our party, it seems to me, we need to better define what the hell "fight and backbone" means or have those terms be something that vaguely embodies our grassroots movement but are not reflected in the disciplined actions of our party.
Strategy Proposals: Consequences from Alito:
The netroots has a choice. We can put our energies together and define this moment in a manner of our choosing, or not. I would argue that undertaking any of the possibilities listed below in a concerted manner would have ripple effects succeed or fail. Here are some of the possibilities on the table. (I'll happily add to this list from your comments.):
- As many have suggested, we might challenge Senator Joe Lieberman, or another sitting Democratic Senator, in his upcoming primary as a way of saying: playing both sides of the fence is simply no longer acceptable.
- We might challenge Chairman Dean and Senator Charles Schumer to reconsider the party's early support of candidate Bob Casey Jr. in the Democratic Pennsylvania primary.
- We might support a fresh candidate who represents the change we want to see, in a race where we can really make a difference: I would suggest looking at Amy Klobuchar in her fight against Santorum-wannabe Mark Kennedy in Minnesota.
- We might create a way to "brand" our contributions as being in support of "Fighting Democrats/Dems with Backbone" and coordinate that on a nation-wide level, perhaps with a new, clearinghouse website.
- We might use a targeting model like the one proposed by Joshua Grossman and I: Starting with the Districts...and pick 15-20 vulnerable GOP House inumbants...and create our own, insurgent, "netroots version" of the DCCC in support of a new brand of Democrats intent on taking back the House.
- We might create a nation-wide network of blogs like SayNotoPombo dedicated to combining netroots activism with offline, grassroots action to defeat Republicans. We might link these blogs together and say to the nations, this how we can fight in a new way.
- We might pick one or two "contrast" issues...an investigation of NSA wiretaps...election and voting reform...Senator Feingold's challenge to the Attorney General...and make them a "backbone" issue that we insist every single Democrat endorse. We might say, this nationwide effort is our response to Alito, get on board, or get out of the way.
Those are just 7 possibilities. We should agree on one, or two, or three and brand them as relating to Alito. I do think we need to do SOMETHING defined, branded and focused. We need to define the consequences of this last battle to the best of our abiilities.
Defining "backbone" and "fight": a generational challenge to Democratic leadership on strategy and principle.
Personally, I think the Alito nomination must mean, in very real terms, some challenges to both Chairman Dean and to current Democratic leaders like John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Dianne Feinstein. I differ from many here whose focus runs more to opposing "moderate Dems". I don't necessarily agree with that strategy. I think the Alito confirmation forces us to ask some tough questions of our core, liberal Democratic leaders.
These are my questions, you may have your own. I strongly advocate that we ask tough questions of our leaders now. That is a part of leadership, and, in my view, our leaders have failed us too often.
Chairman Dean, what does backbone mean? What does "fight" mean? Do you have second thoughts about making 2005, a year with 2 Supreme Court nominations, the year you embraced "Pro-life Dems"? Do you still intend to continue to actively support Bob Casey Jr. before the primary is decided? How do you justify that? What is your message to the Senators who voted for cloture and for Samuel Alito? What is your message to those of us who would like to see a "fair playing field" in Democratic primary contests?
Senator Obama, what does leadership mean? Do you get out in front and lead the way with a clear message, or do you follow and equivocate? Why does your message seem to be "wait and see" and not "lead the way?" You may think you have more time to form a leadership style. Many of us, however, are hoping to see real strategic leadership from you right now. That means getting in front of issues. Will you do that?
Senator Feinstein, you will ask us Californians to support your leadership this fall. Why should we support you and not someone who represents a fresh face and new leadership for our party? Why should we rubber stamp your candidacy? How will you lead us forward? What is your message to Democrats who are hungry for new leadership? How are you relevant to us now, in the battles we face going forward?
Senator Kerry, you led us in the fight in 2004. You led the filibuster fight against Alito in 2006. You lost in both tests. Why should we rally behind you the next time? In particular, why should we in the netroots who received leaked hopeful messages at the last minute from both your Presidential campaign and the filibuster effort, not feel that we've been jerked around? How do you justify your strategic leadership of our party if not by results?
Senator Clinton, you seemed poised to ask for our support in the 2008 Presidential campaign. How are you getting in front of the issues and shaping them? How are you anticipating events like the Alito nomination and helping your fellow Democratic Senators show unity and fight? Can you bring us together? Have you shown that ability? If you can't get your fellow Senators to work together on our central principles, why should we support you for President?
I would add that I feel strongly that we need fresh leadership for the Democratic Party. We need new faces speaking for us even if we rally behind a familiar face when the situation merits. (Al Gore and John Edwards, I mean both of you if you're listening. In my view, as well, we need more women and candidates of color at the forefront speaking for all of us.)
But, my challenge to our leadership is also a challenge to the netroots:
(As an aside, to be honest, I'm still pretty stunned at the vindictiveness against NARAL....and the reluctance in some quearters to talk frankly about Choice. I mean, especially with Alito on the court, let's make common cause and work with the broad support of the foundations of Roe. Too much is at stake.)
I leave you with one thought.
We all watched and participated in the Alito fight, just like we will watch the SOTU tonight.
It is my hope that this November, having fought together, we will have answered a few of the above questions not just with answers in words but with ACTION.
I firmly believe that a "surprise" swing of either the House or the Senate is possible. I would love to think that between now and November the same passion we brought to the Alito battle will be shown...day in and day out...in the effort to win our country back for every American citizen.
Monday, January 30, 2006
the Alito cloture vote
I worked a long day today and, while I'm aware of the results in the Senate: I don't feel I have much to add to the discussion here in the netroots since I haven't been close to that discussion.
One simple observation that occurs to me, however, is to note that the Dean model of "fighting" in 2004 seemed to offer a response to the "cynicism" of Nader in 2000 for progressive activists.
The two groups of people, Deans supporters and Nader supporters don't necessarily overlap. But....
Dean's call for 'backbone' had real appeal to people in our corner of the political world: Bloggers, netroots and liberal activists, people who like to debate progressive ideas and issues. Dean's fight provided Democratic activists someplace to point when Nader supports argued about the Democrat's lack backbone.
Today's result, as predictable as it was, turned alot of that upside down. There's something to think about in that.
One other note: Samuel Alito feels to me very much like having William Rehnquist on the Court again. I am not looking forward to the test cases we are about to see rise up through the system, or the resulting acrimonious battles.
The same people who resent the politics of pro-Choice activists should now realize that it will be the anti-
Choice activists who will take the Alito nomination as a call to arms, who will force the issue, who will drive this thing.
That's something to think about too.
Bush knew full well this would happen. In fact, he has invited it.
As strange as it sounds. Alito is Alito. He is what he is.
At the end of the day, the Alito nomination, like so much that is foul in our political lives, traces back George Bush, the GOP and the voters who gave them the Presidency and the Senate.
the Roberts Test ii
Whether or not this filibuster effort is successful, what is said today will be significant. The message sent must have unity and principle. It must also be tactical and clear
Some oppose Samuel Alito simply because he is "too extreme". Some oppose him for his views on Choice and his refusal to accept Roe v Wade. Some oppose him for a judicial philoshopy that, the record shows, is antithetical to the little guy. Some oppose him for his views on executive power. All of these reasons are sufficient for any Senator to vote no on Samuel Alito; they form a laundry list of complaints against him.
What I would like to add to the mix is a concept that helps unite these views into a strategic formulation that has broad appeal and lasting usefulness:
Samuel Alito does not pass the Roberts Test.
Chief Justice John Roberts is an exemplary conservative. There is no doubting the bona fides of his conservative credentials: clerking for Associate Justice William Rehnquist from 1980-81, service in the Reagan Administration from 1982-1986, nominations to the federal judiciary from both President G.H.W. Bush and his son, President George W. Bush.
As the wiki article linked above notes:
Cass Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago argues that in general, Roberts appears to be a judicial minimalist, emphasizing precedent, as opposed to an originalism-oriented or rights-focused jurist. "Judge Roberts's opinions thus far are careful, lawyerly and narrow. They avoid broad pronouncements. They do not try to reorient the law."
