Archive for the ‘Elections’ Category

The Wrong Side of History

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on October 16th, 2008

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting the Forest Hills cemetery in Boston, Massachusetts, the final resting place of abolitionistmpphpsz8hja1.jpgts William Lloyd Garrison and Lysander Spooner. Nestled among the gravestones is a touching Civil War memorial entitled “The Citizen Soldier.” It is a statue of a Union soldier looking sadly down at the graves of his fallen comrades. The monument, dedicated in 1867, contains a simple inscription: “Erected by the city of Roxbury in honor of her soldiers who died for their country in the rebellion of 1861-1865.” The directness and simplicity of the inscription on this memorial is striking. The war that had just ended is described not as “The Civil War” or “the war between the states” (a common designation for that war during much of the 20th century), but the “rebellion.” In 1867, the good citizens of Roxbury were not interested in sugar coating what had just happened – the southern states had rebelled against our country in order to save the institution of slavery, and the soldiers from Roxbury had helped to stop them.

The Union victory brought about the political conditions that enabled Congress to amend our Constitution to end slavery, further our rights to liberty and equality, and enact numerous civil rights measures to protect freed slaves. Since then, our country has had a rocky racial history. During the best of times, activists of all races have fought side by side to expand and protect our civil rights. The worst of times have been marked by racial intimidation, racial subordination, and racial violence. Scratch the surface, and it soon becomes apparent that our country has not yet recovered from our history of slavery and racial segregation.

John McCain began his campaign for the general election in Mississippi. There, McCain bragged about his family’s long tradition of military service, dating back to his great-great grandfather, William Alexander McCain. Anyone who does the math can figure out the symbolism pretty quickly – when William Alexander McCain served in the military, he wasn’t fighting on our side. He fought for the Mississippi cavalry, against the United States army, as a rebel in the Civil War. William Alexander McCain owned a plantation and 50 slaves.

On the campaign trail, his great-great grandson, John, expressed “surprise” when he learned that his ancestor had owned slaves. It’s pretty unbelievable that McCain didn’t know about his family’s history of owning slaves. Moreover, the mainstream media gave Senator McCain a pass on the fact that he was celebrating an ancestor who was a traitor who fought against his country, while invoking “Country First” as the central theme of his presidential campaign, as if his great-great-grandfather had fought with the valiant sons of Roxbury, instead of against them.

Of course, it is not John McCain’s fault that his great-grandfather was on the wrong side of history. What concerns me is what John McCain is doing now. At their political rallies, McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, are drawing on the worst vestiges of our country’s racially-checkered past. Relying on guilt by association and feigned mispronunciations of his given name, they accuse Obama of being friends with terrorists. They have found that it is far too easy to incite hatred against Barack Obama, the man likely to become the first African American president, and they have largely stood mute, basking in the heat generated by this hatred. Such conduct is both shameful and dangerous. Reasonable people can disagree over whether McCain or Obama is the best candidate for president. But there are times when we all have to choose between what is clearly right, and what is clearly wrong. Unfortunately, like his ancestors before him who fought to perpetuate the obvious evil of slavery, the McCain family is again on the wrong side of history.

The Union won the Civil War, and Americans in the Twenty-First Century seem ready to elect Obama, finally completing that victory. Indeed, since Palin and McCain have stepped up their ugly attacks, their numbers have gone down in the polls. Let’s hope that McCain gets this message and tries some other campaign tactic before the only legacy of his campaign is a long series of ugly videos littering the internet.

What’s In A Name

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on October 15th, 2008

The irony that Barack Obama’s full name is used to attack him whereas John McCain’s full name is not used to define him is not lost on me.

Hussein, the part of Barack Obama’s name that is causing many distress and is stressed by those wishing to cause Obama distress, is from Obama’s grandfather.  That grandfather provided Obama some genes and a good reason to visit Kenya, but not terribly much else.  Of course, the name Hussein is also common in the Middle East and Africa, though not particularly common in middle America or among African Americans.  Consequently, the multiple references made to Barack Hussein Obama are little more than attempts to make people think Obama is not like us, whoever us is.  They constitute verbal and intellectual waste.

Conversely, John Sidney McCain III is John McCain’s full name.  He was named for his father and grandfather, both of whom were admirals.  They gave McCain so much more than Barack Obama’s grandfather gave him.   John McCain followed his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps to and through the Naval Academy and apparently was carried along by their coattails for years thereafter.  Though McCain may very well be his own man now, he never would have been able to be the man he is today without his name and without the benefits that have come from it.

