Sunday, March 21, 2004


Bush: Weak On Terror, Confused On Policy

So says Richard Clarke, who has advised four presidents on terrorism policy, and was Bush's advisor leading up to the 9/11 attacks:

"Frankly," [Clarke] said, "I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know."

Clarke went on to say, "I think he's done a terrible job on the war against terrorism."

. . . . Clarke says that as early as the day after the attacks, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was pushing for retaliatory strikes on Iraq, even though al Qaeda was based in Afghanistan. Clarke suggests the idea took him so aback, he initally thought Rumsfeld was joking. . . . .

After the president returned to the White House on Sept. 11, he and his top advisers, including Clarke, began holding meetings about how to respond and retaliate. As Clarke writes in his book, he expected the administration to focus its military response on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. He says he was surprised that the talk quickly turned to Iraq.

"Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq," Clarke said to Stahl. "And we all said ... no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan. And Rumsfeld said there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq. I said, 'Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it.

"Initially, I thought when he said, 'There aren't enough targets in-- in Afghanistan,' I thought he was joking.

"I think they wanted to believe that there was a connection, but the CIA was sitting there, the FBI was sitting there, I was sitting there saying we've looked at this issue for years. For years we've looked and there's just no connection." Clarke says he and CIA Director George Tenet told that to Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Clarke then tells Stahl of being pressured by Mr. Bush.

"The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this.' Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.

"I said, 'Mr. President. We've done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There's no connection.'

"He came back at me and said, "Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report."

Clarke continued, "It was a serious look. We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts. We wrote the report. We sent the report out to CIA and found FBI and said, 'Will you sign this report?' They all cleared the report. And we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy. It got bounced and sent back saying, 'Wrong answer. ... Do it again.'

"I have no idea, to this day, if the president saw it, because after we did it again, it came to the same conclusion. And frankly, I don't think the people around the president show him memos like that. I don't think he sees memos that he doesn't-- wouldn't like the answer."

Clarke was the president's chief adviser on terrorism, yet it wasn't until Sept. 11 that he ever got to brief Mr. Bush on the subject. Clarke says that prior to Sept. 11, the administration didn't take the threat seriously.

"We had a terrorist organization that was going after us! Al Qaeda. That should have been the first item on the agenda. And it was pushed back and back and back for months.

"There's a lot of blame to go around, and I probably deserve some blame, too. But on January 24th, 2001, I wrote a memo to Condoleezza Rice asking for, urgently -- underlined urgently -- a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with the impending al Qaeda attack. And that urgent memo-- wasn't acted on.

"I blame the entire Bush leadership for continuing to work on Cold War issues when they back in power in 2001. It was as though they were preserved in amber from when they left office eight years earlier. They came back. They wanted to work on the same issues right away: Iraq, Star Wars. Not new issues, the new threats that had developed over the preceding eight years."

Clarke finally got his meeting about al Qaeda in April, three months after his urgent request. But it wasn't with the president or cabinet. It was with the second-in-command in each relevant department. For the Pentagon, it was Paul Wolfowitz. Clarke relates, "I began saying, 'We have to deal with bin Laden; we have to deal with al Qaeda.' Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, said, 'No, no, no. We don't have to deal with al Qaeda. Why are we talking about that little guy? We have to talk about Iraqi terrorism against the United States.'

"And I said, 'Paul, there hasn't been any Iraqi terrorism against the United States in eight years!' And I turned to the deputy director of the CIA and said, 'Isn't that right?' And he said, 'Yeah, that's right. There is no Iraqi terrorism against the United States."

Clarke went on to add, "There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, ever." When Stahl pointed out that some administration officials say it's still an open issue, Clarke responded, "Well, they'll say that until hell freezes over."

By June 2001, there still hadn't been a Cabinet-level meeting on terrorism, even though U.S. intelligence was picking up an unprecedented level of ominous chatter. The CIA director warned the White House, Clarke points out. "George Tenet was saying to the White House, saying to the president - because he briefed him every morning - a major al Qaeda attack is going to happen against the United States somewhere in the world in the weeks and months ahead. He said that in June, July, August.

Clarke says the last time the CIA had picked up a similar level of chatter was in December, 1999, when Clarke was the terrorism czar in the Clinton White House. Clarke says Mr. Clinton ordered his Cabinet to go to battle stations-- meaning, they went on high alert, holding meetings nearly every day. That, Clarke says, helped thwart a major attack on Los Angeles International Airport, when an al Qaeda operative was stopped at the border with Canada, driving a car full of explosives.

Clarke harshly criticizes President Bush for not going to battle stations when the CIA warned him of a comparable threat in the months before Sept. 11: "He never thought it was important enough for him to hold a meeting on the subject, or for him to order his National Security Adviser to hold a Cabinet-level meeting on the subject."


Hate Speech Codes For Broadcasting?

Ernie Miller offers his take on the FCC's recent decision that Bono's use of the word "fucking" (as in "fucking brilliant") during the Golden Globes violated federal laws against broadcast indecency. This decision is known as the "Golden Globe Awards" decision.

A little background is necessary to understand why the Golden Globe Awards decision is so important. 18 USC section 1464 makes it a crime to broadcast obscene, profane or indecent programming. The government has given the FCC jurisdiction over violations of section 1464, which the FCC enforces through a combination of warning letters, fines, and, in extreme cases, revocation of broadcast licenses. The Supreme Court upheld the FCC's power to issue such sanctions in the Pacifica case in 1978.

The FCC defines broadcast indecency as "language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities." In its Golden Globe Awards decision, the FCC held that virtually any use of the F-word, as it is known at the FCC, was indecent, because it is always sexually suggestive. (For those of you who were wondering, the F-word in FCC stands for federal.). This decision strikes me as fucking implausible. Did that turn you on? No, I thought not.

Second, the FCC held that the F-word was also profane. The FCC has not, until this case, actively enforced section 1464's prohibition on profanity. One reason for this is that profanity traditionally meant blasphemy, and there would be serious first amendment problems with punishing speech because it was blasphemous. To solve this problem, the FCC has redefined profanity as "including language that denot[es] certain of those personally reviling epithets naturally tending to provoke violent resentment or denoting language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance." That is to say, the new definition of profanity has nothing whatsoever to do with religious belief.

One question is whether the FCC is authorized to redefine statutory language in this way. But assuming that it does under the Chevron doctrine, there are many more problems.

Most news accounts assume that the FCC can ban indecency whenever it likes. This is not true. The Pacifica decision said that the FCC could punish indecency when children were likely to be in the audience. As a result, the FCC requires that indecent programming be relegated to what is called the safe harbor that falls between 10:00pm and 6:00am local time. In a 1995 case called Action for Children's Television v. FCC (ACT III) the D.C. Circuit held that the FCC could require that all indecent programming be broadcast in the safe harbor period.

The D.C. Circuit acknowleged that indecent speech, unlike obscenity, was constitutionally protected by the First Amendment and that the safe harbor requirement discriminated on the basis of the speech's content. Nevertheless, it held that the safe harbor requirement passed the constitutional test of strict scrutiny that the courts apply to content based restrictions on speech: The government had a compelling interest in the protection of children from indecency and a compelling interest in assisting parents in raising their children free from indecency. The D.C. Circuit did not require any showing of that indecency caused harm to children; instead it argued that it was common knowledge that exposure to indecent programming harms children. The D.C. Circuit also held that the safe harbor rule was narrowly tailored to achieve this compelling state interest because (most) children are presumed not to be watching during the hours of the safe harbor. Whether this justification holds water is disputable, and it becomes even more disputable given the possibilities for time shifting using VCR's and Tivo. ACT III is best understood as a compromise decision that holds that adults have to be given some period when they can watch indecent programming; Congress and the FCC simply settled on a particular time period and the D.C. Circuit more or less accepted it.

This set of rules describes the current state of the law regarding what you can and can't say on broadcast television and radio, and when you can say it. (Section 1464 does not apply to cable television, by the way; it only applies to broadcast stations, whether or not they are carried by cable).

Now the plot thickens. The FCC now takes the position that the safe harbor rule applies to profane speech as well as indecent speech. (Obscene speech, by the way, is constitutionally unprotected, so it can be banned 24 hours a day).

Ernie Miller's point is that the FCC's definition of profanity read literally would seem to include racial epithets and other forms of hate speech. After all, the N-word is much more likely than the F-word to be one "of those personally reviling epithets naturally tending to provoke violent resentment or denoting language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance."

