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The Revolt Against Politics

compromise-you-first-cartoon

In “The Governing Cancer of Our Time,” David Brooks has articulated quite nicely a frustration that many of us have noted over the years.

We live in a big, diverse society. There are essentially two ways to maintain order and get things done in such a society — politics or some form of dictatorship. Either through compromise or brute force. Our founding fathers chose politics.

Politics is an activity in which you recognize the simultaneous existence of different groups, interests and opinions. You try to find some way to balance or reconcile or compromise those interests, or at least a majority of them. You follow a set of rules, enshrined in a constitution or in custom, to help you reach these compromises in a way everybody considers legitimate.

The downside of politics is that people never really get everything they want. It’s messy, limited and no issue is ever really settled. Politics is a muddled activity in which people have to recognize restraints and settle for less than they want. Disappointment is normal.

But that’s sort of the beauty of politics, too. It involves an endless conversation in which we learn about other people and see things from their vantage point and try to balance their needs against our own. Plus, it’s better than the alternative: rule by some authoritarian tyrant who tries to govern by clobbering everyone in his way.

As Bernard Crick wrote in his book, “In Defence of Politics,” “Politics is a way of ruling divided societies without undue violence.”

Over the past generation we have seen the rise of a group of people who are against politics. These groups — best exemplified by the Tea Party but not exclusive to the right — want to elect people who have no political experience. They want “outsiders.” They delegitimize compromise and deal-making. They’re willing to trample the customs and rules that give legitimacy to legislative decision-making if it helps them gain power.

Ultimately, they don’t recognize other people. They suffer from a form of political narcissism, in which they don’t accept the legitimacy of other interests and opinions. They don’t recognize restraints. They want total victories for themselves and their doctrine.

While this phenomenon isn’t “exclusive to the right,” it’s certainly manifesting far more dangerously in the Republican Party. The Bernie Sanders phenomenon and perhaps the Elizabeth Warren boomlet are as close as we’re seeing on the Democratic side but they’re both more benign and less influential. At the end of the day, Hillary Clinton will almost certainly be their nominee and, for all her faults, a lack of understanding of the realities of compromise in politics is surely not among them. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, a know-nothing with only bluster to offer, is now the odds-on favorite to win the GOP nomination and the current runner up, Ted Cruz, is a rabid ideologue despised even among his relatively likeminded colleagues in the Senate for his self-righteous attitude. Marco Rubio is perhaps the Establishment’s last hope for sanity, and he’s seemingly not ready for prime time.

Brooks correctly identifies the results:

The antipolitics people elect legislators who have no political skills or experience. That incompetence leads to dysfunctional government, which leads to more disgust with government, which leads to a demand for even more outsiders.

The antipolitics people don’t accept that politics is a limited activity. They make soaring promises and raise ridiculous expectations. When those expectations are not met, voters grow cynical and, disgusted, turn even further in the direction of antipolitics.

The antipolitics people refuse compromise and so block the legislative process. The absence of accomplishment destroys public trust. The decline in trust makes deal-making harder.

To be sure, Barack Obama contributed to this when the sweeping rhetoric of his 2008 campaign failed to match a relatively pragmatic governing style. Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders movement are evidence that many Democrats are fed up with business as usual, too. That said, the far greater cause of our dysfunction is an opposition party that has chosen eight years of obstructionism as their response to having lost the White House in consecutive elections.

Given the increasing likelihood of Trump as the nominee, it’ll almost certainly be a third straight loss and a depressing general election campaign. Clinton is unlikely to have coattails and, in any case, the unique setup of our electoral system virtually assures that the Republicans will continue to control the Congress and give us another four years of gridlock. Whether that results in the sort of midterm correction we saw in 1994, 2006, and 2010 remains to be seen. But there’s little reason to hope that things get better anytime soon.

