Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The use of propaganda to re-define the political landscape

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Daniel Larison:

During the last sixteen months we have heard endlessly about Obama’s alleged “betrayals” of his “moderate, pragmatic” campaign and his pursuit of a “radical left-wing agenda” in defiance of the preferences of the majority. Republicans have been making these charges quite often despite the obvious “centrist” governance the administration has offered so far. The purpose of these charges is not to describe political realities. The goal is to re-define the political landscape and set down markers for future elections, so that there are ready-made ideological explanations for what happens later. It is no accident that these complaints have usually been coming from supporters of defeated, deeply discredited parties that are opposed by more than half of their countrymen.

Health Care Reform: A Test of Whether the Country Could Tackle Its Most Vexing, Long-Term, Systematic Problems

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Jonathan Cohn’s piece in The New Republic on how health care reform was passed is an excellent read. One of the most telling anecdotes was the story of how internally divided the administration was regarding pursuing health care reform at the start. The political advisers — Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod most prominently — favored avoiding the issue. And once significant push back was encountered, they favored abandoning comprehensive reform in favor of just tackling the problem of children without insurance. Of the prominent names in the White House who favored going forward through all these obstacles, the most famous and influential all opposed it. Save one — the one whose opinion mattered most. This particular passage probably best sums up the reason I saw health care reform as so essential:

Obama had come to view this debate as a proxy for the deepest, most systemic crises facing the country. It was a test, really: Could the country still solve its most vexing problems? If he abandoned comprehensive reform, he would be conceding that the United States was, on some level, ungovernable. Besides, several aides recall him saying, “I feel lucky.”

It’s only available in pieces currently to non-subscribers. But they’re releasing it in dribs and drabs to the rest: here’s Part OnePart Two, and Part Three. (Parts Four and Five have not yet been released.)

I have a feeling that when the retrospective histories of the Obama administration are written, the August-to-September 2009 period will be considered the turning point whereby Obama finally became comfortable in the office — and the moment the Obama administration began to gain some traction in making progress in this poisonous political environment — even against long-term systematic problems.

It was in this period that Obama made the Afghanistan policy his own — pushing back against the military forcefully even as he sided largely with their suggestions; and it was when Obama decided to go for health care reform even against a unified Republican opposition — and not just an easy bill, but one that went after the wrought issue of increasing health care spending.

This August-September period was when health care reform became about more than insuring millions of people — and instead became a test of whether or not Obama could break the hold of the idiocrats on our public conversation and make some small dent in tackling our systematic, long-term issues. It was tough; it was close; but the bill got done.

[Image not subject to copyright.]

Must-Reads of the Week: The IRA, Journalism, Unsavory Profits, Bipartisanship, and the Tyranny of New York

Friday, May 21st, 2010

1. Double Agents in the IRA. I recently came across an excellent article by Matthew Teague in The Atlantic about the British counterintelligence program and the IRA. It’s from 2006, but still engrossing.

2. Restoring Journalism. Maureen Tkacik talks about her life as a journalist, the nothing-based economy, and the future of journalism:

If journalism’s more vital traditions of investigating corruption and synthesizing complex topics are going to be restored, it will never be at the expense of the personal, the sexual, the venal, or the sensational, but rather through mastering the kind of storytelling that understands that none of those things exists in a vacuum. For instance, perhaps the latest political sex scandal is not simply another installment of the unrelenting narcissism and sense of invincibility of people in power. Most of the journalists writing about it have—as we all do—some understanding of the internal conflicts that lead to personal failure. By humanizing journalism, we maybe can begin to develop a mutual trust between reader and writer that would benefit both.

What I’m talking about is, of course, a lot easier to do with the creative liberties afforded a blog—one’s humanity is inescapable when one commits to blogging all day for a living.

The piece is long, and worth every word. (H/t to John Cantwell.)

