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Show Me The Money

Wednesday, November 30, 2005
I am all for reducing the influence on politics, but the problems that are created by campaign finance reform are daunting. Policies being enacted at the state level seem to be pushing for a system of public financing, with lots of small contributions triggering public support. There is a similar system at work in New York City elections, where contributions of $200 earn a 4-1 match up to a limit of around $150,000. The difficulty is that candidates capable of raising far larger sums can always exit the system. The recent state legislation attempts to address this issue by giving extra grants to candidates who face such opponents. Of course this could lead to some very large public outlays which might undermine the system.

There are a lot of other interesting ideas floating around out there: vouchers for free media time, since 90% of the funds for congressional races go to television; reducing the incentive for contributing by mandating anonymous contributions; creating vouchers so that everyone can contribute; and even hoping that the courts will overturn Buckley so that we can simply limit the amount that will be spent.

All of these approaches have their strengths, but I still think there some elements of campaign finance reform that have yet to be grappled with. First of all, what is the purpose behind such reforms? Is it to reduce the possibility or appearance of corruption? To make for more competitive elections? Or to make it possible for those without means to run for office? Each purpose brings with it a different sense of what reform requires.

I would put forth the radical position that the real aim of campaign finance reform should be to eliminate the role of money in politics entirely. Unfortunately this link has been constitutionalized by Buckley. In addition, this desire is complicated by the failure to distinguish between candidates and organizations. We now have such a candidate-centered political system that our notion of reform is exclusively concerned with donations to candidates. This neglect led to the "soft money" problem of unlimited contributions to party organizations. The unintended consequence of these reforms was to further emphasize the importance of candidates rather than organizations by restricting the ability of parties to raise money.

Our aim should not be just to tightly regulate money but to reduce its relevance in the political process. This means that we must work to strengthen participative institutions which by their very nature diminish the importance of money. In doing so we must provide safeguards against corruption and machine politics, which organizations are notoriously vulnerable to.

In short, we need not more autonomous candidates - the effect of the proposed reforms - but candidates who are more dependent on people who are willing to do more than just write a check. Only then will we have a democracy worthy of the name.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:41 AM

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On Second Thought.....

Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Make it about Bush.

I've been in the camp of people who believed that it was a mistake to focus on George Bush. After all, he's a lame duck and we never have to run against him again. Instead we should concentrate against the Republican Congress - people like Tom DeLay and Randy Cunningham.

But now I think I might have been mistaken. Bush is so unpopular, so mistrusted by independent voters and increasingly disillusioning to conservatives, that maintaining our fire on Bush might be a good way to go. And boy does it feel good to kick this guy when he's down. My mom would scold me quite severely :)

There are right and wrong ways to do this. There is the obvious strategy of negative ads showing the incumbent congressman in pictures with W, or talking about how wonderful W is. But there should be more to our approach than this. What is required is to make Bush emblematic of entire conservative movement. The right wants to abandon Bush as not a "real conservative." As laughable as this proposition is, if we don't rebut it it will stick.

Our story should be the that the failure of the Bush administration, and the rampant corruption in Congress, are in fact a product of conservative Republican policies faithfully executed. Big-spending, incompetent, socially intolerant, fiscally irresponsible, corrupt - these should be our magic words over the next year. The Republicans are "corrupt conservatives" and "reckless Republicans" and most importantly "George Bush Republicans."

Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:41 AM

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Rethinking Executive Power

Monday, November 28, 2005
Like most liberals, I have been enamored by the potentials of a stronge executive. As the only representative elected by the whole people, executives are in a unique position to both embody the will of the people and to provide unified direction and impetus to public policy. During the 20th century, it was liberal executives who provided the necessary leadership for liberal reforms: Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson - it's an impressive list both of leaders and accomplishments.

The gradual concentration of power in executives is not restricted to the White House. Governors have grown steadily stronger over time, as they have become professionals and the state legislatures have remained amateurs. Mayors have regained a great deal of their luster as well. At every level of government the voters seem willing to invest ever-greater powers in the executive branch. For example, here is New York the voters rejected a state constitutional amendment that would shift power from an over-mighty governor to the legislature, while the voters approved two city charter amendments that would strengthen the power of the Mayor.