 

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Clinton is unlikely to have coattails and, in any case, the unique setup of our electoral system virtually assures that the Republicans will continue to control the Congress and give us another four years of gridlock

    Agreed, with the caveat that the GOP does stand a chance of losing the Senate depending on the size of a Democratic victory. Already, it seems apparent that Mark Kirk in Illinois will lose to likely Democratic nominee Tammy Duckworth and that Ron Johnson in Wisconsin will lose to Russ Feingold, who seems poised for a comeback. Kelly Ayotte faces a tough challenge from New Hampshire’s Democratic Governor. If Democrats can flip one more GOP seat, hold on to what they have, and win the White House, they will control the Senate. If they flip two more seats then they control the Senate regardless of who wins the White House, and there are GOP seats in three other states that Obama won in 2008 and 2012 up this year, It’s not guaranteed, but it’s still possible.

    Of course, the Senate math is much more favorable to the GOP in 2018 so it could be a very short period of Democratic Senate control.

    As for the House, yes there’s little chance that the GOP will lose control there. Even if Trump is the nominee.

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  2. JKB says:

    it’ll almost certainly be a third straight loss and a depressing general election campaign.

    Well, that’s a sad thought, because otherwise the economy would be in for a “not a Democrat” boost due to the obvious scrambling of the anti-business factions in the agencies that comes with party change. A Trump boost would likely be larger with the hope that Trump’s decades of experience dealing with some of the most corrupt and venal bureaucrats (NY/NJ city/state, Fed HUD) to get projects done.

    Instead, it will be the same old of the last 8 years, only with new and more lucrative corruption.

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  3. edmondo says:

    Republicans will continue to control the Congress and give us another four years of gridlock

    Precisely why some of us fear Hillary in the White House. She has no core values and, like her husband before her, she’ll give us the worst of the GOP’s policies in the name of “progress.” Thanks but I’ll stick with Bernie.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 12

  4. MBunge says:

    The GOP and conservatism is largely responsible for this stuff, but let’s not overlook one of the central events in this devolution.

    Why did Bill Clinton lie about Monica Lewinsky? No, it wasn’t to protect his family or some Constitutional principle. He lied because he was afraid if he told the truth, he get tossed out on his butt. So he lied and delayed and slimed and obstructed and polarized the Democrats until the only thing they cared about was beating the Republicans. I was around for that first hand and I remember that the ultimate Democratic position on the Paula Jones stuff is that Bill Clinton should be above the law for no other reason than that holding him accountable would let the Republicans win.

    None of that excuses the often grotesque politics coming from the right, but it was the Democrats who decided that the cover up was no longer worse than the crime and that political victory was all that mattered.

    Mike

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  5. Ron Beasley says:

    I am not normally a fan of David Brooks but he nails it here. There are several things going on here.
    1) The changing demographics of the U.S. scares the hell out of the white Christians. It’s not just the browning of the U.S. but the fact that more and more people are religiously unaffiliated. The white Christian nation is being replaced.
    2) The nature of the economy is changing. The factory jobs are going away. It is usually blamed on outsourcing but it’s not that simple. Factory automation and industrial robots are also a big factor. Society has done a poor job of addressing this inevitable change.
    Here in Oregon we have a a divide between the largely blue one third of the state west of the Cascades and the sparsely populated two thirds of the state that tends to be red and libertarian. Up to this point we have been able to reach those political compromises.

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  6. becca says:

    Anti-politics? Only as an offshoot of the anti-government rhetoric the right has been spewing since Reagan.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  7. Pch101 says:

    It’s a legacy of getting into bed with the Religious Right. There are two problems with aligning oneself with fundamentalist Christians or Muslims: (a) they insist that there is one ultimate truth and that (b) everyone else must also believe that truth, whether or not they want to.

    Reagan gave the fundies a lot of rhetorical support, but didn’t do that much for them George HW was even less interested in them. After 30 years of not quite getting what they wanted, this populist base not only began to realize that they did not have a full seat at the table but they began to see themselves as the “true” Republicans even though the establishment that they have come to despise had been there long before them.

