Browsing the blog archives for May, 2009.


This Is Terrorism

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abortion, conservatism

I’ve been out all day and just heard the news that Dr. George Tiller was murdered outside his church. Matt Yglesias says,

Every time you murder a doctor, you create a disincentive for other medical professionals to provide these services. What’s more, you create a need for additional security at facilities around the country. In addition, the anti-abortion protestors who frequently gather near clinics are made to seem much more intimidating by the fact that the occurrence of these sorts of acts of violence.

In general, I think people tend to overestimate the efficacy of violence as a political tactic. But in this particular case, I think people tend to understate it.

It’s not just violence; the harassment of patients, family members and children takes its toll and really do frighten doctors from working at abortion clinics.

Update: Courtesy of Google cache, a website that has disappeared for some reason.

Joan Walsh:

A suspect is in custody, but even though we don’t yet know his identity, it seems safe to assume that Wichita Dr. George Tiller is the latest victim of right-wing American terrorism against abortion providers and supporters. To underscore the hypocrisy of Christian right terrorists who wrap themselves in Jesus, Tiller was murdered in the lobby of his church Sunday morning, just after 10 a.m.

A rightie blogger rejoices. I don’t have time to hunt them down and post quotes, but some rightie bloggers today lack the sense and grace to pretend to be sorry.

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Obama Derangement Syndrome

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Bush Administration, Obama Administration

The President and Mrs. Obama went to New York City for a “date night,” dinner and a Broadway show. And the wingnuts are having a fit about it.

The Republican National Committee slammed the outing in an “RNC Research Piece”: “As President Obama prepares to wing into Manhattan’s theater district on Air Force One to take in a Broadway show, GM is preparing to file bankruptcy and families across America continue to struggle to pay their bills. … Have a great Saturday evening – even if you’re not jetting off somewhere at taxpayer expense. … PUTTING ON A SHOW: Obamas Wing Into The City For An Evening Out While Another Iconic American Company Prepares For Bankruptcy.”

Tbogg has a survey of Right Blogosphere reaction. My favorite is this one:

Obama also promised a middle class tax cut and healthcare reform, but obviously those can wait.

It wasn’t even an overnight trip, mind you. They flew back to Washington (which is a half hour trip, by air) after the show. They didn’t take Air Force One but instead flew in a smaller jet.

Let’s review:

George W. Bush took more vacations than any other President in U.S. history.

That’s 487 days at Camp David and 77 trips to Crawford, Texas, where he spent all or part of 490 days. I calculate that to be about two years and eight months.

I don’t know what the travel time is from the White House to Camp David — I assume just a few minutes — but I figure Crawford must be at least three hours one way by air, and I assume there’s no Crawford International Airport, so there’s motorcade time to figure in, also. Assuming a 6 hour two-way trip, times 77 trips, equals 462 hours, or more than 19 days days spent just flying back and forth to Crawford.

Bush was in Crawford when he blew off the memo “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the U.S.” as being too trivial for his attention. As I remember it, he was in Crawford during the great electricity blackout of 2003, and it was several hours before he addressed it. He was in Crawford while two wars were going on in the Mideast.

And need I say … Hurricane Katrina?

For a collection of outraged snark at the Endless Vacation that was the Bush Administration, see Source Watch. I think the only reason there wasn’t more outrage is that Bush was such a bad POTUS, most of the time it didn’t matter whether he was on vacation or not.

Even when he wasn’t officially on vacation, Bush wasn’t famous for staying put in the White House. Especially in his first term, when the War on Terror was still new and sparkly, as I remember he spent about half of his not-vacation time traveling to Republican Party fundraisers. The pattern was to schedule some “official” event like a ribbon-cutting or a speech in a particular city, where by some coincidence there happened to be a GOP fund-raider going on that very evening, so he could take Air Force One on Republican Party business without reimbursing taxpayers. (See, for example, “Taxpayer Mugging for Political Fundraising.”)

But that was not a problem, because, you know, IOKIYAR — It’s OK If You’re A Republican.