Despite these conservative credentials, John Roberts won confirmation in the United States Senate by a vote of 78-22, winning the support of all of the Republican Senators, 1 Independent, and even 22 Democratic Senators.
In part this was because of Chief Justice Roberts's brilliant legal mind and record. In no small part this was due to his performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
It is significant, however, to note an important statement John Roberts made before that committee that confirms Professor Sunstein's analysis.
Chief Justice Roberts said in his 2003 Senate testimony before his confirmation as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit :
"Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land...There is nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent, as well as Casey.
Many have focused on that statement simply as an indication of Chief Justice John Roberts's acceptance of the "essential holdings" of Roe v Wade. On its face, the above statement is a significant position regarding Roe v Wade. Since John Roberts is now Chief Justice, it is, in many ways, historic. In fact, however, it means much more than that.
What our current Chief Justice established in his testimony before the judiciary committee was a standard, not simply about his position vis a vis Roe, but a standard that established Chief Justice Roberts's lack of hostility to precedent. Justice Roberts indicated that he will not try to, in Professor Sunstein's words, "reorient the law."
This standard, both in regards to Roe, and in terms of what it says about Chief Justice Roberts's basic judicial temperment forms what we can call, the Roberts Test.
Chief Justice John Roberts, whether he intended to or not, established a standard by which we can measure the acceptabilty of any nominee.
John Roberts won the votes of Senators from both parties because his acceptance of Roe conveyed that he was not hostile to Supreme Court precedent and settled law. Now, like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg before him, Justice Robert's position did not say anything about how the he would rule in any given case. But it did convey Roberts's willingness to go beyond abstract and general respect for Supreme Court precedent; the thrust of his testimony conveyed Judge Roberts's willingness to accept the legacy of the Supreme Court's decisions. It was this lack of hostility that won Judge Roberts his position as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the votes of Senators of both parties.
When Judge Samuel Alito came before the very same Senate Judiciary Committee....after Chief Justice Roberts had already established the tenor and shadow of this "umbrella"...this "test" which might be applied to any nominee...Judge Alito deliberately chose NOT to avail himself of the cover of the acceptance of "precedent and settled law" in regards to Roe v Wade.
Here is how the Washington Post reported Alito's testimony before the committee:
Alito edged closer to suggesting that he might be willing to reconsider Roe if he is confirmed to the high court, refusing, under persistent questioning by Democrats, to say that he regards the 1973 decision as "settled law" that "can't be reexamined." In this way, his answers departed notably from those that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. gave when asked similar questions during his confirmation hearings four months ago.
Yesterday, Alito said that Roe must be treated with respect because it has been reaffirmed by the high court several times in the past three decades.
But when Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) peppered Alito with questions about whether the ruling is "the settled law of the land," the nominee responded: "If 'settled' means that it can't be reexamined, then that's one thing. If 'settled' means that it is a precedent that is entitled to respect . . . then it is a precedent that is protected, entitled to respect under the doctrine of stare decisis."
This discrepency is extremely significant. In fact, it cannot be under-emphasized.
Simply put, John Roberts talks about respect for Roe through Casey, through an explicit acceptence of the stare decisis that decision provided for Roe. This vantage point confirms his earlier statement "accepting" Roe as settled. It tells us how John Roberts views Supreme Court precedent. It shows us he is not hostile to established law.
Samuel Alito rejects referring to Roe as settled, and leaves open reexamining Roe v Wade itself. He does not talk about Roe through Casey, as Roberts does, but instead refers to "respecting the precedent" of Roe generically, as if Casey did not exist. Samuel Alito's testimony is a notable departure from that of Roberts. Judge Alito, in sum, might be viewed as hostile to Casey and hostile to Roe.
Judge Alito did not come before the Senate Judiciary committee in a vacuum. He came as a nominee who would join a sitting, conservative, Chief Justice who had established a new standard with his testimony before the judiciary committee.
Samuel Alito, however, chose NOT to avail himself of what we can call "the umbrella of the Roberts Test." He deliberately chose to stand outside that umbrella.
Judge Alito, despite being given every opportunity to accept the essential holdings of Roe, upheld in Casey, chose deliberately to put himself outside that standard.
That has had two consequences that help explain the basis of the Roberts Test.
First, the vast majority of Democratic Senators have been forced to oppose the nomination of Samuel Alito and vote against him. This is the first way Samuel Alito fails the "Roberts Test."
A Supreme Court nominee should, as a matter of practice and principle, be able to win bi-partisan support. Judge Alito's deliberate hostility to Roe guaranteed that he would not.
Second, and most signficant, Judge Alito has opened the door for any nominee, at any future point, to rise to the Supreme Court by simply conveying a general "respect" for stare decisis on any matter or issue, regardless of their actual hostility to an individual decision, and that matter's broad acceptance as "settled law."
If Chief Justice John Roberts accepts Roe and Casey as "settled law"...what does it say that the Senate is now advancing a nominee to the Supreme Court to join our Chief Justice who is unwilling to accept Roe...who is unwilling, even, to accept John Roberts's standard?
That should give every Senator pause.
What I am calling the Roberts Test is not simply about Roe v Wade, though it includes that standard, nor is it simply about the value that presidential nominations to the Supreme Court should be able to, in some measure, win bipartisan support.
What the Roberts Test establishes is that hard fought rights that have been upheld by the Supreme Court and enjoyed by American citizens for decades should not be put in jeopardy by a nominee to the Supreme Court who is hostile to those rights and unwilling to avail themselves of a standard so basic that even our current Chief Justice was able to state clearly and directly that he "accepts" the specific decisions that form the basis of those rights.
Any nominee to the Supreme Court must be able to say that they accept decisions, reaffirmed by our Court time and again, that define the basic rights and liberties of American citizens.
The basic rights of American citizens should not be subject to a political ping pong match.
That, in a nutshell, defines the Roberts Test.
It is certain that if Samuel Alito is confirmed to the Supreme Court, the "political ping pong match" of test cases and legislation will begin.
It is that standard, and that very real consequence, more than anything else, that merits the serious steps taken in opposition to this nomination. Senators on both sides of the aisle should consider the consequences of Samuel Alito's confirmation to the Supreme Court not simply for its implications in this instance but for its grave implications for all future nominations to the Court.
Judge Samuel Alito fails the Roberts Test.
For the good of this nation and our Supreme Court, he should not be confirmed.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
churning or building?
Some of it is that I don't really see great leadership in the Kerry / Kennedy Thursday call out. It was late. It was not done on TV, in the United States, for the world to see. It was not done with a unified, succinct, principled message that went out to every American and not just our base. And the timing: announcing a "call to support a filibuster" after so many in the Democratic Senate caucus had said they opposed, leads me to question what the hell is going on here. Is this a serious filibuster or is this about some other agenda? That is a valid question.
I distrust churning. Whether from the netroots or from our Senators.
I would point out, even to my activist allies here on the web, that spamming phone numbers in comment threads may be exciting and thrilling: but it is not the same thing as concerted, organized off line political effort. While I respect the sincerity of the "call to fight" from the netroots, I think that for as admirable as that sentiment is, if it is not backed up by sustained grass roots activism where it counts...in the off line world...the effects are minimal and can be worse. When the rhetoric becomes counter-productive, my respect goes down.
I am in favor of building.
I respect people who put the effort in every day. I respect people who do the steady effort. Who back their principles up with consistent action. Who understand what it takes to build a political movement off line.
I respect building from our elected leaders. I respect it even more on the grassroots.
There are times to take a principled stand. The Alito nomination is one of them. But I would ask all those who are "churning" in the netroots right now to stop for a second and realize that the foundation of a principled stand has to be sustained, off line grass roots effort in the real world. It has to be organized effort to coordinate dollars and volunteers in the day to day. Organization wins. Unconnected flurries of action don't.