    The Republicans need a sort of Tito-type figure who can unify them and keep the establishment in charge while placating the Christian Jim Crow wing with just enough attaboys that they show up to vote and go along for the ride. The GOP had that with Reagan, but I’m not seeing anybody who can fill that role today.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  8. Franklin says:

    Good post. The other thing is that compromise and deal-making is hard. People are so frustrated these days with these complicated problems that they just want a simple solution to everything. Oh, terrorism exists? Just carpet bomb the Middle East. Oh, some people are too lazy or stupid to get a job? Just eliminate welfare. Oh, someone was accused of molesting a little girl? Nothing the death penalty wouldn’t fix. Other “simple” solutions: build a wall, flat tax, single payer, publicly-financed campaigns, waterboarding, etc.

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  9. Rafer Janders says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    The factory jobs are going away.

    The factory jobs are already gone — what’s even more destabilizing is that the office jobs are going away. And not just the lower-end clerical office jobs, but also high-end white collar work, when one algorithm can do in one minute the work that it used to take ten financial analysts or lawyers or bankers or researchers a month to perform.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  10. Andy says:

    So David Brooks, as much an establishment poster-child as anyone, still cannot seem to comprehend that the rise of “anti politics” forces is the result of the establishment’s failure in political leadership. He correctly calls politics “an activity in which you recognize the simultaneous existence of different groups, interests and opinions.” yet turns around and denies the legitimacy of viewpoints that don’t conform to the narrow and insular beltway interests about the limits of policy. Can he not see his own hypocrisy here?

    Maybe people wouldn’t be so interested in electing “legislators who have no political skills or experience” if the people WITH political skills and experience weren’t so compromised, corrupt and hadn’t spent the last several decades driving the ship of state straight into the toilet.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  11. Pch101 says:

    @MBunge:

    Most normal people don’t want their sex lives discussed by 200+ million people.

    The Republicans respond to election losses by trying to find Democratic scandals. But instead of finding a Dem version of Watergate, we end up with the Republican boy who cried wolf, except the wolf never shows up.

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  12. JKB says:

    @Andy:

    …and it hardly need be added that a great part of these enactments were worse than worthless because they were made hastily and without due consideration, though not always, perhaps, without what lawyers call a consideration.

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  13. James Joyner says:

    @Ron Beasley: Yes all around. I’ve been talking about the fact that what I’ve glibly denigrated as “jobs for dumb people” have been going away for 20-plus years. I’ve always used the example of the people who used to pump your gas and wipe your windshield for a living and noted that they’re not working at Google now. That’s a bad thing. But as noted downthread, it’s now happening much higher up the skill ladder.

    @becca: It’s partly that, but Republican managed to govern for 25 years or more after Reagan. Reagan managed to govern. Dubya did, too, even in a very hostile environment. The problem is that the rubes took the extreme rhetoric seriously and finally figured out that the Republicans they were electing weren’t living up to the rhetoric. Thus, the Tea Party.

    @Pch101: Pretty much. Relatedly, they started taking over the grassroots feeder systems, notably the local school boards and state legislatures decades ago.

    @Andy:

    He correctly calls politics “an activity in which you recognize the simultaneous existence of different groups, interests and opinions.” yet turns around and denies the legitimacy of viewpoints that don’t conform to the narrow and insular beltway interests about the limits of policy.

    That’s not hypocrisy or even inconsistent. People have extreme viewpoints. The nature of politics is that they can’t get those extreme viewpoints enacted into policy because, well, they’re extreme. Rather than leveraging their control of the Senate to force Obama to nominate a moderate Justice to replace Scalia—maybe even an Anthony Kennedy type—they’re demanding the right to wait for a Republican to appoint Scalia’s replacement. That’s insanity.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  14. JKB says:

    @James Joyner: Rather than leveraging their control of the Senate to force Obama to nominate a moderate Justice to replace Scalia—maybe even an Anthony Kennedy type—they’re demanding the right to wait for a Republican to appoint Scalia’s replacement. That’s insanity.

