Carrying a Presidency to Term

Apparently, the GOP thinks that Black Presidents only get 3/5ths a term.

— a friend of Ken Wissonker

This week’s featured posts are “Replacing Scalia (or not)” and “The Apple/FBI question is harder than it looks“.

This week everybody was talking about how to replace Justice Scalia

I look (skeptically) at the arguments for delaying until after the election in “Replacing Scalia (or not)“. One argument I left out of that post: the idea that the voters should decide more directly, by making the nomination an issue in the presidential election.

That’s a bad idea for a bunch of reasons, but the biggest is that if the Founders had wanted the voters to elect Supreme Court justices, they would have written the Constitution that way. In fact, the Founders wanted to insulate the Court from politics as much as was practical in a government of the people. That was the reason for lifetime appointments, as Hamilton explained in Federalist #78.

Matt Yglesias outlines four approaches Obama could take in choosing a nominee, from “olive branch” to “declaration of war”.

Last week I talked about my personal reaction to Scalia’s death, and in particular wrestling with my feeling of joy in the removal of a powerful enemy.

It turns out I wasn’t the only person thinking about that issue. I’m on a Facebook group with a bunch of Unitarian Universalist bloggers (i.e., religious liberals), many of whom are ministers or ministers-in-training. Several of them wrote about their conflicted feelings concerning Scalia’s death.

At Head Above Holy Water, divinity student Michael Brown separated Justice Scalia, who was his legal and political enemy, from Anton Scalia the person, who (like everybody) was a flawed human being but nonetheless deserved compassion. Brown thinks about his internship as a hospital chaplain, when he was called to comfort dying people and their families, regardless of any differences of opinion or lifestyle.

Being awake and alive and sincere means recognizing complexity and honoring it.  Spiritual healing is rooted in recognizing the differences between one’s feelings and the universal need for harmony between living beings.  The boy I was who was scared, and scarred, by the bigotry Justice Scalia carried into the books of law has grown into a man who understands the beauty of contradictions.

May Justice Scalia, and Scalia the person, find peace.

Taking a conflicting view, Rev. Scott Wells pondered how to discuss Scalia’s death in front of his congregation, and particularly in front of those who had been wounded by Scalia’s judgments, or would have been wounded if those judgments had prevailed. (Wells himself is a married gay man, and reflects that due to the Windsor decision that Scalia opposed “my family is safer.” Getting theologically technical, Wells comes out of the Restorationist tradition of Universalism, where I’m more of an ultra-Universalist, like Hosea Ballou.) Wells sees eulogizing a powerful man in a way that ignores the damage he did as a triumph of “niceness over goodness”.

I would caution people to not forgive Scalia because it’s the nice thing to do, or expected of them. He did not repent of his action, nor seek your forgiveness. Quite the opposite. It is the way of the powerful to expect rules to apply to you and not to them. Do not comply. You are not the unreconciled party. And now that he’s gone, Scalia will have to manage with God’s docket; you do not have to plead to him, or for him.

“It is the way of the powerful to expect rules to apply to you and not to them.” That quote might show up at top of a weekly summary sometime.

But whether we mourn Scalia or not, we should still be fair to him. One quote I’ve seen bouncing around the internet — it was quoted in a comment on last week’s summary, and many other places — comes from his dissent in Edwards v. Aguillard, a 1987 case about teaching creationism in Louisiana schools. The quote starts “The body of scientific evidence supporting creation science is as strong as that supporting evolution. In fact, it may be stronger” and goes on from there.

Fortunately, another commenter (sglover) realized that the quote is out of context. At that point in his dissent, Scalia is not stating his own opinions, he is summarizing the case made by witnesses whose credentials “may have been regarded as quite impressive by members of the Louisiana Legislature”. His larger point is that the Court’s majority was too quick to assume that the legislature passed the pro-creationism law purely out of religious motives.

I still think he’s wrong, but his argument is much more subtle than the quote makes it appear.

and the primary/caucus results

Democrats. Clinton got a much-needed 53%-47% win in the Nevada caucuses. This narrow win in a small state only nets her four more delegates than Sanders, but a win of any sort should stop the steady drip-drip-drip of what’s-wrong-with-the-Clinton-campaign stories, at least until the Democrats vote in South Carolina this Saturday.

Diving a little deeper into the Nevada results yields some mixed messages. Nevada was supposed to test whether Bernie Sanders could break through with Hispanics, and he did: According to NBC’s entrance polls, 19% of the caucus-goers identified as Hispanic/Latino, and Sanders won that segment 53%-45%. Clinton’s margin came from African-Americans, who cast 13% of the votes, but went for Clinton 76%-22%. South Carolina, where blacks are a majority among Democrats, will test whether Sanders can change that result. If he can’t, his candidacy is doomed; it’s hard to see how white liberals, or even white-plus-Hispanic liberals, can carry Bernie by themselves.

