Monday, February 22, 2016

Carrying a Presidency to Term

Apparently, the GOP thinks that Black Presidents only get 3/5ths a term.

-- a friend of Ken Wissonker

This week's featured posts are "Replacing Scalia (or not)" and "The Apple/FBI question is harder than it looks".

This week everybody was talking about how to replace Justice Scalia

I look (skeptically) at the arguments for delaying until after the election in "Replacing Scalia (or not)". One argument I left out of that post: the idea that the voters should decide more directly, by making the nomination an issue in the presidential election.

That's a bad idea for a bunch of reasons, but the biggest is that if the Founders had wanted the voters to elect Supreme Court justices, they would have written the Constitution that way. In fact, the Founders wanted to insulate the Court from politics as much as was practical in a government of the people. That was the reason for lifetime appointments, as Hamilton explained in Federalist #78.

Matt Yglesias outlines four approaches Obama could take in choosing a nominee, from "olive branch" to "declaration of war".

Last week I talked about my personal reaction to Scalia's death, and in particular wrestling with my feeling of joy in the removal of a powerful enemy.

It turns out I wasn't the only person thinking about that issue. I'm on a Facebook group with a bunch of Unitarian Universalist bloggers (i.e., religious liberals), many of whom are ministers or ministers-in-training. Several of them wrote about their conflicted feelings concerning Scalia's death.

At Head Above Holy Water, divinity student Michael Brown separated Justice Scalia, who was his legal and political enemy, from Anton Scalia the person, who (like everybody) was a flawed human being but nonetheless deserved compassion. Brown thinks about his internship as a hospital chaplain, when he was called to comfort dying people and their families, regardless of any differences of opinion or lifestyle.

Being awake and alive and sincere means recognizing complexity and honoring it.  Spiritual healing is rooted in recognizing the differences between one's feelings and the universal need for harmony between living beings.  The boy I was who was scared, and scarred, by the bigotry Justice Scalia carried into the books of law has grown into a man who understands the beauty of contradictions.

May Justice Scalia, and Scalia the person, find peace.

Taking a conflicting view, Rev. Scott Wells pondered how to discuss Scalia's death in front of his congregation, and particularly in front of those who had been wounded by Scalia's judgments, or would have been wounded if those judgments had prevailed. (Wells himself is a married gay man, and reflects that due to the Windsor decision that Scalia opposed "my family is safer." Getting theologically technical, Wells comes out of the Restorationist tradition of Universalism, where I'm more of an ultra-Universalist, like Hosea Ballou.) Wells sees eulogizing a powerful man in a way that ignores the damage he did as a triumph of "niceness over goodness".

I would caution people to not forgive Scalia because it’s the nice thing to do, or expected of them. He did not repent of his action, nor seek your forgiveness. Quite the opposite. It is the way of the powerful to expect rules to apply to you and not to them. Do not comply. You are not the unreconciled party. And now that he’s gone, Scalia will have to manage with God’s docket; you do not have to plead to him, or for him.

"It is the way of the powerful to expect rules to apply to you and not to them." That quote might show up at top of a weekly summary sometime.

But whether we mourn Scalia or not, we should still be fair to him. One quote I've seen bouncing around the internet -- it was quoted in a comment on last week's summary, and many other places -- comes from his dissent in Edwards v. Aguillard, a 1987 case about teaching creationism in Louisiana schools. The quote starts "The body of scientific evidence supporting creation science is as strong as that supporting evolution. In fact, it may be stronger" and goes on from there.

Fortunately, another commenter (sglover) realized that the quote is out of context. At that point in his dissent, Scalia is not stating his own opinions, he is summarizing the case made by witnesses whose credentials "may have been regarded as quite impressive by members of the Louisiana Legislature". His larger point is that the Court's majority was too quick to assume that the legislature passed the law pro-creationism law purely out of religious motives.

I still think he's wrong, but his argument is much more subtle than the quote makes it appear.

and the primary/caucus results

Democrats. Clinton got a much-needed 53%-47% win in the Nevada caucuses. This narrow win in a small state only nets her four more delegates than Sanders, but a win of any sort should stop the steady drip-drip-drip of what's-wrong-with-the-Clinton-campaign stories, at least until the Democrats vote in South Carolina this Saturday.

Diving a little deeper into the Nevada results yields some mixed messages. Nevada was supposed to test whether Bernie Sanders could break through with Hispanics, and he did: According to NBC's entrance polls, 19% of the caucus-goers identified as Hispanic/Latino, and Sanders won that segment 53%-45%. Clinton's margin came from African-Americans, who cast 13% of the votes, but went for Clinton 76%-22%. South Carolina, where blacks are a majority among Democrats, will test whether Sanders can change that result. If he can't, his candidacy is doomed; it's hard to see how white liberals, or even white-plus-Hispanic liberals, can carry Bernie by themselves.

A more subtle problem for Sanders was pointed out Saturday by Rachel Maddow, and then fleshed out on MaddowBlog by Steve Benen: When you ask Sanders' supporters how he will get elected in the fall and how he will get Congress to pass his programs after he takes office, they talk about a "political revolution". In other words, Sanders will energize previously apathetic or discouraged voters, creating a tidal wave of support from people whose opinions had not affected American politics until his campaign gave them a voice. (I critiqued that vision two weeks ago.)