    It’s actually rhetoric. They are not demanding the right as it is the Senate’s right already to advise and consent on their own terms. Now, if Obama were to nominate a moderate Justice candidate, then the leveraging would have worked.

    For some reason, even you, among the many others seem to think that compromise is a one-way street where the Right must always give way. If that is so, then you have to go Trumpian and lay out a distant position so that the compromise ends up somewhere in tolerable territory.

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  15. MBunge says:

    @Pch101: Most normal people don’t want their sex lives discussed by 200+ million people.

    And it used to be understood that Presidents aren’t “most normal people.”

    I know it’s useless to rehash this but I can’t just let this vanish down the memory hole. The Lewinsky matter only became acceptable to Democrats because they decided nothing mattered except beating the GOP. If there was any other reason then Anthony Weiner, whose behavior was less egregious than Bill Clinton’s in every possible way, would still be a Congressman.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 11

  16. Pch101 says:

    @MBunge:

    You have some very odd ways of looking at things.

    A lot of people didn’t care about the president’s sex life and didn’t see it as a reason to replace him Get over it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 3

  17. James Joyner says:

    @JKB:

    For some reason, even you, among the many others seem to think that compromise is a one-way street where the Right must always give way.

    By definition, governing in our system with a Democratic president and a Republican Congress means that the Right—and the Left!—must always give way.

    In this particular situation, I maintain my longstanding view that presidents have the right to nominate highly qualified candidates to jobs, including the Supreme Court, and that the Senate should confirm those who are indeed highly qualified in terms of experience and temperament. I thought that of Robert Bork and I thought that of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Given that we have divided government and that Scalia was the right-most figure on the Court, I think Republicans have every right to insist that he not be replaced by a doctrinaire leftie. But Obama was duly elected and has the right to have a qualified, reasonably centrist Justice confirmed. I might be persuaded that “the next president” had that right in the event that Obama were a true lame duck with a Republican President-Elect. But we’re still months out from the election.

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  18. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @MBunge: That was not my experience. The Lewinsky thing mattered because Ken Starr’s office spent years of time, thousands of man-hours, and millions of dollars trying to find a scandal that would stick against the Clintons, and in the end he was stuck with a matter that really should have only affected four people: Bill, Hillary, Chelsea, and Monica.

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  19. Jenos Idanian says:

    @James Joyner: The problem is that the rubes took the extreme rhetoric seriously and finally figured out that the Republicans they were electing weren’t living up to the rhetoric. Thus, the Tea Party.

    So close to understanding the phenomenon of which Trump is a symptom, but you’re too close to grasp it. Hell, in a small way, you’re a part of the problem, but you just can’t see it. Or you just can’t bring yourself to admit that you’re a (very small) part of what gave us Trump.

    Thanks SO much for that…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 7

  20. James Joyner says:

    @Gromitt Gunn: First off, we’ve simply had a polar shift in our national morality since those days–perhaps partly spawned by the scandal itself. Folks like Sam Donaldson thought the affair itself would force Clinton to resign within a matter of days. Second, despite all the “impeached for a blow job” rhetoric, the fact of the matter is that Clinton perjured himself in a case that the Supreme Court decided 9-0 must go forward and then repeatedly lied to the American people to cover that fact up. The salacious details of the affair naturally took front stage. But it wasn’t what the case was about.

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  21. Jenos Idanian says:

    There were several ways Bill Clinton could have kept his sex life out of the political discourse.

    1) Don’t indulge it in the Oval Office.

    2) Don’t indulge it with a subordinate.

    3) Don’t lie about it under oath.

    4) Keep it zipped, you moron.