Green Sooner asked a relevant question: What consequences does any Senator who opposes us face? A barrage of threatening emails and faxes that peter out after a few days? That's churning. An organized, thoughtful grassroots effort to elect leaders who have backbone? That's building.
Right now, that question is irrelevant. It's too late for any of that. This filibuster is either a serious one, or it isn't. The grass roots may have the energy, but the Senators have the votes. My respect for Senators Kerry and Kennedy does depend, in some ways, on what they do with this moment. They've ratcheted up the stakes, they have a real responsiblity to follow through in a meaningful way. I've said my piece elsewhere on what I think the focus should be. If our Senators are serious about opposing Alito, we've got their back.
Regardless, this whole thing has already had one small consequence for this blogger. I am more distrustful of churning than I was one week ago. I'll take a pass on the thrill of the "drama and accusations and threats." To those who left-bait and leap to conclusions, I say, spare me.
I'm much more interested in building for the long and the short term. I hope you are too.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
the Roberts test
We should call that minimum standard, ie. accepting Roe v Wade as settled law, "the Roberts test."
Judge Samuel Alito does not pass the Roberts test. Samuel Alito refused, before the very same Judiciary committee Chief Justice John Roberts faced, to accept Roe v Wade as settled law, even though he was given every chance to do so and every chance to explain himself.
A nominee who does not pass the "Roberts test" is, de facto, too extreme to serve on the Supreme Court, and merits a filibuster and a "no" vote on cloture.
This standard is moderate and reasonable. Indeed, John Roberts has impeccable credentials as a conservative. He is, after all, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court nominated by President George W. Bush. Chief Justice Roberts recently joined Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, nominated by President Ronald Reagan, in an unanimous ruling that upheld the "life and health of the mother" clause from Roe.
The Roberts test, then, should be a minimum standard by which we measure any nominee for the Supreme Court. All Americans of good faith should be able to agree to the reasonableness of this standard as it applies to our Supreme Court.
Judge Alito does not meet that minimum standard. Judge Alito fails the Roberts test. Whatever Judge Alito's qualifications as a judge and scholar, no nominee who does not meet the Roberts test belongs on the Supreme Court of the United States.
a Filibuster for Choice
We don't have the first, we won't likely get the second, and I am not alone in having real problems with the third. There is another category emerging now: a movement filibuster driven by principle.
We have a responsibility to communicate in simple and effective terms to the American public. If we fail in that, and we often have, then we fail that public and we fail our party.
On politics and principle, then, I join the call for a disciplined filibuster of Samuel Alito's nomination focused on his opposition to Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose.
I throw my small voice in support of: a Filibuster for Choice.
Let me be clear:
Choice is it. This can't be about anything else. We need to be utterly disciplined.
There is no other issue that will cut through to the American public. There are no other grounds for a filibuster that we can explain in such simple terms and which justify the serious step of undertaking a filibuster inside and outside our party.
Of the possible courses of action for the Democratic Senate right now, only a sustained, disciplined filibuster of Samuel Alito on the principle of Choice carries any political danger to George Bush and the GOP. On everything else, we lose.
My message to the netroots and the Senators, then, is that everything else must be pushed to the side. Not because it is not valid, but because everything else in ineffective. No issue has broken through to the public. On no other issue is Samuel Alito so clearly on the public record.
The time to be crystal clear is now.
Samuel Alito does not support a woman's right to choose in any meaningful way. He refuses to call Roe v. Wade settled law.
We oppose him.
If we succeed, all future presidents will know that a nominee who is unwilling to call Roe v. Wade settled law is unacceptable to this nation and unacceptable to the Democratic Party.
I want to be clear: This cannot be about George Bush. This cannot even be about Samuel Alito. This can't be about the big bad GOP. Or CAP. Or Vanguard. Or the unitary executive. Or Harriet Miers. Or Dr. Dobson.
The time for all of that is over. That's all mumbo jumbo now.
The only way a Democratic filibuster of Samuel Alito has any meaning, the only way we will have real political impact and effectiveness, the only hope we have of making it succeed, is if we make it about a woman's right to choose, and ONLY about a woman's right to choose.
We are a Pro-Choice party.
There's been some flirting with other formulations. The flirting has got to stop. This filibuster must be that moment. Our position is straightforward. We support Roe v. Wade; if you are a Democrat, you have to meet that standard.
Taking a stand for that standard will have consequences.
There's been a lot of talks about a "filibuster" being a free ride, a win-win. That's fantasy speak. There is no free ride, folks. There is no free lunch.
If we filibuster Alito on Choice, it will have consequences inside and outside our party.
For the Democrats, it will have consequences in places like North and South Dakota and Nebraska and Pennsylvania and Iowa. To those who've been preaching a free lunch on the issue of a filibuster, I say, You're full of it.
Some Democrats will lose elections, some will bolt our party, there will be ugly primary battles. Pretending otherwise is not reality-based, and forgive me for saying so, but we've still got a lot of that in our party.
If we support a principled Filibuster for Choice, we need to look those consequences for our party in the eye and take responsibility for them. Anything less is irresponsible and undermines the seriousness of this effort.
On the other hand, if we mount a disciplined filibuster of Samuel Alito based on Roe v Wade and Choice, then, pardon my french:
The shit will hit the fan for the GOP.
George Bush and Karl Rove are sitting comfortably in DC laughing their asses off right now because, once again, they have dared us to call them out on this one issue, Choice, and we've been unfocused...we've betrayed our people and our principles.
If our Senators mount a disciplined, focused Filibuster for Choice: the GOP will stop laughing.
The GOP does not want to invoke the nuclear option on choice. They do not. They would happily invoke the nuclear option against a Democratic Senate they could brand as "obstructionist." The GOP, however, really does not want to face what would happen if the Alito nomination became: an up or down vote on Roe v Wade.
The folks doing the bean counting at the RNC really do not want to see what happens if the Democrats call the president's bluff on this one issue: Choice. Now, that political consequence is not reason alone to mount this filibuster, in my view, but it adds politics to our principle.
Choice is the lone principle that, politically, can withstand the threat of the nuclear option.
To those who've argued that our party needs to stand up. I say here that I agree. But I would note that we need to stand up in a way that is responsible and communicates effectively who we are and why we have taken this serious step. Unity of message is the only politically effective way to oppose the GOP. We fail to understand this at our own peril.
In closing, I would like to go back to something I mentioned at the beginning of this essay. There is a kind of filibuster that is not serious...that is not disciplined...that is more about a "laundry list" of grievances..that is more about playing politics. I don't support that. In fact, I'd put it this way. For our Senators to take a stand on Alito and make it come off like the anti-war protests so many folks complain about...where we mention every issue under the sun and dilute our message to the point of laughability...would be disastrous.
It would be disastrous for Choice, disastrous for our Party, and disastrous for its implications of "what's to come" in the fall of 2006. In failing to be clear and disciplined and yet taking such a grave acttion, we would hand the GOP an easy reason to oppose us. The Democrats need to do more than "just take a stand" in the abstract, or offer a laundry list of greivances that cannot be conveyed in simple terms on TV and in the media; we need to take a stand for something clear and significant that the public understands and supports and let the chips fall where they may.
So, that is my message to our Senators and the netroots. If we are going to filibuster, it has to be that simple and that direct. It has to be that clear. That is what I'm throwing my small voice in favor of:
A Filibuster for Choice.
Friday, January 27, 2006
There are times when the tide changes, there are generational shifts. This is one of those times.
There are times when you lose that you pick yourself up and promise yourself to fight harder next time. There are times when you lose...and it sure as hell looks like we're gonna lose...that you pick yourself up and say to yourself, "It's not just about fighting harder next time, we have to find a new way to fight."
This moment is one of those times.
John Kerry came to dailykos yesterday to call for a filibuster. In essence, the Senator called on all of us to fight harder. That is his right.
But I want to point out that Markos came to dailykos yesterday and reiterated his call for finding a new way to fight. Markos called on us to bring a heavy dose of pragmatism to the battle...to see the political and media battlefield, the balance of power in Washington and in the states, with clear eyes. Even if we go along with Kerry's call for a filibuster, we will not do so in the same way when we see the battlefield in light of this "reality check."
