All Along The Watchtower

August 31, 2009

Purge The ‘Corporate-owned’ Centrist Democrats?

August has historically been the slow season in Washington politics.  It used to be a time when pols would make their way back to their home districts to visit with their constituents via uneventful Town Hall Meetings for a about a week before taking in a few weeks of vacation time with their families.  The dog days of August made journalists left behind in D.C. feeling they could sacrifice their first born for a truly newsworthy nugget of information.

So much for uneventful Town Hall Meetings.  Legislators have heard an earful, and it’s all due to that one subject that has been baffling Democrats since the New Deal–universal health care.  Many of them will return to Washington over the next week with the fear of God or worse–the threat of losing their precious gravy train in the Game of Life–their seats in the United States Congress.

Oh, we’ve all heard them say how hard they work and how little in compensation they’re paid compared to other high powered jobs.  For a goodly number of them, this is true.  Don’t be fooled, though.  The prestige of being a U.S. Senator or U.S. Representative is worth every committee meeting, late night session, fund raising event, press availability, and, yes, Town Hall Meeting, no matter how eventful.

Those feeling the most heat are the so-called Blue Dog Democrats from both Houses.  They are being pressured by their constituents through the Astroturf Movement of one of their largest benefactors–the health care industry.  It would be nice if these members had the courage, moral conviction, safety of reelection, and, not to mention, wit of Barney Frank, whose retort to a Lyndon LaRouche zombie was the most entertaining moment of the summer recess.

Now, however, come the dangerously naive calls from Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald and The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait to purge the centrists in the Senate by challenging them in primaries with more liberal opponents, even at the expense of losing seats and, possibly, Democratic control of the Senate.  Where have these two been?  They truly believe only centrists in the Democratic Party are indebted to corporate interests?  Do they really believe all of the nearly $750 million raised by President Obama during the ’08 campaign came from the “little folks?”

Which centrists, up for reelection in 2010, do Greenwald and Chait believe they can pick off with the hope of getting health care reform done in 2011 or 2012?  Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas?  Purge her with a more liberal Dem and they’ll get a Republican for sure.  Evan Bayh of Indiana, the leader of the centrists?  One way or another, he won’t be defeated by any Democrat in Indiana.  Byron Dorgan of North Dakota?  See Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.  And, that about does it for the centrists in 2010.

In 2012, only three Royal Blue States have centrists up for reelection, California, New York, and Delaware, where Tom Carper will probably give way to current attorney general and Iraqi War veteran Beau Biden, son of the Vice President.  In New York, Senator Kristen Gillibrand supports a public option on health care reform, admittedly after being pushed from the left by potential opponent Jon Cooper.  One wonders if her other more centrist positions will suffice in Greenwald and Chait’s world.  That leaves Dianne Feinstein in California.

So, tell me Mssrs. Greenwald and Chait:  How long do you expect this purge to take?  How long can we wait for health care reform?

So, at most, you remove one or two centrists over the next two election cycles.  I can feel moderate Democrats quaking in their shoes over this plan.  Connecticut was easy.  Oh, I forgot.  It really wasn’t that easy, was it?  You see, there really aren’t enough royal blue states with centrists to pull this off, and the purple states like their centrist Democrats.

By the by, where have we heard all of this before?  Now I remember.  That’s exactly where the Republican Party stands–all wing nuts with no bolts.

It is more realistic to concentrate on the purple states with current Republican Senators.  For instance, Chuck (We Won’t Kill Grandma) Grassley in Iowa.  It’s too bad Tom Vilsack isn’t standing for that election, but how can a state like Iowa continue to return Grassley to the Senate?  With liberal Dem Tom Harkin holding the other seat, Iowa must be the most schizophrenic state in the union.

Frankly, if Greenwald and Chait somehow get their way, we could hardly afford a decade or two of legislative wilderness or deadlock to make the case for health-care reform while costs continue to rise and bankrupt the nation. And, God forbid, we have to deal with a Republican White House and Congress–a travesty that will result, once again, in the easy to vote for Republican responses to everything: Cut Taxes! And, Unfunded Mandates For All! (i.e. No Child Left Behind, Medicare Drug Benefits, and, an oldie but a goody, Unnecessary, Off-Budget Wars.  You know, just to make us feel patriotic. I think Cuba may be ripe for the taking er, or, retaking!)

If FDR was unable to pass Universal Health Care during the New Deal era, why would President Obama believe he could pass a substantive bill within the first several months of his term, especially with no coherent leadership from his end of Pennsylvania Avenue?

Leadership not only includes actual legislation and a plan to pass it but a plan to preempt what should have been anticipated nonsense coming from the right. I guess everyone was asleep when Bill Clinton was so successful in his health-care reform efforts. Gee, fellas, I don’t know where the country would be without HillaryCare.

The 8 month absence and unfortunate death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy has truly left a void of leadership on this issue in the Senate.  It’s almost as if the White House had been waiting to hear for miraculous news from Hyannis Port.  But, alas, no.  The White House had been very aware of the Senator’s prognosis and unlikely return to lead this effort.  That is exactly why it has been so frustrating.  If the president doesn’t provide the leadership, he can only blame himself.  Making centrist Democrats the scapegoats to this problem is no solution.

Perhaps Senator Kennedy’s death and a delay in replacing him will give everyone pause.  Time can only help people reexamine the issue more clearly while the loonies on the right begin to turn blue in the face with their unsubstantiated and nonsensical diatribes.  In the end, a sensible compromise may have to be enacted.  Compromise is, after all, the true art of politics.  Ted Kennedy learned that lesson the hard way.  One of his biggest regrets may have been his failure to compromise with President Nixon on this very issue, but, like the Republicans today, Democrats didn’t want to give Nixon a victory heading into the 1972 election.