If so, then presumably the FCC could impose a hate speech code on broadcast television within the safe harbor period. It would argue that under the reasoning of ACT III the state has a compelling interest in protecting children from profanity and assisting parents in raising their children free from profanity. The ban is narrowly tailored because, just as in ACT III, most children are presumed not to be in the audience during the safe harbor. The only way to avoid the force of this reasoning would be to deny that hate speech causes any significant harm to children. The FCC would have to say that although it is obvious that hearing the F-word is bad for children, hearing the N-word is not obviously bad for them. I'd like to see them try that one.

Of course, any decision to expand broadcast profanity to include hate speech would be highly politically charged, and therefore is likely to lead to accusations of political favoritism and censorship on the part of the FCC. But the decision to punish the F-world but not the N-word is itself hardly politically neutral. All of this suggests that the original decisions in ACT III and in Pacifica were on shaky ground, because they assumed that 1464 could be enforced in a way that did not favor one political ideology over another and did not chill very much protected speech. The FCC's expansion of its jurisdiction to cover what it defines as profanity puts that assumption under a great deal of strain. My advice to the FCC would be to stop now before they completely f*** things up.

Saturday, March 20, 2004


Compassionate Conservatism R.I.P.

David Brooks' most recent column argues that President Bush's idea of compassionate conservatism was done in by the Florida election controversy, -- because it destroyed trust between Democrats and Republicans-- and by 9/11, because it drew attention away from domestic questions.

I don't agree. First, it's by no means clear that Bush's compassionate conservatism ever existed as more than a political slogan designed to gain votes in 2000, and to distance Bush from the unpopular Newt Gingrich. But to the extent that compassionate conservatism was more than a slogan, what did it in were Bush's two tax cuts and the Iraq war. Both took precedence over any other major domestic policies the Administration might have pursued, and both created huge deficits which undermined the chances of a series of new government domestic initiatives.

Brooks thinks trust was destroyed by Florida. It wasn't, or if so the damage was reparable. The fracas over the Florida election didn't keep Bush from trying to line up a few Democrats for his tax bill or No Child Left Behind. What destroyed trust ultimately was the Administration's political tactics once it got into office. It did not really work hard for political compromise, instead promoting strongly ideological policies in a vast number of areas, with a few notable exceptions like No Child Left Behind, which it then underfunded.

Brooks is right that the 2000 election does matter, but in a different way. After the election, everyone wanted to know how Bush would handle the allegations of illegitmacy: would he reach out to the Democrats or govern as if he nothing had happened? As it turned out, he governed as if he had won by a landslide. That is because he now had control of all three branches of government. If Bush had presented himself as a political moderate following the contested election, things might have been quite different in the domestic arena. But he did not do so, for four reasons. First, doing so would have undermined support from his conservative base. Second, it might be construed by the Democrats as a sign of political weakness or an implicit concession of the contested legitimacy of his presidency. Third, Republicans controlled all the branches of government. Thus, Bush and his advisors reasoned, why not push hard for one's agenda when you can? Fourth, as should be clear from what actually happened, Bush is not really a moderate at all. He is a religious conservative who believes in low taxes. Bush's compassion turned out to extend largely to his wealthiest donors in terms of tax relief, and to religious and social conservatives in judicial appointments, and also in various executive branch appointments that concern domestic policy. This was not a formula for either political moderation or a new form of compassionate conservatism, and so it is not surprising that neither of these things occurred.

I want to pause here and note that if Bush had come in with a Democratic controlled Congress, he would likely have been forced to compromise more, and this would might have led to more focus on compassionate conservatism as a triangulating or moderating strategy of domestic politics, similar to Clinton's, but approached from the opposite side of the ideological spectrum. Ironically then, winning all three branches by razor thin margins was a bad thing for compassionate conservatism as a new political approach. It encouraged the Republicans not to make compromises, but to push hard for a strongly ideological agenda while they still held all the levers of power.

Brooks also thinks that 9/11 diverted attention away from domestic concerns. Not really. 9/11 didn't require a war in Iraq. The latter is what really consumed the public's attention and the Administration's resources, and we now know that members of the Administration had been planning such a war for a long time. Again, if there ever was a thing as compassionate conservatism, it was preempted by the determination of the President's foreign policy team to go to war with Iraq as soon as practically possible.

Behind Brooks' argument is a deeper wistfulness, wondering about how things might have been otherwise in this administration. Could the Bush Administration have turned out differently than it did? Ironically, it would only have happened if the President turned his back on his core constituencies and avoided picking Dick Cheney as his Vice President and, more importantly, as a key advisor. Neither possibility was likely to occur. So on the day that President Bush was sworn into office by Chief Justice Rehnquist, compassionate conservatism was destined to be just a slogan.

Friday, March 19, 2004


Stupid Constitution Tricks

Here's the proposed Congressional Accountability for Judicial Activism Act of 2004 (H.R. 3920)(also available here):


This Act may be cited as the `Congressional Accountability for Judicial Activism Act of 2004'.


The Congress may, if two thirds of each House agree, reverse a judgment of the United States Supreme Court--

(1) if that judgment is handed down after the date of the enactment of this Act; and

(2) to the extent that judgment concerns the constitutionality of an Act of Congress.


The procedure for reversing a judgment under section 2 shall be, as near as may be and consistent with the authority of each House of Congress to adopt its own rules of proceeding, the same as that used for considering whether or not to override a veto of legislation by the President.


This Act is enacted pursuant to the power of Congress under article III, section 2, of the Constitution of the United States.

Don't worry, it's just showboating. If it was this easy for Congress to overturn Supreme Court decisions, don't you think they would have tried it before? Article III, section 2 gives Congress power to make exceptions or regulations to the Supreme Court's appellate jurisdiction (i.e., its power to hear particular types of cases), but not to overturn particular decisions after the Court has heard and decided them. Without an explicit constitutional amendment giving Congress the power to overturn particular Supreme Court decisions (which, by the way, has been proposed on a number of occasions), the proposed bill would most likely violate the separation of powers by attempting to encroach on the judicial power which is vested in the Supreme Court (as well as the lower federal courts.).

Note, by the way that the act does not give Congress the power to overturn decisions of the Supreme Court that strike down state laws, only acts of Congress. It also doesn't apply to decisions of the lower federal courts. So if the Supreme Court someday strikes down the federal ban on partial birth abortions, and Congress overturns that judgment, the Court's decision in Stenberg v. Cahart is still good law, because it struck down Nebraska's partial birth abortion law. Moreover, any subsequent lower federal court decisions that struck down the federal partial birth abortion bill on the basis of Stenberg would also presumably be good law in the federal circuit or district in which the lower court sits. That's because the law affects only the Supreme Court's *judgment* that the law is unconstitutional. Overturning that judgment does not, in and of itself, require that the lower courts follow Congress's reasoning or its preferences. The bill could correct this problem only by violating greater chunks of the separation of powers, which would make it even more clearly unconstitutional than it is now.

Still, you've got to hand it to these guys. They really know how to make fools of themselves at the public's expense.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004


What Do Robert Bork and I Agree On?

The answer here.

Hint: the anniversary will be on the same day that gay couples and lesbian couples in Massachusetts can legally marry.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004


More on the Internet and Political Polarlization

An interesting article in the New York Times last Friday finds polarization in book buying habits-- one group of people (presumably liberals) purchase mostly liberal books on politics while another group (presumably conservatives) purchase and read mostly conservative books on politics. So far so good. This seems to square with the literature that says that people tend to seek out information they already agree with.

The Times then makes a puzzling assertion:

This finding appears to buttress the argument made by Cass Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago, in his influential study "" (Princeton University Press, 2001) that contemporary media and the Internet have abetted a culture of polarization, in which people primarily seek out points of view to which they already subscribe.

Hardly. Sunstein's book made the controversial claim that the Internet was a special cause of political polarization. But the polarization described in the article concerns the most traditional of mass media, i.e., books. Using the Internet (in particular, made it easier for researchers to *discover* this polarization. That's not the same thing as saying that the Internet *caused* the polarization that led to the book buying habits measured in the study.

The argument that best supports Sunstein's claim in would be that people used the Internet to find books of a similar character, and that most people now buy political books on the Internet rather than in bookstores, thus causing the enhanced political polarization. If people already tended to buy books of a similar political character in traditional bookstores and were easily able to find like-minded books there, the Internet's filtering technologies would not be a major cause of the enhanced polarization, although they might be an additional cause at the margins.

The best way of testing whether the Internet contributed to the polarization would be to determine who purchased liberal and conservative books in 1992 or earlier, before the Internet became a prominent feature of American political discourse. (Note, ironically, that it will be more difficult to do that precisely because the Internet was not as widely used at that point.). And even then it's not clear that the Internet itself would be the cause; it could be other features of American political life that have been changing in the past twenty years. More research needs to be done to prove that the Internet exacerbates political polarization.

