Broken Pieces of Truth

A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.

— Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

This week’s featured post is “Republicans have a story to tell. We’re stuck with facts.

This week everybody was wondering how that happened

The Republicans not only took control of the Senate — either 52-48 or 53-47, depending on the Louisiana run-off — but they re-elected some of the worst governors in the country: Sam Brownback in Kansas, Paul LePage in Maine, Rick Scott in Florida, Rick Snyder in Michigan, and Scott Walker in Wisconsin. And they nearly knocked off Senator Mark Warner in Virginia, a result that would have surprised both parties.

Good people lost. The best, in my opinion, being Mark Udall in Colorado. And some absolute loons are going to the Senate, the worst being Joni Ernst of Iowa. You’ll hear a lot more from her in the next six years, because she will be at the forefront of every act of right-wing craziness. And since conservatism has its own perverse form of affirmative action, I suspect she’s going to wind up on the short list for Republican VPs next year.

So how did that happen? As in the Republican sweep of 2010, they didn’t do it by changing people’s minds; they did it because the Democrats’ target audience didn’t vote.

Comparing yesterday’s exit polls to those of 2012, the first thing that jumps out at you is a big shift in age demographics: under-30 voters dropped from 19 percent of the electorate in 2012 to 13 percent in 2014, while over-65 voters climbed from 16 percent in 2012 to 22 percent in 2014. That’s quite close to the age demographics of 2010.

In terms of race and ethnicity, the white share of the electorate increased modestly from 72 percent in 2012 to 75 percent this year, not quite back up to the 77 percent whites represented in 2010. And interestingly enough, Republican performance among white voters didn’t change at all from the 59/39 margin achieved by Mitt Romney.

There are two possible responses to this. One asks, “What’s wrong with those people?” What’s wrong with young people and non-whites, that they’re letting Republicans they disagree with take over the country? The other asks, “What’s wrong with the Democrats’ message, that it’s not motivating their voters to get out and vote?” I take the second approach in “Republicans have a story to tell. We’re stuck with facts.

and what will happen next

Back in the waning days of the Soviet Union, leading up to Gorbachev, a series of short-lived old men filled the top chair: Andropov, Chernenko, and some other geezers even I don’t remember. Every time a new one took over, the same story would get leaked to the Western press: The new boss only appeared to be a faceless party functionary; actually he had been a behind-the-scenes force for liberalization and better relations with the West. It was never true, but feeding people’s fantasies like that was good PR.

Well, this week we heard that Mitch McConnell wants to fix the broken Senate and get things done. He swore off the brinksmanship of the past: “There will be no government shutdowns and no default on the national debt.” It’s as if the filibuster-everything McConnell never existed, and the Ted Cruz wing of the party didn’t control enough votes to leave McConnell without a working majority. It’s good PR.

In the short term, what will happen is that the Senate will have one more session before the new Republican majority arrives in January. Harry Reid will try to approve as many Obama nominees as possible, maybe including Loretta Lynch to replace Attorney General Holder. Republicans will claim that this use of the Senate’s constitutional power is illegitimate, because they only venerate the Constitution when it suits them.

Longer term, the interesting question isn’t whether the Republican agenda and the Obama agenda will intersect enough to get some laws passed and signed, but whether there will be a Republican agenda at all. What unites Republicans is hatred of Obama, not loyalty to their own leaders or to any particular plan of action. Again and again since he became Speaker four years ago, John Boehner has tried to negotiate with Obama, only to discover that he didn’t have the votes to pass what he offered. (I love Steve Benen’s summary: “the right hand doesn’t know what the far-right hand is doing.”) Now Mitch McConnell can join those games.

Case in point: ObamaCare. “Repeal and replace” makes a good slogan, and occasionally someone on the Republican side releases a sketch of a replacement. But any attempt to fill in the details always starts an argument that goes nowhere, and no actual replacement law ever gets voted on.

The argument about whether to pass laws or to continue monkey-wrenching everything to create issues for a 2016 presidential nominee has already started. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy says Republicans need to “prove we could govern“, while National Review warns about “the governing trap“: Any attempt to find common ground with President Obama or Democrats in Congress should be avoided in favor of maneuvering for 2016.

not much progress is possible until we have a better president. Getting one ought to be conservatism’s main political goal over the next two years.

Here’s the only reason for optimism: Mitch finally has the job he wants, and maybe he’ll want to keep it. The 2016 Senate map look as bad for Republicans as 2014’s did for Democrats. To hold the majority, McConnell will need to defend blue-state Republican senators like Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire and Mark Kirk in Illinois. If he wants to help his party win the White House in 2016, he won’t want to create jobs or do anything else that the outgoing Democratic administration can take credit for. But if he wants Ayotte and Kirk and the rest of his 24 incumbents to have some accomplishments to run on, he will.