Once upon a time I would have considered this trend all to the good. The passage of time and greater perspective has forced me to reconsider my support of the executive as the focus of politics. Partially this is because since LBJ it is conservative leadership that has generally been represented in the White House. As a result, the powers invested in the Presidency have pushed policy to the right. There is also the long train of executive abuses over the last generation as well - Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the manifold demonstrations of incipient tyranny by the current administration. The aggressive use of executive privilege and heightening of presidential war powers, particularly with regard to civil liberties, are obvious examples of an executive that has become too strong. While the abuse of a thing is no argument against the thing itself, it does give one pause when those abuses become routine.

I have more substantive objections to a powerful executive than the problems of the day. The fact of it is that the strong executive is inherently less democratic than the legislature. Executives rely on mass persuasion and directives rather than deliberation. It is the executive branch that is most dangerous should it be inhabited by demagogues. And an over-reliance on strong leadership can over time condition the citizens to follow and obey - to look to the "great leader" to solve their problems rather than recognize that self-governance requires personal participation in the political process.

I have thought for some time that the drift of war-making and foreign policy powers towards the Presidency is a real problem, given the increasingly blatant manipulation of international affairs for domestic political purposes (the Tonkin Gulf, the Grenada invasion, and of course Iraq). I am now prepared to generalize this critique to the whole panoply of postwar executive leadership. While it certainly makes sense to invest more powers in the executive in times of crisis, this deference must end when meaning of "crisis" is debased so that you are always in such a state. A free people cannot long indulge in the fantasy of a Savior and remain free.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:40 AM

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Appeal to Authority

Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Under attack for his opposition to the one-person-one-vote standard, Alito has told us all to just trust him. Now Alito is a well-educated man, and I'm sure he had to take a logic course or two in school. He should therefore be familiar with the fallacy referred to as the "appeal to authority" - that you should believe someone's arguments (however weak) because that person can lay claim to some sort of privileged status. "Just trust me" statements typically fall into this category. So knowing what a weak position it is, why does Alito offer it anyway. It could be because Alito thinks we're stupid or because he can't come up with any better arguments. But it might also be due to conservatism real vulnerability to this fallacy. They love authorities, you see.

On another note, Paul Waldman has a good post over in the Gadflyer explaining why it's a mistake to view Iraq through the prism of Vietnam or WWII. What caught my attention was this statement:

Moreover, the democratic elections have all of the form but little of the meaning of democracy. Critical to the democratic process is a willingness to accept the rules of the game. The losers have to accept that they have lost and the winners have to accept that their victory is only temporary until the next election. As is commonplace in the Arab world, these principles are not really accepted by any of the major players in Iraq.

What I wonder is whether those principles are any longer adhered to by our Republican party.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:39 AM

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Was the election of 2004 winnable? John Kerry has come in for a lot of criticism for his performance in the Presidential race. As usual, the party lost and the candidate took the blame. The question remains whether this attribution is fair.

David Gopoian's answer is no. Using extensive poll data, he argues that John Kerry performed as well or better than any other candidate could have - including John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and even the Big Dog, Bill Clinton himself. Kerry successfully united the Democratic base, but Bush's support among Republicans was so fanatic that it was impossible to unseat him. No Democrat could have done better than Kerry.

I concur with Gopoian that Kerry was the best of the candidates running in 2004 and that his campaign was better than it has been given credit for. I do have some real objections to Gopoian's assertions, however. First, if the Democratic base was as united as the Republican base (as Gopoian's piece implies), then party unity is a nullified factor - independents would have decided the race. In other words, Kerry could have won if he persuaded independent voters, unless one supposes that there are more Democrats than Republicans (which there aren't).