3. The Papacy, Blumenthal, and Now Goldman Sachs. The New York Times took on Goldman Sachs earlier this week with a look at the perfectly legal but unsavory practices it uses to make money:

Transactions entered into as the mortgage market fizzled may turn out to have been perfectly legal. Nevertheless, they have raised concerns among investors and analysts about the extent to which a variety of Wall Street firms put their own interests ahead of their clients’.

“Now it’s all about the score. Just make the score, do the deal. Move on to the next one. That’s the trader culture,” said Cornelius Hurley, director of the Morin Center for Banking and Financial Law at Boston University and former counsel to the Federal Reserve Board. “Their business model has completely blurred the difference between executing trades on behalf of customers versus executing trades for themselves. It’s a huge problem.”

4. Erroneous Assumptions. Matt Yglesias concisely summarizes what left-leaning advocates of bipartisanship have found time and again:

Oftentimes people reach the conclusions that conservatives might support this or that by the erroneous method of pretending that conservatives believe in the stated reasons for their policy positions. It seems to me that private views of wonks aside in practice the conservative political movement simply opposes anything that would increase government revenue and/or be bad for rich people.

5. The Tyranny of New York (cont). Continued from last week, many voices around the interwebs weighed in on the conversation started by Conor Friedersdorf on the tyranny of New York in media and culture. There’s a lot of good pieces to read on this — but the 2 I will recommend are this response in the New Yorker by Amy Davidson and this follow-up by Friedersdorf himself.  Davidson, as an aside mentions an E. B. White essay “Here Is New York” that I now need to read:

(Friedersdorf mentions “living vicariously through” E. B. White, who once wrote that there were three New Yorks, that of the native, the commuter, and the newcomer from smaller American places, and that “Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last—the city of final destination, the city that is a goal…Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness, natives give it solidity and continuity, but the settlers give it passion.” But I’ve never really bought that, as matchless as many of White’s descriptions of the city are, maybe because, as a native, I feel no shortage of passion, and don’t much like being called solid. And, again, for many of the most interesting newcomers, this is an entry point to America, not the “final destination.”)

[Image by me.]

Some brief thoughts on Rand Paul

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

All those people who brand Rand Paul a racist and use this clip to prove it aren’t worthy of serious consideration. It is either ignorance of libertarian philosophy or partisan hackery to claim so. It isn’t racism to claim that the government has no right to intervene in private businesses to stop discrimination.

As Ezra Klein explains though, it is relevant:

Paul’s defense of himself is that his take on the Civil Rights Act has nothing to do with race and so he is not a racist. But by the same token, the fact that Paul’s view on the Civil Rights Act is so dominated by his libertarian ideology that he cannot even admit race and segregation into the calculus is exactly why this is relevant to Paul’s candidacy, why it’s an issue and why it’s among the best evidence we have in understanding how he’ll vote on legislation that comes before him. If this isn’t about race, then it is about all questions relating to federal regulation of private enterprise. As a senator, Paul will be faced with that question frequently. And his views on it are clearly very, very far from the mainstream.

These libertarian views do reflect accurately an ideology whose language is gaining prominence in the GOP in the form of the Tea Party movement. This movement in its different incarnations has been around for some time, and emerged as a populist right-wing backlash to John F. Kennedy, to Bill Clinton, and now to Barack Obama. In each instance, the movement died as soon as it gained a toehold on power as it had no real agreed-upon agenda other than opposition to “liberalism=socialism=communism.”  Andrew Sullivan puts his finger on an important aspect of this:

[T]he tea-party movement [is] un-conservative. It is dealing with the world as it would like it to be, not as it is. It has an almost adolescent ideal it cannot compromise. I think that makes the movement, in its more serious incarnation (like Paul), a useful addition to the public debate, especially in reminding the GOP of some core principles it threw away under Bush and Cheney… Its bright, fixed glare also helps us illuminate what we believe in – merely by revealing what we no longer believe in.