    The last one is pretty much unrealistic, I admit, but the first three are the kinds of things that CEOs get their asses fired for, and companies sued for. And for maximum irony, based on a law that Bill Clinton himself signed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 12

  22. stonetools says:

    @MBunge:

    It hasn’t vanished down the memory hole. Instead, it is remembered and discounted as irrelevant to modern politics by all except conservatives and Clinton haters. Dude, this happened 20 years ago. Bill Clinton made a massive mistake (Note that several other Presidents have made similar ones-including a Founding Father who is on Mount Rushmore).It was discussed ad nauseum and obsessed about by the general public, who nonetheless correctly decided that it wasn’t an impeachable offense. It is about as relevant to today’s politics as the Teapot Dome scandal was relevant to the politics of the 1940 elections. Time to move on.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  23. Grumpy Realist says:

    I wonder how much of this has been due to the 24-news cycle and the frantic attempts by the news media frantically trying to fill it with anything that doesn’t require actual expenses. Hence the horse race/sports team analysis effect on everything.

    There’s also the fact that we haven’t had a Big Enemy for quite some time. We need another Sputnik to scare the bejezus out of us and make us realize we HAVE to work together.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  24. @James Joyner:

    Given that we have divided government and that Scalia was the right-most figure on the Court, I think Republicans have every right to insist that he not be replaced by a doctrinaire leftie.

    I would alter this a bit, as I do not understand why the ideological point of view of the exiting Justice is relevant. That seems to suggest that a seat belongs to a certain POV, which I see no basis for.

    I do accept that Dem Pres + Rep Senate should equal moderate replacement, but I think that logic holds regardless of who is exiting. (Or, perhaps more accurately, that divided government should result in negotiations, which should lead to some level of moderation).

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  25. stonetools says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Indeed. There are all kinds of negotiations that could be engaged in so that both sides could get some of what they want. Obama even floated the trial balloon of appointing a moderate Republican. The Senate Republicans signaled that they had no interest in any compromise whatsoever. Hopefully, the Democrats will make them pay by winning a big Senate majority, modifying the filibuster, and nominating an unabashed liberal to the seat.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  26. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I would alter this a bit, as I do not understand why the ideological point of view of the exiting Justice is relevant. That seems to suggest that a seat belongs to a certain POV, which I see no basis for.

    Note that both Obama and Biden expressed a similar viewpoint when the shoe was on the other foot. I think that, had Ruth Bader Ginsburg stepped down, Obama would be entitled to replace her with an extremely well qualified liberal Justice, given that it wouldn’t shift the balance of the Court other than agewise. Given divided government, I don’t think he’s entitled to replace Scalia with a younger Ginsburg. (My view has shifted somewhat on this over the years, as at one time I’d have said “any highly qualified nominee, period.” But I’ve come to think Bork shouldn’t have been confirmed and opposed Harriet Mier at the time.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  27. Jenos Idanian says:

    @stonetools: Obama even floated the trial balloon of appointing a moderate Republican.

    Oh, please. Get real. The Republicans were idiots to put out that blanket refusal, but Obama was trolling with that “trial balloon.” Be honest — the guy was a Republican, a politician, white, male, and heterosexual. Obama’s nominee might hit two, possibly three of those criteria, but all five? No way. It was cheap political theater, demonstrating that neither side is serious at this point about the matter.

    It did give the GOP an opportunity to walk back their move, which they blew, but it was Obama trolling.

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  28. Rafer Janders says:

    @MBunge:

    The Lewinsky matter only became acceptable to Democrats because they decided nothing mattered except beating the GOP

    No, it wasn’t that it was “acceptable”, it was that it was (a) really none of our business what consenting adults do, (b) not that important in the grand scheme of things, (c) not in any way a high crime or misdemeanor worthy of impeachment, and (d) universally recognized that the supposed Republican indignation about it was entirely faux and ginned up for political advantage.

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  29. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Joyner:

    I think that, had Ruth Bader Ginsburg stepped down, Obama would be entitled to replace her with an extremely well qualified liberal Justice, given that it wouldn’t shift the balance of the Court other than agewise.

    Again,why shouldn’t the balance of the Court shift? Is there some sort of immutable law that the Court must have a 5-4 tilt towards the right of which I am unaware? Especially given that the Democrats have won the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 elections since 1992, thereby expressing a clear preference over time by the American people that they want Supreme Court Justices appointed by Democrats?

