Scalia

GOP: Let ’er R.I.P.

We note the passing today of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, champion of all things conservative and a self-proclaimed “strict constructionist” when it came to interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

O.K. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk politics.  Too soon, you say? Hold your horses.  At this writing, it is merely a matter of hours since his death and Scalia’s corpulent corpse isn’t even cold yet.

Yet at this writing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is already making statements that the Senate should prevent President Obama from appointing Scalia’s successor and that the nomination and confirmation of a new justice should wait until after the new president is in office, more than 11 months from now.

At this writing, Dr. Ben Carson, perhaps in some last-ditch effort to regain what he believed to be relevance, has said he doesn’t think a new justice should be sworn in until the next administration:

“It might perhaps be good to wait until we have a new president and someone who is going to put in the requisite amount of research into finding a strict constitutionalist.”

At this writing, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa has tossed his two cents in:

“… it only makes sense that we defer to the American people who will elect a new president to select the next Supreme Court Justice.”

At this writing, Senator Lindsay Graham has been slightly softer in his views, but every bit as crazy. He’s stated that there should be consensus in the Senate around the nominee but then suggested arch-conservative Orrin Hatch.

If there is any Democratic voter who says that they just won’t vote in November if their candidate isn’t the nominee, let today’s events be a warning. If you think the hyperpartisanship of today’s politics is bad, let your mind wander to just what it would look like with a Republican president and a Republican-controlled Congress, with nominations of multiple Supreme Court justices as bad or worse than Scalia. Enjoy your worst nightmare.

Walter Scott

Deja Vu with a View

It has happened again: another white police officer shooting an unarmed black man under deeply questionable circumstances.  These occurrences happen so frequently, they’re almost predictable.

However, the most recent police shooting (or, at least, the most recent one that is garnering national attention) has even some of the most ardent and loyal supporters of police decrying the law enforcement officer’s side of the story.  This would not be the case were it not for the video of the actual shooting, which surfaced yesterday via The New York Times.

The video is chilling to watch.

The North Charleston, S.C. police department, upon seeing the video, almost immediately fired Michael Slager, the officer who fired eight bullets at Walter Scott as Scott ran away from him.  Slager was also immediately charged with murder once the video showed what had transpired.

But there are still so many questions that need to be answered, among them:

  • Was Slager’s police report about the incident (that took place several days before the video surfaced) completely at odds with the events that are shown in the video?  Is that an explanation for the uncharacteristic haste with which he was charged?
  • What is the object that Slager picked up and subsequently dropped close to Scott?  Was this the stun gun that the officer claimed that Scott was reaching for?  Why did Slager retrieve this object before attempting to come to Scott’s aid or summoning additional help?
  • Why does Slager’s action – retrieving and relocating that object – appear to be so automatic?  Is this an indication of just how commonplace this sort of behavior is when officers in North Charleston are unaware that they are being filmed?
  • Why do the additional police reports filed by other officers who were next on the scene align so closely with Slager’s account of the events?  Was there collusion that was part of the cover-up?

And perhaps the biggest question:

  • What role did race place in all of this?

North Charleston is less than 10 miles from the Charleston slave market, one of the main points of entry to the United States for the slave trade; it’s often referred to as the “capital of the slave trade.”  There are those in South Carolina (as well as elsewhere in the South) who still don’t like to talk openly about slavery and its horrific and persistent after-effects.  If slavery is mentioned at all, it’s referred to as “that unpleasantness” or some other euphemism masquerading as gentility.  This kind of paranym, more sugary than sweet tea, is deeply embedded within the culture of the South.

As events over the next weeks and months progress, it will be revealing to see how this community, other cities, and the nation as a whole respond.  Will this be the shooting that finally moves the understanding of systemic racism forward?

Mike Pence

Mike Pence’s Fugue State

Indiana Governor Mike Pence appears to have been walking around in a fugue state for the last week. Somewhere between my empathy and my thirst for comeuppance lies a certain curiosity about what it must be like to be in his shoes these days. His world – or at least his political world – has turned upside down and back again in record time.

Between his bumbling appearance on This Week with George Stephanopoulos and his wheezing press conference the following day, the governor has received more national attention than he has ever dreamed of having, most of which has been exceedingly negative.

Pence is certainly no political neophyte. Far from it. He is what most observers would refer to as a seasoned politician. So why, then, has he appeared to be at such a loss for a solution to his (and Indiana’s) mounting public relations nightmare?

The most logical hypothesis is that he has managed to surround himself for years with people who either agree with his positions or who are politic enough not to challenge them too sharply.

The positions he has taken and the values he has held have generally fallen on the spectrum somewhere between conservative and off-the-charts right wing. This is particularly evident when you review his record on LGBT issues.

  • In 2006, he voted in favor of a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage
  • In 2007, he voted No on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act while in Congress
  • In 2010, he voted No on President Obama’s proposed repeal of DADT, arguing that “unit cohesion” would be affected.

It’s not just LGBT issues where he’s taken the most right-leaning positions. He’s voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and he opposed a similar state act in Indiana.