Update: A blogger who claims not to be a “sheeple” — I beg to differ — writes (emphasis original),

With the problems we’re facing with the recession and North Korea testing nuclear missiles you would think he would keep it a little on the down low and I don’t want to hear a peep from the loony left that Ron and Nancy Reagan were extravagant. Not a peep!

This blogger was pissed because yesterday the White House couldn’t yet provide expense account of the trip to New York. I don’t believe the Bush Administration ever presented an accounting of all the political trips George and Dick took at taxpayers’ expense. I could be wrong about that, but I googled for it and couldn’t find it. In the first Bush term they were not providing that information, and the Veep’s travel itinerary was something of a state secret at times. We don’t even know how much Dick traveled, never mind the cost.

Update:
You’ll like this one — the Broadway show the first couple saw was “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.” It’s a play about African-American life. So this blogger writes,

By the way, note that the Obamas went to a ‘black’ show.

When does he ever pay homage to his white side?

I swear, it’s something like a moth-and-flame thing; they can’t help themselves.

Update: Steve Benen

Rumor has it, Obama occasionally eats and sleeps, too. The nerve. Doesn’t the president realize he has things to do?

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Answers and Questions

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Supreme Court

Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSblog has analyzed Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s court cases that involve race, and his analysis shows no racial bias whatsoever. Go to SCOTUSblog for the numbers.

What interests me more is what Hilzoy wrote:

I honestly don’t know why so many people focus so much attention on their somewhat overwrought interpretations of one line in a speech and so little attention on ascertaining what kind of judge Sonia Sotomayor has been. Her decisions are not classified documents. They are public, and anyone can read them. Moreover, they plainly provide the best evidence of the kind of judge she will be.

Oh, c’mon, Hilzoy, you know good and well why so many people focus on a few words of a speech and not her record. They’ve latched on to whatever they can use to demonize her. They don’t give a bleep about her record, or what kind of judge she might be. They want to hate her. It’s what the live for.

Next question:

I cannot imagine why more journalists have not done the kind of analysis that Tom Goldstein has.

Yep, that’s a good question.

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Just Like Old Times

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Feminism, Republican Party, Supreme Court

G. Gordon Liddy used the “M” word. It’s like the past 40 years of feminist activism never happened. Of course, for Pat “that woman” Buchanan, they really didn’t happen.

You’d think there’d never been a woman on the Supreme Court before. The reactions to the nominations of Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were genteel compared to what’s being thrown at Sonia Sotomayor. As I remember it, Ginsburg’s judicial record at the time of her nomination was, arguably, more “liberal” than Sotomayor’s is now. Certainly when Ginsburg was nominated plenty of conservatives spoke against her confirmation. But (as I remember it) most of those objections were about Ginsburg’s support of Roe v. Wade, not her potentially fluctuating female hormones.

And the way the wingnuts continue to call Sotomayor an “affirmative action” pick is downright hallucinatory. Get this bit of dialog between Bill Bennett and Fred Barnes:

BARNES: I think you can make the case that she’s one of those who has benefited from affirmative action over the years tremendously.

BENNETT: Yeah, well, maybe so. Did she get into Princeton on affirmative action, one wonders.

BARNES: One wonders.

Sotomayor was valedictorian of her high school class and went to Princeton on scholarship.

I doubt any of these same people called Clarence Thomas an “affirmative action pick,” although I found a biography of Thomas that says “Yale University Law School accepted Thomas through its affirmative action program.” To be fair, Thomas’s academic record was respectable enough that he would have been considered for admission regardless of race, I suspect. His academic record is less impressive than Sotomayor’s, however.

O’Connor’s nomination was a long time ago, and my memory of it is hazy. Being nominated by Ronald Reagan rather than a Democrat probably shielded her from the worst of what might have been thrown at the first woman nominee to the SCOTUS.