Not to create opposition where there is none. I must say, however, with all due respect to Senator Kerry, I'm with Markos.
Our position in the Senate is weak. Defeating Alito, given those who've gone on record already, will indeed involve pitching a "no hitter." We should not ignore that reality, or lose sight of the fact that, win or lose on Alito, it is our duty to make the stakes and consequences of this nomination clear to the nation as a whole. No citizen should be able to say "they just didn't know" about Samuel Alito. This is, I think, what Senator Kerry is getting at with this late effort.
When I look out at the situation we find ourselves in as Democrats and Americans today, it is crystal clear to me, however, that we need to do more than simply fight harder. We need a sea change in how we fight.
Simply put, we need a generational shift in strategy and tactics and leadership. Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court is the fruit of the old way of doing things. We need to define new strategies for a new Democratic party.
In the wake of our losses in November 2004, I wrote a diary titled To Be a Fighting Democrat. In it, I said this:
When we look out to the broad playing field of Democrats, in the short term, the single most important characteristic to judge someone on is whether they will fight for our party and help us retake legislative majorities in the legislatures of this nation...
I don't care if you're liberal or progressive, and vote for everything I support...if you can't get out there, stick your neck out and pitch in to our common fight, then, sad to say, we don't need you.
Understanding the precarious reality facing some swing-state Democrats and our weakness in the Senate, I want to revisit those words in support of Markos' post.
Like many here, I am a progressive and a liberal. You don't have to agree with me on every issue or every vote for me to call you a 'fighting Democrat'...but you do have to roll up your sleeves and put our party and our principles first to the best you are able...you do have to join us in the struggle to take back the Senate and the House in 2006. If you do this, it's safe to say, we've got your back.
But when our leaders spout GOP talking points on the floor of the Senate, or time their announcements to distance themselves from our party for their own convenience, or stick it to our most vulnerable elected officials for inside-the-party gain, they do none of us a favor. Honest disagreement is one thing, posturing against your own party from the right or the left is another. That must change.
Frankly, we need a new generation of Democratic leaders committed to winning majorities. We need, in Chairman Dean's words, fresh horses. We need unity and pragmatism in finding strategies that win. Party discipline is a value that should apply to the left and the right side of our coalition.
That is our focus. That is what I took from Markos' post yesterday.
The task facing our generation is to take back Congress and our Courts from a conservative movement that has swung this country far, far to the right. We can't seem to do that with the "old Democratic party." And if we can't defeat the nomination of Alito...and as Armando notes we likely won't...then we must reforge our party in the crucible of that failure.
The stakes are clear.
I can live with people of all points of view, I'm a tolerant person. But Rev. Dobson should not have more of a say over our Supreme Court than the elected United States Senate. A fundamentalist preacher should not have more say over the laws that apply to me here in the State of California than my fellow Californians and our elected representatives in the Senate. None of us elected Rev. Dobson; yet it seems pretty clear that he and his conservative cohorts are the ones who rejected Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court, who blocked her from getting an "up or down vote," who pushed for a more ideologically acceptable nominee, someone more clearly opposed to Roe v. Wade.
In essence, the president has handed our nation's Supreme Court over to his fundamentalist conservative base. Our president has given a new twist to what our framers meant by advice and consent. In doing so, the message Bush and the GOP Congress sent the nation is this: If you don't like Reverend Dobson running your country and nominating your judges, win some elections.
As Markos highlights, and Armando reiterates, this moment is about exactly that task. I would point out to the community here at dailykos that this moment is also asking all of us a question:
What are we doing here? What does the netroots, and the Dean movement, and all the work we've done on and offline these last years really mean? What do we choose to say and do now?
I hope that our answer is that we are committed to coming together to take our country back, come rain or come shine. I hope that we are the kind of movement that embraces a "reality check" because we are united in a common goal: reforming our party and winning back the legislative majorities that represent real power in our country. I hope that we understand that with outrage comes responsibility...responsibility to communicate and advocate effectively for one's cause.
I have not always agreed with everyone here, but I can say this, I know that every last one of us, from kos and meteor blades to the newest userid, are committed to coming together to win back majorities in Washington D.C. and in the states. That's why we're here. That's why we are kossacks. In my view, this is the kind of moment that defines us.
I recently wrote a diary about Democratic strategy in 2006 entitled, we are the change you're looking for. As folks pointed out, my title was a paraphrase of Gandhi's great quote: "You should be the change you want to see in the world."
There is another quote from Gandhi that I think is appropos: "It's not too late at all. You just do not yet know what you are capable of."
In my view, we must be about more than just winning for the sake of winning. We are Democrats because of our core values. Those values don't change when we lose, or even when we fail to live up to them. It is those values, in fact, that define what we are capable of, that define who we are as Democrats.
Win or lose on Alito, we know who we are, and we know well the challenge of the task ahead. The stakes, indeed, are clear.
This moment, which is unfolding as I write, is about facing that reality and getting to work regardless of our immediate success or failure. To paraphrase Gandhi, we have yet to discover all that we are capable of when we work together.
When it comes to our deepest values, it is never too late.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
the Alito Senate vote by population (updated)
Senators voting "Yes" on Alito : 145,147,446 citizens
Senators voting "No" on Alito: 131,456,084 citizens
Undeclared Senators: 16,181,968 citizens
Since most of the undeclared Senators are Democrats, these numbers may well get closer.
(The numbers have been updated to reflect: Susan Collins (R) of Maine is a YES. Robert Byrd (D) of VA is a YES. Thomas Carper (D) of Delaware is a NO, Stevens (R) of Alaska YES, Pryor (D) of Arkansas NO, Obama (D) Illinois, NO, Cantwell (D) of Washington is NO. Dayton (D) of MN is NO, Sarbanes (D) of Maryland is NO.)
These totals, of course, have no bearing on the Senate vote. The Senate, per our Constitution, has absolutely nothing to do with the population of the individual states. Every Senator's vote is equal.
I publish these numbers strictly to make a political point: don't let the GOP and the media tell you that Alito respresents "clear majority" views in this country. He doesn't. Every Senator has to go home and justify this vote. A list of the states whose two Senators have split their vote is illustrative:
Florida (Nelson No, Martinez Yes)
Colorado (Allard Yes, Salazar No)
Oregon (Smith Yes, Wyden No)
Iowa (Grassley Yes, Harkin No)
Nevada (Ensign Yes, Reid No)
New Mexico (Domenici Yes, Bingaman No)
Montana (Burns Yes, Baucus No).
That list (FL, CO, IA, NV, NM and MT all went for George Bush in 2004) should send a word of caution to GOP partisans: either party steamrolls the country at its own peril.
Elections, as the GOP Senators have endlessly pointed out, have consequences. Of course, what one party does with its slim majority and how it interprets its "mandate" has consequences as well. This country is, in many ways, split down the middle. That has consequences and repercussions for both sides. Pretending otherwise is a game for fools.
Alito endgame: a look back
Here are some of the pieces I've written about Alito in the last weeks. I think they add up:
Months ago, however, I wrote a comment here in response to a question of why I opposed Alito on the basis of his gender. I focused on questions of legitimacy that would surround an 8-1 male Supreme Court. I think those questions have weight:
Race and gender equity don't just "happen"...equity, or fairness, is a value based on the understanding that diversity creates both a positive strength (better debate, more rounded points of view) and a legitimacy that its absence lacks. The brutal reality is that we don't get diversity by "happy accident" even though I would argue that equitabe representation is a force multiplier for good in a multi-cultural heterogeneous society like ours.
Structures that are supposed to represent everyone, and yet underepresent some of us are both less legitimate and weaker as institutions, whatever the meritocratic appeals used to argue that say, a Roberts or an Alito is the "best qualified" to serve.
Best qualified to be Justice? Or best qualified to serve our nation's interest as Justice?