My guess is that the Internet makes polarization more salient, and also, as we have seen, easier to measure by social scientists. But that is not the same thing as saying, as has been suggested, that Internet speech presents special harms to democracy.

Obviously, the New York Times has an interest in reporting stories that make the traditional mass media look good and the Internet look bad as a source of people's political information. (And they have done a few of these stories in recent memory). But we have to look further if we want to get to the truth of the matter.


A Conversation Between David Brooks and the Spanish Electorate

David Brooks: You Spanish are a bunch of queso eating surrender monkey appeasers. The only way to stop terrorism is to follow the policies of our maximum leader George W. Bush.

The Spanish Electorate: Uh, supporting the U.S. in the Iraq War obviously didn't protect us from Al Qaeda. You spent so much time settling scores with Saddam (and demanding that we go along) that you diverted precious resources from getting rid of Osama Bin Laden's terror network. Perhaps your Presidente is a bit confused on his priorities, no es verdad?

Friday, March 12, 2004


They Can't Handle The Truth, But They Sure Can Manhandle It.

Dick Meyer introduces us to Bushworld.

I've written about the Administration's tendency to fudge the facts where science is concerned before. Let me offer a more serious take on this story. Here's the basic lesson: You can't have a successful administrative state in a complex democracy unless science and intelligence are insulated from politics.

This leads me to a short digression on comparative constitutional design.

Parliamentary systems in robust democracies generally produce a professional civil service whose basic job is to carry out the policy demands of whichever party is in power. (Knowing that the government may change at any time, the civil service will strive to present themselves as reliable technocrats, not as ideologues). Because their job is administrative efficiency, and they have incentives to put themselves at the service of whoever controls the government, their professional ethos places high value on factual accuracy and technical expertise.

Presidential systems that feature separation of powers, by contrast, cannot guarantee the same degree of loyalty from civil servants, because the latter can also appeal to Congress for political support and play one branch off against the other. Hence presidential systems tend to include a significant number of political appointees-- much larger than you will find in most parliamentary systems-- layered over the civil service in order to ensure loyalty at the top levels. Moreover, mature presidential systems-- like the United States-- may often duplicate existing functions performed by civil servants-- like intelligence gathering or environmental or foreign policy advice-- and staff them almost exclusively with political appointees.

And here's the problem. The more political appointees you have displacing the professional class of civil servants, the greater the danger that the policy process will get corrupted by short-term political considerations. If the political appointees play fast and loose with the facts on a regular basis, they will undermine the efficiency of the administrative state in any large and complex democracy. The danger of this is always greater in presidential systems than parliamentary systems, (although it can happen in the latter too!) but it's usually kept more or less in check.

Unfortunately, things seem to have come apart in the current Administration. I don't know whether this is due to the example set by Bush and his most senior political advisors, whether the Administration has ignored career people and paid attention only to information coming from political loyalists, whether a tipping point has been reached with too many political appointees in positions they should not hold, or whether the problem is an accelerating duplication of functions that have effectively shut out career employees from important information gathering and policy implementation decisions. Whatever the reasons, the corruption of the policy making and implementation process seems to be a real problem for this Administration.

The next Administration needs to seriously reconsider the structure of political appointments in government and the flow of information and advice from career officials to political officials. It needs to reduce existing incentives for short-term political considerations to infect policymaking and it needs to reform executive branch institutions to promote the production of accurate information for governmental decisionmaking. If it does not, the consequences for the country could be quite serious. We've already seen how mismanaged information practices have affected environmental policy, health care policy, and even the decision to go to war. If the production of accurate information for use by government officials continues to be corrupted, matters will only get worse.


Halliburton Admits To Overcharging (Again)

Capitol Hill Blue reports.


Bush Endorses New Constitutional Amendment to Protect Democracy

Because the Federal Marriage Amemdment seems not to have taken off, the Administration is offering this carefully worded substitute, the Protection of Democracy Amendment:

Democracy in the United States shall consist only of the union of one Republican candidate and one Presidency. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that Presidential status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon non-Republican persons or groups.

Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan explained that the new amendment will ensure that "the wrong sort of people don't hold power in our freedom loving democracy." When asked to specify who the "wrong sort of people" were, he replied, "I didn't say that."

Attorney General John Ashcroft stated that the Administration had tried unsuccessfully to convince the courts that only Republicans could be members of the federal government on the basis of Article IV, section 4, the so-called Republican Government Clause, which states that "The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union, a republican form of government." "As I've said to the courts over and over," Ashcroft explained, " what part of the word "republican" don't you understand?"

McClellan added that "because unelected judges have refused to read Article IV according to its plain meaning, and because unnamed persons have insisted on running for the Presidency and garnering significant public support, it is now necessary for the President to get behind this new amendment."

"When the President enjoyed eighty percent approval ratings," McClellan explained, "it wasn't really necessary to change the Constitution to guarantee his succession in office. But now that the poll numbers are slipping below fifty per cent, there's a real danger that activist politicians will undermine democracy by winning more votes than President Bush. We barely avoided this catastrophe four years ago, and we are not going to allow it to happen again."


Walid Horton

I for one am glad that the Bush campaign isn't trying to invoke racial stereotypes and play on the public's fears about anyone who looks vaguely Middle Eastern.

Oh wait, this was from the Bush campaign!

Thursday, March 11, 2004


Get Well Soon John

The Attorney General is expected to make a complete recovery, CBN reports.

I guess we will no longer be able to say: "How does John Ashcroft have the gall to do that."


Families of Soldiers Form Antiwar Movement

The Washington Post reports. Military families tend to be among the staunchest supporters of the Administration. A small but growing number, however, now feel a sense of betrayal. The key moment for many was when it became clear that there were no weapons of mass destruction:

When the invasion of Iraq began, Dvorin -- a 61-year- old Air Force veteran and a retired cop -- thought the commander in chief deserved his support. "I believed we were destroying part of the axis of evil," he says. "I truly believed that Saddam Hussein was a madman and that he possessed weapons of mass destruction and wouldn't hesitate to use them."

By the time Army 2nd Lt. Seth Dvorin was sent to Iraq last September, however, his father was having doubts. And now that Seth had been killed, at 24, by an "improvised explosive device" south of Baghdad, doubt had turned to anger."Where are all the weapons of Mass Destruction?" Richard Dvorin demanded in his letter. "Where are the stockpiles of Chemical and Biological weapons?" His son's life, he wrote, "has been snuffed out in a meaningless war."

His is not the only military family to think so. In suburban Cleveland a few days later, the Rev. Tandy Sloan tuned in to the "Meet the Press" interview with President Bush and felt "disgust." His 19-year-old son, Army Pvt. Brandon Sloan, was killed when his convoy was ambushed last March. "A human being can make mistakes," the Rev. Sloan says of the president. "But if you intentionally mislead people, that's another thing."

In Fullerton, Calif., paralegal student Kimberly Huff, whose Army reservist husband recently returned from Iraq, makes a similar point with a wardrobe of homemade protest T-shirts that say things like "Support Our Troops, Impeach Bush."


Wednesday, March 10, 2004


More Reasons to Think That The Internet Is Helping Public Deliberation

Readers of this blog know that I have criticized Cass Sunstein's argument in Republic.Com (both here and here) that the Internet, more than traditional mass media, is likely to lead to ideological polarization and balkanization of public discourse. (Note that I have no problems with balkinization, by the way). Daily Kos offers yet another reason to think that Sunstein's fears are overstated: the ability of political opponents to fact check each other's work and report it to the Internet for consumption by the public and by reporters, who, in turn can distribute it in the traditional mass media. In order for this to occur people must be reading, linking to, and discussing statements by their political opponents, precisely what Sunstein is worried will not happen on the Internet. This fact checking is counteracting some of the "echo chamber" effect that Sunstein worries will improverish public discourse.

In fairness to Sunstein, he wrote his book before the advent of blogs, and thus based his analysis on traditional mass media models, which, I have argued, are inapposite. I continue to believe that we have to rethink how the public sphere is reconstituted by the Internet. That reconstitution may not be always to the good, but it is much much healthier than many of the Internet's critics have feared.


Fun With the New Iraqi Constitution

Are you sure we have a Republican administration in the White House? Check out the following provisions:

Article 14.

The individual has the right to security, education, health care, and social security. The Iraqi State and its governmental units, including the federal government, the regions, governorates, municipalities, and local administrations, within the limits of their resources and with due regard to other vital needs, shall strive to provide prosperity and employment opportunities to the people.