Which brings me to the second point: that Gopoian's method is characteristic of empirical political science practices - practices I'm suspicious of. His study examines voter preferences as they were in November 2004, after the Presidential race was over. All of the moves made by both parties and the frames surrounding them had been set. Now partisan identity is notoriously tied to perceptions of the party's standard-bearer, perceptions that had already been firmly established by a year of campaigning. What Gopoian's analysis cannot capture is the counterfactual - what if a different nominee had been selected, or Kerry had run a different campaign? Asking people what they feel about a party or a candidate after a campaign tells you nothing about what they would have felt had the candidates behaved differently.

Campaigns matter. Yes there are powerful structural features that shape elections. If the underlying political dynamic is overwhelmingly in favor of one party or another, then the campaign itself is pretty irrelevant. But in a close election, campaigning is hugely important. Voters, particularly independent voters, are open to persuasion. In 2004 I believe that there were constituencies willing to support a Democrat but who supported Bush. I still think Kerry was the best candidate last year - I just think he failed to make the most persuasive case to swing voters.

So no, we weren't doomed. We just failed.

P.S. More Dynasty Watch. Via Daily Kos, the son of former Senator John Culver is the leading Democratic candidate for governor of Iowa. Boo!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:39 AM

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Hostile Takeover

Monday, November 21, 2005
Pacific Views has a piece on the sadly predictable lack of corporate funding for a Darwin exhibition. It would be more depressing if it were not so routine. Corporations are in the business of making money, nothing more. The only reason they provide financial support to such events is to raise their public profile and improve their image. They don't do it out of some sort of beneficence - they do it to increase sales.

Which brings me to the real problem. Why is it that corporations are required to fund valuable public activities? What does a Darwin exhibit, or PBS, or whatever, have to do with selling cars? Precisely nothing, that's what. But we have created a situation in which even public schools can't operate without corporate sponsorship. Traditionally arts & culture have been financed by governments. But since we've hollowed out the government and weakened the tax base, the only folks with disposable income are corporations and wealthy individuals.

This is a very dangerous situation, as the Darwin exhibit makes clear. There is word for one who grants gifts to others - it's called a patron. And do you know what the recipients are called? Clients. By forcing intellectual, educational, artistic, and even entertainment activities to be reliant on corporate contributions, we are allowing the requirements and biases of our already too-powerful corporate sector to annex greater and greater portions of public life. What we are witnessing is nothing less than the corporate feudalization of American society.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:38 AM

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Call Me A Goo-Goo

Thursday, November 17, 2005
"Goo-goo" is a denigrating description of good government reformers. But why are we even in politics if we don't believe in good government? I don't think those of us concerned with re-districting, campaign finance, and lobbying reform are too abstract to care about things like health care and the environment. On the contrary, I don't think we'll ever be able to implement or sustain liberal reforms unless we change the way that politics works. It's not just that American politics has produced poor policy outcomes - it's that the entire structure of American politics is designed to produce poor policy outcomes.

Having said this, there are good and bad ways to pursue good-government reforms. Perhaps Jim McNeil is correct that the Ohio initiatives were too complicated, and too distant from basic voter concerns, to succeed. But part of the problem is that initiatives are just a bad way to do policy. Good laws are going to be a little complicated, and hence confusing to the poor people standing in the ballot box - which is why I don't like the initiative process.

But it would be a mistake to entirely abandon Goo-Goo reforms. If they are presented as part of a package of reforms, they can both highlight the corruption of the Republicans and imply that there is a connection between good policy and good government (i.e. that the reason we don't have good laws is that we have a bunch of crooks in charge gaming the system). But secondly, I don't believe that we are going to be able to enact good policy without such reforms. Right now bloggers are tipsy at Nancy Pelosi's kiss-off to corporate lobbyists. But do we really believe that they won't be able to regain their influence over the Democratic party were we to regain control?

