VRA Fallout for the Republicans


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Here’s hoping the Republican party got more than it asked for with the Roberts’ ruling on the Voting Rights Act.  This article covers some of the challenges they are going to face. 

For example, Haley Barbour (ex Mississippi governor) says:

Blatantly racist laws like poll taxes and literacy tests once made preclearance necessary, Barbour said. “But when you have to go hat-in-hand to Washington every time you want to move a polling place,” then it’s evolved into “federal harassment that’s gone on way too long,” he added.

As I wrote before, I think it’s possible VRA used an old, outdate and effectively arbitrary formula to determine covered jurisdictions.  Hence, it was unfair.  However, calling it “federal harassment” isn’t a winning strategy I think. 


The Right Argument Argued Badly?


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In the last couple of weeks, conservative activists and right wing radio entertainers treated us to quite a spectacle of absurd reasoning, courtesy of the Supreme Court’s rulings on the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  One of their primary arguments is so … silly .. it feels kind of .. silly … to point it out.  Nevertheless, as responsible adults living in the arena and so forth, we need to look for truth, even from our ideological opponents.  In fact, we need to look even harder from them because we’re predisposed to dismiss them in the first place.  Second, we need to look hard because mass market conservative “leaders” don’t make their own best arguments, even when they’re right.

The Supreme Court substantially reduced the scope of DOMA.  In opposition to that ruling, conservatives argued that the Supreme Court had overturned the will of the American people as expressed by a majority of Congress and the Big Dog himself, Bill Clinton!  And that’s entirely true.  In 1996, “HR 3396 was a fast-track bill in the House….”  It passed 342-56 in the House, 85-14 in the Senate. That’s strong support.  However, things have obviously changed since 1996.  For one thing, 55% of Americans support gay marriage.  For another, Clinton withdrew his support, as well as many of the Congresscritters who voted in favor of it – admittedly, all democrats.

Contrast this with the Voting Rights Act.  VRA received 77 Senate votes and 333 House votes in 1965* and its track record since then (with required “renewal” votes) has only gotten better.  For instance, in 2006 Congress renewed it, 98 to zero in the Senate, 390 to 33 in the House.  That’s better than how DOMA fared.  Yet, when this was gutted by the Supreme Court’s ruling, the conservative world has been largely mum on this inconvenient fact.  Instead, popular conservatives have mainly focused on ad hominem attacks against Justice Kennedy and hungrily eating up of all of that delicious red meat Justice Scalia’s dissent threw out to them. 

I personally think it’s a sad day — Bush’s Supreme Court standing athwart history and successfully, if temporarily, turning back the clock.  They have damaged the Republic and will continue to do so for a generation, I fear.  That said, I think that conservatives would do better to argue what I believe is Chief Justice Roberts’ core opinion – that the law is arbitrary because the formula determining covered jurisdictions hasn’t changed to reflect the Age We Live In.  (I think it’s pretty ironic that it’s arbitrary today but wasn’t a few years ago – this re-interpretation doesn’t seem very strict.)  Sarcasm aside, if it is actually arbitrary – and I’m open to that possibility – then it shouldn’t be the law of the land.  That’s a debate that I think Democrats should be very happy to have have, indeed.  I love the idea of pretty much anyone standing up in Congress and arguing to the American people, with a straight face, that the racism from which VRA was designed to protect us has been cured.  Good luck with that one!  To be fair, they would make this case better than I would.  I’d like to see it. 

So in the end, my point is that there may be some “there” there in terms of a conservative argument.  They just aren’t making it.


* Consider that in 1965, the Supreme Court still hadn’t decided on Loving vs. Virginia, striking down all laws banning interracial marriages.  VRA was passed two years before that.  Yet, nearly 2/3rds of the Senate voted to pass it in a world that criminalized same-sex interracial marriage.

Contrasts in Right Wing Outrage


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There’s lot of right wing outrage on the internets and radio dial these days.  Of course, that’s not exactly new and sometimes, they take a small step out of their bubble and realize that their outrage might be a little … over the top.    But no such realization has affected NSA-inspired outrage.  This domestic spying stuff has given rise to some of the hottest, burniest outrage in recent months.  It’s been interesting to see how the Right treats privacy (NSA surveillance) versus gun rights when it comes to the outrage-o-meter. 

First, the NSA thing.  This has outraged conservatives over apparent indiscriminate gathering and mining of phone call data.  I (and many of my liberal friends) share in these concerns.  Some of us are even outraged :).  I’m even a little sympathetic to the idea that Obama is losing his moral authority (to borrow a great phrase and rescue it from a ridiculous, misused context).  Today’s Obama flip flop feels like betrayal and hypocrisy of the highest order.  Senator Obama, presumably, would have felt the same way.  That said, conservatives could argue, and I believe they absolutely would have argued during a Romney administration, that this kind of surveillance is truly, actually required to assure the safety of American citizens.  The Obama administration is making this argument today.  Even GWB is on the same page, though it seems like it took a while for him to come out and say it.

So … outrage on the right over NSA spying.

And I get it.  Privacy is important.  To me, a common sense reading of the 4th amendment clearly protects me and everyone from this kind of NSA thing.  I felt the same way when the Patriot Act was first signed into law.  Back then, however, most right wingers were telling me variations of “TERRORISTS!!!!” and/or “of course, regular Americans have nothing to fear” and all that sort of thing.  It was pretty much the same as the current administration’s line of defense, although in ALL CAPS and with lots and lots of bangs (!!!).