However, reactions from the Right to Sotomayor are so much more over the top than than they were to the nomination of Ginsburg, who is at least as liberal as Sotomayor, and I do wonder why. Tossing out some ideas —

  • Ginsburg is Jewish. Antisemitism really is a big no-no on much of the Right. Gotta support the state of Israel, you know.
  • Sotomayor is Latina. I think these days the Right is twitchier about Hispanics than they are about any other racial minority.
  • No leadership. There’s no authority on the Right who can order the worst of the hotheads to tone it down.
  • They’re out of power. Nothing fights harder than a wounded, cornered animal.

Anything else you can think of?

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Empaths and Sociopaths

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big picture stuff, Feminism, Social Issues, Supreme Court

This used to be a staple scene in action films, as I’m sure you know — a scary thing happens, and the woman the hero is in love with screams and freezes in helpless terror. Then the hero, cool as scotch on the rocks, steps in and vanquishes the scary thing and saves her. On to the kissing scene.

Many years ago I read a behavioral study that said, if anything, women are slightly less likely to panic and freeze in the face of danger than men are. And when you consider that men are something like ten times more likely to commit homicides than women — murder most often is an act of rage, I believe — you might suspect that men are at the mercy of their emotions at least as much as women.

But we can’t have hysterical men and brave, cool women in films because it doesn’t take us to the kissing scene nearly as easily, does it?

Also many years ago, I realized that when a man said his views were “logical” and mine were “emotional,” the word logical (used in context) meant “what I want,” or “what I believe,” with the underlying assumption that the wants and beliefs of a man are the correct, standard or default, wants and beliefs, and those of a woman are controversial, subjective and/or alternative. This was true regardless of the merits of the man’s position. The want or belief became “logical” by virtue of maleness. “Logic” was something like a trump card played by a man against a woman whenever he couldn’t think of a better argument.

I don’t see the male/female, logical/emotional dichotomy publicly expressed nearly as much as I used to, and younger women may not have run into it as much as I did. But it hasn’t entirely gone away, has it?

This correlates to the idea that whites favoring other whites is not ethnic bias, because whiteness is a default norm; what Publius calls the “invisible baseline” fallacy. In this view, bias occurs only when one deviates from the default norm.

Since the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, many arguments for and against her have turned on the question of whether a judge should have “empathy.” Yes, say some, because it helps her see how her decisions affect real people in the real world. No, say others, empathy and emotion are biases that blur the cold logic of the law.

But I say that if you step away and look at the question a little more broadly, the truth is that the decisions of every judge who doesn’t happen to be an out-and-out sociopath are being shaped by empathy. The distinction is, to whom is the judge feeling empathetic?

My view is that everything we think comes from a complex of psychological discriminations and impulses, little of which have anything to do with “logic.” The way we understand ourselves and the world begins to be shaped from the moment we’re born and continues to be shaped by the culture we grow up and live in. In other words, all of our understandings are biased. This is pervasive and inescapable. Often the difference between “logical” and “empathic” people is that an “empathic” person has at least a dim appreciation of his own biases, whereas a “logical” person is utterly oblivious to them.

This week Nicholas Kristof wrote a column about the difference between how liberals and conservatives relate to the world, and how much of these differences emanate from our prefrontal cortex, which “has more to do with moralizing than with rationality.” Our “logical” thoughts actually begin with the “moral” impulses. “It appears that we start with moral intuitions that our brains then find evidence to support.”

Human brains seem to be wired in a way that makes us want to join tribes and be part of an “us” that stands against an “other.” But if we get to know an “other” personally, they seem less strange and foreign and may cease to be an “other.”

“Minds are very hard things to open, and the best way to open the mind is through the heart,” Professor Haidt says. “Our minds were not designed by evolution to discover the truth; they were designed to play social games.”

Thus persuasion may be most effective when built on human interactions. Gay rights were probably advanced largely by the public’s growing awareness of friends and family members who were gay.

Our minds were not designed by evolution to discover the truth; they were designed to play social games. When John Yoo wrote memos that rationalized torture, he was not being “logical.” He was playing a social game and empathizing with his tribe. When John Roberts makes decisions that are blatantly biased in favor of corporations over individuals, he is playing a social game and empathizing with his tribe.

