Archive

February 23rd, 2016

This year, even leftists could vote for Trump

    I recently had an email exchange with a reader who was sharply critical of a mainstream presidential candidate. I asked her about her political affiliation. "I consider myself an independent, though I lean left," wrote Kari Copland, 69, an artist who lives in Montana. I expected an endorsement of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but Copland surprised me. "I might vote for Donald Trump if he makes the cut," and if Republicans continue "to attempt to force their choice on the electorate."

    Leaning left but willing to vote for Trump? As it turns out, such people aren't so rare. In New Hampshire, the Sanders and Trump campaigns even came up with talking points to sway them. That illustrates a trend I've observed as an outsider to American politics: In this election, the U.S. political taxonomy is a mess, and the parties no longer easily fit any recognizable international political paradigm.

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The revival of liberal justice

    Nothing separated the odd couple of the Supreme Court -- the late Justice Antonin Scalia and his best buddy, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- more than their visions of the Constitution they both loved. Scalia saw the Constitution as a "dead" document, limited to the meaning of the original words at the moment the ink was dry, a moment when white, propertied men ruled. Ginsburg's Constitution, by contrast, is the expansive charter of an evolving society. She celebrates "the extension (through amendment, judicial interpretation, and practice) of constitutional rights and protections to once ignored or excluded people: to humans who were once held in bondage, to men without property, to the original inhabitants of the land that became the United States, and to women."

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The patience behind the discovery

    Like many homo sapiens on planet Earth, I was thrilled by this month's announcement of the first direct detection of gravitational waves. This finding surely ranks with the greatest scientific discoveries of the past 200 years.

    Nobody in the scientific community doubted the existence of gravitational waves. They are absolutely required by Albert Einstein's theory of gravity and have been indirectly inferred from other astrophysical observations. The great achievement here was the construction of the most sensitive scientific instrument ever built - able to measure changes in distance a thousand times smaller than the nucleus of an atom.

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Pope vs. Trump isn't a new phenomenon

    Many years ago, when Oliver North was running for the Senate from Virginia, I received a call from a reporter. She told me that some church groups in the commonwealth were praying for North's election. Then she asked if their behavior violated the separation of church and state. I explained to her that as separationism is a rule of constitutional law, only the state and not the church can violate it.

    My answer got on her nerves.

    That story came to mind with this week's news that Pope Francis, returning from his visit to Mexico, had said some, um, controversial things about presidential candidate Donald Trump. Much of the commentary has focused on the likely effect of the pope's comments on the Republican nomination battle. I've found more interesting the voices questioning whether the pope should have said anything at all.

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Journey through the nine levels of Feminist Hell using this handy map

    We have been hearing a lot lately about special places in hell for women who are insufficiently supportive of other women. I was wondering what else Feminist Hell contains, when, at the midpoint of my life, I found myself lost in a wood so dark that the path ahead was blotted out. I felt a terrible fear, heard immense wailing and there was a big sign overhead about Abandoning Hope Of Having It All, Ye Who Enter Here.

    Fortunately, Feminist Virgil was nice enough to give me a tour. (This was regular Virgil but he had fixed the Dido parts.) He led me down through the Vestibule and into Limbo and over the river of Man-Tears and the forest of armpit hair, sown by our Amazon forebears, explaining to me what each thing was and who the souls were being tormented. I have also drawn a crude map, which follows.

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Bush's last stand

    Some years ago, I added "To Kill a Mockingbird" to the syllabus of my course on Ethics in Literature. I teach in a law school, and the students in the seminar were as hard-bitten and hypercritical as one would expect. Most of the works we read they trashed from one end to the other, often with the easygoing savage hauteur of the young intellectual. But not "Mockingbird." They treated the classic with a respect bordering on awe. Prompting them to criticize it was as successful as prompting an evangelical to criticize the Bible.

    Harper Lee, who died Friday at 89, always professed herself astounded at the role of her masterpiece in the lives of so many millions of readers. The story's images are seared into us. Those who don't read it in middle school read it in high school. The book is as firmly installed in the popular culture as a novel can be. It's inspired satires galore -- including on "The Simpsons" -- and Aaron Sorkin is now adapting it for Broadway.

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An American export Canadians don't want: Guns

    The United States is to Canada what Mexico is to the United States: the reason for border trouble. We get illegal immigrants smuggled from Mexico; Canada gets illegal guns smuggled from us.

    But who, pray tell, gets the worst of it?

    Much is made about the impact of illegal immigration on states along the southern U.S. border. But what about the impact of illegal weapons making their way into the country to our north?

    Smuggled firearms from the United States are fueling bloodshed in Canada. A couple of sentences from a story in The Post this week by William Marsden said it all: "Homicides in Toronto spiked to 80 in 2005, from 64 in 2004, and the majority were shooting-related. About 70 percent of the guns used were handguns and automatic weapons smuggled from the United States, police say."

    While the number of shootings has decreased, gun seizures by the Canadian Border Services Agency reportedly are up: 226 illegal weapons were seized in 2012, most of them handguns; there were 316 by 2015.

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A Supreme Court fight is good for Democrats

    President Barack Obama can make the fight over filling a Supreme Court vacancy a political winner for Democrats.

    The debate about what to do with the slot vacated by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last weekend has already turned into a brawl. Republicans made an initial mistake by insisting they wouldn't even hold hearings on any Obama nominee. That alone has the potential to mobilize the Democratic left.

    But Obama will have to play the politics deftly. He doesn't have the luxury of tapping someone chiefly to excite his party's base because doing so would excite the Republican base too. Nor does the shrill politics of the situation let him choose a politician or a confidante, much as the High Court could use someone who understands the real world of politics.

    Instead, he would be smart to select someone who has served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, has been confirmed by the Senate before and would be a natural fit for the Supreme Court. No one could question the qualifications; this would set critics back on their heels.

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Varieties of Voodoo

    America’s two big political parties are very different from each other, and one difference involves the willingness to indulge economic fantasies.

    Republicans routinely engage in deep voodoo, making outlandish claims about the positive effects of tax cuts for the rich. Democrats tend to be cautious and careful about promising too much, as illustrated most recently by the way Obamacare, which conservatives insisted would be a budget-buster, actually ended up being significantly cheaper than projected.

    But is all that about to change?

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Bernie and Me

    As he campaigns for the Democratic nomination for president, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) often sounds like he's running as much against me as he is the other candidates. I have never met the senator, but I know from listening to him that we disagree on plenty when it comes to public policy.

    Even so, I see benefits in searching for common ground and greater civility during this overly negative campaign season. That's why, in spite of the fact that he often misrepresents where I stand on issues, the senator should know that we do agree on at least one - an issue that resonates with people who feel that hard work and making a contribution will no longer enable them to succeed.

    The senator is upset with a political and economic system that is often rigged to help the privileged few at the expense of everyone else, particularly the least advantaged. He believes that we have a two-tiered society that increasingly dooms millions of our fellow citizens to lives of poverty and hopelessness. He thinks many corporations seek and benefit from corporate welfare while ordinary citizens are denied opportunities and a level playing field.

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