The difference in these yardsticks is significant. And the grounds, and the assumptions those grounds imply, are extremely relevant. Imagine for one second that the Roberts Court does take a case that has the potential to overturn Roe. The make up of the court is very germane, not simply in terms of outcome, but in terms of how society views the legitimacy of the debate that generated the outcome.
One could line up the nine highest scores on a 'Supreme Court Aptitude test', and while, one might find some great Justices, and the Court itself might make 'fine decisions'...if that court were made up exclusively of white men with conservative views...it would be less legitimate, and have a shallower pool of experience and wisdom to serve the nation: which, at the end of the day, is the job of every democratic institution.
Diversity and equity of representation are values that make our institutions STRONGER. Legitimate representation is extraordinarily important. We fought a revolution over it.
My political position is that I strongly disagree with choosing two conservative, pro-life, 'pro-business' men to replace Rehnquist and O'Connor.
Bush's decision to do this moves the debate about Alito, for me, away from the "particulars" of Alito's qualifications and ideology, as it very well might be for a woman like Edith Clement...and into the broader philosophical question of whether we want an 8-1 male Court.
A conservative woman, a moderate woman (my vote), or a liberal woman might all add the value and legitimacy of a woman's point of view to the Court, thereby enhancing how it serves our democracy. Now, they might each do so in divergent ways. That would not make their points of view illegitimate...just more or less conservative or liberal. Simply put, however, ideology and gender are both important here. What the Roberts court needs, quite simply, is a moderate woman of high qualifications.
For those who have a problem with this "naked assessment" I would say this: everything is ideological and political. The "appeal to abandon partisanship" is quite often the most partisan appeal in US political life.
Bush, in my view gave up a substantial benefit of the doubt that goes to a president in making the Miers nomination, then withdrawing it under pressure from the Right, and then nominating a 'white male Pro-Life Conservative'.
The very same GOP Senators who are now calling for an immediate vote out of "respect for the president's nominee" are the ones who were foaming at the mouth when Bush nominated Miers.
It's politics, naked politics.
Given that, my position all along has been that Democrats should have demanded a moderate woman to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. The "politics" of that demand...the particular gauntlet of the current media and political environment, the corporate media's love of GOP talking points and the 'fad' for conservatism...do not change what is the North Star of my conviction:
A moderate woman to replace Sandra Day O'Connor would have given the nation something that a large majority of Americans could agree that our nation both wanted and needed: a moderate female voice on the Roberts Court.
Like so much of our recent history, this might have been a consensus moment. Our Supreme Court might have reflected our nation instead of reflecting, as it looks to do now, a naked power grab by the religious right.
What has been lost in the debate about Alito is the grave danger for any democracy where the forces for building consensus are overthrown by rampant demands of ideology "dressed up" as moderation. At the end of the day, Samuel Alito was chosen lock, stock and barrel by and for Bush's conservative GOP base, not for the good of the nation as a whole. Alito was chosen to "push" the ideology of the court to the right.
Samuel Alito and John Roberts may be accomplished legal scholars, but their views do not reflect mainstream American sensibilities and values. They are both VERY conservative. (In fact, something that has been lost here is that Alito and Roberts are more conservative than many, many Republicans.) Further, an 8-1 male court is not where our nation is headed in the 21st Century, it doesn't reflect who we are. Pretending otherwise is a fool's game.
It is exactly this fool's game, however, that defines American life in the last two decades. On issue after issue, that is the legacy of the Bush years:
A GOP that abuses its power and its slim majority with impunity in an attempt to "force" our nation rightward and a Democratic party so spineless that it cannot stand up even for basic American principles like consensus, moderation, and common sense.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
what education cuts?
I haven't written about them yet, so I thought I'd just post her comment here for everyone:
Kid Oakland -- I like your idea of sending money for targeted campaigns. But, I'm giving the Democracy Bond idea a chance for my out-of-state contributions. I really like the idea of the DNC putting year-round staff in every state (they're already in every state -- now they're going to hire even more).
They are hiring local people to build the party at the local level. I think it's a fantastic idea. These people will be recruiting candidates for all levels of offices.
The idea is that if 1 million people will contribute an average of $20 a month -- that's $20 million a month, and wow! Think of the organizing they can do -- for the campaigns you mention and campaigns against every Republican Senator, even in states like Kansas (where I am).
There are a lot of measurments of whether any particular Democratic strategy idea is on target or not, but I have a pretty simple one:
Will this scare the shit out of Karl Rove?
Or at least give him a major headache....
With Democracy Bonds the answer is clear: yes on both.
Let's use netroots grassroots money to build the party from the ground floor up in a way that pays off again and again...not just in one time contests...but for party building on a nationwide level. That has always been the best of Dr. Dean's ideas.
We owe it to our peeps to fight in every state.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Casey endorses Alito
Casey figures he can do whatever the hell he wants at this point, and he's probably right.
Some folks say give $$ to Chuck Pennachio, Casey's Democratic primary opponent. I can't argue with that, even if that seems a pretty hopeless cause.
My money would go to Klobuchar in Minnesota.
If you're angry about Casey...help Amy Klobuchar defeat "Santorum-wannabe" Mark Kennedy (R) for the MN Senate seat that Democrat Mark Dayton is leaving. Casey / Kennedy replacing Santorum / Dayton would be a net negative, if you ask me.
Truth is, Amy Klobuchar will need all the help she can get.
Monday, January 23, 2006
If you haven't checked out "the best opposition blog going"...and you can quote me...SayNotoPombo...the article at the link is a great introduction to how McCloskey impacts the race to unseat Richard Pombo in CA-11. In true SayNotoPombo fashion...it's written from an on the ground perspective.
Like right THERE.
2006 just got more interesting.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
1. The absolute first organizing principle for everything we do, bar none, is to take back the House of Representatives within the next two election cycles.
We may not be able to take back the House in 2006, but we should run with that goal as our clear intention. We should calibrate our campaigns, our message, our fundraising and our coordinated grass roots efforts with this as our first priority.
Now, of course, the Senate, the State Houses, and the Presidency are equally significant. I'm not saying they aren't. But the Democrats need to remember this essential nugget and its corollary: a majority party seeks to win a majority in the House of Representatives, and a party that does not seek to win the House is, de facto, the LOSER in American politics.
In 2002 and 2004 we looked like a party that was just, you know, trying to avoid being locked out altogether, and what happened. We got locked out. The Democratic party may not succeed in taking back the House in 2006, but we damn well should look as if we are intent on trying. The candidates we run may not all win this time around; but they damn well be good candidates who might win next time.
Like I said, everything flows from this effort, including our efforts to win majorities in the Senate, Governorships and State Houses. Our 2008 Presidential campaign should flow out of our goal of taking back the House. Not the other way around.
2. We already have our message, we just need to be fifty times more clear in delivering it.
We will fix Health Care.
We will fix Education.
We will fix the Budget Mess.
We will Clean up Corruption and enact real campaign finance reform.
We will make government work for you.
Enough of the distractions and bullshit and divisiveness. The only reason we want a majority so we can do things. We aren't about being "not Republicans;" we are about enacting good legislation that makes American work better, period.
The Democratic Party needs to do something big, and soon, to make clear to the country that this effort, more than anything else, is why we want their votes. Not negativity. POSITIVITY. There is so much to do. We need votes to help us do it. To make America better.
3. We need to unilaterally end the broken cycle of divisiveness
This has to be a major part of our reform. We have to be the reform we intend to make. The only way to really convince people that the Democratic Party has turned over a new leaf and means business is to show them.
That means that we take some responsiblity for saying: the time for Swift Boating is over. We simply won't do it or talk about it. To speak in the vernacular, homey don't play that game. Our job is simple: to provide a clear alternative to the GOP in positive terms that everyone can understand.
So, enough of the BS. The Democratic Party will happily provide clear alternatives to the GOP, and when it's possible we will bend over backwards to work in a bipartisan fashion.
We need to make clear to the American public that if they give us a majority in Washington that the long national nightmare of partisan gridlock and posturing will be over. We will end it ourselves. Our job is to provide clear, simple, straighforward Democratic policies and solid Democratic candidates. If you like them and want to see the change we'll make, vote for us. It's that simple.