While there may have been viewpoints expressed that were different from his own, Pence pretty much skated by both in Congress and as Governor without having too much opposition aimed directly at him.

Suddenly this week, Pence faced genuine pushback – both in Indiana and across the country – the likes of which he’s never experienced after signing the state’s so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, surrounded by a gaggle of nuns and his most devotedly anti-LGBT cronies. To say that he reacted to that pushback like a deer in the headlights drastically underestimates headlights.

He first denied that the bill had anything to do with discrimination, and then spun on his heels almost immediately to request that the law be changed.  On Thursday of this week, Pence signed the hastily cobbled-together amended version of the RFRA, under an even more secret veil of secrecy than he had signed the original version.

It remains to be seen how much additional blowback he’ll face and how much more political capital he’ll lose. But one thing is certain: even if he regains his equilibrium, his political world will never be quite the same.

Deportation: The Right is Wrong and the Left is Right

When President Obama announced the policy change yesterday that will allow undocumented minors to stay in the United States for an additional two years instead of facing deportation, the backlash from the right was immediate.  The disrespectful outburst from pseudo-journalist Neil Munro during the announcement was only the beginning.

Republicans immediately started criticizing the policy itself and, more vocally, President Obama.  No surprise there.

The biggest kvetch that the GOP  kvetched was the fact that Obama’s policy change was merely a political act.

Now I have a few questions for the GOP:

  • Are you really pretending that this isn’t an election year and that there isn’t a political component to everything that gets said by every politician between now and Election Day (and beyond)?
  • Are we to believe that Obama’s policy change on deportation is a political act, but your immediate, vociferous, rude, and unified objection to this change isn’tpolitical?
  • If you think that President Obama’s policy towards non-citizens is wrong, what do you propose as an alternative?

So far, the Republicans have proposed electrified fences, mass deportations, splitting up families, self-deportation (whatever that is), and probably a few more harebrained ideas I’ve missed.  Not one plan or policy that the Republicans have proposed to deal with the decades-old issue of undocumented immigrants contains an iota of practicality.  All of them, however, appeal to the base, bloodthirsty instincts of the “low-information voters” that the GOP elite are so fond of manipulating into voting against their own best interests.

The fact of the matter is that the INS through many administrations has been widely regarded as the most dysfunctional agency in a government full of dysfunctional agencies.  Because immigration and citizenship issues are so problematic and complex, the INS has existed in a state of stasis for a very long time.  Consequently, a policy change as comparatively benign as the one President Obama announced is looked at as some drastic swing to the left.

The reality, however, is quite different.  Is there a political component?  Of course there is.  There’s no doubt that an announcement such as the one made on Friday will shore up support among potential Latino voters.  Republicans hate that even more than they hate the policy, because they’ve been on the wrong side of the immigration issue for a long time.

But, in addition to being completely in line with the President’s stated beliefs, it’s just the right thing to do.

Revenge of the Right

If you think that dislike for Mitt Romney comes exclusively from the left, a quick gambol around the internet will provide you with some pretty extreme hatred of Romney from the right.

For many in Massachusetts, Romney’s term as governor left a really bad taste in their mouths because of failed promises and his abysmal jobs record.  But for at least one Bay Stater, Romney was far too liberal:

I’m particularly fond of her criticism of Romney’s CPAC speech.  In Romney’s attempts to be all things to all people, he spoke at CPAC.  Liberals questioned his blatant pandering to the uber-conservatives.  But for the uber-conservatives, he just wasn’t conservative enough; there were apparently about ten or twelve litmus tests that he just didn’t pass.

And check out this video.  Contrada apparently holds Romney responsible for everything  from every initiative the Massachusetts Department of Social Services took during his term to what the lesbians were wearing during the pride parades:

Whew.  I had no idea any politician had that much power.

Then there are the religious doomsayers.  Literally.  It’s kind of hard to tell if they’re serious or if they’re just being hucksters and trying to sell books and DVDs:

This kind of  hawking of wares is worthy of Newt Gingrich.

So far, I don’t think that anyone on the left has claimed that Romney is Satan. Attribution of demonic traits to a candidate is generally the purview of the right, but this site pulls no punches:

For the author of this site, even Pat Robertson, Sean Hannity, and James Dobson are not crazy enough for his taste, because they’ve endorsed Mitt Romney.  It’s clear that Romney’s religion is still a significant barrier for some.

There’s one more site that’s a compendium of all things Mitt in Massachusetts (at least, from the ultra-right-wing perspective):

According to these folks, the problem on issues like gay rights, abortion rights, and health care isn’t that he’s too far to the right.  It’s that he’s too far to the left!  Glad we got that cleared up.

With all the focus on the economy, I wonder if these issues will even register at the polls.

Liberals, women, the LGBT community, and racial minorities  have all to often been on the receiving end of this kind of hatred from the radical right.  But it’s instructive to know that someone as extremely to the right as Mitt Romney can be the target of folks like this.

It’s just more proof that, in the last couple of decades, the left has moved right, and the right has moved even farther right.