I agree with Connor Friedsdorf and Andrew Sullivan and Daniel Larison that Rand Paul’s nomination is a good thing. Even if he wins the Senate seat, I see this as a good thing. To have his voice, his ideological clarity, as 1 of 100 would improve the Senate. The fact that his extremism could lead him to side with the Democrats on some issues (if he was able to resist the partisan pressures in Washington, which is a big if) and that his extremism could simultaneously help discredit and marginalize the GOP are both bonuses. Even without these, I would see his election as a net positive as it would give some measure of power to those people whose inchoate anger has helped form the Tea Party movement and force its members to make hard decisions about what they actually want.

Rand Paul is the rare right-wing politician who doesn’t just bad-mouth government but wants to get rid of the Federal Reserve, who opposes the government encroachment represented by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the PATRIOT Act and the Affordable Care Act, who opposes Social Security and Medicare as well as any new additions from Obama. He would never campaign in favor of Medicare while calling Obamacare socialism — he would deride them both as such.

This is why I see Rand Paul as a clarifying figure who can help move our national debate forward — if he remains honest.

[Image by Gage Skidmore licensed under Creative Commons.]

How Lawless and Increasingly Violent is the Arizona-Mexico Border? Not Very.

Monday, May 17th, 2010

I’m impressed with Jake Tapper’s handling of This Week in the interim before Christiane Amanpour takes over in August. Tapper seems committed to widening the opinions voiced on the show from the typical “Beltway” crowd to some of those voices most influential in the Beltway who are critical of it. Which means bringing on Glenn Greenwald and Bill Maher. I’m still waiting on his bringing in some conservatives similarly positioned as “outsiders” while being very influential in the Beltway. Maher and Greenwald substantially influence our political conversation while never before being given the opportunity to intrude on the polite Sunday morning territory and confront the people they so regularly criticize. In the same spirit, Tapper has added a fact check component to his show — in which Politifact evaluates the truthfulness of factual claims made in his interviews. This is a huge improvement given the churning of misinformation that seems to be the main purpose some leaders use it for.

The quality of Tapper’s program was brought to mind watching this clip of Mike Murphy, a Republican political operative and frequent guest on Meet the Press. (For what it’s worth, Mike Murphy seems a genuinely likable guy and often, even a straight-shooter — and I don’t mean this as an attack on him personally.) If David Gregory allowed a fact checker to go over the claims of his guests, then perhaps the above-moment with the very inside-the-Beltway figure of Mike Murphy would not have happened. Because you see that moment was entirely fact-free. Entirely. Yet, Mike Murphy’s statement represents an oft-repeated “fact” in the opinion media — especially on the right. And it is driving the actual policy of the state of Arizona.

Let’s look at Mike Murphy’s claims and the facts:

It’s a lawless frontier because of the failure of the Obama administration to protect the American border. People are getting killed and murdered.  It has become really bad in Arizona.

Describing illegal immigration in partisan terms as a “failure of the Obama administration” seems best explained as a fudge rather than a blatant lie. It’s been an ongoing problem that as a nation we do not control our borders and maintain a law which cannot be enforced. Gregory interjects as Murphy is speaking, “This goes back before Obama, though, to be fair.” However, by stating such, Gregory seems to be conceding Murphy’s general point.

But look at the stats on this “People are getting killed and murdered” bit — which “has become really bad in Arizona,” according to Murphy, as he voices the “Conventional Wisdom” accepted by David Gregory as well. Yet there have been exactly four (4) murders along this supposedly lawless frontier in the past year. One of them generated thousands of headlines about the scourge of illegal immigration, the death of the rancher Robert Krentz. These anti-immigrant activists who talk casually of “People getting killed and murdered” (as if to double the impact of each homicide) — of the overall situation being “really bad” — even of, specifically, many ranchers being killed — always seem to point to this single example — Robert Krentz. I’ve seen no news story or other evidence linking more than this one death to border crossing. I’ve asked a number of people who have said this to point to some statistic — and instead I get the story of Robert Krentz, being exploited for politics. Remember: Arizona’s border is supposed to be the worst example of a lawless border and yet there is this single example which is always pointed to in order to justify the claim of plural murders — and even huge amounts of violence. I do not doubt there are other deaths along the border — perhaps on the Mexican side — of people trying to make the illegal crossing themselves and dying of thirst or other privation.