My goodness, what do I see? A social rights provision? Constitutional protections for health care and educational benefits? How did this one get past Grover Norquist?
Article 15 . . .
(G) Every person deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall have the right of recourse to a court to determine the legality of his arrest or detention without delay and to order his release if this occurred in an illegal manner.

Jose Padillia is probably wishing we had this provision in our Constitution.
Article 17.

It shall not be permitted to possess, bear, buy, or sell arms except on licensure issued in accordance with the law.

Did anyone run this one by the NRA? Not a very good way to appeal to the base, Georgie boy!
Article 23.

The enumeration of the foregoing rights must not be interpreted to mean that they are the only rights enjoyed by the Iraqi people.

Well, you might as well just invite Bill Brennan and his crazy liberal brethren to set up shop in Iraq. But wait, it gets worse:
They enjoy all the rights that befit a free people possessed of their human dignity, including the rights stipulated in international treaties and agreements, other instruments of international law that Iraq has signed and to which it has acceded, and others that are deemed binding upon it, and in the law of nations. Non-Iraqis within Iraq shall enjoy all human rights not inconsistent with their status as non-citizens.

What? Incorporate international human rights law into the Constitution? Where's the National Review crowd when you need them?

My advice to any self-respecting conservative Republican: stop the madness, before the Iraqi Constitution infects us all!

Tuesday, March 09, 2004


More on Conservative Judicial Activism

Several people have now joined in the original debate begun by Jonah Goldberg's offhand assertion that liberals, and not conservatives, are judicial activists. I responded that judicial activism has a long history by conservatives, and that the current Rehnquist Court has made many activist decisions. Stuart Buck has responded that we can't blame contemporary conservatives for the actions or practices or views of people in the past who were called conservatives, because their views are so different from those of contemporary conservatives. Larry Solum argues that to identify conservatives in the past with conservatives today is sheer nominalism. And he also argues that the term "judicial activism" is without meaning.

Let me try to disentangle a few of the many issues raised in these posts.

First, Stuart has not yet attempted to demonstrate that the current Rehnquist Court has not been engaged in conservative judicial activism in its federalism and commercial speech decisions. (Need I mention Bush v. Gore in addition? Oh well, why not?) Rather, he has spent most of his time trying to distinguish contemporary conservatives from conservatives of the past. He is haunted, as so many are, by the ghosts of Lochner, Pollock, and Dred Scott. I'll return to Stuart's concerns in a moment, but let me point out that if Stuart agrees with me about the conservative majority in place and its work, that's all I need to respond to Jonah Goldberg's original claim: Jonah is under the delusion shared by many conservative pundits that the Warren Court is still in operation. It's not. Today conservatives control the judiciary and they are discovering the virtues of activism in all of its wonderful forms. This is the thesis, by the way of Keith Whittington's recent paper "The New Originalism." Whittington points out that originalists like Robert Bork argued for a jurisprudence of original intention because they thought it would deter what they considered to be the liberal activism of the Warren Court. But once conservatives took over the judiciary, Whittington points out, they developed a new use for originalism-- to strike down laws that they didn't like. The New Originalism is no longer aligned with judicial restraint; rather it's a tool of judicial activism. The point I was making to Jonah is that he is holding on to old fashioned stereotypes which haven't been adequate for some time. Today judicial activism is not the prized possession of wild eyed liberals: conservatives-- and especially today's conservatives-- are doing it too, and because they control the courts they probably have more opportunities. At the same time many liberal scholars and judges are rediscovering the virtues of judicial restraint, as you can see in their positions on areas ranging from campaign finance to affirmative action.

Second, I certainly agree with Stuart and Larry Solum that conservatives have changed their views on many issues over the course of the nation's history. I would add that there have been many different types of conservatives existing at roughly the same time: Compare, for example, Northern Whig defenders of business interests with Southern Democrat defenders of slavery in 1838. Or compare today's conservative libertarians with today's social conservatives. Nevertheless, I can't go as far as Stuart or Larry and say that there are no transhistorical notions of conservatism in the United States. Many scholars in political science and history have devoted their entire academic careers to studying the growth and development and transformation of these ideologies. It simply won't do to dismiss this body of scholarly work with a simple philosophical expression like "nominalism." Political formations exist over time and endure through their transformations. (Religions do too, by the way). Would either Stuart or Larry deny that FDR was a liberal because FDR's liberalism differs in important respects from that of the Warren Court? The more plausible way of looking at things is that American liberalism shifted many of its positions in response to political, social, and economic changes, as did American conservatism. But certain themes have remained dominant in American liberalism-- the concern with egalitarianism (both economic and social) and with breaking down older social hierarchies.

Liberals have not been consistent about advocating judicial restraint precisely because their political ideologies cross cut with institutional concerns, and the same, I should add, is true of conservatives. My point in raising the example of Lochner was to remind Jonah, and now Stuart and Larry, of the long period of time in which it was the liberals who were complaining of judicial activism by conservative Justices and preaching judicial restraint; this was followed by a period in which conservatives like Robert Bork were attacking what they regarded as the judicial activism of the Warren Court and arguing for judicial restraint. My point was, and remains, that it is a big mistake to think that judicial activism is the modus operandi of any one political ideology. Political ideologies are quite often opportunistic with respect to institutional questions. Exhibit A is the Religious Right's demand for a constitutional amendment that would take the power to define marriage away from the states, where it has traditionally resided. In this example it seems clear that federalism concerns are yielding to ideological goals.

Third, I want to endorse Randy Barnett's point that judicial activism is often an epithet hurled at decisions you don't like. That is the way that I understood Jonah Goldberg's use of the term-- he was, after all, writing a short op-ed piece on a blog; he was not engaged in a scholarly discussion of what the term might mean. When used as an epithet, people normally mean by "judicial activism" that a court is exercising judicial power in *unjustified* ways given their perspective of what the best interpretation of the Constitution is. That's what I understood Jonah Goldberg to be saying about liberals. And when I have criticized the Rehnquist Court's judicial activism, I have implicitly suggested that I think that those decisions are unjustified (which is, in fact, my view).

If we define judicial activism in the way that Randy suggests-- as unjustified assertions of judicial power viewed from the perspective of the person making the charge-- then it follows rather easily that neither contemporary liberals or conservatives are committed to judicial restraint or judicial activism as a general rule. That is because the accusation of judicial activism is relative to a particular view of what the right interpretation of the Constitution is. Liberals and conservatives pick and choose whether they think courts should intervene or not in particular cases based on their larger political visions (restrained, as always, by the available modalities of constitutional argument). Because their visions are often opposed in these cases, they inevitably disagree in many cases about whether judicial power was exercised legitimately or illegitimately. Hence the liberals end up arguing for restraint when the conservatives argue for what in the view of liberals appears to be judicial activism, and vice versa. Remember that if judicial activism is defined as the unjustified or illegitimate use of the judicial power, then when liberals exercise judicial power in ways that conservatives think is unjustified conservatives will call it judicial activism, while when conservatives exercise judicial power in ways that liberals think is unjustified liberals will call it judicial activism. It is this feature of contemporary political and legal discourse that makes me deeply suspicious when someone like Jonah Goldberg offers casual aspersions about how liberals-- and not conservatives-- are judicial activists.

Larry Solum argues that there must be an analytic distinction "between decisions that depart from precedent, text, and original meaning--and those that do not" and this distinction should be used instead of the activism/restraint distinction. In his view this solves the relativity problem. Because there is a right answer to cases based on original meaning and precedent, we can tell who is *really* being a judicial activist. I wonder whether this distinction can do the work that Larry wants it to, in part because I regard precedent as much more flexible than he appears to, and in part because I don't think that most of the important constitutional disputes that divide liberals and conservatives have a single right answer. But that is a subject for another post.

Saturday, March 06, 2004


Conservatives Have Never Practiced Judicial Activism-- Not!

I recently criticized Jonah Goldberg for failing to come to terms with the long history of judicial activism by conservative Justices. Indeed, the New Deal revolution is in significant part a reaction to this long history, and when liberals innovated with constitutional doctrines in the second half of the twentieth century, it was conservatives who reminded them that judicial activism cuts both ways. They argued that if liberals of a previous generation didn't like conservative judicial activism in the Lochner period, contemporary liberals should not practice judicial activism even when it happened to favor liberal causes. This history is familiar to most students of constitutional law, and I was reminding Jonah Goldberg of this fact when he appeared to assert that judicial activism was a peculiarly liberal phenomenon.