OK, one more reason: Boehner’s larger majority in the House means that he has a little room for error. He no longer needs the vote of every last Tea Party lunatic, every Louie Gohmert and Steve King, to pass a bill. So there’s a chance he could actually deliver on a deal with Obama. Maybe.


The best thing I can hope for from President Obama these next two years is that he’ll take an aw-fuck-it attitude and just do what he thinks is right, without worrying how the Republicans or the commentariat will react. His net neutrality statement seems like a good start.

and talking about the Supreme Court

Marriage equality is going to the Supreme Court sooner rather than later. That became inevitable Thursday when the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals bucked the consensus of the other appellate courts and upheld several state bans on same-sex marriages.

You may remember that I have been consistently critical of Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Windsor, which came out in 2013. It produced the immediate results I wanted, but its legal reasoning was mushy; it didn’t lay out clear principles that lower courts could follow in future cases. But since then — until Thursday — lower courts all over the country had ruled in favor of marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples, finding that although Windsor didn’t establish such a right, it left marriage equality’s opponents without a place to stand.

As long as all the appellate courts agreed with that assessment, the Supremes could avoid the issue. But now, same-sex marriage bans violate equal-protection and due-process rights in some states, but are fine in others. There could be a ruling by the end of the term in June.

The disagreement between Sixth Circuit Judges Jeffrey Sutton (for the 2-1 majority) and Martha Daughtrey (dissenting) is stark. Sutton’s opinion has a general air of condescension, like an elder uncle explaining something you kids are too young to understand: that courts are not legislatures, so they shouldn’t be changing the “traditional definition of marriage”. (Already there, you can tell he’s going nowhere good, because there is no “traditional definition of marriage”. Marriage has meant something different in every generation. In 1765, for example, it meant, “the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage”.)

Sutton’s opinion revolves around the question “who should decide” whether and how “the traditional definition of marriage” should change. He concludes that such social engineering is not his job, so he leaves state same-sex marriage bans in place. Daughtrey reminds Sutton that actually they both have a different job: American citizens have come to court asking for their rights, and the judges owe them an answer.

the majority treats both the issues and the litigants here as mere abstractions. Instead of recognizing the plaintiffs as persons, suffering actual harm as a result of being denied the right to marry where they reside or the right to have their valid marriages recognized there, my colleagues view the plaintiffs as social activists who have somehow stumbled into federal court, inadvisably, when they should be out campaigning to win “the hearts and minds” of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee voters to their cause. But these plaintiffs are not political zealots trying to push reform on their fellow citizens; they are committed same-sex couples, many of them heading up de facto families, who want to achieve equal status — de jure status, if you will — with their married neighbors, friends, and coworkers, to be accepted as contributing members of their social and religious communities, and to be welcomed as fully legitimate parents at their children’s schools. They seek to do this by virtue of exercising a civil right that most of us take for granted — the right to marry.

ObamaCare. The Court will hear King v Burwell, the case that claims ObamaCare subsidies don’t apply in the 36 states that left the federal government to set up the state exchanges. The case hangs on a quirk of wording in the Affordable Care Act. Traditionally, the Court has given the executive branch wide latitude to interpret a law in a way that succeeds in fulfilling Congress’ intention in passing a law, rather than in a way that fails. And neither the record of congressional debate nor anything ACA sponsors have said afterwards lends credence to the idea that Congress intended to limit the subsidies in this way.

But no matter. When the Court first considered the ACA, it embraced an interpretation of the Commerce Clause that Congress never considered because it did not exist when the ACA was passed, and only a clever application of the Taxing Clause by Chief Justice Roberts saved the law. Four justices, it seems, will do whatever it takes to scuttle ObamaCare. The question is whether they can get a fifth.

Vox summarizes the situation here, and Balkinization provides a theory of what might be going on behind the scenes.

and you also might be interested in …

The Ebola scare in Dallas is over. Friday, “the last person being monitored for symptoms of Ebola in Dallas was cleared by officials”.

Nationally, the U.S. has had nine Ebola cases. One died, seven recovered, and one is still in treatment — Dr. Craig Spencer, who returned to New York from Guinea and is in NYC’s Bellevue Hospital. He is said to be improving and is listed in stable condition.


According to an exit poll, 63% of American voters believe that our economic system favors the rich. I wonder what the rest believe, and what color they think the sky is.


The voter-suppression group True the Vote distributed a smart-phone app to its members before the election, to help them document the massive “voter fraud” the organization ostensibly exists to fight. If anything, they documented the exact opposite.

and let’s close with a warning from Ned Stark

With the Halloween line breached, nothing can stop it. Its carols and jingles are already echoing throughout the land.

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