What’s Nancy up to?

January 14, 2019

If you or I were in a negotiation, we wouldn’t start with something that looked like the other side’s position – the bill that passed the Republican-controlled Senate, a bill that the man in the White House once said he’d sign. We’d load the proposal with other stuff we wanted and let the other side try to bargain us down with concessions of their own. Is Nancy nuts? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Bargaining in public is a very different game. This negotiation isn’t about horse-trading; it’s about bringing the public along, not just liberal Democrats like me – there aren’t enough of us to win elections by ourselves, and the power is in the prediction of future elections – that’s what pushes both sides around. So, she took a very conciliatory position, a Republican position, a position both houses of Congress had supported, and said, in effect: Here’s a reasonable position, Mr. President; why don’t you be reasonable too?

Of course, the big game down the road is impeachment. That will take a good deal of Republican support. The more unreasonable Nancy can make Donald look, the quicker he becomes a powerless lame duck. Then it will be time to talk about what I want.

The Constitution allows the House to stop Donald from appointing any more partisans to the federal judiciary. The Republicans have understood for years that judges are central to getting what they want and the Supreme Court has been giving it to them:

  • The Republican judiciary blessed gerrymandering and Republican efforts to keep Democrats away from the voting booths, decisions that took power out of the hands of Americans and undercut self-government across the board
  • The Republican judiciary turned the clock back on unions, women’s rights to control their own bodies, and the right of people of color not to be killed by people claiming to be terrified by the backs of African-Americans who might have turned around
  • The Republican judiciary stopped the count and sent Al Gore, the Democratic candidate for president, back into private life, choosing instead to elect George Bush, and ultimately tearing both the American economy and the Middle East apart – decisions that did a great deal of damage to huge numbers of Americans.
  • The Republican judiciary penalizes people, whites as well as Blacks, for being poor
  • America needs and deserves a fair, not a partisan judiciary making decisions by whose side it helps or whose party line it follows

Democrats could simply refuse to appropriate funds for open judicial seats. The number of seats on all federal courts are just statutory and can be changed so long as the positions and salaries of sitting judges are not diminished. Seats on the Supreme Court have varied from five to ten; there’s nothing sacred about nine. Seats on the lower courts have varied even more. Can’t stand allowing Barack Obama to nominate the centrist Merrick Garland? Democrats need not give Donald the power to fill open positions with partisans whose main goal is to keep him and other Republicans in power.

But leadership isn’t just about making good decisions; it’s about bringing the people along. A leader must have the humility to understand that they can’t produce shifts by snapping fingers. That’s one of the attributes for which I have always admired Franklin Roosevelt. I’m rooting for Nancy.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, January 7, 2018.

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Postmortem

November 15, 2016

I feel like I’m in mourning. The presidency has been taken by a con man and we all deserve better – those he’s duped as well as the rest of us.

  • Trump was “elected” by an “electoral college” system designed in the 18th century to protect slaveowners by augmenting their votes with 3/5 of their slaves.
  • He was “elected” by a Court unwilling to protect the voting rights of all American citizens.
  • As in 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote but George Bush became President, the 2016 popular vote went to Mrs. Clinton. President Bush proceeded to make colossal mistakes in foreign affairs for which this country will spend a century paying.
  • Trump was elected with the votes of people who had suffered financially over the past two decades – but they voted for the very people who refused to lift a finger to provide jobs, people who don’t believe government should do anything, including good and important things, and for whom blocking anything Obama wanted to do was more important than helping fellow Americans. With Republicans benefitting from that cynical and deceitful strategy they are back in control of Congress. Good luck to the coal miners, autoworkers, steelworkers and others – they’ll need it.
  • We will now have a dirty old man in the White House as a “role model” for the worst behavior toward women.
  • And his rhetoric threatens to take apart the signal achievement of America – our mutual respect across faith, national origins, class, race, and counting – an achievement central to the status and future of the very people who voted for hate.

I am worried, crestfallen and embarrassed. What is there to do?

First, I have become a supporter of Supreme Court term limits. Rehnquist spent 34 years at the Court, Stevens 35, Scalia 30 and Thomas has been there 25. Erwin Chemerinsky, widely respected dean at the University of California at Irvine School of Law wrote:

The idea is that each justice would be appointed for an 18-year, non-renewable term. A vacancy thus would occur every two years. Vacancies that occur through resignation or death would be filled by appointing someone to serve the unfinished part of the term.

That way the Court would not be dominated by political decisions made decades ago.

Second, I would not confirm any new justice until there is agreement to reverse the decision that allowed states to monkey with their election rules to disenfranchise voters, and until there is agreement to adopt one of the mathematical rules that precisely measure gerrymandering, the level of favoritism to either party – known as symmetry or wasted voters. Some will object that those decisions are for the justices. Nonsense – the appointments clause is the political check and those decisions put the justices’ prejudices ahead of self-government and assured Republican victories, roles no judge should be playing. Those decisions were partisan, self-serving and should be ruled unconstitutional.

Third, we need to get across to people that refusing to vote because there is someone else we like better is a very bad choice because it has very bad consequences. In a democracy, to live and work together we have to be willing to compromise. It’s part of the deal.

Finally, we need to organize. 2018 is two years away and Congress will be at stake again. True patriots don’t give up.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, Nov. 15, 2016.


Our Stake in Each Other’s Welfare

October 8, 2013

Do we have a stake in each other’s future or only in our own? That is a central question of American politics. The Tea Party’s tossing of the entire American budget into the sea over the issue of Obamacare is an effort to say no, we have no stake in each other’s welfare. To claim a stake in each other’s welfare is socialism. Although the political waters warrant silence from many elected officials about it, that same cry has been leveled and is being leveled against other American efforts to help each other. Social security, socialism. Medicare and Medicaid, socialism. Indeed, there is no logical reason to draw the line there and many don’t. National parks, socialism. Veterans’ benefits, socialism. Head start, socialism. Why stop there? Public schools, socialism. Public hospitals, government health departments and laboratories, socialism. It’s all socialism in the heads of the true believers. So let me repeat that question – do we have a stake in each other’s future or only our own? Read the rest of this entry »


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