Nevertheless, Stuart Buck has taken issue with my account of the long history of conservative judicial activism. My list of cases included, among other examples, Dred Scott v. Sanford, The Slaughterhouse Cases, The Civil Rights Cases, Pollock (The Income Tax Case), The Lochner Era police power decisions striking down labor laws, the Rehnquist Court's eleventh amendment decisions (Seminole Tribe, Alden v. Maine,), its decisions on section 5 power (Garrett and Kimel), and the post 1990 commercial speech decisions.

Stuart appears to agree with my inclusion of the eleventh amendment decisions and the section 5 decisions as examples of conservative judicial activism. He tries to define all of the others away as not being conservative decisions, because many conservatives *today* would not agree with the results in these cases.

This approach won't work. It's not responsive to my argument with Jonah. He claimed that judicial activism is a liberal phenomenon. I said that historically it was the product of conservative forces. So to see whether my historical claim is correct we have to look at what those people who were generally regarded in their own time as conservative believed to be the best interpretation of the Constitution. We can't impose the principles of contemporary conservatism because that is anachronistic and indeed, irrelevant to my quarrel with Jonah. For example, the vast majority of conservatives today think Brown v. Board is rightly decided. But in 1954 many, if not most, had very serious doubts about the opinion. The same is true for a whole host of other liberal causes of the 1950's and 1960's which have become part of the consensus that contemporary liberals and conservatives now share.

Put in these terms Stuart's objections don't really hold much water. For example, Stuart seems to think that the Lochner decisions striking down labor laws were not conservative (and not activist). This view is untenable. Lochner and its associated decisions were the very essence of what was then called laissez-faire conservative constitutionalism. The entire history of the progressive reaction to Lochner which led to the revolution of 1937 understood those opinions to be paradigmatic examples of conservative judicial activism.

Or take Slaughterhouse. It is true that many conservatives and libertarians today think Slaughterhouse was incorrect-- as do I, by the way. But in 1873, the position taken by Justice Miller was the relatively conservative position. It was the position of Northern Democrats and conservatives in the Republican Party who wanted to deny that the Civil War had significantly changed the balance of power between the states and the federal government. Stuart seems confused by the fact that the Court upheld challenged economic regulation in that case. But that's not what makes the result conservative. What makes it conservative is the fear that the national government would be able to use its new powers under the 14th amendment to intrude on the police powers of the states and take over regulation of contract and property rights. (By the end of the nineteenth century, a new generation of conservatives arises with a very different agenda and very different concerns: They want to protect railroads and other business enterprises from regulation by states. This gives rise to the police power jurisprudence of the Lochner era, which reaches results closer to the dissents in Slaugtherhouse. There is no contradiction in recognizing that Justices in both generations were taking conservative stands; it is simply that the imperatives of conservatism changed in the Gilded Era).

The Civil Rights Cases, which struck down the Civil Rights Act of 1875, also reflect the judicial activism of the Supreme Court immediately following Reconstruction. They reflected the conservative compromise of 1877 which denied that Congress could use its powers to protect black civil rights.

The claim that either Miller's position in Slaughterhouse or Bradley's opinion in the Civil Rights Cases was the relatively *progressive* position during this period cannot seriously be maintained. These were pro-state's rights positions which restricted Congressional power to protect basic rights for blacks as well as for other citizens. As noted above, the focus of conservatives changed in the forty years between Slaugtherhouse and Lochner. But such changes are a fairly familiar feature of American political history.

Next consider Dred Scott. Taney held many positions that were, in their time, relatively progressive. But on slavery his views were conservative. (They were actually moderate conservative, because there were many more conservative defenders of the slaveocracy).
*Contemporary* conservatives surely abhor slavery. But there is no denying that the position in 1857 that Taney took was, in its time, the more conservative position. It certainly was not the progressive position! I'm not claiming that any conservative today thinks Dred Scott is correct. That's just silly. Rather, I offer Dred Scott as an example of my general point there is a long line of conservative activist decisions throughout American history. What we think of today as being activist is largely the work of those people who were identified in history as being conservatives in their own time. Liberal judicial activism is the product largely of the twentieth century. It is this historical blindness of Jonah Goldberg's-- as well as his failure to take seriously the recent cases of the Rehnquist Court on federalism and the Eleventh Amendment-- that undermines his attempt to blame judicial activism on liberals.

Now let me turn to the contemporary commercial speech cases. Stuart seems to be under the impression that the founding generation believed that the first amendment protected commercial speech, because he denounces the Roosevelt Court for stripping commercial speech of any protection in the Valentine case. I have to say that I would really like to see the evidence for his view that commercial speech was generally protected under the First Amendment until the New Deal. I've seen no proof of this in my own research.

Stuart is completely correct, however, that the liberal Justices supported the extension of commercial speech in 1976 and later cases, but by the 1990s the political valence of commercial speech had shifted. Liberals now are hesitant to extend the doctrine while conservatives are pushing for expansion. I have written about the reasons for this shift in my scholarship, but my point here is simply that the 1990's cases are pretty good examples of the Rehnquist Court's conservative judicial activism. They have no basis in the original understanding, and they are extensions of previous precedents that did not have to be extended.

As for Hans v. Louisiana and Ex Parte Young, Stuart wonders how they can both be conservative if they go in opposite directions. The answer is that the cases reflect different situations in which different oxes were being gored. Hans was decided in order to settle a post-Reconstruction dispute. Ex Parte Young arose many years later when the Lochner era Justices wanted to restrict progressive era legislation under the Due Process Clause. They were hamstrung by the Court's earlier decision, so they created an exception to get around what their predecessors had done. Likewise, the conservative decision in Slaughterhouse created a doctrinal difficulty for the later generation of conservatives who decided Lochner. Denied use of the Privileges or Immunities Clause, they turned to the Due Process Clause instead. That does not mean that both decisions could not have been conservative in their own time. It simply means that conservatism, like liberalism, is a moving target.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004


Oregon Joins In The Fun

Multnomah County is now issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples, CNN reports.

The reason is interesting: The county attorney has taken the position that failing to do so is unconstitutional under the Oregon Constitution.

I think it's time for people to stop complaining about activist *judges,* and start focusing on the fact that members of the political branches are at the vanguard of this fight.

And what's perhaps more impressive is that this is being done by *state* officials, not federal officials.

This is somewhat akin to southern school districts in 1953 spontaneously deciding to desegregate elementary schools based on their understanding of the state constitution. Do you believe they should have waited for Brown v. Board of Education?


Does Reverence for the Constitution Argue Against Amending It?

Should we refrain from amending the Constitution because it's sacred and the Framers knew what they were doing? I don't buy this particular argument against the Federal Marriage Amendment at all. I agree with Jonah Goldberg that this sort of claim is a non-starter, especially if you believe in a "living Constitution" that responds to the times.

Indeed, the argument for amending the Constitution through Article V is at least as strong as the argument for allowing Article III judges to change constitutional meanings through interpretation, because Article V itself specifies a democratic process for amendment. Note that this process, strictly speaking, is not democratic in the same way that majority rule is: It actually requires a supermajority, so a very large number of Americans can support a change in the Constitution and it still won't become law under Article V. (The best example of this is the Equal Rights Amendment whose basic call for sex equality I would assume an overwhelming number of Americans now support. Instead, these norms entered the Constitution through judicial interpretation by Article III courts in the 1970s). But we probably can say that amendments that do satisfy the very stringent requirements of Article V probably do reflect overwhelming popular agreement. (Except, that is, for the Twenty Seventh Amendment, whose ratification over a two century long period is deeply suspect).

So the best argument against the FMA is not the one I hear banded about these days-- that we shouldn't tinker with the Constitution. The best argument is that we shouldn't tinker with it in this particular manner. We shouldn't tinker with it in ways that reflect a parochial concern with a particular substantive issue that is also, in my opinon, unjust, and we certainly shouldn't tinker with it in ways that we may be sorry about later on.

Popular attitudes about homosexuality are currently in flux. Attempting to lock in a particular view about homosexuality now would be just as unjust as an amendment that said the following in the wake of the Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education:

Neither this Constitution, nor the Constitution of any State, shall be construed by any state or federal judge to prohibit laws preventing or regulating comingling, marriage, or sexual relations between persons of different races

I suspect that such an amendment might have had a decent shot at passage in 1954. Most people, even in the North, thought that interracial marriage was not a civil right, and certainly they believed that sex between people of different races outside of marriage was not a civil right. However, by 1967, the Supreme Court, reflecting a revolution in attitudes about racial equality, did hold that laws prohibiting interracial marriage violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in a case called Loving v. Virginia. (The same case, by the way, held that marriage was a fundamental right protected by our Constitution). And the point is that Loving was not opposed to emerging norms about racial equality. Rather, it reflected them.