We live in strange times when Barack Obama must live down the name he was given while few require that John McCain’s campaign conduct live up to his, his father’s and his grandfather’s names on which he has traded for years.

John McCain’s New Bailout Proposal – UPDATE

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on October 8th, 2008

During last night’s debate, John McCain unveiled a new bailout proposal called the McCain Resurgence Plan.  That plan would require that the Treasury Department buy certain individual subprime mortgages then reissue affordable fixed-rate, government-backed mortgages to homeowners based on the home’s current market value.  McCain’s stated goals, to stabilize home prices and help people who may otherwise lose their house, are laudable.  However, the Resurgence Plan is nothing new.

McCain’s proposal is no bold stroke.  The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (the Bailout) already allows the Treasury Department to buy troubled assets – including mortgages – when the Secretary deems such a purchase to “promote[] financial market stability.”  Presumably, Sen. McCain’s point is to issue a plan that reflects his priorities.  He appears to want to guarantee that much of the $700 billion for the bailout goes directly to help homeowners stay in their houses.  Helping people who could afford to stay in their home if their mortgages reflected the market price of their homes is a good idea.  However, it is a good idea that many people have had for a long time and was on the table when he suspended his campaign to ostensibly help Congress deal with the economic crisis.   Ironically, had he pushed to guarantee that some of the money would be spent in this way, as a number of others – including Barack Obama – already had, he could have been seen as a maverick who reached across the aisle to put country first.  Of course, many in the Republican Party would have disowned him, but such is life.  

One can only ask if it would be too Palinesque to suggest that John McCain would rather lose an economy than lose an election.      


It looks like I was both overly fair and somewhat unfair to John McCain in my prior post.  I was overly fair because I assumed that his Resurgence plan was structured to buy mortgages at or near their market value then replace the old mortgages with new mortgages issued at market value.  As noted in the original post, that plan would be unoriginal and tardy, but sensible at heart.  Conversely, I was unfair to McCain because his plan is to buy homes at their souffle prices with taxpayer money then issue new mortgages on those homes at their current deflated market value.  In fairness to McCain, his plan (as I understand it) is new and mavericky.  Of course, it is also bizarre and gimmicky given the current economic climate.  It is a gift to banks that bet on the souffle and lost.    

In fairness to myself, when I heard McCain propose his Resurgence plan during the debate, I asked my wife if she could hear the sound of thousands of economists screaming.  I had assumed that the plan he proposed was in fact the plan he proposed.  However, I convinced myself during the debate that a fiscal conservative or even a sane person could not possibly have proposed what I thought he had proposed.  Hence, I wrote the original post.  Now that I know that McCain really proposed what he said he proposed,  I wonder how long it will take for some number of his economic advisers to fold up their tents and go home.  Conversely, how long will it take for McCain to distance himself from his Resurgence plan by claiming that he really meant something completely different than what he said?         


Will You Vote For the Right Candidate?

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on October 6th, 2008

Word has it that thirty-eight percent of the American electorate vote for the wrong candidate. “Wrong candidate”? Isn’t it hubris in the extreme to condemn someone for voting for a candidate for whom they wish to vote? That’s just the point. These voters cast their ballots for candidates whose views they disagree with. That’s pretty scary. Isn’t it?

Earmarks and Block Grants

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on September 16th, 2008

John McCain continues to discuss earmarks as though they are the second greatest threat to America, after radical Islam, of course. He suggests that earmarking – the practice of a congressman or senator directing how specific funds in an appropriations bill will be spent – are the budget-busting bane of America’s existence. However, given how earmarks work, McCain’s approach to earmarks will merely result in block grants to governors like his running mate Sarah Palin or merely guarantee complete executive branch control over government spending. What it does not do is require fidelity to budget cutting or budget balancing.

The flap over the so-called Bridge To Nowhere is instructive. Through an earmark pushed by Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Representative Don Young (R-AK), $___ million was appropriated for the Bridge to Nowhere – a bridge connecting the airport on Gravina Island serving Ketchikan, Alaska to the mainland. Eventually, after $40 million [of the appropriation] was spent to build an access road to the bridge site, the Alaska DOT realized that the appropriation would be insufficient to build the bridge. Alaska essentially received a block grant when Governor Palin cancelled the project, used much of the remainder of the money for various transportation projects around Alaska and put the rest away.