As long as there is such an imperative to raise money, lobbyists will be able to distort the policy-making process. We may never be able to entirely end the relationship between money and politics, but if we don't try we'll never be able to accomplish anything of substance.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:35 AM

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Alito Revealed

Wednesday, November 16, 2005
The revelation of Alito's personal views about abortion, civil liberties, and civil rights is no revelation at all. We all knew that Alito was a wingnut - this just confirms it. What I find bizarre is the reaction not of the left ("we told you so") but of the right ("this doesn't change anything"). Conservatives would have us believe that, since the 1985 application form was for the purpose of getting a White House job, the information therein isn't really applicable to Alito's candidacy for the bench. His role in the Reagan Administration was that of an advocate, while his prospective job now is for that of a judge. Since these are two very different roles, the criteria he presented in the first simply doesn't apply to the latter - as a judge, his personal views don't matter. As an advocate, they did.

This is a very curious sort of reasoning. I could take the cheap shot and say that the conservative argument implies that Alito will simply say anything he needs to in order to get a job, but that would be beneath me. :) More substantively, the conservative argument does assert that Alito's position in 1985 about Roe's constitutionality has no bearing in 2005. They would place the burden of proof on us, his critics, to demonstrate his falsehood. But this is an example of the "burden of proof" fallacy - the burden is not on us to demonstrate why he is not qualified for the Supreme Court, it is up to him to prove that he is qualified. He needs to explain to the world what has changed in the last 20 years to alter his thinking about Roe - if it has altered at all (which of course it hasn't).

What should happen is that in the hearings Alito should be forced to explain whether he still believes Roe was wrongly decided. If he doesn't, we should assume that his position is unchanged. The absence of evidence for a change should be proof that there has been no change. The same questions should be applied with regard to the entire corpus of the Warren Court (which he rejected). If Alito doesn't answer, of if he forthrightly explains why he rejects the last 50 years of jurisprudence, he has to be rejected on the grounds that he is simply too far out of the mainstream. In other words, that he is a kook.

The current debate is just one more example of what has gone wrong with the appointment process. Presidents have been granted such deference in their nominations that we must prove their utter corruption or incompetence in order to defeat them. Their views on the law and the experience have been made off limits. The result is that the "advice and consent" provision in the Constitution has been in any practical sense repealed. There is no longer any advice, and we must reach "extraordinary circumstances" if we wish to withhold consent.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:34 AM

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The Faint at Heart

Tuesday, November 15, 2005
After the Republican defeats last Tuesday and the continuing decline in the President's poll numbers, the conventional wisdom was that Bush's influence over Congress would suddenly evaporate as Republican congressman ran for cover. We saw one piece of evidence when Forrester blamed Bush's unpopularity for his defeat. Now we have an even better one: just a few days after Bush tries to rally his base around the Iraq War, basically calling anyone who disagrees with him a traitor, the Republican Senate calls for a troop draw-down.

Do you want to know what's funny about all of this? Congressional incumbents think they can insulate themselves by abandoning an unpopular incumbent from their party. After all, they survived the defeat of their Presidential candidates, didn't they? Unfortunately for them, this is the opposite of true. An incumbent President provides the essential political identity for a party in the voters' minds. This means that all Republicans, whether they support the President or not, are going to be held accountable for his failures. By distancing themselves, the Republicans are making Bush look even weaker and less effective, which will make him even more unpopular (people hate a loser), and thus doom their own re-election chances.

This scenario played out in 1994, when moderate Democrats in conservative districts thought they could get out from under Clinton's unpopularity by voting against him. And they all lost.

So keep jumping ship, guys! All you're doing is guaranteeing your own political annihilation!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:34 AM

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Drug Companies R Bad, M'Kay?

Monday, November 14, 2005
Exhibit A: A big story in the NYT about how declining sales are forcing pharmaceutical companies to cut "research" budgets. What the article fails to reveal is that the vast majority of expenditures in the "research" line item is market research. It's not about developing the cure to the common cold - it's about figuring out how to get people to buy the same product with a different name to fix a different imaginary problem. Why is the press corps so full of fools?

Exhibit B: The Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. Nobody can understand this damn thing. The only apparent purpose was to shovel out a bunch of taxpayer money to the drug companies and to help some conservative Congressman get re-elected. Well the first part seems to be working out, anyway. I've had like a million questions about the program, I've attended forums explaining how it works, and all I can do is scratch my head. Even Paul Krugman is confused.