This is the problem with the Federal Marriage Amendment. It wants to hold off a change in attitudes that the Religious Right sees as coming.

Does this mean that I think that amending the Constitution is a bad thing? Absolutely not. I think that Constitutional amendments are important, especially with respect to structural questions that cannot be addressed by courts. An example which my friend Sandy Levinson has suggested are the rules regarding succession in office when large numbers of members of Congress are incapacitated, for example, as a result of a bomb or a terrorist attack. The Twenty Fifth amendment takes care of the problem for the President, but it does not deal with the analogous problem for Congress. Congress should have the power to pass the equivalent of a succession in office act to deal with this problem. But the Constitution as currently implemented does not permit it. We should also amend the Constitution to allow non-native born citizens to run for the Presidency. I also strongly believe in Constitutional amendments that secure basic rights of citizenship, like the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Nineteenth Amendments. I don't believe that the Federal Marriage Amendment secures basic rights of citizenship. To the contrary, it seems to me that it wipes the possibility of such rights for gays off the table. So my objection is not that you shouldn't ever amend the Constitution because it's perfect the way it is. It is that you should do so only for the right reasons. I oppose the FMA because it is not for the right reasons.

There are a couple of things I do disagree with Jonah Goldberg about, however. At one point he says:

By the way, I'm singling out liberals for a reason. Conservatives who oppose amending the Constitution are against the sort of judicial activism that rewrites the meaning of the Constitution while leaving the text unchanged. There's nothing inconsistent about being against judicial activism and against "tinkering" with the Constitution through the amendment process. You can't say the same about liberals who see the Constitution as if it were Felix the Cat's magic bag from which they can pull out any public policy they want.

Like many people, Jonah fails to realize that liberals have no monopoly on judicial activism. Conservatives, if anything, have a much longer history of reading their values into the Constitution. Here are only a few examples: The decision in Dred Scot v Sanford striking down the Missouri Compromise and holding that blacks could never be citizens, the gutting of the Fourteenth Amendment's Privileges or Immunities Clause in the Slaughterhouse Cases less than five years after the Amendment was ratified; striking down the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which was passed by the very same Congress that passed the Fourteenth Amendment, in the Civil Rights Cases; the creation of the police power jurisprudence of the Lochner Era which selectively struck down labor laws that conservatives didn't like; striking down the federal income tax in the Pollock case; reading the words "other states" in the Eleventh Amendment to mean "other states or same state" in Hans v. Louisiana; the creation of the exception to Hans in Ex Parte Young when Hans turned out to prevent conservative judges from enjoining laws that were inconsistent with their laissez-faire values; the manufacture of federalism doctrines out of whole cloth in National League of Cities v. Usery; and, after National League of Cities was overruled, the creation of new federalism doctrines out of whole cloth to the same effect in Seminole Tribe and Alden v. Maine; the manufacture of the "congruent and proportional" test and its use to limit civil rights legislation in Kimel and Garrett; the continued development of commercial speech doctrine to limit government power to regulate advertising; and last but not least, the application of strict scrutiny to race conscious affirmative action in the face of evidence that the Fourteenth Amendment was not intended or written to enforce a colorblind Constitution.

All I can say to Jonah Goldberg is, Mr. Pot, Meet Mr. Kettle.

Here's the second thing I disagree with:

I bet it would be a lot easier to repeal a constitutional amendment than it would be to overturn, say, the constitutional requirement of providing criminals with Miranda warnings, which was simply invented by the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, amendments have been repealed and superseded by other amendments several times.

Actually, it's *much* easier to overrule a case like Miranda than to amend the Constitution to get rid of the Electoral College. All you have to do is win enough elections to appoint judges who will limit it in various ways That's what happened with Miranda, by the way. It's a shell of its former self, even as the Court reaffirmed it in Dickerson a few year's back.

What Goldberg doesn't account for is that the Constitution is continually being changed in little ways through judicial interpretations, both by the judges he likes and by those he doesn't like. Put enough of those changes together over time, and you can get significant effects. For example, in 1970 the Supreme Court held that voucher programs that let children of poor people attend parochial schools violated the Establishment Clause. By 1983, that holding had been seriously undermined, and by 2003, it was essentially overrule in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris. Indeed, the key issue now is not whether vouchers are constitutional but under what circumstances states can *refuse* to include religious schools in voucher programs. That was one of the issues that the Court effectively put off deciding when it handed down Locke v. Davey last week.

What caused the shift in doctrine from 1970 to 2003? Well, the Republicans won a lot of Presidential elections after 1968, they stocked the courts with conservative judges who read conservative values into constitutional doctrine, and the constitutional law we have today is the result of those changes.

The truth of the matter is, whether people like it our not, we have a two track system for changing constitutional meanings. Article V amendments, and Article III interpretations. Liberal judges and conservative judges alike engage in constitutional change through judicial interpretation. Although some judges say they are only following precedent or only following original understanding, that's just simply not true. They are using the modalities of precedent or history or text or structure in order to argue for their preferred vision of constitutional norms. (See my previous post on Scalia's jurisprudence for my discussion of how he selectively invokes original meaning and precedent to get where he wants to go).

The fact is, we are all living constitutionalists now; but only some of us are honest about it.


Supporters Call For New Religious Crusade Against The Unclean

It's official. It's not just gays. God hates shrimp.

Frankly it's no surprise to me. I just *knew* they weren't kosher.

Well, sorry, call me intolerant, but that's just how I was raised. Look it up. It's in the Bible and everything.

Next thing you know, these shrimp will want to marry. And then they'll start demanding the right to adopt crawfish or something like that, and then.... well, don't get me started.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004


Is God on America's Side?

So Elizabeth Bumiller asked in Sunday's Democratic candidates debate, trying to trip them up. We know George W. Bush's answer. Of course God is on America's side. We are working to make things better. Our opponents are the evil doers.

Here is Abraham Lincoln's answer:

Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.

"Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

As it was in the time of the Civil War, so it is today. Both we and our adversaries pray to the same God. He will not answer either their prayers or ours fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. The important question is not whether God is on our side, but whether we are doing our best to be on His side.

But if Lincoln had said that on Sunday night, I can just imagine Matt Drudge's headline the next day: ABRAHAM LINCOLN NOT SURE GOD ON OUR SIDE-- THINKS NATION MAY NEED TO PAY FOR OUR SINS.

And the pundits would click their tongues and say: My goodness, he doesn't think we're always right! How did such a man ever get to be elected president, anyway?


Dick Cheney Argues for Superiority of Democrats' Economic Policies

Vice President Dick Cheney gave strong reasons for preferring Democratic fiscal policies in an interview today, Reuters reports (via Brad DeLong):

"If the Democratic policies had been pursued over the last two or three years, the kind of tax increases that both Kerry and Edwards have talked about, we would not have had the kind of job growth that we've had," Cheney said.

Approximately 2.3 million jobs have been lost since the Bush Administration took office in January 2001.

Cheney also stated that he supported a constitutional amendment to prevent his daughter, Mary Cheney, who is a lesbian, from ever marrying her partner.

"The president's taken the clear position that he supports a constitutional amendment," Cheney said in an interview with MSNBC. "I support him."

I know that it's common for parents to object to the people that their children are currently dating, but this is going a bit far, don't you think?

Monday, March 01, 2004


Separation of Powers, or Stonewalling?

Josh Marshall provides the transcript of Scott McClellan's unconvincing attempts to explain why President Bush will meet with the 9/11 Commission-- you know, the one he tried to shut down early-- for only one hour. McClellan offers the argument that the Commission is a legislative body, which, I take it, is an appeal to the constitutional principle of the separation of powers.

But that argument won't wash. If we were to take it seriously, Bush should be refusing to appear at all. Saying that you will meet with a legislative body for only one hour is like being a little bit pregnant.

The reason that President Bush won't appear for more than one hour has nothing to do with the separation of powers. The president is worried that he will be asked deeply embarrassing questions about his conduct and that of his Administration in the run up to the September 11th attacks. Those embarrassing questions will, in turn, show his hypocrisy in repeatedly using the 9/11 attacks to justify every questionable policy of his administration, including his mismanagement of the national budget, while attempting to insinuate that anyone who questions his policies is therefore unpatriotic. The families of the 9/11 victims should give him hell for his repeated and cynical manipulation of this tragedy.