You see the picture — to some people, empathy is only “empathy” when it’s being shown to people who are not the default norm, or the invisible baseline, or whatever you want to call it. Otherwise, it’s “logical.”

I know my fingers may fall off as I keyboard this, but in his column today David Brooks has a pretty decent description of how the “logical” decision-making process really works. Our conscious, cognitive understandings of things are based on internalized models of what we’ve been conditioned to believe is “normal.” We may be able to articulate our ideas and perceptions in a coolly logical way, but the process by which we arrive at our ideas and perception is “complex, unconscious and emotional.” This is always true, whether we want to admit it or not.

So it is that two different and equally intelligent people may look at the same set of facts in a case and apply the same set of laws and come to different conclusions. They are working from different internal models of what the world is supposed to be. From this their judgments about which facts in the case are critical and which are not may be entirely different.

Brooks asks if Sotomayor is able to understand her biases as biases. This I cannot know. I’d like to think that people who have been the victims of bias are more capable of recognizing their own biases, but in my experience that is often not so. However, I do think that people with a healthy appreciation for empathy may also have more appreciation for the genuine messiness of human decision making than those who — foolishly — see themselves as “logical.”

Going back to the hysterical women and cool-headed men in films, and how that is so not like the real world — my observation is that women may tend to be better at processing emotions than men. That is, when a woman is frightened, she is less surprised — caught off guard, if you will — at being frightened than a man might be.

This is a gross generalization that cannot be applied to individuals; lots of men process emotions more skillfully than lots of women. However, I think there is a tendency for men to be less accepting of and intimate with their own emotions, and this may be as much nurture as nature; cultural rather than physiological.

What’s critical about emotions is not whether you have them, but whether you let them jerk you around and make you act in ways that are not in your best interests. And by any objective measure I’d say men self-destruct at least as much as women do. Logical, my ass.

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The Peter Principle

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Obama Administration

Those of us old enough to remember the 1960s probably remember the “Peter principle,” which was the title of a book as well as a phrase that was common in pop culture for a time. The Peter Principle (the book), published in 1968, was in some ways a harbinger of the “how to succeed in business” popular genre of books that eventually would include such best sellers I never read as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Anyway, the Peter principle is that “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” In other words, people keep getting promoted to more and more difficult positions within a company until they reach a position that’s beyond their competence level. I understand the book was humorous, but people took the premise seriously. I don’t know if this principle is as true as it was in 1968, if only because people just don’t stay with one company and rise in a hierarchy the way they used to.

I bring it up because Erick Erickson of RedState seems to think the “Peter principle” refers to the Apostle Peter’s denial of Christ. Erickson is complaining that righties are spending more time throwing each other under the bus than fighting the left, and he comes very close to saying that for a conservative to diss Rush Limbaugh is tantamount to Peter denying Christ.

Come to think of it, maybe the Peter principle is still valid.

The comments have devolved into a philosophical debate over whether pronouncing “Sotomayor” correctly is somehow betraying the nation’s Anglo-Saxon heritage. Good times.

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The Soft Expectations of Low Bigotry

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conservatism, Obama Administration, Supreme Court

My take on the Right’s objections to Sotomayor, so far:

  • She’s not intelligent.

Of all of the talking points the Right might have hustled up about Sotomayor, this one is the least intelligent. She graduated Princeton summa cum laude, and then went on to Yale Law School, where she was an editor of the Yale law journal. Not intelligent?

Much of the “not intelligent” buzz derives from Jeffrey Rosen’s sleazy little New Republic smear job on Sotomayor, published a few days ago. Glenn Greenwald takes the Rosen piece apart and reveals it to be cheap and shoddy propaganda.

See also Joan Walsh, “Buchanan on Sotomayor: ‘Not that intelligent.'”

One other thing before I move on to the next point — yesterday I quoted from a Washington Post profile of Sotomayor in which a number of her colleagues (and, unlike Jeffrey Rosen’s sources, these people gave their names) called the SCOTUS nominee “brilliant.” Today at the same URL there is an entirely different story about Sotomayor. The “brilliant” quotes are gone; the new article emphasizes Sotomayor’s ethnicity rather than her intellect. Make of that what you will.