A more subtle problem for Sanders was pointed out Saturday by Rachel Maddow, and then fleshed out on MaddowBlog by Steve Benen: When you ask Sanders’ supporters how he will get elected in the fall and how he will get Congress to pass his programs after he takes office, they talk about a “political revolution”. In other words, Sanders will energize previously apathetic or discouraged voters, creating a tidal wave of support from people whose opinions had not affected American politics until his campaign gave them a voice. (I critiqued that vision two weeks ago.)

But that’s hard to square with the fact that compared to the last contested Democratic campaign in 2008, turnout is down. Nevada continued that trend from Iowa and New Hampshire. To the extent that new voters are showing up, they are indeed voting for Sanders. And the 2008 Obama campaign did draw a lot of new voters to the polls, so comparisons to any year but 2008 are not bad. But so far the revolution does not appear to be happening.

Ever since I posted “Smearing Bernie: a preview” last month, I’ve been waiting for conservatives to start taking Sanders seriously as a possible Democratic nominee, and experimenting to see which attacks get traction.

A few themes are emerging. This video funded by two billionaires focuses on Sanders’ hurting small business and promising to raise taxes. An article by CNS (formerly Christian News Service) connects Sanders to Castro. Another theme that I’ve seen in several places is that Bernie is “a loser“; he was barely able to support himself until he started getting elected to public office. Attention is also being drawn to his personal history, particularly that he wasn’t married to his son’s mother. None of these attacks has gotten national play so far, so I don’t know what conclusions the attackers are coming to.

Republicans. Trump (33%) won a clear victory in South Carolina, while Rubio (22.5%) edged out Cruz (22.3%) for second. In spite of pulling out all the stops, including bringing in his brother, Jeb Bush (7.8%) was a distant fourth, narrowly beating John Kasich (7.6%) who barely campaigned in the state, and Ben Carson (7.2%).

As a result, Bush dropped out, ending the most expensive failure in American political history. Money, it turns out, can bring your message to the voters. But if you don’t have a message, you can’t buy one.

Ever since Bush began to fade, pundits have been predicting that the Republican electorate will eventually settle on Rubio. And Rubio’s second-place finish in South Carolina is a nice bounce-back from his disastrous New Hampshire results, giving yet another lift to the Rubio-wave-is-starting meme. But he still hasn’t won anywhere yet, and no one has identified where he’s going to start winning.

Cruz is still competitive — he even took the lead in one recent national poll — but he has to shake his head when he looks at these results: White evangelicals are supposed to be Cruz’ base; nobody has pandered to as many way-out-there preachers as Cruz has, and his father is one. Those voters turned out in large numbers: 67% of the Republican primary voters identified as evangelical or born-again white Christians. But Trump won that segment. The Trump/Rubio/Cruz breakdown was 34%/21%/26%.

It’s yet another example of how the Trump phenomenon is defying all conventional wisdom. Cruz has got to be wondering how he could possibly lose Southern evangelicals to a three-times-married New Yorker who can’t even name a particular Bible verse.

Digby reflects on why none of that — not even the Donald attacking W for 9-11 or picking a fight with the Pope — turns off his supporters.

As I’ve been writing for quite a while, the Trump phenomenon has exposed something completely unexpected about the Republican coalition, even to people who have spent years observing it. It comes more and more into focus every day: It turns out that a good many members in in good standing of the conservative movement don’t care at all about  conservative ideology and never have.

Small government, low taxes, family values, military toughness — a few people believed in all that literally, but for much of the conservative base those have always been symbols of something else.

The chattering classes like to say “the GOP base is frustrated because conservative leaders let them down so they are turning to Trump as a protest.” This misses the point. They did let them down but not because they didn’t fulfill the evangelical/small government/strong military agenda. They let them down because they didn’t fulfill the dogwhistle agenda, which was always about white ressentiment and authoritarian dominance. Trump is the first person to come along and explicitly say what they really want and promise to give it to them.

and Apple

Apple is challenging a court order requiring it to help the FBI crack the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino terrorists. That issue gets complicated in a hurry, so I’ve moved it to its own article.

and you might also be interested in

As the price of oil continues to fall and stay down, the long-term stability of oil-dependent countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia is being called into question. Both regimes look a little like crime syndicates, in which the leader commands the loyalty of his captains only to the extent that he can keep the money flowing. How much can the pool of money shrink without threatening that model?

In Atlantic, Sarah Chayes and Alex de Waal write “Preparing for the Collapse of the Saudi Kingdom“. The Economist looks at “If Russia Breaks Up“. Behind the firewall in Foreign Affairs, Alex Motyl speculates “Lights Out for the Putin Regime“, a scenario that David Marples disputes.