Mike Murphy follows this up by doubling down on his above false claim in an attempt to both place the blame for this historic problem on the Obama administration and make the case that Arizona’s very violent crime rate along the border is getting worse:

[I]t’s gotten, it’s gotten worse and worse.

To be fair to Murphy, one could consider that he means that any level of violence is bad — and that it is getting worse. So, let’s take this as a separate claim — that Murphy is instead claiming that violence along the border is increasing. CNN reported:

According to FBI statistics, violent crimes reported in Arizona dropped by nearly 1,500 reported incidents between 2005 and 2008. Reported property crimes also fell, from about 287,000 reported incidents to 279,000 in the same period. These decreases are accentuated by the fact that Arizona’s population grew by 600,000 between 2005 and 2008.

Let’s give Mike Murphy the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant that the overall problem of illegal immigration into Arizona has “gotten worse and worse” under the Obama administration. Homeland Security helpfully provides statistics on this which I have compiled into this chart:

This drop in illegal immigration isn’t due to any Bush, Obama, or local level actions. It’s due to the recession.

However, another consequence of a recession is a surge in anti-immigrant sentiment.

Which explains why Mike Murphy along with much of the Republican establishment is out there demagoguing illegal immigrants by making false claims about all these murders and violence: Because during times of economic trouble, people look to scapegoat someone for their troubles — and immigrants, especially illegal ones, get some of the blame.

But let’s stop with this pretense of “violent illegal immigrants.” That is the stuff of demagogues and prejudice as it simply is not based on facts.

Instead, let us acknowledge forthrightly that the excitement over this issue is being drive by cultural and economic resentment rather than “violence.”

Must-Reads of the Week: SWAT, Google’s News Plans, MTA Motto, Peanuts, Tea Party Feminism, Republican Pravda, Fiscal Hangover, New York’s Tyranny, Brooks on the Military, and Facebook Backlash

Friday, May 14th, 2010

1. SWAT antics. Radley Balko does some follow-up reporting on the now infamous video of the SWAT team raid in Missouri in which 2 dogs were shot:

[D]espite all the anger the raid has inspired, the only thing unusual thing here is that the raid was captured on video, and that the video was subsequently released to the press. Everything else was routine… Raids just like the one captured in the video happen 100-150 times every day in America.

2. Google’s News Plans. James Fallows discusses how Google is trying to save the news industry.

3. If you see something… Manny Fernandez in the New York Times discusses the impact and coinage of the ubiquitous phrase, “If you see something, say something.”

It has since become a global phenomenon — the homeland security equivalent of the “Just Do It” Nike advertisement — and has appeared in public transportation systems in Oregon, Texas, Florida, Australia and Canada, among others. Locally, the phrase captured, with six simple words and one comma, the security consciousness and dread of the times, the “I ♥ NY” of post-9/11 New York City. [my emphasis]

4. Artful Grief. Bill Waterson — creator of Calvin & Hobbes — reviewed a biography of Charles Schultz for the Wall Street Journal a few years ago — writing on the ‘Grief’ that Made Peanuts Good. It’s several years old but well worth reading.

5. Tea Party Feminism. Hanna Rosin of Slate evaluates the Tea Party as a feminist movement. And her reporting surprised me at least.