4. We have an answer to the war and foreign policy: it's called working together
2006 is not going to be about playing politics with the war. We Democrats know that the only solution to the global challenges this country faces is to work together.
So when the GOP plays politics with terrorism and America's safety, we don't answer by pointing fingers. We say, simply and clearly, that we Democrats are eager to work to solve the global challenges this country faces, including the war in Iraq, and we will work with everyone in a bipartisan fashion to make that happen.
We shouldn't play politics with foreign policy. The American people don't want that.
Yes, the Democrats and especially our vibrant liberal base have a different vision about foreign policy than the GOP. Truth is, in America having a different point of view is a strength not a weakness. Yet even the hard core liberal base of the Democratic Party knows that we have to work together to make change. We will work with anyone and everyone to solve the situation in Iraq. That's part of our basic philosophy.
How can we be for strong alliances and mulitlateralism if we aren't willing to work side by side in our own country to solve the challenges this nation faces?
In 2006 the Democratic Party needs to say: the era of bashing and posturing on foreign policy is over. If you elect us, the very first thing we will do is sit down with the GOP and, in bipartisan fashion, get's this country back on track again at home and abroad.
There is no time to lose.
5. To every Presidential contender in 2008 we need to send this message: help us in 2006
If you want to lead this party and this nation into the future in 2008, you need to get your ass out there and help us in the struggle to win Democratic majorities in Washington and in every state in 2006.
The 2008 primary should be a "no-brainer". Whoever steps up and helps us win in 2006 should be the nominee. Whoever's message and party leadership galvanizes our base in 2006....should step forward and help us take the next step in 2008.
Whether it's Hillary, or Obama, or Edwards, or Kerry or Warner or even one of those "guys who's not running": Vice Presdent Al Gore or Howard Dean: it's what you do in 2006 that should determine how your candidacy is measured in 2008. That, at the end of the day, will be the mark of whoever is worthy of leading our party forward.
Personally, I would love to see three years of Democratic unity. I would love to see three years in which we finally articulate how excited we are about all the postiive ways we want to move this country forward.
We need to send a clear message to the nation. The BS and partisan bickering ends now.
We are Democrats; we are the change you're looking for.
Saturday, January 21, 2006
the medicare drug disaster: enough is enough
On the seventh day of the new Medicare drug benefit, Stephen Starnes began hearing voices again, ominous voices, and he started to beg for the medications he had been taking for 10 years. But his pharmacy could not get approval from his Medicare drug plan, so Mr. Starnes was admitted to a hospital here for treatment of paranoid schizophrenia.
Mr. Starnes, 49, lives in Dayspring Village, a former motel that is licensed by the State of Florida as an assisted living center for people with mental illness. [snip]
Mix-ups in the first weeks of the Medicare drug benefit have vexed many beneficiaries and pharmacists. Dr. Steven S. Sharfstein, president of the American Psychiatric Association, said the transition from Medicaid to Medicare had had a particularly severe impact on low-income patients with serious, persistent mental illnesses.
Robert Pear's excellent "Medicare Woes Take High Toll on Mentally Ill" points out that 25 states have instituted emergency state-wide measures to deal with situations like Stephen's. Florida, where Steven and millions of other vulnerable patients live, is not one of them.
How many times have you read a story like this one in the last week?
Sponsors of the 2003 Medicare law wanted to drive down costs by creating a competitive market for drug insurance. They focused on older Americans, not the disabled. They assumed that beneficiaries would sort through various drug plans to find the one that best met their needs. But that assumption appears unrealistic...
No kidding. Until January 1st, 2006, these disabled citizens had no co-payments for their drugs, essential medication that it is to everyone's benefit that they have access to. After that date, when a private company took over their drug plan on behalf of Medicare, these patients learned...at the time of trying to get their medication...that they now had co-payments of $3 for each medication. (Some of them take 8 or 9) The article notes, these patients receive a "cash allowance" of $54 a month.
Imagine that was you. Imagine that was a loved one. Is this compassion?
To be real, the roll out of any government program will have difficulties, but it takes the GOP to take run-of-the-mill organizational mix ups and turn them into a showcase for the real bottom line of their political and moral philosophy: money.
Think about it. The problems that we're hearing about with the medicare drug plan are all coming about because the very same pharmacies and drug companies that sponsered these bills and benefit from them are denying their customers essential drugs. People aren't getting their drugs at the pharmacy...they are standing there, in need of medication, and being turned away because of MONEY. They weakest and most vulnerable, just like in Katrina, are being screwed simply because...they are weak and vulnerable.
That is the real meaning of the ownership society. Old and poor people may have to suffer some discomfort and go without or even need urgent care...but...god forbid that a rich company not make a dollar!
Word to America: if you want your institutions to work for the people, support a political party that actually believes in institutions and people.
My bottom line, it's hard to take anyone who talks about "ownership" seriously if they can't even "own" their own mistakes. The medicare drug distaster is a huge one.
If this is conservative values in action, there's not much more we can take.
Friday, January 20, 2006
an american psychodrama
Like all dysfunctional families there’s been bad behaviour all around: Daddy’s abusive, mommy’s a doormat, big brother is loyal to dad even though he resents how dad treats him, big sister knows a secret but she isn’t telling.
And, yeah, the above would be ludicrous, if not a little bit pathetic, if it wasn’t so true. I bet, right off the bat, many of you could decode this analogy of the American Establishment without looking at the key below. (For all the literalist nudniks out there...it's the analogy that rings true. No implication regarding anyone's actual family life is intended herein...god forbid!):
Daddy = the GOP
Mommy = the Democratic Party
Big Brother = Corporations and American professional institutions
Big Sister = the media
Call it the psychodrama of our day.
Father doesn’t know best.
George Lakoff has been quite articulate in advancing a "strict father" model of conservatism.
With all due respect, I disagree. In practice, it's worse than that.
I don’t think the GOP is like a strict father. The GOP is an abusive father whose got some weird ideas about this country and what our “values” are. He’s kind of like...ahem...Dick Cheney when he talks about torture or terrorists. You know, just really...really...creepy.
You see, Daddy isn’t strict, that's letting the GOP off easy. He’s abusive.
For one, Daddy bullies Mommy on a regular basis. He is verbally abusive. He lies. He humiliates. He covers his tracks. He promises not to do it again. And then he does it anyway. Daddy talks about values all the time, but he doesn’t follow them. For Daddy, preaching "values" are more a way of maintaining control, something to bash others with, than anything one actually lives up to. And even though Mommy tries to work out the budget late at night at the kitchen table...Daddy’s bad habits make that meaningless. Mommy tries her best but it seems she just can’t get any traction to make a change. You’d think she’d leave, that she’d finally stand up for herself and her family, but she never...quite...does.
Truth is, Daddy doesn't let Mommy's ideas for improving family life even see the light of day. (If you follow no other link...read this piece by Michael Crowley on the House Rules Committee.) Like a true bully, Daddy's threatened by any idea that might knock his powerful self-image.
What keeps Daddy going is that he’s got everyone pretending that things are really okay. He bullies everyone into believing that we are the upstanding family that everyone sees in our Christmas pictures. We’re not broke. We’re not in debt. Daddy hasn’t mismanaged, say:
the war in Iraq
the national debt
the Medicare Drug Plan
our nation's energy policy
our international alliances
Daddy may be an abusive bully, but he bullies us into believing that "father knows best." He bullies us into thinking that Mommy's ideas are worthless. He makes Mommy, Big Brother and Big Sister believe they should be grateful for the false sense of "safety and security" he has woven for them, that everything will be “okay” so long as they go along with the pretend world that Daddy’s made up.
Of course, like all abusive families. It isn’t okay.
Daddy’s hasn’t just mismanaged our affiairs, he's not just an abusive bully, Daddy’s done some bad things.