Many centrist Democrats, Republicans, and Independents supported Obama in ’08. I fear the arrogance, amnesia, and myopic vision of the left will again shine a light on their numbers.

Meanwhile, the nation waits while the White House continues to abdicate its responsibilities.

Selah

August 29, 2009

A Tribute to Senator Edward M. Kennedy

Filed under: Commentary — Mac Heath @ 2:40 am
Tags: ,

Because of the efforts of Senator Kennedy and those who came before him, he left the world with a little more love than it had when he entered it.

May 28, 2009

The Life Experiences of Sonia Sotomayor

Is it such a leap of faith or naivete to believe that a jurist’s life experience may have an effect on many of the decisions he makes from the bench?

Judge Sonia Sotomayor is being pilloried by conservatives for a speech she made at the University of California, Berkeley in 2001 in which she stated, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”  Some on the right have taken this statement to say that Sotomayor is a racist and should withdraw her name from consideration for the Supreme Court. In their efforts to dumb-down the discourse of her nomination, they have taken this statement completely out of context.  They fail to site what Sotomayor went on to say in the following sentence:

“Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice [Benjamin] Cardozo

voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society.

Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a

gender discrimination case. I…believe that we should not be so myopic

as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are

incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different

group. Many are so capable… Nine white men on the

Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on

many issues including [Brown v. Board of Education.]“

In context, her statement regarding a Latina’s life experience can hardly be considered racist. To further illustrate this point, I will address the Supreme Court case of  Dred Scott v. Sandford.  Does any thinking person believe that the Supreme Court’s decision in this landmark case was correct?  You may remember the court found that individuals of African decent, held in slavery were not and could never be citizens of the United States.  It was one of the many blunders, courtesy of presidents, legislators, and courts, made along the path to civil war.

Now consider this: If the court, at the time of Dred Scott, had been composed of a majority of free, African-Americans born in free northern states, would they have come to the same decision?  Isn’t it also probable that, in this conceptualization, the Supreme Court would have found slavery to be an illogical abomination to humanity and, therefore, illegal?  Or would this have been legislating from the bench and simply too complicated for conservatives to comprehend?

In truth, Dred Scott was decided 6-2 with 1 justice concurring in the majority decision.  Five of the 6 justices in the majority were from slave states.  At least three of those five had owned slaves, including Chief Justice Roger Tanney, author of the decision.  Is it naive to believe that “life experience” may have had an influence on their opinions.

At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, 2006, current Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative, had the following exchange with Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma:

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Judge
Samuel Alito’s Nomination to the Supreme Court
Senator Coburn: Can you comment just about Sam Alito, and what he cares about,
and let us see a little bit of your heart and what’s important to you in life?
Samuel Alito: I don’t come from an affluent background or a privileged background.
My parents were both quite poor when they were growing up.

And I know about their experiences and I didn’t experience those things.

I don’t take credit for anything that they did or anything that they overcame.

But I think that children learn a lot from their parents

and they learn from what the parents say.

But I think they learn a lot more from what the parents do

and from what they take from the stories of their parents lives.

And that’s why I went into that in my opening

statement. Because when a case comes

before me involving, let’s say, someone

who is an immigrant — and we get

an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization

cases — I can’t help but think of my own ancestors, because

it wasn’t that long ago when they were in that position.

And so it’s my job to apply the law. It’s not my job to change

the law or to bend the law to achieve any result.

But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself,

and I do say to myself, “You know, this could be your

grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens

at one time, and they were people who came to this country.”

When I have cases involving children, I can’t help but think of my own children

and think about my children being treated in the way

that children may be treated in the case that’s before me.

And that goes down the line. When I get a case about discrimination,

I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination

because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of

gender. And I do take that into account. When I have a case involving

someone who’s been subjected to discrimination because of disability, I have

to think of people who I’ve known and admire very greatly who’ve had

disabilities, and I’ve watched them struggle to overcome the barriers that

society puts up often just because it doesn’t think of

what it’s doing — the barriers that it puts up to them.

So those are some of the experiences that have shaped me as a person.

COBURN: Thank you.

I don’t recall any objections from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich or radio personality Rush Limbaugh over this statement, and, if they were honest today over Sotomayor’s nomination, they wouldn’t be crying racism.  These two need to concentrate their efforts elsewhere or find a hobby to keep themselves busy until Sotomayor is confirmed.

Sonia Sotomayor will be bringing her life experience to the Supreme Court. The life experiences of everyone who has ever served on the court have had a bearing on many of their opinions.  Whether one is an executive, legislator, or judge, for well or ill, that is the reality of our democracy, to the lament of the Federalist Society regarding our judicial branch.

Cases should be decided on their merit vis a vis the Constitution.  Most are.  However, liberal judges will use their life experiences in some cases to move history along at a faster pace than some can conceive.  Sometimes to the betterment of society, sometimes not.

Conservative judges will use their life experiences in some cases to put a brake on what some see as eventualities.  Sometimes to the betterment of society, sometimes not.

Today conservatives look at the records of potential nominees to the Supreme Court through the prisms of abortion, affirmative action, and civil rights.  If a jurist’s position on these issues are in line with conservative thought, they are hailed as shining examples of “judicial restraint.”  If not, they are “activists” with a tendency to “legislate from the bench.”  Ironically, liberals view Supreme Court nominees through the same prisms with contradictory conclusions.  In each case, the jurist’s life experience may very well influence her opinions.

Selah

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