6. Republican Pravda. Jonathan Chait collects a few Weekly Standard covers to illustrate the changing right-wing portrayal of Obama over the past year. He identifies the passage of the health care bill as a turning point:

Now that Obama has won his biggest legislative priority and is closing in on at least one other important win, the tone is change. The hapless patsy has become the snarling bully. The lack of Republican support for Obama’s agenda, once a credit to Republican tough-mindedness, is now blamed upon Obama’s stubbornness. Here is a recent cover of Obama–the nefarious, but powerful, overseer…

7. Fiscal Hangover. Gillian Tett of the Financial Times explains the successful approach the Irish are taking to their fiscal crisis: treat it like a hangover.

8. The Tyranny of New York. Conor Friedersdof complains about the tyranny of New York — but I will excerpt his praise:

Even if New York is a peerless American city, an urban triumph that dwarfs every other in scale, density, and possibility; even if our idea of it is the romantic notion that Joan Didion described, “the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself;” even if you’ve reveled in the fact of the city, strutting down Fifth Avenue in a sharp suit or kissing a date with the skyline as backdrop while the yellow cab waits; even if you’ve drunk from the well of its creative springs, gazing at the Flatiron Building, or paging through the New York Review of Books on a Sunday morning, or living vicariously through Joseph Mitchel or E.B. White or Tom Wolfe or any of its countless chroniclers; even if you love New York as much as I do, revering it as the highest physical achievement of Western Civilization, surely you can admit that its singularly prominent role on the national scene is a tremendously unhealthy pathology.

Despite the rent, the cold, the competition, the bedbugs, the absurd requirements for securing even a closet-sized pre-war apartment on an inconvenient street; the distance from friends and family, the starkness of the sexual marketplace, the oppressive stench of sticky subway platforms in the dog days of August; despite the hour long commutes on the Monday morning F Train, when it isn’t quite 8 am, the week hardly underway, and already you feel as though, for the relief of sitting down, you’d just as soon give up, go back to Akron or Allentown or Columbus or Marin County or Long Beach — despite these things, and so many more, lawyers and novelists and artists and fashion designers and playwrights and journalists and bankers and aspiring publishers and models flock to New York City.

I don’t quite get Friedersdof’s complaint to be honest. What would be improved if there were more sitcoms taking place in Houston?

9. Military Flow Chart. David Brooks analyzes the military’s adaptation of counterinsurgency as a case study in the flow of ideas in entrenched organizations.

10. Facebook Backlash. Ryan Singel of Wired has one of many pieces in the past week fomenting the growing Facebook backlash:

Facebook has gone rogue, drunk on founder Mark Zuckerberg’s dreams of world domination. It’s time the rest of the web ecosystem recognizes this and works to replace it with something open and distributed.

[Image by me.]

Right Wing Christians Against Net Neutrality Want To Censor Your Internet

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Introduction & Summary

AT&T and other internet service providers started out wanting to undermine one of the foundational principles of the internet (and a direct cause of it’s great economic growth) so that AT&T and the rest could pad their profit margin. To do this, they funded think tanks to come up with talking points and propaganda, they created political “grassroots” opposition, and financed candidates who would oppose net neutrality (who happened to be Republican). In buying off opinion leaders to oppose net neutrality, they ended up needing to get into bed with right-wing christianists who want to censor the internet, thus trading away yet another basic aspect of what has made the internet successful.

How successful has this campaign been? A few weeks ago, I came across a few pieces linking to a letter sent by conservative “luminaries” Grover Norquist, Phyllis Schlafly, and a number of others. This letter prompted Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government and Neil Stevens of RedState to announce that the right wing was finally coming together nearly unanimously against net neutrality. As Big Government describes it:

[T]he Right, as a virtually unified whole, has turned a page in the debate over a dynamic Internet, and now is staunchly and almost uniformly opposed to what some critics call “a government takeover of the Internet.”