Sunday, February 29, 2004


John Kerry Discovers the Winning Meme

From a speech delivered on Friday, February 27th:

I do not fault George Bush for doing too much in the War on Terror; I believe he’s done too little.

Here is Kerry's preliminary list of reforms: Kerry promises to add 40,000 troops to active duty, reform intelligence gathering services to prevent a replay of the WMD debacle, streamline the national terrorist watch list, work to cut off the flow of terrorist funds, particularly from Saudi Arabia where the Bush Administration has feared to tread, coordinate with other countries to track and prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, retrain the Iraqi security force and stay in Iraq until the job is done, embark on a ten year program to make the U.S. energy independent of Middle East oil, fund homeland security programs that were promised funding by the Bush Administration but never got it, and improve technology at ports for screening for dangerous weapons.

That's a start, but there's plenty more to be done. The good news, however, is that the Democrats have started to rethink their position about war and national security. They will need to if they want to dominate presidential politics again.

Saturday, February 28, 2004


President Purges Bioethics Council of Unbelievers

In a further attempt to shore up his religious conservative base, President Bush fired two members of his bioethics advisory council and replaced them with three new members who were more likely to agree with the policy positions of the President and the council's chairman, Leon Kass. The Washington Post has the story:

Asked why [Elizabeth] Blackburn [a biologist] and [William] May [an ethicist] had been let go, White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said the two members' terms had expired in January, and they were on "holdover status." Asked whether, in fact, all the council members' terms had formally expired in January, she said they had.

Pressed on why Blackburn and May had been singled out for dismissal, she said: "We've decided to go ahead and appoint other individuals with different expertise and experience." She would not elaborate further.
. . . .

Michael Gazzaniga, a Dartmouth neuroscientist who sits on the council, said he was "upset" by Blackburn's ejection.

"She was one of the basic scientists who understood the biology of many of the issues we're talking about," Gazzaniga said. "It will be a loss for sure."

The council studies important issues ranging from human cloning to stem cell research and the use of biotechnology to enhance human beings. In the past several years the council has found it difficult to reach concensus that matches the Administration's preferred positions. Apparently that will no longer be a problem.

I think this undermines any credibility that the President's council on bioethics ever enjoyed.

Incidentally, the President's latest action comes on the heels of a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists finding that the Administration has regularly manipulated, distorted, and blocked scientific research to further its political aims and that "the scope and scale of the manipulation, suppression and misrepresentation of science by the Bush administration is unprecedented."

The Bush Administration's attitude toward science shows that it treats expertise not as a source of information for good governance but only as an adjunct to securing political advantage and pleasing its constituents. Its treatment of science is of a piece with how it used intelligence in the run up to the Iraq War: listen only to what you want to listen to, and discard or distort the rest. If you don't find information you like from objective sources, find someone with credentials (or without them) who will provide the information you want to hear.

Using propaganda to convince others that your policies are correct is one thing. But listening to your own propaganda to make decisions is a poor strategy for successful government.


A Lot More Troubling Than Jayson Blair

is the story of how the New York Times, following shoddy investigative methods, repeatedly asserted the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that turned out not to be there. Reports by the nation's leading newspaper and one of the country's primary shapers of public opinion greatly strengthened the false impression that Iraq posed an imminent threat to the United States, and that a preemptive war was fully justified.

Fabricating quotes is bad enough. Fabricating a causus belli is much much worse.

Nobody died as a result of Jayson Blair's misdeeds. But hundreds of American soldiers have been killed and thousands more wounded because of a war of choice that was sold as a war of necessity.

I've read and enjoyed-- and trusted-- the New York Times for many years. But the Times needs to take a long, hard look at itself for this one.

Friday, February 27, 2004



Josh Chafetz has the details of the head count in the Senate.

Even so, the real question is whether support for the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) helps or hurts Bush for November. I believe it hurts him.

Candidates who face primary opposition have to appease their ideological base in the primaries, and then move to the center in the summer for the general election. This always carries with it the risk that because of the positions they have to take in the primaries the public will think them too far out of the mainstream, or inconsistent, or both. Incumbent presidents who don't face substantial opposition have the luxury of staying in the center throughout the year, while their opponents must zig zag.

That is not what has happened this year. Following David Kay's revelations that there weren't any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Bush's poll numbers began to decline. Some Americans who once supported him no longer trusted him. The economy-- and new employment-- did not pick up as quickly as the President hoped it would. With a weak economy, and with growing distrust of the President over the WMD controversy, Bush found himself having to win over his base, even though he faced no opposition. The Mayor of San Francisco's decision to grant licenses to same-sex couples forced his hand. If he wanted to remain the leader of the religious and social conservative wing of his party, he had to exercise leadership and come out in favor of the FMA. In doing so, however, he risked being perceived of as intolerant. And he gave an opening to the Democrats to stake out a position which was much closer to the center of developing public opinion-- that states should decide for themselves what rules they wanted concerning marriage, and that civil unions (as opposed to same-sex marriages) were just fine if some states wanted them. No one could have predicted a year ago that this would become a moderate position on same-sex marriage, but events have outpaced almost everyone's calculations.

If you watch closely, you will note that Kerry and Edwards are trying to come as close to the emerging centrist position on same sex marriage as they can without angering the party faithful. Bush, however, will find it very hard to move much closer to the developing center, because the social and religious conservatives that he needs to court are adamant. That, of course, is the disadvantage that comes when an important constituency of your party cares more about ideology than about winning.

Bush's support for the FMA is not going to be the wedge issue that divides and discomfits his opponents, as flag burning, ACLU membership and Willie Horton were for his father in the disgraceful presidential campaign of 1988. Instead, because the center is moving so rapidly on this issue, the FMA is likely to divide and discomfit his own party.

What will the President do next? He can't run on Iraq or on the economy. The proposed mission to Mars went nowhere, his immigration proposal angered important elements of his conservative base, and his support for the FMA appears to be backfiring. What will he pull out next from his bag of tricks?

Whatever it is, I am quite sure it will be quite unpleasant. One thing we know about the Bush family and their advisors: They don't mind playing rough or playing dirty, as long as somebody else takes the heat and receives the blame.

Thursday, February 26, 2004


Bush: Democrats Lack Agenda

As the Washington Post reports, the President has complained that, unlike him, Democrats do not have a clear plan:

"The man who sits in the Oval Office will set the course on the war on terror and the direction of our economy," Bush said in downtown hotel. "The security and prosperity of America are at stake."

In contrast with those agenda-less Democrats, Bush has been very, very active. In three short years, he has run the economy into the ground, eliminated the existing federal surplus, busted the federal budget, taken the United States into war against a country that lacked the weapons of mass destruction he claimed were present, given enormous tax breaks to his wealthiest contributors, awarded the Vice President's friends large contracts in Iraq without competitive bidding (resulting in substantial war profiteering), stonewalled inquiries into the circumstances surrounding the 9/11 attacks, detained American citizens in violation of the protections of the Bill of Rights, violated international law and the Geneva Convention, undermined civil liberties and personal privacy, stocked the executive and judicial branches with right wing ideologues, proposed an amending the Constitution to enshrine intolerance and denials of equal rights, and presided over the loss of more than 2.3 million jobs.

A reformer with results, indeed!


Locke v. Davey-- Like a Garden Snake

Yesterday the Supreme Court handed down an important Free Exercise opinion in Locke v. Davey, holding that Washington state could give Promise Scholarships for individuals seeking college education except for those seeking degrees in theology. The Court held, 7-2, in an opinion by Chief Justice Rehnquist, that this did not violate the Free Exercise Clause. Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented.

The majority opinion is a characteristically Rehnquist opinion; it is like a garden snake-- short and slippery. Rehnquist emphasizes that Washington has not imposed civil or criminal penalties on people studying for the ministry but simply refused to subsidize training for one particular profession or calling because of the state of Washington's policy, written into the state's constitution, of not subsidizing the ministry.

What is important about Locke v. Davey is less what the Court decided than what it did not decide. The opinion is written very narrowly to avoid a series of important constitutional questions. For example, by focusing on professional or vocational training for religious positions, Rehnquist dodged the more difficult question of the constitutionality of school voucher programs that include only secular private schools. The latter policy does not make a distinction based on professional training, but rather on the nature of the school that provides elementary and secondary education. Although Locke v. Davey suggests that there might be no Free Exercise problem with such a policy, I think it is still an open question whether secular-school-only voucher programs are constitutional under the Free Exercise Clause.