  • She’s temperamental, or difficult, or even bullying

Some also call her tough and exacting. In other words, traits that would be an asset to a man are a liability to Sotomayor. And I’ve yet to see a concrete example of her “temperamental” behavior.

  • Obama chose empathy over intelligence

As John Yoo (John Yoo, people!) put it, “President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor shows that empathy has won out over excellence in the White House.”

There’s a common fallacy — much beloved of people who themselves have second-rate minds — that people are either logical and rational or emotional and empathetic. To be logical requires squelching emotion — think Mr. Spock — because emotions and rational thinking cannot co-exist in the same head.

This is nonsense. Abraham Lincoln, for example, was among our most intelligent presidents, yet he also was a man of deep compassion. Think also of Albert Schweitzer. I don’t know that Sonia Sotomayor belongs in the Lincoln-Schweitzer category; such people are rare. But a definition of true genius may be an ability to understand the same thing on several levels at once.

I think it’s true that there are some kinds of passions that override rational thinking. Greed is chief among these; also fear, or any impulse to protect and defend one’s ego and self-identity. But genuine compassion and empathy are very far removed from self-destructive passions.

There’s a theory of emotional intelligence that enjoys considerable support in the social sciences. As I understand it, emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand and manage one’s own emotions and “read” and relate to other people’s emotions as part of navigating social networks. Emotional intelligence is part of a complex of intelligences that enable one to perceive and comprehend the world.

Not everyone accepts “EI” as an “intelligence,” but I have known many people who were bright enough at book-learnin’ but who were stymied by their own and other peoples’ emotions. So I think there is something to it. The point is that there are many different kinds of intelligence, and IMO the most genuinely intelligent people are those who integrate diverse intelligences.

There’s a fellow named Gerald Huther who is head of neurobiological research at a psychiatric clinic in Germany. Huther wrote a book called The Compassionate Brain: A Revolutionary Guide to Developing Your Intelligence to Its Full Potential. Another edition of the book came out with a different subtitle — How Empathy Creates Intelligence.

Huther’s basic argument is that brains change physically depending on how we use them, and he makes an argument based on brain physiology that the capacity of the brain develops most fully when emotion and intellect are balanced. This is from a review:

By following the usual human path of egocentricity – seeing oneself as the center of the world and acting accordingly – one embeds a fixed pattern of repetitive neuronal connectivity. The harder path of self-development, which leads to a more comprehensive, complex and more highly networked brain, consists in developing qualities that go beyond self-centeredness. Sensibleness, uprightness, humility, prudence, truthfulness, reliability, empathy, and courtesy; qualities such these cannot be developed in isolation. They come as part of a matrix of social feelings that involve connectedness and solidarity that transcend our usual self-centeredness. In the end, says Huther, a person who wishes to use his or her brain in the most comprehensive manner must also learn to love.

In my experience, people who pride themselves in being “logical” rather than “emotional” inevitably are a lot more emotional and a lot less logical than they want to admit. They just aren’t good at being honest with themselves about themselves. (John Yoo is, I suspect, such a person.) Which takes us to the next dig at Sotomayor —

  • She’s an affirmative action hire, chosen because of her ethnicity and not her ability.

This is essentially what George Will says today, if you read between the lines. To Will, the function of “identity hires” like Thurgood Marshall and Sonia Sotomayor is to “balance” the court by showing favoritism to women and minorities over white men. Will writes,

And like conventional liberals, she embraces identity politics, including the idea of categorical representation: A person is what his or her race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual preference is, and members of a particular category can be represented — understood, empathized with — only by persons of the same identity.

Will presents no credible evidence whatsoever that Sotomayor believes this. He gives the much-maligned quote –“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” But in this quote Sotomayor was not saying that “members of a particular category can be represented — understood, empathized with — only by persons of the same identity.” She’s saying that people with “a richness of experience” have a broader and more inclusive understanding of people than a white man “who hasn’t lived that life.” In other words, it’s not about ethnicity, but experience.