One of my Facebook friends raised the question: Why don’t more poor people vote? And of course there are obvious answers about voter suppression, transportation when you don’t own a car, and the inflexibility of work hours for minimum-wage jobs. But there’s another answer that doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves, and gives me another chance to plug a classic speech by one of my friends, Tom Stites: The media covers political news from a  professional-class point of view, so politics is hard for a poor person to get interested in or see the point of.

Just to give one example: When new unemployment numbers come out, what does the media focus on? How this news affected the stock market, and whether it is good or bad for President Obama’s popularity. Rarely does it discuss what this means to you if you’re looking for a job or worried about losing the one you have.

If you’re poor, the underlying message of just about every news outlet is that the news is not for you. In particular, politics is not for you. It’s an overblown wrestling match between competing groups of professionals, none of whom really have your interests in mind.

Tom’s solution is the Banyan Project, which I plug every now and then: local news co-ops whose mission is to inform the bottom 50%.

and let’s close with a candidate you probably hadn’t considered

Our neighbor to the north announces its Canada-cy for President of the United States.

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  • philebersole  On February 22, 2016 at 11:48 am

    If you think, as I do, that our country is in deep trouble and needs fundamental change, you can’t believe that any candidate can change the country with electing a particular candidate, such as Bernie Sanders, in one election.

    The country didn’t get where it was overnight, and it can’t be changed overnight, but if you believe important change is needed, then you have to start pressing for that change, no matter how high the odds seem against you.

    The case for Hillary Clinton is that the most important thing to defeat Donald Trump and other candidates who want to change things for the worse.

    But if people like me are right, a majority of the voters at some point are going to revolt against the status quo, and if a Bernie Senders isn’t available, they’ll turn to a Donald Trump.

    • sglover  On February 22, 2016 at 5:28 pm

      “But if people like me are right, a majority of the voters at some point are going to revolt against the status quo, and if a Bernie Senders isn’t available, they’ll turn to a Donald Trump.”

      Or stay home. I’m completely on Sanders’ side, so I’m biased. And I’ll admit that it’s early days, and November is a long way away, and memories are short.

      BUT…. I think that already Clinton is doing a bang-up job of alienating Sanders supporters whom she **will** need in a few months, **if** she gets the nomination. There was the brilliant Albright-Steinem “time to straighten out the youngsters” tag team. This week some mainline Dem economists tried a high-profile bashing of another economist who ran some numbers that made Sanders’s proposals look good. (The whole episode revealed a lot more about the sociology of economic “science” than the mandarins probably wanted.) In the wake of the Nevada caucus, there are various stories circulating about pro-Clinton antics on the part of establishment Dems.

      All arcane stuff, unlikely to make the front pages — but noted and remembered by people motivated enough to campaign in primaries. Clinton’s a pretty lousy candidate in general, but she’s really miscalculating if she thinks that all Sanders supporters are going to turn on a dime and back her just because she’s the current non-Republican.

      • JELC  On February 22, 2016 at 10:50 pm

        Please don’t stay home. I’m not going to argue with you about whether Clinton is good or not — I think there are valid criticisms of her. But the worst you’ll get from a Clinton presidency is a continuation of the status quo. You’ll get much, much worse from ANYONE that she would be running against.

        Even just the appointment of a liberal vs a conservative justice to the SCC will have a huge impact on the direction the US takes for the forseeable future. Plus, Ruth Bader-Ginsberg isn’t going to last forever either, and might well need replacing in the next 4 years. You want to live in the US where you get two more judges like RBG, not the one where you get two more like Scalia.

        Make this argument to everyone you know as well who supports Sanders and might decide to stay home if Clinton takes it. Serious change takes time, and you’re going to have victories and losses. A big part of succeeding is minimizing the ground you lose when things don’t go your way. That’s going to take support for compromise candidates and people who are less bad than the alternatives. Clinton is much, much less bad than the alternatives.

      • sglover  On February 23, 2016 at 12:27 am

        I was talking more about the general effect of Clinton’s tactics than anything I’m going to do. She is sowing a lot of anger. And she can’t really can’t placate the Dem left with pleasing phrases borrowed from Sanders, because nobody believes anything she says.

      • weeklysift  On February 25, 2016 at 12:29 pm

        Having just watched the Bill Maher interview in question, I really don’t think Steinem’s flip remark about the boys being with Bernie can be chalked up to “Clinton’s tactics”. She was there promoting her book, not pitching for Clinton.

  • Dan  On February 22, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    Regarding the video, I realize it was meant as a joke, but I’m sure there are some indigenous groups in Canada who would object to his glib dismissal of Canada’s racial issues.