So back in the early days of GWB and the Patriot Act, we had conservatives telling us it was OK for the GWB’s NSA and other homeland security type groups to do this kind of spying.  Even if it did raise serious privacy concerns, they had the TERRORISM!!! answer ready to pull out of their back pocket.  (As we all know, TERRORISM!!! was a potent card to play in a wide array of circumstances.  Sigh.)  But ultimately, they didn’t care about privacy and usually denied any 4th amendment issues.  I’m fairly certain that Mark Levin and Hannity both said that literally in the spirit of “I’m not talking to international terrorists so I don’t care if the government listens in on my conversations.”

In other words, a little less privacy is to be expected in this age of TERRORISM!!!

On the other hand we have … gun rights. 

After the horrific massacre in Newtown, CT (20 children, 6 adults murdered at Sandy Hook elementary school), there was a refreshing attempt on the part of Congress to do something about it.  There should continue to be such an effort because of things like this and this and this and this and this.  But it failed.  The right wing exploded in new heretofore unheard of levels of outrage.  Setting aside the maniacs and Fox News, however, some conservatives did make coherent arguments in opposition to gun control measures.  My favorite argument goes like this: “the 2nd amendment is precious – precious.  The Founders knew back then, as we do now, that guns are dangerous and bad things will happen.  But it’s the cost of freedom.” And it is a coherent argument.  I think it’s the kind of argument pundits whose children haven’t been killed in elementary schools make, but it’s coherent.

By way of summary, here’s the conservative outrage mapping for these two topics:

Source Result
GWB / Patriot Act “Meh.  I don’t talk to terrorists anyway.”
Obama / NSA (son of Patriot Act) RAGE!!!!
Sandy Hook Massacre “Those poor kids!  It’s such a terrible imperfect world we live in, that uncontrollable madmen like that live among us.  ”
Gun control measures in response to Sandy Hook RAGE!!!

I could go on and on and on, especially about pro-2nd amendment arguments that weave religion into the picture.  But I’ve gone too long as it is.

The conservative movement should try to make it through the day with a little less outrage.   Entire days may be too much to ask, so maybe just make it through breakfast.  That way, when genuinely outrageous things happen, we can all be outraged together.  (Come on!  It was a terrible movie!)


Wouldn’t a Little Accountability Be Nice?

I was thrilled to read Tara Siegel Bernard’s piece about inflation in the New York Times, “Taking a Cue from Bernanke a Little Too Far.”  This is great example showing the difference between right wing dogma and opportunism on the one side and the real world on the other.

In recent years, The Right has turned Bernanke into one of the great bugaboos of our age with his “quantitative easing” program.  I don’t really understand QE very well.  My walking-around idea is that the Fed buys up bonds by literally creating money.  This injects heretofore non-existent money into the economy to bond sellers.  The bond sellers (companies or banks) then presumably use that bond money to buy “stuff” such as capital equipment or give loans to business.  They, in turn, use that cash to expand their business.  [EDIT: My definition of QE is probably wrong.  Try reading here if you want to get better informed on specifics of QE: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantitative_easing.]

The Right’s point of view is that this is an Awful Thing.  All this money getting injected into the economy would inevitably lead to catastrophic inflation.  Seriously – catastrophic, End Times level inflation.  Some of them were not as hyperbolic, but if you listened to what Limbaugh, Hannity, Levin, Larry Kudlow and pretty much all of the right wing radio entertainers have been saying for years – and if you believed them – you would swimming in gold right now because it would be the only thing keeping you warm at night and food on your table by now.

Of course, none of that has happened, despite years-long attempts to paint that picture.  Inflation isn’t catastrophic and none of the End Times scenarios have come to play or show any signs of happening soon.

In a sane world, there would be be some accountability for being so incredibly wrong.  I don’t mean government-steps-in style accountability.  I just mean all of us, walking around, ought to remember what these people said (‘”End Times!!!”) and keep that in mind when they tell us about the next End Times level catastrophe they manufacture (cf. Gay Marriage).

Kudlow especially resonates with me.  He has actually admitted he was wrong at about 2:30 into the video.  He has a kind of happy way to talk about how he was wrong and he doesn’t really hedge, so – kudos, har har – to him.  But this is in dramatic contrast to what he was saying for a long time on his radio show (and presumably his tv show).  He’d have expert after expert come on and he’d inject his own opinion and special take on the up-coming inflation catastrophe.  He would do so with absolute confidence for weeks and months on end.  A 20 second mea culpa doesn’t cut it in my opinion.

It would be really nice to see some accountability out there.  I’m not holding my breath, but I’m ever hopeful. 🙂


[Update 1: HA!  Kudlow is arguing this morning that Bernanke’s pulling back from QE2 is “too soon.”  He’s predicting a bunch of bad things will happen that QE was designed to solve in the first place, and which he originally said QE2 couldn’t solve at all! Why is he credible?  HA!]

Sorry, But You Have To Go Home Now, Senator


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I love it when things like this happen, best characterized by the phrase “open rebellion against God’s law.

It does not get much better than that.  An elected official shuts down another elected official by invoking “God’s law.”  You may as well invoke a piece of Swiss cheese or your favorite arbitrary being/object as far as good government is concerned.

I love it because it shows the unambiguous intractability of right wing extremism in public life.  This post does too, but uses a lot more words.

Back in college, a friend and I noticed that there was a certain type of freshman student who would, when teamed up with like-minded small minds, bully the lunch staff.  It was small, minor bullying, but completely out of line regardless.  My friend and I would say “if I was in charge, I’d go up to those guys and say, ‘Sorry, but you have to go home now.  Come back next year and try again.'”

You, Senator Metcalfe, need to go home now.  Come back  once you’ve figured out the difference between public and private life and are ready to try the elected office thing again.