Israel Political Philosophy Politics The Opinionsphere

Leverage and Power

Glenn Greenwald:

A country, a company or an individual has every right to remain free of “interference” from others as long as they remain independent of the party seeking to “interfere.”  But if one chooses instead to become dependent on someone else or seeks help and aid from them, then complying with the demands of those providing the aid is an inevitable price that must be paid – and justifiably so.

Greenwald makes broad principled statements like this a lot in support of the specific points he is making – in this case, the idea that Israel can’t complain about American interference in its domestic affairs.

But as a civil libertarian, I find it difficult to see Greenwald accepting the application of this principle in other spheres. Wouldn’t that imply that the government would exert total control over people on welfare for example? What regulations would this invalidate between individuals and corporations?

As a practical matter, what Greenwald states is true – in that independence is inevitably given up when one gives up leverage. But at the same time, there are various laws and customs that prevent one from exercising one’s full leverage. In most circumstances, Greenwald would – I think – accept that.

Barack Obama Law Politics The Opinionsphere

Judge Sotomayor

My opinion of Judge Sotomayor hasn’t changed much since last week’s announcement. The right-wingers attempts to tar her as a racist bug me. But not all that much. The particular sentence they keep repeating is – without context a racist remark:

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life. [my emphasis]

Within the speech she was giving though – when she made this remark – she seemed to be making a similar, but different point:

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would as often as not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

It does seem – as Barack Obama said – that her original speech contained one sentence that was poorly phrased to convey the point she was making.

I agree with the many out there who think the right-wingers are hurting the Republican Party by making Sotomayor’s nomination about race.

The two areas that might potentially trouble me about Sotomayor are in the areas of executive power and civil libertarianism. She’s probably in the mainstream of the conservative/liberal consensus on these issues – which is an improvement over the right-wing extremism on these issues evident in Judge Roberts and Judge Alito. But I am not sure where within this conservative/liberal consensus she stands.

Sotomayor’s ruling the “douchebag” case – though it is certainly possible to view her deference to the school’s position as a judicial modesty which I can support. But I think the role of Courts in checking the increasing power of corporations, schools, and other semi-voluntary organizations to monitor and police the private activities of citizens is going to gradually become a big issue. That Sotomayor signed onto an opinion then that allowed the restriction of free speech on a non-school affiliated blog because calling administrators “douchebags” presented a “foreseeable risk of substantial disruption” is a matter of concern.

On the issue of executive power, Sotomayor’s record is thin. As Charlie Savage wrote in the New York Times:

[T]he effect on presidential power could be pivotal. Important rulings on executive authority — striking down military commissions and upholding habeas corpus rights for Guantánamo detainees — have been decided by a five-vote majority, including Justice Souter, on the nine-member court.

“Given that the decisions have generally been 5-4 in this area, this could be terribly consequential,” said David Golove, a New York University law professor. “We’re losing one of the court’s strongest leaders on the side of limiting executive power to reasonable bounds. If the person who replaces Souter is different than him, the balance of power may shift.”

The article was written before Sotomayor was nominated – but Savage briefly outlined her record in this area:

[O]ne person near the top of Mr. Obama’s short list — Judge Sonia Sotomayorof the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit — has never worked in the federal executive branch and sits on a court that hears few executive power cases.

These issues – of executive power, war powers, of state secrets, of torture, and of national security in general – are becoming the new culture war. And it is a front in which the Court must take a strong position. I await the hearings to see what Sotomayor has to say on the issue – although I presume she will be as careful in her answers on this issue as past nominees have been on abortion.

Election 2008 Liberalism Obama Politics

The Opinionsphere Looks Under the Bus

Finally right-wingers and left-wingers are starting to agree about Obama.

In a testament to the attention paid to the kabuki theater of the presidential campaign, the new meme spreading around the opinionsphere is that Obama is running hard to the right and “throwing under the bus” anyone who gets in his way.  As Steve Marlsberg, the wingnut and idiot would say:

First Obama threw his grandmother under the bus; ((A ridiculous take on his landmark racism speech.))
then his Reverend; ((How many chances does a guy get?))
and now General Wesley Clark! ((Those who call this “throwing someone under a bus” must have missed the Clinton years altogether.  All that’s there is a mild statement pointing out that General Clark was going off-message.))

Kate Stone channeled David Brooks’s analogy, but replaced the people being thrown under the bus with policies:

First Obama gave up on public financing; ((Although Kate didn’t mention this one, many others have.))
then he gave up on the telecom fight; ((Here, I disagree with Obama’s stand.))
then, he came out in favor of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the individual right to bear arms;
what’s next – will he throw women under the bus and the right to choose?

Now – I’m all for challenging whatever leader we have and for pushing him or her to the positions we ourselves hold.  That’s politics.  That’s the only way that a republic can work. But the hysteria evidenced by Paul Krugman, David Brooks, Kate Stone, and many others in responding to the mild replies, long-expected decisions, and minor re-positioning of Obama demonstrates more about the fears and insecurities of these individuals than of Obama’s candidacy or potential presidency.

Also, let me try to correct the record on guns and Heller v. Washington D.C.  Kate, along with many others, mis-characterizes Obama as supporting “relaxing restrictions on gun control in Washington, D.C.” This with-us-or-against-us take on Obama’s nuanced position is exactly what Obama has described as the problem with partisanship.  The judicial philosophy that Obama has been consistent in supporting is one which judges each case on the merits, individually.  Which is why, as the Heller case was before the Court, Obama repeatedly said that as he hadn’t been able to take the time to fully investigate the case because he was busy running for president.  His comments in response to the Heller decision were about balance:

I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through common sense, effective safety measures.

The line, though less elegant, reminds me of his famous line about Iraq:

I’m not opposed to all wars.  Just dumb wars.

In general, Obama has made two things clear: he supports an individual right to bear arms; and he supports gun control.  This has become the increasingly common liberal position.  Whether the Court should have struck down this particular gun ban or not, the Supreme Court’s decision was historic – and Obama, as a card-carrying civil libertarian, would recognize the decision as the boon for individual rights it is.