Under a McCain Administration, the Bridge appropriation would have been canceled and reallocated by DOT staff. Either Sen. Stevens and Rep. Young would have been able to convince the staff of the value of the project or not. However, the only distinction between this situation and the Bridge To Nowhere situation is who makes the decision – the executive branch (with input from Congressmen and lobbyists) or Congress (with input from state officials and lobbyists).

McCain may prefer that the executive branch rather than the legislative branch make the allocation decision. However, from a constitutional standpoint, there is nothing inherently wrong with Congress making the allocation decision.

Justice Antonin Scalia: “Get Over It!”

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on April 28th, 2008

Justice Antonin Scalia, the conservative paragon of objectivity, impartiality, and fairness, last night on 60 minutes admonished critics of Bush v. Gore–the Supreme Court decision that gave the 2000 presidential election–to “get over it.” (If the video below won’t play click here.)
Justice Scalia’s remarks are disingenuous in the extreme. First, the recount was overturned on equal protection grounds. Yet, since the Court insisted that this decision should not serve as a precedent, it was a violation of equal protection for that day only. (“Our consideration is limited to the present circumstances, or the problem of equal protection in election processes generally presents many complexities.”) Second, where states have the authority to create voting standards and procedures, and where a state chooses a de-centralized system of voting, there is bound to be equal protection problems within and without the system. That’s inevitable in a de-centralized voting system; yet the Court never before dared to venture into this thicket. Third, Justice Scalia often complains about judicial intrusion into state affairs. How is this one different? Please do not say there wasa clear constitutional violation here because the circularity of that response is transparent. Moreover, some say that Justices Scalia and Thomas, and Chief Justice Rehnquist thought the equal protection argument a non-starter, but signed on to the Court’s opinion because that was the only way Governor Bush could prevail. If that’s so, only four members of the Court thought the recount unconstitutional for the same reasons. In other words, four Justices thought the recount violated equal protection, three thought it violated Article I of the Constitution, and two Justices thought it violated neither. That’s a long way from saying the constitutional issue wasn’t even close. Fourth, a remedy existed, a remedy explicitly stated in the Constitution. When contested elections prevent any candidate from receiving a majority of electors, Congress settles the matter. So where the Constitution clearly provides a remedy for contested slates of electors, the Court should have never taken the initial case on thegrounds that other branches of the government are better able and more clearly authorized to resolve these issues. Finally, what in the world could have been so important not to remedy the improprieties in the recount? Missing the “safe harbor” deadline did not mean Florida was barred from sending electors to the Electoral College, only that its slate could be challenged at some point. And the safe harbor provision is a goal not a requirement. However, if a constitutionally acceptable recount occurred, why would such a guarantee be necessary? And wasn’t it more important to make sure that all the votes were counted accurately?

I find Justice Scalia to be too smart (or perhaps, too glib is a better choice of words) for his or the nation’s good. Rather than forcing himself to reflect on the possible infelicities in his own argument he forges ahead like a bull in a china shop and exclaims “Get over it.” For many of us contemporary observers as well as our descendants, we will never get over this usurpation of power. The damage to the Constitution and to the nation for the past seven years won’t allow any principled person to “get over it.”

It is important to emphasize that Scalia’s contention that the constitutional question wasn’t even close is only conceivably true within the narrow confines of Justice Scalia’s own imagination. But nowhere else. Two of the most distinguished constitutional scholars in the nation disagree. Consider: “Ronald Dworkin, who has made a brilliant career out of insisting that the Supreme Court makes America a nation of principle, wrote that he can find no reason to think that the majority in Bush v. Gore was doing anything other than trying to recruit conservative reinforcements onto the Court.” . . . Bruce Ackerman, who has long struggled against the view that law is nothing more than politics, has concluded that the conservative justices in the Bush v. Gore majority quite simply arranged for their own succession. . . . . Both Dworkin and Ackerman virtually plead for an alternative explanation–one that could be reconciled with their intellectual commitments of the last quarter century–but neither can glimpse what that explanation might be.” Of course, the fact that Dworkin and Ackerman thought that the only explanation of the decision in Bush v. Gore was political in the crass sense of that term doesn’t make it so. But it sure goes a long way to refute, if refutation is even necessary, Scalia’s claim that the constitutional issue wasn’t even close.