The confusion surrounding this proposal does indicate one thing to me, however: treating health care as a market is a guaranteed disaster. The decisions are too complicated and the choices too scary for people to make intelligent consumer decisions. Getting medication or surgery is not like buying a car. Frankly I think this situation calls into question the entire conception of the person as parlayed by economists. People are NOT rational self-interested utility maximizers. No one has the time or energy to figure out complicated systems like this.

Of course, it's always possible that the real purpose behind the prescription drug plan would be to make a health care proposal so screwed up as to discredit the idea of national health insurance.....
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:33 AM

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Not So Fast

Thursday, November 10, 2005
Everybody is ecstatic over the election results yesterday (except here in NYC). Yes it's great that the Democrats retained the NJ and Va governorships, that the Governator was repudiated, that Bush's intervention in Virginia ended up hurting him and Kilgore, and that traditional Republican tactics failed.


These results really don't mean a whole lot. I don't mean this in the right wing talking point "the status quo remains" sense. I mean in the "Democrats have the wind at their back in 2006" sense. We all need to calm down. Governor's races are very different from congressional races. Governors run as chief executives, where management and specific local issues are very important. In congressional races, national issues are the salient items for voters. So the fact that Dems can win in Fairfax county for goveror says nothing about our ability to win a House seat there.

We still haven't proven that Democrats can win in these areas on national issues. It certainly doesn't mean that we can unseat a bunch of entrenched Republican incumbents. November 8's results don't mean that we can't, of course. Bush's low approval rating, Republican recruitment problems, and the generic Democratic congressional advantage give me hope. But I'm not going to start celebrating yet.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:32 AM

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Peace In Our Time!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Call it the Munich strategy. Bull Moose - or should I call him Neville Chamberlain? - proposes the following:

Democrats should certainly fight and oppose the unwise policies of the Bush Administration. But, it is critical that bi-partisan alliances emerge to address the current leadership dysfunction. There is too much time before the next election to allow a leadership vacuum - America cannot wait two to three years to confront both national security threats and serious domestic concerns.

This approach simply presumes that there are good and reasonable people on the other side of the political divide with whom one can negotiate. If only we can all set aside our partisan desires, we can achieve the holy grail of bipartisan consensus and a good public policy! Unfortunately for Mister Moose, there is no such entity. Has it occurred to him that the reason that the country is so divided politically is because of the Republicans? Remember who it was that said "bipartisanship is rape"? Moose's advice is akin to suggesting that if only the West had appeased Hitler on Poland, there would have been no World War II!

The Theocons are drowning from disasters of their own making. Now is not the time to throw them a life preserver. Now is the time to throw them an anvil.

No wonder his first name is "bull."
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:36 AM

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Election Day!

I'm going to work all day pretending Bloomberg isn't going to win by a landslide. Wish me luck.

Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:32 AM

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Religious Quandries

Monday, November 07, 2005
The Alito nomination has raised old questions about the appropriate relationship between religion and public life. Recently Amy Sullivan has argued that Catholic judges may soon be in the same position as Catholic politicians - forced to apply the Church's official doctrine or risk condemnation from their church. The arguments that judges just apply the law or can recuse themselves doesn't seem to solve the problem. As Andrew Sullivan notes, you could have a case where 5 Supreme Court judges have to recuse themselves! In addition, bishops are going to be in the uncomfortable position of deciding which public officials to condemn on which issues - abortion, the death penalty, unjust war, etc. Pretty soon Catholic voters could be having to get an endorsement pamphlet from the Pope to make up their minds.

What is going on here? Whatever happened to the separation of church and state? Catholic theology used to suggest that there was a difference between public responsibilities and personal convictions. Andrew Sullivan correctly notes that we are seeing
"the Catholic hierarchy's slow collapse into fundamentalism. Once a Catholic is denied the moral capacity to separate her public duties from her private faith - or risk exclusion from the sacraments - then she is in an acute conflict between public duty and private conscience."