The irony, of course, is that white men usually have their own identity blindnesses and are just as guilty of identity favoritism as the people they accuse of identity favoritism. It’s just that they think of themselves as the default norm; therefore, their biases are not biases.

Publius at Obsidian Wings explains:

Anyway, turning to Sotomayor, what’s interesting about accusations of identity politics is that they implicitly assume that whiteness (or maleness) is some sort of neutral baseline. I call it the “invisible baseline” fallacy – and it’s certainly not a novel concept. The idea is that people forget that whiteness is itself an ethnicity – and one that shapes and colors perceptions (and that enjoys entrenched benefits). Instead, whiteness blends into the background and becomes part of an “invisible” baseline that is conceptualized as “normal.”

Will doesn’t use the word “diversity,” but there is no doubt a court made up of justices with diverse backgrounds will have a broader perspective, and a deeper collective intelligence, than one made up of privileged white males.

Any other themes you’ve seen in the pushback?

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On the Right: Spittle and Spite

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Obama Administration, Republican Party, Supreme Court

I’ve been watching Tom Tancredo on The Ed Show claiming that SCOTUS nominee Sonia Sonia Sotomayor is a racist. This claim is made based on this quote from Judge Sotomayor: “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” (Thanks Jill Filipovic.)

Tancredo doesn’t get the quote right, of course. In his rendering of it, she just says that Latina women make better judges than white men. And he sat on the Ed Show television panel, bouncing and spitting in outrage, and screaming racist, racist, racist. I think that’s pretty much the plan.

The conventional wisdom seems to be forming that Sotomayor will be confirmed fairly easily. The right-wing interest groups will be screaming and spitting about her for the next several days, but the GOP itself (the CW says) doesn’t want to take her on for fear of further alienating Latino voters. They’re going to complain and call her a leftist, but they know her record is more moderate than some others President Obama might have nominated — or might yet nominate, if the Sotomayor nomination fails.

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SCOTUS Nominee: Sonia Sotomayor

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Obama Administration, Supreme Court

The Washington Post profile of Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Souter, sounds really good to me.

At Yale, her classmates recall a young woman with a brilliant legal mind who was tough when arguing for her views. And although they said she never forgot her modest background, and always identified with the disadvantaged, her main passion was for the law, not a particular political agenda. …

… In 1984, George Pavia, a New York lawyer representing Fiat and other Italian business clients, said he was looking for a young lawyer with courtroom experience to help with products liability cases. He said he found Sotomayor “just ideal for us in terms of her background and training.”

“She is liberal, as am I,” Pavia said. “Liberal without being a flaming type of do-gooder or anything of the sort. To call her a centrist would not be accurate. To call her wild-eyed would also not be accurate. She is far too rational, far too interested in the underlying facts.”

Sotomayor grew up in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in the Bronx and was educated at Princeton and Yale Law School. People quoted in the profile praise her for being even-handed and non-ideological in her judgments.

In an article published before the announcement, Peter Baker of the New York Times announced that “the Left” already was unhappy with President Obama’s short list of potential nominees, which included Sotomayor, because we lefties would only be content with a “full-throated, unapologetic liberal torchbearer to counter conservatives like Justice Scalia.”

“It’s quite likely the left is not going to get what it wants,” said Thomas C. Goldstein, co-head of the Supreme Court practice at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and founder of Scotusblog, a well-read Web site. …

… “Unless Obama restrains his compulsion toward centrist consensus and appoints real progressives to replace not only Souter but Ginsburg and Stevens, our right-wing court may get even more conservative,” Jeff Cohen, founding director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, wrote on a Web site for progressive commentary, OpEdNews.com.

Personally, I think most of “the Left” will be fine with Justice Nominee Sotomayor. We’ll see.

Update: CNN has published Sotomayor’s resume and her record on notable cases. Scroll down for the record. From what I see she tends to side with the individual against government and corporate interests. Righties are going to have a fit. I like this lady.