One incident in this terrible judicial drama illustrates Justice Scalia’s obtuseness or political bias. In granting the original stay Justice Scalia gave his reason that without the stay, Governor Bush’s legitimacy as the victor would be tarnished. In Scalia’s words, “the counting of the votes that are of questionable legality does in my view threaten irreparable harm to [Bush], and to the country, by casting a cloud upon which he claims to be the legitimacy of his election.” But at that time there was no victor. Turning democracy on its head Scalia insists that “[c]ount[ing] first, and rule upon legality afterwards, is not a recipe for producing election results that have the public acceptance democratic stability requires.” But if the conclusion was that the recount was unconstitutional, the only proper solution was to count the votes again according to a constitutionally acceptable method.

Justice Scalia insists that there is no constitutional right to abortion or same-sex marriage. But if the electorate wants such rights, his argument continues, let them create such rights to legislation, don’t somehow discover them in the text of the Constitution. Fine! But what about finding state powers in the constitutional text such as a bloated conception of state sovereignty that simply cannot bear its own weight? Or what about a non-commandeering rule barring the federal government to enlist state chief law enforcement officers into federalprograms which Justice Scalia himself divined? Where is that rule found in the Constitution? The list of Scalian inconsistencies abounds. Moreover, if the legislature is the vehicle for creating non-constitutional rights and powers, what’s wrong with affirmative action? Virtually every affirmative action case examined a democratically created law. Please don’t say, “Ah ha, Justice Scalia need not defer to the legislature when a law clearly violates the Constitution in this case the equal protection provision.” This reply is entirely circular especially for an originalist who doesn’t even bother to consider the historical evidence that the ratifiers of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal protection Clause did not regard racial classification per se to be incompatible with equality. In short, Scalia’s originalism is opportunistic seeking historical evidence to support the original meaning he favors, not necessarily the original meaning.

There is one issue where I agree with Justice Scalia that we should get over it. Let’s get over the notion that the Supreme Court is capable of impartiality and fairness, especially in divisive controversies or that it has the wisdom not to arrogate more and more power to itself. The last straw for some defenders of judicial supremacy was the Court determining the winner in a presidential election. This should never happen in a republican democracy, especially when the Constitution gives that job to the political branches.

Justice Scalia has been a disaster for American constitutionalism and for the wider constitutional culture. The only saving grace is that his tenure on the Court will encourage American citizens to discern the danger of judicial supremacy, a practice whereby Justices, having nothing whatsoever to lose, can read their idiosyncratic ideologies into the Constitution. Such a priestly aristocracy might serve the purposes of religion, but it is anathema to republican democracy.

Credit for First Image
Credit for Second Image

What’s Wrong with Changing the Political Party of the Presidency in Cases of Impeachment?

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on August 21st, 2007

Why is impeachment inappropriate in those cases where it changes the political party in the White House? The Founders abhorred political parties and believed that American constitutional government would create constitutional and governmental structures which would prevent parties (factions) from developing In short, because of their aversion to political parties, this problem never even arose. Since political parties, for them, were neither desirable nor likely, impeaching the executive branch could not result in a change of the political party of the president. Why not? Because there were no political parties. So we must think about this issue from scratch. Consider a president who wins the presidency with considerably less of the popular vote than his or her opponent. Why is his or her presidency more democratically authentic than a speaker of the house whose election to this position represented an overwhelming majority of American citizens? In this hypothetical it is clear that democratic authenticity would augur in favor of the speaker of the house. Accordingly, if the president has committed high crimes and misdemeanors, removing him or her from office doesn’t compromise the electorate’s choice of which political party should occupy the White House. Indeed, it seems that, as in the Founders case, the electorate never thought about which political party should occupy the White House. Instead, the electorate chose a particular individual whose subsequent criminal acts warranted impeachment and removal from office. In any event, even if the electorate voted for a political party, why is overturning their choice problematic when the reason for doing so is to remove a constitutionally criminal chief executive? Surely, no one can seriously argue that such a change in political party is always illegitimate. What if the political party in the White House changes due to resignation or death? Would that be illegitimate also? See the differing opinions on this question over at the American Prospect here and here.

Karl Rove: The Sociopathic Advisor/ George W. Bush: The Sociopathic President?

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on August 19th, 2007

Check out this report about Rove’s departure. Then take a look here at Rove’s influence in the “macaca” incident, which effectively destroyed Senator Allen’s bid for re-election. Here’s a taste of the latter: “This incident had resonance well beyond Virginia and Mr. Allen for several reasons. First, it crystallized the monochromatic whiteness at the dark heart of Rovian Republicanism. For all the minstrel antics at the 2000 convention, the record speaks for itself: there is not a single black Republican serving in either the House or Senate, and little representation of other minorities, either. Far from looking like America, the G.O.P. caucus, like the party’s presidential field, could pass for a Rotary Club, circa 1954. Meanwhile, a new census analysis released this month finds that nonwhites now make up a majority in nearly a third of the nation’s most populous counties, with Houston overtaking Los Angeles in black population and metropolitan Chicago surpassing Honolulu in Asian residents. Even small towns and rural America are exploding in Hispanic growth.” Cleansing the nation of the last vestiges of the de facto (at least) commitment to white (Republican) supremacy will take a new generation of Republicans, the members of which are Republicans because . . . .?