  • Russ  On February 22, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    Bernie (or Hiliary) are leaving out an important message. They need to tell people not to send them to Washington alone. Vote for your Democratic representative as you vote for me. That’s what they need to be saying. Otherwise nothing will change.

  • Bobby Lee  On February 22, 2016 at 1:47 pm

    I realized the disconnect when a 40-something working class person asked me, in all seriousness, “Is Obama a Democrat or a Republican?”. She doesn’t follow politics, just as I don’t follow sports. She honestly didn’t know the difference between the two parties, and she doesn’t vote.

    • mysanal  On February 25, 2016 at 3:55 pm

      THAT may be the scariest thing I’ve read today!

  • sglover  On February 22, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    “Attention is also being drawn to his [Sanders] personal history, particularly that he wasn’t married to his son’s mother.”

    Interesting. Honestly, though, I take that as reassurance, almost an argument **for** Sanders’ potential as a candidate. Or at least, as a sign that his supposed vulnerability is a lot less than supposed. It suggests that the oppo researchers aren’t especially bright, that they’re trying to get the crowd dancing by playing wax cylinders. Americans live in a wide range of domestic arrangements, now. Unless there’s some other, unmentioned detail of Sanders parenthood, I have a hard time imagining that a lot of people are going to shocked by the story, or even interested in it.

    I also think that concerns about a hypothetical Sanders administration, what it actually be able to accomplish, are also overblown — at least for the moment. As it stands now, **any** Dem president will face fierce Congressional opposition. It’s pure silliness to imagine that HRC is going to magically charm or muscle somebody like McConnell. So in that sense, between the two of them, it’s a wash.

    It’s pretty clear that lots of Americans don’t have any idea of how the government works. (It’s always entertaining when Republican presidential candidates claim they’re going to abolish the IRS, the EPA, et al “on my first day in office”.) So maybe there really are people who think that Sanders is proposing to enact his proposals by decree. But among Sanders supporters I speak to directly, or follow on the net, there seems to be general agreement that his election is only the start of a long slog. The essence of Sanders’ appeal is the **direction** of the slog.

    By the way, thanks for mentioning me in the main article.

  • Guest  On February 22, 2016 at 5:28 pm

    I’d like to push back on using 2008-2016 voter turnout comparisons to critique the Sanders campaign, first because I think it sells the Sanders crowd short. We can set aside the historic landslide victory in New Hampshire, look at where Bernie was in the Nevada polls last year, or even last month. To make up as much ground as he did against the supposedly all-powerful Clinton machine is remarkable and a credit to his growing “political revolution.” That’s not to discredit the lower voter turnout, I think that should be taken as a wake-up call, but not for Sanders exclusively. It’s a problem, perhaps an even bigger problem, for Clinton, and democrats broadly.

    I agree with Phil above, this feels like an “anti-establishment” year, and that hurts Clinton. The polls seem to agree, with Sanders beating Trump and Rubio, while Clinton falls within the margin of error with both. Sanders eked out a win on the Hispanic/Latino vote, Clinton dominated the Black vote, but the independents may be vital too for the general election. Non-white voters will tend towards the democrat candidate regardless, but independents are running from Clinton and embracing Sanders in droves. We may be in the tragic position of having a progressive “political revolution” fail to take down the establishment guarded by Clinton, and having Clinton lose the general. Still anybody’s game though.

  • Larry Benjamin  On February 22, 2016 at 9:58 pm

    I first heard of Mike Bickle when an acquaintance decided to join the International House of Prayer. As an atheist, I don’t see the point of that, but it sounded relatively harmless. This person had two brothers, both of whom were evangelical ministers, and apparently neither of them approved of her decision. I then looked into IHOP and found that most people consider it to be a cult, and view Bickle as a despot who exerts absolute control over it. So I can see why eh would like Cruz.

    Great insight on how the “culture war” isn’t really important to a subset of people who are really more interested in white supremacy. What’s disappointing is how many of those there are.

  • Lionel Goulet  On February 23, 2016 at 9:53 am

    Now that you mention it, “It is the way of the powerful to expect rules to apply to you and not to them,” is how power IS DEFINED.

  • Jean Rossner  On February 24, 2016 at 7:13 am

    Hi! I’m a fairly new reader and just wanted to say thanks for an interesting blog. I don’t always agree (with you or for that matter anybody else including my beloved husband!) but really enjoy your thoughts and analysis.


    On Mon, Feb 22, 2016 at 10:53 AM, The Weekly Sift wrote:

    > weeklysift posted: “Apparently, the GOP thinks that Black Presidents only > get 3/5ths a term. — a friend of Ken Wissonker This week’s featured posts > are “Replacing Scalia (or not)” and “The Apple/FBI question is harder than > it looks”. This week everybody was talking abo” >

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