Update: Scott Lemieux ‘s take on Sotomayor

It’s a good, solid pick. Not a home run like Karlan would have been, but I also don’t think she’ll be another Breyer; I see another Ginsburg at worst. For me, she would have been #2 among the viable candidates after Wood, and I don’t think Wood is clearly more liberal; they’re within a range in which appellate court records don’t reveal enough information to make firm judgments.

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The New Whigs?

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American History, Republican Party

I started to write this as an update to the last post, but then decided it deserved its own post. Anyway, responding to a news headline about a split in the Republican Party, Michael Stickings argues that there is no split:

Powell and Ridge, along with McCain and other such renegades, will continue to garner the headlines, but, again, the Republican Party is Limbaugh’s party, the party of the right-wing base and its leadership both in Congress and elsewhere. There are moderate Republicans, to be sure, but they are now a decided minority in a party that has been shifting ever further rightward in recent years, notably in defeat after the ’06 and ’08 elections.

This is true, but I think this shows us the “split” already occurred. I would argue that the real split was in the 1970s, when the Goldwater/Reagan wing of the party ascended and began the process of casting out Rockefeller Republicans and more moderate Ford/Nixon Republicans.

There has been a hard, take-no-prisoners right wing in the GOP for a long time. I’ve read that when Dwight Eisenhower was nominated in 1952, conservatives at the convention (who supported Robert Taft Jr.) were so angry they spat on Eisenhower delegates. At the 1964 convention they booed Nelson Rockefeller off the podium and put nausea-producing drugs into the drinks of Rockefeller delegates. But until the late 1970s the whackjobs were the party fringe. Since taking over the party they have demanded absolute loyalty to their leaders and ideas — well, talking points, anyway — and demonized any faction of the party that didn’t march in step.

So the split is a fait accompli, the few lingering moderates notwithstanding. But now that their “ideas” have been found wanting, and most of the public is thoroughly sick of them and their bullying, fear-mongering brand of politics, the GOP has been so purged of any alternative factions that there are not enough contemporary Rockefeller or Eisenhower or even Nixon Republicans to step up and take over.

There’s an interesting example of what’s happened at the right-wing site American Power. The blogger writes of Colin Powell’s call for the party to be more inclusive — “his own personal history belies the notion that the GOP lacks inclusion or fails to provide opportunities for qualified minorities.” But then he adds, “Actually, it’s something of a shame for him to be getting into these debates at this point.” But he doesn’t say why it’s a shame. And then the commenters come along and say “Powell is irrelevant to Republicans and conservatives”: “I never understood the fuss about him”; “Colin Powell has no business in the Republican Party”; and “Colin Powell is a media whore.” So much for inclusion.

What the hard Right still has are the think tanks and media outlets, and they still have the big money from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Koch Family foundations, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Scaife Family foundations and the Adolph Coors Foundation to underwrite the think tanks and media outlets and countless astroturf organizations. This will keep the current GOP alive, no matter if 99 percent of the voters turn against them and their regional clout shrinks to Mississippi.

If we assume that there will be two major parties, in the foreseeable future I don’t see a conservative-to-moderate-and-not-insane party rising up and taking over the niche the GOP used to fill. As many of you pointed out in comments recently, the conservative-to-moderate-and-not-insane politicians are Democrats now, albeit of the Blue Dog sort.

But let’s think about the more distant future. If there is to be a conservative-to-moderate political party that will organize to challenge the Dems, will that be a revitalized GOP, or will that be a new party? I think it could go either way, but it might actually be easier to form a whole new conservative-moderate party than to re-take the GOP from the crazies.

I’m guessing that if the Republicans have another losing election in 2010 — and I’m not making predictions, but right now that seems a good bet — surely a lot of the money currently propping up the GOP will move elsewhere. A whole new conservative party that doesn’t suffer from association with Bush/Gingrich/Limbaugh would be much more palatable to a broader swatch of voters, IMO, and might even siphon off the Blue Dogs from the Dems. Maybe they’ll even call themselves New Whigs.

Also — it’s Memorial Day. Here are some old Memorial Day posts from the Mahablog archives:

Memorial Day 2006

Memorial Day 2007

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