What I find most interesting about this debate is its reflection on the problems that liberal Catholic politicians face. Even while we have pundits suggesting that Democrats need to honestly use religious faith as part of their political identity, we have to recognize that this tactic will inevitably enhance the political influence of religious leaders in politics - as we have seen on the political right. And what does this tactic do to the interests of religious minorities, such as Hindus, Muslims, and seculars, who make up a growing portion of the American population?

Amy Sullivan seems to have placed herself on the horns of a dilemma. She has argued in the past that Democrats need to "get religion," but now she has identified some of the very real risks associated with such an approach. Not only are there real moral difficulties with using religious language in politics (as I argued here and here), but it now appears that even the practical benefits (winning elections) come with a very high price.

I am sticking to the hard-line secular position on this issue: religious arguments should never be deployed as public justifications. I can argue that a policy is immoral, but I can never say that it is against God's will, because the the public forum then becomes nothing more than a battleground between competing theologies. Haven't we learned yet what kind of damage this can cause?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:31 AM

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The War on Fundamentalism

Saturday, November 05, 2005
Hey, Andrew Sullivan, does this irrepressible conflict between seculars and religious authoritarians apply to the U.S. too?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:30 AM

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Should Ideology Matter?

Friday, November 04, 2005
I have been very pessimistic about the war for the Supreme Court because Democrats (with the help of the press) have steadily undermined the liberal political position on the nomination process. However, I think we may now have a rhetorical opportunity.

During the "nuclear option" debate a few months ago, the Democrats effectively conceded that the ideological extremism of a candidate was no bar to his or her nomination by allowing Owens to be confirmed - who is about as big a psycho as you can imagine. At the same time the gang of 14 killed the filibuster by saying there were some conditions (to be decided by the majority) in which it could not be used, and by making the Democrats frightened to use it for fear that the power would disappear. Finally, we allowed Roberts to get on the bench despite his blank judicial record, meaning that the objective qualifications of a nominee would not be a criteria either. All Bush had to do was select another stealth nominee and he could put any looney he wanted to on the Court.

But in a spectacular example of political incompetence, Bush nominated someone with such weak credentials and such an obscure ideological position that he faced a rebellion on his right. They demanded she be withdrawn and replaced by an obvious, and experienced, Theocon judge. This forced Bush to select Alito.

In the process, the entire conservative rhetorical position on the nomination process has collapsed. They attacked Miers because she wasn't a conservative and wasn't qualified, restoring these arguments to their rightful place in the political debate. Thanks guys.

So now we have a judge who has the credentials of a good nominee to the bench. As Michael Kinsley has argued, all liberals are left with to oppose his nomination is his ideology. And as the New York Times has reported, that is indeed the area that Democrats are focusing on. Some people think this is a bad thing, and in most cases I would agree with them. But not here, and not now.

In previous historical eras, it was probably inappropriate to use ideology as a standard. But there is an exception - when the views held by a nominee are profoundly at odds with the views of the American people. When we say that "ideology shouldn't matter," we are assuming that the ideology we are talking about is a mainstream one. If a nominee is within the American political consensus, then he should be let on - even if he leans a little bit in one direction or the other.

The mistake that the press and a lot of moderates are making is to believe that modern conservatism meets this standard - that it is a respectable political persuasion within the centrist tradition of American political thought. But I have news for you - it's not. Today's right wing is opposed to every advance in social justice and civil liberties made over the last hundred years. They want to repeal the Great Society of the 1960's, the New Deal of the 1930's, the Progressive movement of the 1910's, and the Civil Service Reforms of the 1880's. If the right forthrightly ran on these issue positions, they would receive about 10% of the vote. I hope.

So my position would be that a conservative or liberal judge should be allowed on the bench, but no reactionaries or radicals. Nobody who wants to burn the village in order to save it. Unfortunately today's conservatism has been entirely captured by the extreme reactionary wing of the party. Moderates always have a problem coping with extremist political movements, and this is a classic example.