Karl Rove has been touted as the third most powerful man in the country, Although he has made some tactical mistakes or blind spot , which may have ultimately brought him down, it seems as if he simply has no capacity for feeling shame or guilt. In running presidential campaigns, Rove has clearly revealed he simply has no conscience. Rove was an equal opportunity demonizer; he trashed Democrats and Republicans alike. In the 2000 run for the Republican nomination for president Rove trashed Senator John McCain just as brutally as he trashed and demonized any Democrat. The Bush-Rove political strategy is this: Do anything at all–except get caught–to win an election or to make sure that one’s policy proposal prevails. Neither has any concern for the rights or feelings of those politicians that stand in their way. Neither empathy nor statesmanship is possible. within their pigmy moral characters. Winning at any cost is not only permissible but is required when the result is to save the nation by electing its savior, George W. Bush or whoever rove is supporting at the time. With a savior like Mr. Bush, who needs Satan? Mr. Bush did. Satan in the form of Karl Rove–“Bush’s Brain” or as Mr. bush himself called him “the architect“–stood, pitch fork in hand, at Mr. Bush’s side until now when after seven years under Satan’s tutelage, Mr. Bush can properly do the job himself. Until Americans understand sociopathology and its cousin psychopathology can afflict even those wearing suits and praising God, the moral character required by the electorate will continue to amount to such prohibitions as not cheating one’s spouse and other such “categorical imperatives.”

The Giuliani Myth! No, the Guiliani Fraud

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on August 14th, 2007

Rudy Giuliani has garnered more undeserved kudos for his role in 9-11 than anyone can imagine. And some of these kudos come from some very savvy people who should know better. What heroic act did Mr. Giuliani perform on 9-11 that any other sitting Mayor would not have done? Immediately after the craven attack, Mr. Giuliani walked around the area. Terrific! Would any other Mayor–Dinkens, Koch, Lindsay, Wagner, LaGuardia–have done anything else? Subsequently, he attended funerals. Again what sort of Mayor would not? The media contributes to this charade by not challenging the barrage of exaggerated claims of Mr. Giuliani’s heroism. But Mr. Giuliani himself shamelessly contributes to his own mythology. Most recently, to the outrage of the NYC Fire Department, he claimed “I was there working with them. I was exposed to exactly the same things they were exposed to. So in that sense, I’m one of them.” Indeed, I have friends who volunteered to help the first-responders, who never in their wildest dreams would claim to be “one of them.” Mr. Giuliani’s hyperbolic claims are fraudulent and render his modest contribution suspect. That might suggest why, even his own family, refuses to ardently support his presidential candidacy. If Mr. Guiliani’s candidacy rests on his capability of dealing with terrorism then it rests on nothing at all. Come on Rudy, tell the truth. It will mean you have no credibility as a terrorism fighter. But, it will, as they say, set you free.

Mike Gravel: The Democrat That Roars

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on May 31st, 2007

Why is Mike Gravel running for President? Does he think there’s any chance he will succeed? Such questions have been asked of other interesting presidential candidates who also had no chance of winning. When they answer candidly, they usually say their campaign is designed to raise certain issues, which the other candidates avoid, issues having little or no currency in the popular political culture. That’s true of Mike Gravel’s candidacy also. But in Gravel’s case something greater is at stake. Mike Gravel has been associated with the National Initiative for Democracy. Here’s a statement of what Mike Gravel proposes straight from its website:

The National Initiative for Democracy is a proposed law developed by The Democracy Foundation, over the past decade, along with a plan to get it enacted by the people (not by the government) creating, for the first time, a government “by you, the people.”

The National Initiative includes a constitutional amendment and a federal statute that equips the people with the central power of government, lawmaking. As lawmakers, the people in every government jurisdiction of the United States become a new Check in our system of Checks and Balances designed to control the abuses of government. Representative government remains unaltered except for the partnership established between the people and their elected legislators.

There’s no doubt that Gravel has some quirky positions. But anyone committed to democracy should take Mike’s initiative seriously.