But that's hard to square with the fact that compared to the last contested Democratic campaign in 2008, turnout is down. Nevada continued that trend from Iowa and New Hampshire. To the extent that new voters are showing up, they are indeed voting for Sanders. And the 2008 Obama campaign did draw a lot of new voters to the polls, so comparisons to any year but 2008 are not bad. But so far the revolution does not appear to be happening.

Ever since I posted "Smearing Bernie: a preview" last month, I've been waiting for conservatives to start taking Sanders seriously as a possible Democratic nominee, and experimenting to see which attacks get traction.

A few themes are emerging. This video funded by two billionaires focuses on Sanders' hurting small business and promising to raise taxes. An article by CNS (formerly Christian News Service) connects Sanders to Castro. Another theme that I've seen in several places is that Bernie is "a loser"; he was barely able to support himself until he started getting elected to public office. Attention is also being drawn to his personal history, particularly that he wasn't married to his son's mother. None of these attacks has gotten national play so far, so I don't know what conclusions the attackers are coming to.

Republicans. Trump (33%) won a clear victory in South Carolina, while Rubio (22.5%) edged out Cruz (22.3%) for second. In spite of pulling out all the stops, including bringing in his brother, Jeb Bush (7.8%) was a distant fourth, narrowly beating John Kasich (7.6%) who barely campaigned in the state, and Ben Carson (7.2%).

As a result, Bush dropped out, ending the most expensive failure in American political history. Money, it turns out, can bring your message to the voters. But if you don't have a message, you can't buy one.

Ever since Bush began to fade, pundits have been predicting that the Republican electorate will eventually settle on Rubio. And Rubio's second-place finish in South Carolina is a nice bounce-back from his disastrous New Hampshire results, giving yet another lift to the Rubio-wave-is-starting meme. But he still hasn't won anywhere yet, and no one has identified where he's going to start winning.

Cruz is still competitive -- he even took the lead in one recent national poll -- but he has to shake his head when he looks at these results: White evangelicals are supposed to be Cruz' base; nobody has pandered to as many way-out-there preachers as Cruz has, and his father is one. Those voters turned out in large numbers: 67% of the Republican primary voters identified as evangelical or born-again white Christians. But Trump won that segment. The Trump/Rubio/Cruz breakdown was 34%/21%/26%.

It's yet another example of how the Trump phenomenon is defying all conventional wisdom. Cruz has got to be wondering how he could possibly lose Southern evangelicals to a three-times-married New Yorker who can't even name a particular Bible verse.

Digby reflects on why none of that -- not even the Donald attacking W for 9-11 or picking a fight with the Pope -- turns off his supporters.

As I’ve been writing for quite a while, the Trump phenomenon has exposed something completely unexpected about the Republican coalition, even to people who have spent years observing it. It comes more and more into focus every day: It turns out that a good many members in in good standing of the conservative movement don’t care at all about  conservative ideology and never have.

Small government, low taxes, family values, military toughness -- a few people believed in all that literally, but for much of the conservative base those have always been symbols of something else.

The chattering classes like to say “the GOP base is frustrated because conservative leaders let them down so they are turning to Trump as a protest.” This misses the point. They did let them down but not because they didn’t fulfill the evangelical/small government/strong military agenda. They let them down because they didn’t fulfill the dogwhistle agenda, which was always about white ressentiment and authoritarian dominance. Trump is the first person to come along and explicitly say what they really want and promise to give it to them.

and Apple

Apple is challenging a court order requiring it to help the FBI crack the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino terrorists. That issue gets complicated in a hurry, so I've moved it to its own article.

and you might also be interested in

As the price of oil continues to fall and stay down, the long-term stability of oil-dependent countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia is being called into question. Both regimes look a little like crime syndicates, in which the leader commands the loyalty of his captains only to the extent that he can keep the money flowing. How much can the pool of money shrink without threatening that model?

In Atlantic, Sarah Chayes and Alex de Waal write "Preparing for the Collapse of the Saudi Kingdom". The Economist looks at "If Russia Breaks Up". Behind the firewall in Foreign Affairs, Alex Motyl speculates "Lights Out for the Putin Regime", a scenario that David Marples disputes.

One of my Facebook friends raised the question: Why don't more poor people vote? And of course there are obvious answers about voter suppression, transportation when you don't own a car, and the inflexibility of work hours for minimum-wage jobs. But there's another answer that doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves, and gives me another chance to plug a classic speech by one of my friends, Tom Stites: The media covers political news from a  professional-class point of view, so politics is hard for a poor person to get interested in or see the point of.

Just to give one example: When new unemployment numbers come out, what does the media focus on? How this news affected the stock market, and whether it is good or bad for President Obama's popularity. Rarely does it discuss what this means to you if you're looking for a job or worried about losing the one you have.

If you're poor, the underlying message of just about every news outlet is that the news is not for you. In particular, politics is not for you. It's an overblown wrestling match between competing groups of professionals, none of whom really have your interests in mind.

Tom's solution is the Banyan Project, which I plug every now and then: local news co-ops whose mission is to inform the bottom 50%.

and let's close with a candidate you probably hadn't considered

Our neighbor to the north announces its Canada-cy for President of the United States.

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