There was also a free speech issue implicit in the case. You could argue that the Promise Scholarship program violated Davey's free speech rights because scholarships were available for people majoring in every subject but not in theology. In a footnote, Rehnquist distinguishes the Washington statute from cases where the state creates a public forum for all viewpoints by funding or providing access to government, and then unconstitutionally excludes one particular viewpoint. The Promise Scholarship, Rehnquist asserts, is not a forum for speech, but financial assistance for postsecondary education; it is not a policy designed to promote a diversity of views from private speakers. That holding is quite important because it suggests that a free speech attack on secular-school-only voucher programs would fail.

I don't think that Locke stands for the general proposition that whenever the government offers a general benefit but refuses to extend it to religious organizations, this poses no Free Exercise problems as long as there is no criminal or civil penalty against religious observance or religions activity. That is Justice Scalia's take on the meaning of the case. Scalia exaggerates, as he so often does, in order to make a point. Some exclusions of religious organizations from welfare state programs will still violate the Free Exercise Clause. The problem is that Rehnquist does not tell us which ones they are. Surely the government may not deny police and fire protection to churches or to the houses of ministers; and it may not exclude ministers from prescription drug benefit programs generally available for employees. All Rehnquist has done is to say that excluding ministers from a general vocational training subsidy is different. But he has not yet explained how. That may have been necessary to put together a broad majority of the Justices. But it leaves many questions unanswered.


Lincoln and the Thirteenth Amendment

Josh Chafetz gets the Lincoln story a bit wrong:

Anecdote: The Thirteenth Amendment was accidentally sent to the White House after having been passed by the requisite two-thirds majority in both Houses of Congress. President Lincoln, apparently unthinkingly, signed it. The Senate, at the behest of Senator Lyman Trumbull, later passed a resolution pointing out that the President's signature had been unnecessary.

As noted below, Lincoln signed the Thirteenth Amendment not by accident but as a deeply symbolic act: in part to show his strong support of the Amendment, and in part as a symbolic response to James Buchanan's signature of the Corwin Amendment, which was never ratified.

UPDATE: Apparently, Josh is planning to study at Yale. This is very good news for us; we can always use another smart blogger.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004


The FMA: Not The First Proposed Amendment to Exclude

Many opponents of the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment claim it is the first time that the Constitution would be amended to exclude a group of people. Well, that's technically correct: If *ratified*, the FMA would be the first amendment actually *adopted* that would do that. But it would not be the first such amendment proposed, and more importantly, it would not even be the first such amendment that passed Congress by a two thirds vote of both houses and was submitted to the states. That honor would go to the proposed Thirteenth Amendment of 1861.

Instead of arguing that what Bush has done is unprecedented, I think it's much more important to remember that this *has* happened before, and that the previous attempt is now universally condemned.

The proposed Thirteenth Amendment passed the House on February 28, 1861, and the Senate on March 2nd, 1861. The proposed amendment, sometimes called the Corwin Amendment, because it was proposed by Representative Thomas Corwin of Ohio, was a desperate measure designed to keep the Union from falling apart. By the time the amendment was submitted to the states, seven states had already seceded and four were soon to follow. The ensuing Civil War made it irrelevant, but it was ratified by several states and because it has no time limit for ratification, it is still technically before the country:


No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.

As you can see, the point of the Corwin Amendment was to assure Southern states that the Constitution would never be amended to abolish slavery. (Ironically, it says nothing about the issue of slavery in the territories, which was one of the precipitating causes of secession). There is an interesting question whether amendments that prohibit future amendments can work. After all, one can simply amend them to remove the prohibition. The irony, of course, is that the Thirteenth Amendment that was ratified four years later in December 1865 did abolish slavery.

President James Buchanan, who had promoted the idea of an "explanatory" constitutional amendment to resolve the crisis over secession, signed the Corwin Amendment after the Senate passed it. This was technically unnecessary, because Article V of the Constitution does not require the President's consent to amend the Constitution. However, when what is now the Thirteenth Amendment was passed by Congress in February 1865, President Lincoln signed it in a symbolic attempt to negate Buchanan's action.

It is tempting to draw parallels between James Buchanan, who promoted the Corwin Amendment that would forever exclude blacks from full citizenship, and President Bush, who is now promoting an amendment that would exclude gays from full citizenship. Buchanan after all, was one of our worst presidents. But it's important to remember that in 1861, many people from both parties supported the Corwin amendment while holding their noses, including Abraham Lincoln himself, who makes passing reference to it in his First Inaugural Address:

I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution--which amendment, however, I have not seen--has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.

Incidentally, the Corwin Amendment was not the only attempt to broker a deal: An earlier proposal in 1860, the so called "Crittenden Compromise," named after Senator Crittenden of Kentucky, would have reinstated features of the Missouri Compromise held unconstitutional in Dred Scott v. Sanford, and would also have prevented Congress from abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia and from regulating interstate transportation of slaves. This compromise failed to pass the House and the Senate.

President Bush should be justly criticized for attempting to amend the Constitution to deny one group of people full and equal rights. But he is not the first President to do so, and we should draw a lesson from the previous example of the unratified Thirteenth Amendment. What he is doing is not unprecedented, and we should resolve not to let it happen again in our own time.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004


Yo Andy, What Took You So Long?

Andrew Sullivan finally wakes up and smells the intolerance. Wait, where's that odor coming from? Oh my, it's coming from the right wing of the Republican Party and its leader, George W. Bush!

WAR IS DECLARED: The president launched a war today against the civil rights of gay citizens and their families. And just as importantly, he launched a war to defile the most sacred document in the land. Rather than allow the contentious and difficult issue of equal marriage rights to be fought over in the states, rather than let politics and the law take their course, rather than keep the Constitution out of the culture wars, this president wants to drag the very founding document into his re-election campaign. He is proposing to remove civil rights from one group of American citizens - and do so in the Constitution itself. The message could not be plainer: these citizens do not fully belong in America. Their relationships must be stigmatized in the very Constitution itself. The document that should be uniting the country will now be used to divide it, to single out a group of people for discrimination itself, and to do so for narrow electoral purposes. Not since the horrifying legacy of Constitutional racial discrimination in this country has such a goal been even thought of, let alone pursued. Those of us who supported this president in 2000, who have backed him whole-heartedly during the war, who have endured scorn from our peers as a result, who trusted that this president was indeed a uniter rather than a divider, now know the truth.

NO MORE PROFOUND AN ATTACK: This president wants our families denied civil protection and civil acknowledgment. He wants us stigmatized not just by a law, not just by his inability even to call us by name, not by his minions on the religious right. He wants us stigmatized in the very founding document of America. There can be no more profound attack on a minority in the United States - or on the promise of freedom that America represents. That very tactic is so shocking in its prejudice, so clear in its intent, so extreme in its implications that it leaves people of good will little lee-way. This president has now made the Republican party an emblem of exclusion and division and intolerance. Gay people will now regard it as their enemy for generations - and rightly so. I knew this was coming, but the way in which it has been delivered and the actual fact of its occurrence is so deeply depressing it is still hard to absorb. But the result is clear, at least for those who care about the Constitution and care about civil rights. We must oppose this extremism with everything we can muster. We must appeal to the fair-minded center of the country that balks at the hatred and fear that much of the religious right feeds on. We must prevent this graffiti from being written on a document every person in this country should be able to regard as their own. This struggle is hard but it is also easy. The president has made it easy. He's a simple man and he divides the world into friends and foes. He has now made a whole group of Americans - and their families and their friends - his enemy. We have no alternative but to defend ourselves and our families from this attack. And we will.

What I want to know is, why is Sullivan surprised? *Now* he gets that the president is not a uniter but a petty tyrant only interested in his own political survival? *Now* he gets that this guy is a shill for the worst sort of politics? *Now* he figures out that the motto of the Bush Administration is: Dissemble as long as possible, but when the chips are down, never piss off the right wing base?

Gee Andy, you *really* must have wanted to invade Iraq to support the guy for this long. Well, your favorite warmongerer just brought the war home to you. Hope you're happy now.

* * * * *

Note that, as you will see in the posts below, I actually don't think that its as bad as Sullivan thinks. I think that Bush is in an untenable position; he's now trying to avoid saying that civil unions should be outlawed as well, contrary to what the hard right wants. The FMA won't pass, and Bush is going to get squeezed from both sides. When his political strategy fails-- as it ultimately will- all that he will be left with is the reputation as a divisive, intolerant, and opportunistic politician, who demeaned a whole class of American citizens just to stay in power. But all of this will be cold comfort to Sullivan, who simply refused to believe what was always in front of his eyes and now has been tossed in the garbage as expendible by his Great Leader.

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