This is our opportunity - to present to the country exactly how insane the right wing is. The Miers debacle has forced Bush into this position, which he didn't want to be in. Any straight-up political fight over conservative ideology could easily lead to the outright repudiation of the Republican party, something the Theocon pundits don't understand but which Rove & Co. are very aware of. Bush is attempting to retrieve his old strategy by "fuzzing up" Alito's record (see here). We shouldn't let him. We should make this an open debate about what kind of society we want to live in. This may be the last best opportunity we have.

By the way, I am all for this.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:30 AM

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Angry Intellectuals

Thursday, November 03, 2005
I was talking about abortion politics last night with Dr. Brazen Hussy, and she suggested I say here what I said to her.

Abortion is one of those issues that tends to generate very high emotions. Generally speaking political disputes that are "hot" also tend be be pretty irrational. But emotion-laden argument doesn't necessarily have to be the result of poor reasoning. While most often people tend to use their intellect to justify their pre-existing emotional states, it is possible for things to work the other way around: for sober intellectual analysis to generate powerful emotional commitment.

I will use myself as an example. A few years ago I didn't have very strong feelings about the abortion issue. I was emotionally indifferent and thought people on both sides of the issue were a little wacky. I thought I saw the real intellectual complexity of the issue - that there were strong arguments to be made on both sides.

I now have very strong emotions. I am ardently pro-choice. Basically I thought through the issue of abortion and decided that 1) the idea that life begins at conception is based on a silly moral teleology masquerading as science, and 2) the Kantian position that people should be treated as ends and not means applies with great force in the case of abortion. If you tell a woman that she must bear a child to term, then you are treating her as a vehicle for child-creation, as a baby-making machine. This turns her into a thing, an object of others' will, rather than an autonomous agent. In five years I have never heard a persuasive contrary argument, and until I do I will consider the intellectual debate over.

Note here that my position is grounded solely on reasoning, not emotion. As far as abortion goes, I have no stake in the game. I'm a man and will never have to make a decision. But I am as committed as any pro-choice feminist (hi, honey!). My intellectual position has led to a firm moral conviction, which generates some pretty strong emotions - as you might have read yesterday when I started ranting about Alito and basically channeling Amanda Marcotte.

The possibility that emotions can be the product of sound reasoning has implications for feminism too. A lot of snotty males think women have 2nd-rate brains because women are "emotional." But as Martha Nussbaum and other theorists have argued, emotions can come out of the process of reflection as well as base instinct. The fact that women (or men!) get choked up about something need not be an indication that they are engaging in sloppy reasoning or are just "reacting emotionally." It could also mean that a woman actually has very good reasons for her position - she's just too outraged to express them to you because you are being calm when calm isn't called for.

So the next time you are coolly discussing something with someone who is very upset, don't be so quick to accuse them of being "too emotional." It might be that you are not being emotional enough. It is no virtue to calmly examine injustice. If you aren't inspired to act and feel by actions of great nobility or ignobility, then there is something very wrong with you.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:29 AM

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Warning About Alito

Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Lots more on the Alito nomination today. I'm pleased that the coverage has moved away from glowing statements about what a nice man he is - which was the focus during the Roberts nomination. Frankly it doesn't matter whether I'd like to have a beer for someone if they'd be willing to let the President through me in jail without a trial.

The first thing I noticed when scanning the headlines this morning was that the Washington Post and New York Times had written identical articles about the Bushies' effort to win over "red-state" Democratic Senators like Tim Johnson, Mark Pryor, Ben Nelson, and Max Baucus. This certainly makes sense for the White House is they want to avoid a filibuster. But I have a two words for those Senators: Max Cleland. It doesn't matter to those people if you support them on key legislation, they will still deploy all of their resources into trying to destroy you. All you'll be doing is letting them treat you like a bitch.

There was also a quote I heard last night on Lehrer and read again this morning from soon to be ex-Senator Mike DeWine: "He [DeWine] called Alito 'clearly within the mainstream of conservative thought.'" Excuse me, but that's exactly what I'm afraid of. Conservative thought these days (if I can honor their quasi-fascist pseudo-intellectual meanderings "thinking") isn't what anyone would call mainstream. A better word for it would be "lunatic."