In fact, everybody knows that Daddy’s done some bad things. Mommy knows. Big Brother knows. Big Sister knows. In fact, Mommy wrote a letter about Daddy’s abusive behaviour and put it in a safe deposit box. Big Sister went to Daddy one night and told him she knew what he was doing. Big Brother pretends like he’s going to do what Daddy wants, but he’s really been planning to leave home and get away from Daddy and the mess he’s made.
And like all dysfunctional families where nothing changes, Mommy and Brother and Sister keep playing a big game of “let’s pretend” because they don’t know how to do anything else. They are caught up in the legacy of their bad behaviours. It's a cycle they can't seem to break.
Mommy and Big Brother and Big Sister are afraid that if they talk about the “bad things” that Daddy has done that somehow things will get worse. That he will attack them again. They think that maybe if they just turn away and hold their breath it will all be over someday. Secretly, Big Brother and Big Sister despise Mommy for not standing up to Daddy and his bullying. They see Mommy as weak and powerless. They buy into the picture of Mommy that Daddy has sold them.
The only way for this impasse to change is for someone to stand up to Daddy with enough conviction and persistance that he can't bully them back down again. Mommy seems incapable of doing it. Big Brother seems unwilling. And Big Sister is just "torn" to the point of inaction, so she goes along with Big Brother.
Maybe it's time for somebody in this ugly American psychodrama to stand up and put an end to this.
In George Bush's America, and with our current political establishment, that somebody has to be me and you.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
hypocrisy with a smile
Q Do you feel more free, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, in terms of feeling free, well, I don't think you'll let me be too free. There's accountability and there are constraints on the presidency, as there should be in any system. I feel -- I feel it is necessary to move an agenda that I told the American people I would move. Something refreshing about coming off an election, even more refreshing since we all got some sleep last night, but there's -- you go out and you make your case, and you tell the people this is what I intend to do. And after hundreds of speeches and three debates and interviews and the whole process, where you keep basically saying the same thing over and over again, that when you win, there is a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view, and that's what I intend to tell the Congress, that I made it clear what I intend to do as the President, now let's work to -- and the people made it clear what they wanted, now let's work together.
And it's one of the wonderful -- it's like earning capital. You asked, do I feel free. Let me put it to you this way: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style.
Whoo-boy!! There's some truth in that one.
Aside from the breezy triumphalism of Bush’s line about political capital, it is, a little over one year later, Bush’s offhand talk of “accountability and constraints on the presidency” that leaps out afresh here. For an administration that has spent the last few months asserting its own unchecked power and lack of constitutional constraints, for a President who has taken to amending “signing statements” to the laws passed by Congress and nominating judges who advocate a “unitary executive”, the above quote doesn’t pass the smell test.
(One thing about the GOP, of course, they do hypocrisy with a smile.)
What’s sticks in one’s craw about this quote, however, is Bush’s assertion: “the people made it clear what they wanted.”
I’m not so sure of that. In fact, it seems to me that this administration and the GOP are all about giving “the people” things we don’t want, didn’t ask for, and wouldn’t have signed on for in the first place if anyone had bothered to ask.
At that same press conference, the President highlighted what he says “the people” had been asking for in electing him:
Social Security and tax reform, moving this economy forward, education, fighting and winning the war on terror.
We have an obligation in this country to continue to work with nations to help alleve poverty and disease. We will continue to press forward on the HIV/AIDS initiative, the Millennium Challenge Account. We will continue to do our duty to help feed the hungry. And I'm looking forward to it, I really am.
Now, “after hundreds of speeches and three debates and interviews and the whole process, where you keep basically saying the same thing over and over again” to hand-picked audiences who already agree with you...and where no one who even remotely disagrees with you is even allowed...you might believe that the above boilerplate reflects the will of the people and not what it really is: a laundry list written by Grover Norquist with a couple Christmas tree ornaments courtesy of Karen Hughes. (Ah...that Millenium Challenge Account.)
Calling the 2004 elections a referendum on Social Security, of course, is simply amnesiac. (Here’s a great billmon post that set’s that issue straight.) It was also, in light of how fast Bush’s Social Security “reform” sank in Congress, a brazen act of hocus pocus.
That’s par for the course. The one-trick Houdini’s in the White House are addicted to attempting the mass hypnosis con on the American public “over and over again.” I don’t remember the general public clamoring for any of the below:
Social Security privatization
Medicare Drug Cards that don’t work
Unilateral “Democratization” of the Middle East
the unfunded mandate that is NCLB
Blocking the morning after pill
Spying on US citizens
A ballooning National Debt
Simply put, the GOP is the party that gives us stuff we don’t want and tells us that we asked for it.
2006 is a chance for America to "break the spell" and put in a new order at the drive-thru window: make mine Super Size. (Link to a great Tom Schaller article on vulnerable GOP districts.)
God knows, we could use a break from this.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Samuel Alito at Princeton
[I was an undergraduate at Princeton] in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was a time of turmoil at colleges and universities. And I saw some very smart people and very privileged people behaving irresponsibly. And I couldn't help making a contrast between some of the worst of what I saw on the campus and the good sense and the decency of the people back in my own community.
This is an interesting, fascinating and powerful statement. Though the above may seem to be an innocuous biographical observation, it is, indeed, a powerful key to understanding Samuel Alito's temperment and judicial character. In fact, the above statement makes a powerful implicit argument against Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court. Let's take a look.
First of all, the late 60s and early 70s were "a time of turmoil" at colleges and universities in the United States. Any honest assessment, of course, would allow that the late 60s and 70s were a time of turmoil for the nation as a whole.
What does it mean, then, that Judge Alito talks about a period that encompasses Civil Rights, the Viet Nam war, political assassinations and a broad social movement towards women's equality in the workplace and the home as if it the turmoil of the era belonged to campuses? That is the essential question here, and one that points us to the core of this essay.
The force of Alito's statement flows from the powerful contrast he creates between "very smart and very privileged people" at Princeton whose "irresponsible behaviour" stands in opposition to the "good sense and decency of the people" back in Alito's own neighborhood. (One can only imagine what Judge Alito means by "the worst of what I saw on campus"...a vague and nebulous phrase that seems to imply a scene out of a Goya etching.) But before we judge the accuracy and fairness of Alito's assessment of Princeton at that time, let's arrive at a good faith understanding of what Samuel Alito meant to convey to the Senate.
I do not think that Alito meant to imply that the campuses alone saw turmoil. What I think he was trying to tell us is that given the turmoil of the times and the relative privelege of his classmates at Princeton, Samuel Alito was struck by qualities of irrationality, abuse of privelege, and disrespect for law, tradition and order in his classmates. These qualities, which we might more properly call perceptions, formed a contrast, in his mind, to the world of his upbringing; a world he is comfortable holding up to the nation as a bastion of both "common sense"...ie. rationality...and "decency"...ie. morality.
What Alito was trying to communicate to us is that this contrast, this perception formed at Princeton, actually forms the cornerstone of how Judge Alito sees himself, our nation, and the world. Samuel Alito is telling us that his experience at Princeton was, for him, a defining ideological moment, and the legacy of his perceptions there, whatever their validity as historical observations, have formed the lens through which he views the United States and our recent political and cultural history.
It is essential to note that Alito is not simply valorizing his middle class upbringing in New Jersey. To do so he could have simply have said as much directly. Alito's message is more ideological than that. Instead, Alito is saying is that the people of his neighorhood represent a "a clear positive good" that informs his opposition to the "noxious ills" of the irrational abuse of privelege he saw in his fellow students at Princeton. Further, very much like the political theorist Edmund Burke, Alito distinctly associates those students with the turmoil of the late 60s and 70s. The unspoken inference of Alito's statement is that had American society hewn more closely to the values of his neighborhood we might have avoided the upheaval of the 60s and 70s.
That statement, and what it implies, are worth thinking about. Not only does it represent a particular ideology (...ah, but for the good old days of the 1950s...) and a kind of intellectual dishonesty unfair to his classmates and unbecoming of a Supreme Court Justice. It is also ahistorical and untrue.
