For People Who Think

May 26, 2012

ON TO THE CLIFF…by Dan Lynch

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 2:05 pm

What never ceases to amaze me is the extent to which the same things happen, time and again, and nobody ever learns from the past.

If you have the time, go back to the last blog I wrote, read the thing and then study the reader comments. People seemed to get fairly upset that I’d said pretty much the following:

1) The Republican party is largely dominated by white males;

2) Many of those white males hold some really nutty ideas, no matter how much evidence exists to demonstrate that those ideas are truly nutty. Many of them, for example, believe that Barack Obama is a practicing Muslim who was born outside the United States and is therefore ineligible to be President.

3) The percentage of white males in the population is diminishing rapidly, according to Census data, and

4) If white males want to remain at all relevant to American political life – and if they want to keep their Republican party alive – then they’d better abandon the asinine fantasies that underlie many of their political convictions. If they refuse to do that, their Republican party will simply fade away.

It’s not as though this hasn’t happened before. When the country was founded, the first President spoke against political parties and refused to join one. Very quickly, however, the politicians who founded the country split into two factions.

The Federalist Party was the first American political party. It was led by Alexander Hamilton and composed mostly of northern, urban bankers and businessmen who favored a strong national government. What the Federalists wanted, essentially, was the rule of proper gentlemen over the largely illiterate, unwashed bumpkins who’d aided them in ending rule by the English nobility.

Their political opponents were the Democratic-Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson. They were mainly planters and southerners who viewed the Federalists as too citified and snooty and out of touch with the common man. By 1801, they’d wrested control of the federal government from the Federalists, who managed to remain a party for only the next 20 years or so.

Andrew Jackson was the guy who led a split in the Democratic-Republicans to create the Democrats. The Democratic-Republicans promptly morphed into the Whigs and were taken over later on by the Republican party. The original Republican party of 1854 was urban and northern and bore little relationship to the Republican party of today. It was fiercely anti-slavery and, by the standards of political scientists, pretty liberal.

Over the next century and a half, the Democrats attracted the waves of poor immigrants who swarmed into the northern cities and broadened the party’s base to dominate urban areas. The Republican party, originally a fairly radical outfit, grew more conservative in the face of immigration, more rural and more southern. Today, largely because of concerns that the Democrats have become overly concerned with the welfare of minorities at the expense of whites, the Republican party is composed mostly of white people in an era when the country is becoming less and less white. In other words, modern Republicans are beginning to look in some ways a lot like the old Federalists.

What’s the logical outcome? Well, just do the math. The Republicans of today seem headed down the same path as the Federalists. Their one chance to survive more than a few more decades is to stop talking exclusively to one another and to begin talking to the rest of the country as well.

And, just maybe, to begin listening a little bit, too.

Only every indication is that too many Republicans just can’t bring themselves to do that. They are so furious over the changes in the country’s population – and with what they believe to be the concurrent collapse of the national social structure – that they can muster too little logic to subdue their ever-growing rage.

So, when they hold presidential primary elections, Republican voters force their candidates to take such intensely far right positions that those candidates have much to overcome every November, when it’s not just Republicans voting. The most suicidal example of that is the way the Republicans rail against illegal immigration. Only the furthest left of Americans disagree with them on the merits of that issue, but Republican rhetoric is so vitriolic and so poisonous on the topic that they repel the exploding percentage of Hispanic voters.

All the Latinos hear when the Republicans start in with their howls to build a wall between the U. S. and Mexico is, “We’ve got the keep those brown people out of here!” Guess what? Brown people who vote here get sort of pissed over that.

I don’t belong to a party. I’ve seen too much evidence that people join political parties just so they don’t have to think any more about public affairs. The party line is there; they’re happy with it, now what’s on TV? But I’m a big believer in a functional two-party system that prevents one party or the other from going too far, as each of them are prone to do without restraints.

At the moment, the Republican party — with all its nutty ideas about Obama’s birth and religion, about imaginary news media bias and women holding aspirin tablets between their knees, with its brown-and-black-people-bashing, with its totally fraudulent claims about this country’s history and what its Constitution says – are like a mob of frenzied lemmings heading right off a cliff.

And when you point that out to them, they just run faster and faster toward the edge in their crazed, suicidal rage.