You want a specific example? Well to risk letting the debate over this nomination become solely about abortion (and I agree with many of my fellow bloggers that we need to make this a more braod-brush critique), there is an excellent set of articles about Alito's legal philosophy. The first is that, whatever his rulings while on the Circuit Court, he is likely to vote to overturn to Roe; and the other is his reliance on a traditional notion of marriage.

The first article simply points out that any pro-Roe rulings on the Circuit Court are hardly indications of Alito's true opinion, because in that capacity he was bound by Supreme Court precedent. If he is elevated to the bench, he is liberated from that concern.

The second article sent up all kinds of red flags. If Alito's idea of a traditional marriage is what I think it is (and his ruling in the Casey decision indicates that it is), then this guy merits sexual harassment classes, not an appointment to the Supreme Court. The "traditional marriage" as conservatives define it is in many ways an institutionalized form of discrimination against women, and has proven to be one of the greatest barriers to gender equity and childrens' rights. The legal notion of marriage in the modern era is that of two equals agreeing to co-habitate, share property rights, and (if they choose) share custody of children. The "traditional" notion is that a woman goes from the domination of her father to the rule of her husband, and that he chief function is to provide sexual and housekeeping services to her husband as well as to make babies.

Alito's decision in Casey, where he suggested that a husband has a legal claim on the uterus of his wife, certainly points in the latter direction. This places him squarely in the Theocon camp and way, way outside of where most Americans are. So no more claptrap about his "mainstream" character, please.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:28 AM

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Scalito's Way

Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Bush has pulled the trigger, nominating an open reactionary to the Supreme Court and endangering everything about America we hold dear. Don't believe me? Read this (If all you want is a puff piece about what a nice, reasonable man Alito is, you can always read the NYT).

Before this war gets started, we need to be aware of the underlying strategic situation. The Bush camp has been reeling for months. This is an obvious ploy to change the subject away from indictments and to consolidate the conservative base. It is Rovism at its crudest.

It will also probably work. The press simply isn't capable of changing a narrative they've allowed to propagate: that the only thing that matters is a nominee's qualifications, that conservatives are restrained and liberals activists, that judges deserve an "up or down vote", and that a filibuster is unfair. A lot of people are claiming that the right can't make these arguments in the wake of the Harriet Miers debacle. My response is - why not? When has the outrageousness of an action every prevented Republicans from performing it?

The fact is that we are most likely going to lose this battle. The most likely scenario is that the moderates will fall behind the hard right (again) and give Alito enough votes for a majority. Democrats will be forced to filibuster or sacrifice their remaining credibility with the feminist movement. The gang of fourteen will splinter, and the "nuclear option" will be invoked, killing the filibuster. Democrats will invoke their own nuclear option and attempt to shut down the Senate, which they will manage to do for a few weeks before the pressure becomes too great and a few Liebermans cave. They will be hailed as "moderates" (rather than "appeasers" or "traitors") and will invoke some sort of fig leaf compromise. Alito will be put on the bench at the last obstacle to executive tyranny, religious totalitarianism, and minority rights will be removed from our Constitution. Checkmate.

But do not lose heart. I want to tell you a little story about a great general who won a very bloody battle. When congratulated by one of his lieutenants for his victory, the general responded "More such victories and I am ruined!" That general's name of course was Pyrrhus, giving name to the Pyrrhic Victory.

The lesson is that there are defeats and defeats. Some failures are abject, and one gains nothing from them. But there are other setbacks in which one extracts such a price from one's opponent that it renders his triumph meaningless. The Democrats have an opportunity to choose their own ground in this battle. We can make this debate about more than just abortion, or the rules of the Senate. If we are clever, and disciplined, we can make the story of this nomination about the radical fringe of a quasi-fascist political movement attempting to pack the Courts. We can make it about preserving American freedoms that our opponents are determined to roll back. We can, in short, use this battle to demonstrate to the rest of the country exactly what these people are.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:14 AM

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