Archive

February 19th, 2016

A brokered convention isn't what you think it is

    It's time to take seriously the possibility that Republicans could arrive at their presidential nominating convention this summer without having chosen a candidate. If that happens, the crucial disputes at the gathering in Cleveland will be about rules and procedures, not platforms and policies. The power brokers won't be big-name senators but rather influential state officials and interest groups.

    This was brought home with the death this past weekend of Drew Lewis, a central figure in the last contested convention. That was in 1976, when Ronald Reagan faced off against President Gerald Ford.

    It's an instructive model for what could happen starting this July 18 if billionaire Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and a mainstream Republican divide up the delegates and no one has a majority.

    Lewis, who was 84, is usually remembered as Reagan's transportation secretary when, in 1981, the government successfully broke a strike by the union representing air traffic controllers. But in 1976 he was a pivotal player in denying Reagan the Republican nomination in an intense struggle decided by a few votes.

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Trump dispels a GOP fantasy

    "Surely this time," the establishment chorus cries with joy, "Donald Trump has gone too far!"

     Sorry, but I wouldn't bet on it.

    What Trump did at Saturday night's debate was ruder than any of his prior insults, profanities or remarks about women. He corrected the historical record about the 9/11 attacks, demolishing the fairy-tale version that has become a central tenet of Republican dogma. It's true, and you can look it up: George W. Bush was president when the World Trade Center towers fell.

    Trump went too far, of course, as he always does. He sought to actually blame the attacks on negligence by Bush and his administration. As I've argued in the past, terrorist atrocities should be blamed on the terrorists, not on the officials who try and sometimes fail to thwart them.

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February 18th

How America Was Lost

    Once upon a time, the death of a Supreme Court justice wouldn’t have brought America to the edge of constitutional crisis. But that was a different country, with a very different Republican Party. In today’s America, with today’s GOP, the passing of Antonin Scalia has opened the doors to chaos.

    In principle, losing a justice should cause at most a mild disturbance in the national scene. After all, the court is supposed to be above politics. So when a vacancy appears, the president should simply nominate, and the Senate approve, someone highly qualified and respected by all.

    In reality, of course, things were never that pure. Justices have always had known political leanings, and the process of nomination and approval has often been contentious. Still, there was nothing like the situation we face now, in which Republicans have more or less unanimously declared that President Barack Obama has no right even to nominate a replacement for Scalia — and no, the fact that Obama will leave soon doesn’t make it OK. (Justice Anthony Kennedy was appointed during Ronald Reagan’s last year in office).

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How government can get smart

    For the first time since the modern budget process was initiated more than 40 years ago, the Republican chairs of the Senate and House Budget committees announced that they would not invite the president's budget director to testify.

    What seems like an act of disrespect for President Obama (something Republicans have reveled in for seven years) may also have reflected frustration that the chairmen, Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, felt when their own leadership often went around them in negotiations on last year's big budget accord. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a champion of decorum and regular order, is reportedly unhappy over the snubbing of Shaun Donovan, Obama's budget chief.

     In any event, Republicans probably wouldn't mind if Obama's new budget were widely ignored. Then, they would not be forced to admit that many of the values that underlie it -- the desire for social programs that promote work, the need to use evidence in deciding which programs to fund -- are values they extol.

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What that Cruz-Rubio 'He doesn't speak Spanish' thing was about

    There is a dark period in American history. It's one to which some Americans seem eager to return. It's one when people were barred, shamed or even punished for speaking languages other than English. That was especially true outside the home.

    Speaking a foreign language or limited English was very widely believed to be an indicator of suspect national loyalty, limited intelligence or ability. Speaking a foreign language simply was not regarded as a useful skill.

    And there were a whole range of dominant but nonetheless inaccurate theories about the way that children and adults actually acquire a second or third language that claimed an English-only lifestyle was best. Schools, businesses and all sorts of institutions in the Southwest and West barred kids from speaking Spanish and encouraged their parents to do the same at home.

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The Obama-Sanders divide

    In the fevered atmosphere of an election for president, attention naturally drifts away from the one who's still there. So it is with President Obama. The day after the New Hampshire primary, Obama returned to the scene of his political education -- and the launching pad for his own campaign nine sobering years ago.

    In Springfield, Illinois, Obama lamented the "poisonous political climate" and mourned that "the tone of our politics hasn't gotten better since I was inaugurated; in fact, it has gotten worse."

    His message, mostly, got buried -- bumped off the front pages and evening news by the aftershocks of New Hampshire. Some of the coverage correctly understood the president as criticizing Donald Trump, as when he denounced politics that "reward the most extreme voices or the most divisive language or who is best at launching schoolyard taunts."

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The harm of balking at Scalia replacement

    Last I checked, presidents are elected for four years, not three. Which means President Obama should quickly nominate a replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia. Then the Senate should play its assigned role.

    For the Senate to shut down the confirmation process would be bad for the court, bad for the country and, ultimately, bad for Republicans.

    It would be bad for the court because it would leave a vacancy for more than a year, stretching across two terms and, in any number of important cases, preventing a majority from having a definitive say. (A four-four split affirms the lower court ruling and lacks value as precedent.)

    It would be bad for the country for similar reasons. Citizens deserve conclusive answers on issues important enough to reach the high court, and divisive enough to split the justices, whether that involves Obama's executive actions on immigration, Texas' restrictive abortion law or the role of public-sector unions. They also deserve a functioning political process. Refusing to go forward would serve to deepen and entrench the existing partisanship and ensuing gridlock.

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The Fire Meets the Wall

    You don’t need a firewall unless there’s a fire, and a fire is precisely what the candidacy of Bernie Sanders has set off among disaffected Democrats.

    His message is clear and resonant — that we must rein in big business and stop their unfair practices, embrace some common-sense measures as universal rights — like access to health care, paid family leave and free public college to all — curtail the corruptive influence of big money on government, and reverse the trend of income inequality.

    It is hard for liberals to argue with this as a statement of principle. The only question is, “How?” For some, the answers are unsatisfactory, particularly when considering the political realities of an intransigent Congress that has attempted to block the current president at every turn.

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If Republicans block Obama's Supreme Court nomination, he wins anyway

    After Justice Antonin Scalia's death Saturday at 79, the Supreme Court is now evenly divided between four liberal justices and four conservatives, even with Anthony Kennedy's occasional swings. What a moment for Scalia to depart: The court faces a wild array of closely divided decisions. It is an election year. And President Obama has stacked the lower circuit courts with Democrats. Obama has been chewing on his legacy for months. Fate has handed him the opportunity of any presidency - to swing the balance of the Supreme Court from conservative to liberal.

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Antonin Scalia: A brilliant legal mind who defied civil rights at nearly every turn

    In the next few days and weeks, two portraits of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia are almost certain to emerge.

    The first and the most common will laud Scalia as a lion of conservative thought and jurisprudence, a man of almost unmatched intellectual heft and commitment to conservative ideals who also maintained real friendships with justices with entirely different worldviews. He will be described as deeply religious and in possession of a healthy sense of humor. He was a man with such a way with the English language that his comments from the bench during oral arguments, his written opinions and his many, many speeches and interviews rank among the most memorable in the life of the court.

    He was apparently quantifiably hilarious and hardworking, writing a huge volume of opinions and dissents. Scalia, the son of an Italian immigrant father and product of a rigorous Jesuit education, will also be described as a testament to the American story. This is what a life can become in a country where equality and opportunity reign and where religious institutions have made meaningful contributions to public life.

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