Non-Controversial and Bi-Partisan

It wasn’t long ago that net neutrality was a non-controversial position with bipartisan advocates and the only opposition coming from the entrenched interests of AT&T and other broadband providers. The reason for the consensus was obvious: The success story of the internet in creating a libertarian near-utopia was the product of government engineers and forceful regulators — and net neutrality was one of the core principles built into the internet that allowed its remarkable, decentralized success and its wide-open field of competition. It was net neutrality that allowed Yahoo! to come from nowhere and become a success; and Google; and Flickr; and Facebook; and virtually every other web success. Net neutrality meant that Google could compete head-to-head with Yahoo! — and that the only thing that mattered was the quality of its product instead of the degree it could pay off internet service providers to speed up its connection.

It was government action to mandate an early form network neutrality that allowed the internet itself to be created and it was government engineers who designed these initial networks to be content-neutral. Beginning in the late 1960s, regulatory agencies forced AT&T to become a more neutral network (to allow non-AT&T products to connect to its phone lines, to allow other firms to lease its phone lines). Until that point, AT&T had been blocking “the emergence of competing data-communications companies” that eventually played a role in the creation of the internet.

AT&T and the “Fairness Doctrine for the Internet”

However, given AT&T’s history, this bipartisan consensus seemed unlikely to last. The right wing’s movement turn against net neutrality can be counted as evidence of the corruption of our political process. And it’s not the first time. As I documented previously, AT&T has always sought favorable regulations to allow it to take advantage of its customers — and it has a history of funding astroturf organizations and buying off “influential people” in political movements in order to push its agenda. Former top AT&T executive Dick Martin confirmed that Grover Norquist was one of those individuals AT&T went to in the 1980s.

It wasn’t until 2008 that the opposition to net neutrality began to be generated — as John McCain and other Republicans reversed their positions as they received large inflows of money from various broadband companies opposing net neutrality. The meme began to circulate on the right wing that net neutrality was a version of the Fairness Doctrine of the 1960s which mandated radio programs give time to opposing views when they spoke on controversial subjects. This description of net neutrality made no sense — except — as I wrote at the time as a “propaganda campaign … directed [not] to the public at large, but at conservative activists.  The Fairness Doctrine is not something that gets the blood of the average American boiling.  But it does evoke a Pavlovian response among conservative activists and right-wing radio listeners.”  As I had written earlier:

By equating the Fairness Doctrine with net neutrality, [they are] attempting to polarize the public away from a consensus in favor of net neutrality into two competing camps.

The Right’s Mistake

This most recent letter from Norquist, Schlafly, and other conservatives is interesting though — more than just as a representation of the epistemic closure of the right as it deludes itself into thinking net neutrality is a “government takeover of the internet” and a “Fairness Doctrine for the Internet” because believing and supporting each of these things means more money for right-wing causes. What’s most interesting to me is the political mistake they made — quite possibly the price they paid to get so many christianist activists to sign off on it — and the only flaw I have noticed in this multi-year lobbying campaign. They came out in favor of censorship of the internet:

Net neutrality regulations also call into question how obscenity and other objectionable content on the Internet is treated. Let’s be clear, all content is not equal and does not deserve equal treatment, but net neutrality prohibits broadband service providers from prioritizing the content consumers want and preventing peddlers of child pornography from having unblocked access to every home Internet connection. It is critically important for parents and families to continue to have access to the tools necessary to keep unwanted content out of the home.

All rather uninteresting pablum that doesn’t sound objectionable to the average reader. However, it suggests a weakness in the anti-net neutrality coalition — as these more christianist members will undoubtedly begin to paint this as a matter of  protecting our children through censorship. “All content is not equal,” they say. “We need the internet to protect family values.”

Net neutrality isn’t just what makes the internet a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity; net neutrality is the opposite of censorship — it not only protects my right to blog and be heard on controversial issues, but that good old American past-time of porn-watching. It’s opponents want to block access to the parts of the internet that conflict with their family’s values.