Be sure to visit my Web site at forpeoplewhothink.com

May 22, 2012

The Law and Mr. Obama…by Dan Lynch

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 2:17 pm

I have no idea if the Supreme Court of the United States will sustain or overturn the 2010 Affordable Care Act – or, as the law’s opponents like to call it, Obamacare.

You don’t know, either. That’s because the whole business is immensely complicated. If you want an idea of how complicated, go buy a thin, densely written book called “The Commerce Clause.” The author was a U. S. Supreme Court justice named Felix Frankfurter. I read it when I studied constitutional law at Temple University. Just writing about that book makes me yawn.

But that’s what this case is about – the commerce clause. It’s in Article 1, Section 8 of the U. S. Constitution, a fairly brief document (4,500 words or so) that says a number of seemingly contradictory things throughout. Conservatives focus on a few words and phrases they like and ignore all the others. Liberals do the same thing. The true meaning of all those words and phrases, in their totality, is the foundation of most of the political warfare in this country. It’s also why we have a Supreme Court of the United States to act as a referee.

Here’s the language that constitutes the foundation of this legal dispute: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common defence and general Welfare of the United States … to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States …”

The issue the court confronts is whether the mandate contained in the law – the requirement that citizens without health insurance buy it or pay a fine to the government – fits properly within the powers that part of the Constitution gives the government. You can tell nothing about how the justices feel on this question from their questions and comments during oral arguments on the matter last week. I’ve watched too many oral arguments in appellate courts to attach much significance to what judges say under such circumstances.

What judges often are doing in such sessions is laying the foundation for their own, private arguments with their colleagues. When some judge on the other side of the question makes an argument in closed deliberations, the judge who asked the hard question can say, “I asked about that during the orals, and the excellent answer I got on that was this …”

So, trying to predict a decision based on questions asked during the orals is generally fruitless. What’s a better guide to determining the outcome is paying attention to what various justices have said before on the respective roles of the lawmaking and executive branches of government and the court’s. That seems to be what the President was trying to say the other day in reference to the court’s more conservative justices, but he ended up saying it badly.

What Obama said was, “I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress, and I just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is [that] the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint – that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.”

He was wrong on a couple of points:

One, the Framers didn’t call for direct election of federal judges because they wanted them free from temporary political passions. Federal judges are not elected, but they are selected by both the President and the people’s representatives. That’s indirect election, but the selection of a federal judge is hardly the product of an antidemocratic process.

Two, it’s hardly unprecedented that the high court will overturn a law passed by Congress and signed by the President. They first did that 209 years ago. The Constitution doesn’t give the court that power in specific language, but records of the constitutional convention make clear that the Framers wanted the court to have it. Most of the states’ high courts had that power.

Obama’s real point, however, was that if you’re a conservative – if you believe that judges shouldn’t legislate from the bench but should generally defer to the will of the people as expressed through their elected representatives – then you shouldn’t be too eager to see any duly passed and signed law thrown out. That, he seemed to be arguing, should happen only when that law clearly violates the dictates of the Constitution – say, when Congress passes and the President signs a law that says that nobody can criticize any government action without suffering a penalty.

That law clearly would violate the First Amendment. Whether Obama’s health care law violates the commerce clause is nowhere near that obvious.

You also should remember the words of another constitutional scholar whom conservatives worship. He said, “We are increasingly governed not by law or elected representatives but by an unelected, unrepresentative, unaccountable committee of lawyers applying no will but their own.” That was Robert Bork, Ronald Reagan’s rejected U. S. Supreme Court nominee from the late 1980s, talking about the federal judiciary. Obama went nowhere near that far.

Nor did he go as far as Newt Gingrich back in December, when Gingrich complained about “radical judges.” Gingrich said that Congress, if it dislikes a judicial decision, can subpoena a judge to appear before Congress to defend his or her decision and send out U. S. marshals or the Capitol Police to take into custody any judge who ignores such a subpoena.

That hasn’t kept the Republicans from howling like hungry wolves that Obama is a bully for what he said and is trying to intimidate the court. The fact is that Obama, whether he was correct or incorrect in his observation – and I can see where he was dead wrong on several points — didn’t say anything that Republican conservatives haven’t been saying for years now.

Let us all be delivered from such naked hypocrisy, and be sure to visit my Web site atforpeoplewhothink.com.

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