Archive

February 22nd, 2016

Put Puppy-Whistle Politics on a Leash

    In politics, the "dog whistle" is coded language designed to delight a targeted subgroup and pass over the heads of everyone else. Other terms, such as "establishment," "Washington insider" and "free trade," are not quite full-grown dog whistles. Let's call them puppy whistles.

    These are expressions whose meanings remain vague. For the puppy whistle, the vaguer the better.

    Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders rail against "the establishment." This is a way of saying that they are not favored by the traditional leaders of their parties -- the leaders said to have let us down.

    "Establishment" is hard to define, and when you do, it's sometimes carries positive feelings. Who among us wouldn't be impressed by a plumber's ad reading, "The Wrench Brothers, Established in 1971"?

    On the left, "the establishment" is itself a highly established term. It gained steam in the 1960s as a designation for the adults who messed things up for us kids. Sanders uses it as pure pejorative.

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On Planet Clinton, where everyone's a critic

    Hillary Clinton's New Hampshire trouncing at the hands of Bernie Sanders has set Clintonland afire. The rout set loose a cacophony of complaints from allies about the candidate's campaign strategy and staff.

    If she loses the Nevada caucuses this weekend the clamor will grow louder.

    It stands to reason that the biggest targets for second-guessing are the most visible and obvious staffers: campaign chief Robby Mook and pollster Joel Benenson.

    QuickTake U.S. Campaign Finance

    Some of the second-guessers talk about better candidate messaging, or taking on Sanders more effectively, or reassigning staff in key battlegrounds. Yet there's more criticism than solutions and for a good reason: There's not much they can do about the shortcomings of their candidate.

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Mitch McConnell's supreme blunder

    It's one of the first Latin sentences we learned to translate in high school: "De mortuis nil nisi bonum" -- roughly translated as "If you can't say anything good about the dead, don't say anything at all." In which case, I should end this column about Justice Antonin Scalia right now.

    Except -- having interviewed him twice, introduced him as a luncheon speaker, had dinner with him, and chatted on many social occasions -- there are good things I can say about Scalia. He was an engaging conversationalist, fun to be around. He was a brilliant, if wrong-headed, intellectual. He was the most powerful presence on the Supreme Court. And he was a talented wordsmith. Only Scalia could write such obnoxious opinions in the most felicitous and memorable language.

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February 21st

The Passion of Scalia

    My mother always told me never to speak ill of the dead.

    For that reason I won’t go on at length about Antonin Scalia, the recently departed Supreme Court justice. My opinion wouldn’t be worth that much anyway. I didn’t know the man — I was never even in the same room with him.

    However, I do find this avalanche of posthumous praise of him as “a judicial giant” and one of the great justices of our history a little gag-inducing.

    OK, he was a bon vivant and a fun guy who wrote snarky, entertaining opinions. I get that. As a jurist, however, he left much to be desired. As a matter of fact, he was terrible — one of the most destructive justices of recent times.

    Named to the court by Ronald Reagan in 1986, he revived a conservative judicial philosophy that had long lain dormant: originalism.

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I dread what will happen when America finally elects a woman president

    I was born in 1984, the year Walter Mondale selected Geraldine Ferraro to join him on the Democratic ticket, making her the first woman to contend for the presidency or vice presidency with the backing of a major party.

    I watched Hillary Clinton give her concession speech in 2008. I was covering the Republican National Convention for National Journal when John McCain tapped Sarah Palin to be his running mate, sending me scrambling to the Alaska Women's Republican Clubs to find out how Palin was regarded in her home state. And now the 2016 race has given us two substantive female candidates, Carly Fiorina for the Republicans and Hillary Clinton for the Democrats, even if Fiorina was never likely to capture her party's nomination.

    All of these efforts have made me eager to see a woman stand on the steps of the United States Capitol and pledge to do everything in her ability to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." And even more than that, I cannot wait for the moment when that woman has served out her terms and the sexist backlash that will be one of the responses to her presidency is over.