As I had some trouble finding the full letter, I’m enclosing it below (with my source as RedState and the Institute on Religion and Public Policy [pdf]):

(more…)

Our Nation’s Drug Enforcement in a Nutshell

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010


Megan McArdle goes all “righteous fury” in response to the above video:

Have you ever had one of those arguments in a bar that start around eleven and wind up when the bartender kicks you out?  It starts off on some perfectly reasonable topic, but as the hours and the drinks mount up, the participants are forced to stake out some clear logical positions, and in doing so, crawl farther and farther out along the limb they are defending . . . until suddenly you reach a point at which one of the debaters can either abandon their initial commitment, or endorse the slaughter of 30,000 Guatemalan orphans.  And there’s this long pause, and then he says, “Look, it’s not like I want to kill those orphans . . . ”

This is our nation’s drug enforcement in a nutshell.  We started out by banning the things.  And people kept taking them.  So we made the punishments more draconian.  But people kept selling them.  So we pushed the markets deep into black market territory, and got the predictable violence . . . and then we upped our game, turning drug squads into quasi-paramilitary raiders.  Somewhere along the way, we got so focused on enforcing the law that we lost sight of the purpose of the law, which is to make life in America better.

How the Supreme Court Nomination Process Rewards the Type of People Who Defer to Presidential Authority

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

David Brooks did a great job today of describing the type of individual our current Supreme Court confirmation process tends to reward (to paraphrase):

A person whose career has dovetailed with the incentives presented by the confirmation system, a system that punishes creativity and rewards caginess, and who therefore we are forced to construct arguments based on speculation because they have been too careful to let their actual positions leak out.

Brooks locates this type of individual — as is his wont (see for eg. bobos) — in a general sociological group:

About a decade ago, one began to notice a profusion of Organization Kids at elite college campuses. These were bright students who had been formed by the meritocratic system placed in front of them. They had great grades, perfect teacher recommendations, broad extracurricular interests, admirable self-confidence and winning personalities.

If they had any flaw, it was that they often had a professional and strategic attitude toward life. They were not intellectual risk-takers. They regarded professors as bosses to be pleased rather than authorities to be challenged. As one admissions director told me at the time, they were prudential rather than poetic.

Brooks sees this as a flaw in his evaluation of Elena Kagan:

Kagan has apparently wanted to be a judge or justice since adolescence (she posed in judicial robes for her high school yearbook). There was a brief period, in her early 20s, when she expressed opinions on legal and political matters. But that seems to have ended pretty quickly…

But I was struck by the similarity of David Brooks’s evaluation of Elena Kagan now and Dahlia Lithwick’s evaluation of John Roberts when he was nominated:

I knew guys like [John Roberts] in college and at law school; we all knew guys like him. These were the guys who were certain, by age 19, that they couldn’t smoke pot, or date trampy girls, or throw up off the top of the school clock tower because it would impair their confirmation chances. They would have done all these things, but for the possibility of being carved out of the history books for it…

My sense that Roberts has been preparing for next month’s confirmation hearings his whole life was shored up by a glance at the new memos released by the Library of Congress yesterday. As early as 1985, Roberts was fretting about how federal government records disclosed to Congress before confirmation hearings could tank a nomination.

Roberts was widely seen to have been very “careful” and “cautious” throughout his life — intellectually and otherwise. Yet David Brooks had a different reaction to Roberts nomination:

Roberts nomination, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Less important than this minor bit of hypocrisy (which Bill Scher for the Huffington Post mines for all it’s worth) — or perhaps partisan blindness — on the part of David Brooks (and haven’t we all been there?) — is the substance of his critique. Brooks never quite connects the dots — but seems on the verge of making a profound point.

There seems to be a connection between the personality type of Kagan and Roberts — the type of cautious, establishment-minded personality rewarded by our current nomination process — and the tendency of this type of person to defer to the highest authority figure in the American psyche, the President of the United States. In Roberts and Alito, we have 2 of Brooks’s Organization Kids who also happen to be 2 of the most pro-presidentialist Supreme Court justices in history. Though Kagan’s views on this aren’t clear — as she has made some comments indicating an expansive view of executive power only in the context of discussing the views of others — we do know that she felt the Bush administration went too far, unlike Roberts and Alito.