It is a very different thing to talk about that late 60s and 70s through the lens of one student at one Ivy League campus, than to assess it as a historian, or, indeed as a Supreme Court justice must. That seemingly minor quibble, however, actually embodies deep and grave concerns about what led Samuel Alito to say what he did to the Senate and why he is unsuitable for the Court.
The entire frame that Alito presents in this deeply political and tactical statement is dishonest. Just as the French Revolution could not have simply been concocted by Left Bank pamphleteers, though it was undoubtedly influenced by them, the turmoil of the 60s and 70s was not the product of "campus liberals." In fact, using the goings-on at Princeton University as a frame through which to judge the enormous changes in American political and social life in the post-war period is nothing more than a way of hiding one's real views.
Think about it this way. What if Alito's classmates at Princeton had held the same political views but had behaved in a manner more acceptable to the young Alito's sensibilities? He would have had to debate them, of course. In point of fact, millions of students across the country, from his same background, did just that. Any accurate social history of the era is drowned in tedious examples of "idealistic" and "well behaved" student protest and political expression. It was the exceptions that made the news, and that have been replayed ad nauseum in the public imagination by ideologues like Alito and his defenders
(As an aside, let's get real...one only has to think for about five seconds to understand that "privileged students behaving irresponsibly" at an Ivy League school is something that occurs regardless of ideology. In this, the judge simply makes no sense.)
The troubling fact here is that Judge Alito has disguised his real disagreement with his fellow students' political views inside a mischaracterization of their behaviour and a false implication of their lack of morals and rationality. Judge Alito is speaking in code when he uses "what he saw" in Princeton elites as a reflection of the turmoil of the times and the errors of their views. He is creating a straw man that cannot defend itself because his "political opponent" is no real person, but a mere set of impressions formed in his young mind.
It would be much more honest for Judge Alito to debate the issues that roiled Princeton in his day in a straightforward manner. Bill Bradley attended Princeton just before Samuel Alito. Are Senator Bradley and his liberal views representative of the "bogeyman" that Alito seeks to create in the public mind? Would Alito care to debate Senator Bradley on civil rights, on the Viet Nam war, on privacy and women's equality...on Roe..or Miranda or Griswold...?
I am not saying that Judge Alito would not have valid and interesting arguments in opposition to his former classmates. What I am saying is that his mischaracterization of those classmates represents a fundamental intellectual dishonesty. And this is no small thing. In portraying real disagreement as a blanket character flaw, as a moral and rational failing, Judge Alito makes a mistake no judge should ever brook; in smearing his Princeton classmates, Judge Alito attacks the person and not the substance of their arguments.
Princeton elites, of course, can defend themselves.
What is truly troubling about Alito's use of this statement in making the case for his confirmation to the Supreme Court, is that he has couched his political disagreements in terms that imply a history of his own background that is a fantasy.
In fact, the turbulent forces at work in American society in the late 60s and 70s had their most marked impact in millions of suburban homes.
Birth control. Abortion. Divorce. Women entering the work force. Desegregation of school districts. Civil Rights leglislation. Opposition to the draft. Drug use. The Viet Nam War on nightly television and growing popular opposition to the war.
In every case, the turmoil of these issues touched and roiled the people of the suburbs. In every case, American life was fundamentally changed from the 40s and 50s. It is one thing to make an intellectual argument that one would like to try to make society resemble what one's impression of life was like in the American suburbs before these broad realities changed them forever; there are many Americans who would be sympathetic to just that notion. But it is a lie, a fantasy, and a fabrication of our history to pretend that the suburbs in the 60s and 70s were placid worlds that stood for all that was "moral and good" while the rest of the nation roiled with unspeakable turmoil.
The disconnect is jarring.
In point of fact, the very decisions that Judge Alito and his Federalist allies refuse to wholeheartedly endorse, decisions that embody that era...Brown, Griswold, Roe, Miranda, Bakke... are much more the product of the world Samuel Alito comes from, ie. the world of the people who built the American post-war suburbs and the people who were shaped by that world (most of them seeking an island of stabilty after WWII and the Great Depression)...than anything Alito saw in his Princeton classmates.
And that gets to the core of this essay. One might take away the impression from Judge Alito and his conservative brethren, that the Warren and the Burger courts, ie. where their real disagreements lie were somehow the direct products of the 60s and the 70s...of "the worst of what he saw" at Princeton.
They weren't. The decisions handed down by these courts had nothing to do with the campus turmoil of his day. In fact one of the biggest fabrications of our day is the ongoing myth perpetrated by conservatives that they are in sharp opposition to "hippies" and "liberal elites" of the 60s and 70s. They aren't. The hippies and the elites lost. Current day conservatives are in opposition to the WWII / Great Depression generation and its legacies. If Judge Alito were intellectually honest, he would state forthrightly where his real disagreement lies.
Judge Alito's beef is with the men who made up the Warren and the Burger courts. Justices who lived through the Depression and the Second World War and looked out at American society and shaped the decisions that, in many ways, shape us. Roe has everything to do with men like Harry Blackmun and Warren Burger and very little to do with Gloria Steinam and Abbie Hoffman.
If Judge Alito were honest, he would state his disagreement with these justices clearly and let the nation make up its mind about his views. Our nation might be the better for a clear debate on the issues. But, like his conservative colleagues, Judge Alito is not willing to be forthright. In fact, his story is meant to tell us expressly how deeply his bias willingly informs his views. And that is the crux of the matter.
Judge Alito reveals in this biographical aside no less that three characteristics that should disqualify him from serving as a Justice on our Supreme Court.
First, Alito mischaracterizes our history in a way that is unforgiveable for a potential Supreme Court Justice. Justices must understand our history if they are to understand the law.
Second, Judge Alito hides his legal disagreements behind cultural cliches and vilification, instead of debating his views outright. In fact, in refusing to take on the Warren and Burger courts directly, Alito hides where his real legal disagreement lies. Of course, if Alito said what he really thought about the decisions of the Warren and Burger courts, he might not be confirmed.
Third, and most significantly, in telling this Princeton story, Judge Alito does what no judge should ever do:
He privileges his judgment of a group of citizens' inherent "reasonableness" and "morality" over a debate about the ideas and merits of their arguments. Alito allows his personal preference for his neighbors to overrule a fair debate of the merits of their views. Quite frankly, it is no small thing to this country that one's neighbors can be "nice" and "reasonable" and, at the same time, utterly wrong. Our history is rife with examples of just this reality. It is also conversely true that a seemingly loud and troublesome agitator can, in fact, be speaking the truth.
It is the more disturbing implication of Alito's statement that he imbues his neighbors with a saintly reasonableness and morality, than that he lambastes his classmates. (One can be quite sure that Alito saw some things at Princeton that troubled him. Fair enough.) Judges, however, see much that is troubling about our world.
And the world that the Warren and Burger courts came out of was a very troubling world. (It is precisely that world, however, that Alito now valorizes and invests with a utopian perfection.) The Depression and WWII era was a world far from perfect, or moral, or just.
Those justices, however, knew what anyone who has looked honestly and authentically at any human society has seen; that we humans are far from perfect and that the arbiters of the law need to bring a broad understanding of the depth of human contradictions and hidden social realities to their assesments of the merits of any case. Far from being blind, a Justice must, above all, look on our society with an unjaundiced eye and seek to understand what he or she sees there. That is the only way to truly judge the merits of a case.
What troubles me, then, is what Judge Alito seems deliberately not to have seen in the suburbs of his youth. What disturbs me is the clouded and ideological lens that he seems to relish looking at our society with. Oftentimes it is exactly what we refuse to see in our lives, our neighbors, and our world that is speaking to us with the clearest message. It is not so much what Judge Alito saw at Princeton, but what he didn't see or learn from his neighbors that is cause for concern.
For a Supreme Court Justice, there is no higher duty than to look out at this nation and its citizens and seek to understand in honest and simple terms how the law impacts our lives.
Justice may, indeed by blind, but the Supreme Court is no place for someone who refuses to undertake the broad task of seeing our society with unbiased eyes.
The Supreme Court is no place for an ideologue.