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How the fight to fill Scalia's seat could change American politics forever

    Hours after Justice Antonin Scalia died on Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, "The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President." Similar statements followed from other Republican senators. Democrats decried the delay as "unprecedented," and political commentators wondered whether Republicans could indeed pull off delaying until next January.

    It's true that the GOP's historical case for an 11-month delay is shaky at best. And it's true that, as my Washington Post colleague Catherine Rampell documented this week, Republicans have been obstructing President Barack Obama's judicial nominees long before his last year in office.

    But the debate over whether Republicans can delay the nomination for a year obscures how the Scalia fight could change the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches.

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Getting Obama's story straight

    There is an imbalance in the argument at the heart of the 2016 presidential campaign that threatens to undercut the Democrats' chances of holding the White House.

    You might think otherwise. The divisions among Republicans are as sharp as they have been since 1964. Donald Trump may be building on the politics of resentment the GOP has pursued throughout President Obama's term. But Trump's mix of nationalism, xenophobia, a dash of economic populism and a searing critique of George W. Bush's foreign policy offers a philosophical smorgasbord that leaves the party's traditional ideology behind.

    Jeb Bush, the candidate who represents the greatest degree of continuity with the Republican past, is floundering. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both Cuban-Americans, are competing fiercely over who is toughest on immigration. So much for the party opening its doors to new Americans. As for the less incendiary John Kasich, he probably won't be relevant to the race again until the primaries hit the Midwest.

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Donald Trump for pope

    Hear me out.

    Our present pope, popular as he is, can surely not expect to be pope forever. Whereas Donald Trump is immortal, and knows it. Why else would he behave as he does?

    It is not such a far-fetched idea to suggest that he should be gunning for the Chair of St. Peter instead of the puny, tiny, not-at-all classy chair in the Oval Office. Which is more Trump to you, a small chair where losers like Jimmy Carter have sat in their time, or a huge, beautiful chair where you are always right?

    Please.

    This man was born to be pope.

    Now the papacy doesn't win any more. Masses in English, giving to the poor -- just giving things away to them, not even trying to make deals of any kind. Handouts, charity. Pssh! Just throwing away blessings and absolutions when you could be making billions from the sale of indulgences. Letting the little children come unto you -- children of all faiths! -- before those children have been properly vetted.

    Give me a break.

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Don't live in Flint? Lead is still your problem

    The crisis in Flint, Michigan has focused attention on lead-tainted water flowing through taps in the U.S. as well as lead paint exposures that continue to plague cities such as Baltimore and Philadelphia. While there's skepticism surrounding recent claims that lead poisoning rates are higher in Philadelphia than in Flint, there's no disputing that there's a serious problem in both cities and many others.

    The term "poisoning" is the source of some confusion. Since Flint switched to a more corrosive source of water in 2014, bringing lead from pipes into the drinking supply, some residents have reported rashes, hair loss, fatigue and other classic symptoms of lead poisoning. But scientists now believe that exposures too low to cause people to feel sick can do serious and possibly permanent neurological damage, especially in children.

    Studies have found evidence of learning and behavior problems in children with blood lead levels of less than 10 micrograms per deciliter, which until a few years ago was considered safe. That's well below the average of 15 micrograms per deciliter back in the 1970s, when people were exposed to lead from gasoline.

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Apple's iPhone battle with the government will likely be a privacy setback

    Imagine if the government required you to have a combination lock on your door and to give it the key. It would create security and privacy risks for you and your family. This is what could happen if we required the technology industry to add back doors to its software and devices. Hackers, criminals, and foreign governments could crack the code and abuse it. This is what the technology industry is rightfully rallying against.

    But this isn't the fight that Apple just picked with the U.S. government. It refused to comply with a search warrant to unlock an iPhone that was used by one of the terrorists who killed 14 people and injured 22 in San Bernardino last year. The government had the permission of the owner of the device, San Bernardino County, and made a reasonable request.

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