Though I would have preferred a justice more wary of executive power, for me personally, this concern is not enough to give me reason to oppose Kagan’s nomination and appointment. I do want to know more about Kagan’s views on this — to see whether and to what degree she conforms to Glenn Greenwald’s fears (which are, as it should go without saying regarding Greenwald, hyperbolic). Lawrence Lessig has pushed back convincingly against Greenwald on this issue — and of course, Greenwald responded by going ad hominem.

Both Greenwald’s and Brook’s critique ignores the structural element to this pick as neither addresses the degree to which our current confirmation process tends to reward cautious people whose public views are somewhat ambiguous but who are close enough to those in the executive branch that the President nominating them trusts them. The type of person who would meet these criteria would not tend to be the strongest supporters of the Court as a check on executive power. Even aside from the generational category of “Organization Kids,” this would tend to place people deferential to presidential authority into the Supreme Court.

—–

Also interesting: Ezra Klein posits a better analogue than John Roberts to understand the Kagan pick is Barack Obama himself:

When Obama announced Kagan’s nomination, he praised “her temperament, her openness to a broad array of viewpoints; her habit, to borrow a phrase from Justice Stevens, ‘of understanding before disagreeing’; her fair-mindedness and skill as a consensus-builder.” This sentence echoes countless assessments of Obama himself.

Obama is cool. He makes a show of processing the other side’s viewpoint. He’s more interested in the fruits of consensus than the clarification of conflict. In fact, just as Kagan is praised for giving conservative scholars a hearing at Harvard’s Law School, Obama was praised for giving conservative scholars a hearing on the Harvard Law Review. “The things that frustrate people about Obama will frustrate people about Kagan,” says one prominent Democrat who’s worked with both of them.

[Image by the Harvard Law Review licensed under Creative Commons.]

Rooting for a Fiscal Catastrophe (cont.)

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Jonathan Chait is damn near poetic in his frustration at the dogmatic refusal of the right wing or the Republican Party to address the coming fiscal crisis:

[T]he conservative movement’s quasi-religious fidelity to tax cuts made it unable to advance even its own ideological self-interest.

The upcoming fiscal summit is a good example. The basic shape of the deal is that, in order to bring revenues into line with spending, Democrats will accept some spending cuts and Republicans will accept some tax hikes. By reducing spending, this will decrease the size of government. I can see why liberals would object — they’re being asked to sacrifice the liberal goal of a more expansive government in order to achieve the non-ideological goal of preventing a fiscal meltdown. Conservatives ought to be ecstatic — they could achieve both an ideological goal (reducing the size of government by reducing spending) and a non-ideological goal (preventing the fiscal meltdown.) Tax hikes are not really a concession, since deficit spending that would occur without such a deal merely represents deferred taxation.

The conservative reaction has been to refuse to engage the premise altogether.

My only disagreement would be that it is not a liberal goal to create a more expansive government. Liberals do not want government for government’s sake. They are not in favor of adopting a state religion; they don’t want government intervening in people’s sex lives; they don’t want government enforcing christianist values; rather, liberals tend to see government as a necessary tool to address certain problems. Chait otherwise acknowledges this. But it ruins the nice construction he has created — because liberals actually could achieve one of their main goals through this deficit commission: They make government more sustainable, responsible, and effective.

The right wing has adopted a view that the government is the opposite of all these things — that it is not and cannot be sustainable, responsible, or effective; therefore to justify and prove their belief is true, they now oppose any attempts to make government sustainable, responsible, or effective. They are not Cassandras shouting about a coming catastrophe they claim to be; rather Republicans are rooting for a fiscal catastrophe and trying to do whatever they can to ensure this catastrophe occurs, in the hope that it will wipe out the programs they hate but lack the popular support or cojones to actually cut themselves.

[Image by NASA.]