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  30. Pch101 says:

    For what it’s worth, the Kenneth Starr affair is what turned me from being an independent liberal who sometimes voted for Republicans into an anti-Republican who always votes for Democrats just for the sake of opposing Republicans, even though I am not and probably never will be a Democrat.

    When a political party fails to win the presidency, its recourse is to find a candidate who can convince enough of us that he or she is worthy of our votes. Politics are a game and some nastiness is par for the course, but trying to use dress stains, Jesus and Kenya as excuses for overturning election results crosses the line. That underhandedness is sufficient justification for keeping the Republicans out of office whenever possible until they can reinvent themselves.

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  31. C. Clavin says:

    @JKB:

    For some reason, even you, among the many others seem to think that compromise is a one-way street where the Right must always give way.

    What planet do you live on? Democrats have been trying to compromise. Republicans have been playing “my-way-or-the-highway” for the last two terms. No Republican votes for a Republican Health Care Reform program….that works. Turned down a Grand Bargain that included entitlement cuts because they absolutely would not accept any revenue increases. Now they won’t even consider a nominee?
    You’re delusional.

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  32. MarkedMan says:

    The modern Republican Party officialdom is comprised of people who are against things. Being for something results in losing office. End of story. How a party that once had a wealth of decent pragmatic leaders got to this point is fascinating but ultimately irrelevant. Becaus today they are merely obstacles. They cannot be part of a solution to anything. And so a vicious cycle begins. Young, capable people who want to make a diiference do so with the Dems or outside of government. Blowhards who thrive on insult and view everything in terms of their “team” gravitate to the Repubs or, more extreme, the militias. Every election cycle the trend reinforces itself a bit more.

    And this matters a great deal. Climate change is going to impose huge challenges as a billion or more people are displaced. But that will be dwarfed by the coming “hockey stick” trend in automation. I started in engineering in the 80’s when we were applying digital technology to existing systems. I could pick virtually anything on the traditionally mechanical system I was working on and within a year or two have something that was twice as good than what twenty or thirty years and dozens of (smarter than me) engineers had achieved. And we are in that mode again with intelligent automation. There is technology in motion that could replace truckers, cab drivers, Uber drivers, apple pickers, brick layers, sheet rock hangers, bulldozer operators, and on and on. What happens? Riots? Laws prohibiting such things? People paid not to work?

    In the Libertarian fantasyland all of this will sort itself out. But in the real world governments will be involved for good or bad. Does anyone think that today’s Republican Party could be anything other than obstacles? In the years they’ve controlled congress, has there been one constructive effort? I’m not even talking about something requiring vision. Have they worked on anything constructive at all?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  33. stonetools says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    Hey, Im glad Obama is blessed with moronic ideologues as enemies. The right thing for the Republicans to do would have been to walk back their move, and grasp onto that trial balloon, saying that they would welcome consideration of a moderate Republican. But they couldn’t even do that, so stuck are they and Republican voters on mindless obstruction to the KenyanMooslimusurper.
    Obama is going to play them like a fish all election season long on this, with hopefully good results for the Senate Democrats in November.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  34. James Joyner says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Again,why shouldn’t the balance of the Court shift? Is there some sort of immutable law that the Court must have a 5-4 tilt towards the right of which I am unaware?

    It should. Replacing Scalia with a moderate would shift it decidedly to the left and possibly for decades. Given their control of the Senate, I don’t think Republicans are required to confirm a very liberal replacement for a very conservative Justice. But I think Obama is entitled to appoint a Justice until he becames a true lame duck.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  35. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Joyner:

    I think that, had Ruth Bader Ginsburg stepped down, Obama would be entitled to replace her with an extremely well qualified liberal Justice, given that it wouldn’t shift the balance of the Court other than agewise.

    Getting back to this, this is an extremely bizarre thing to say – if Scalia died Obama has to appoint a centrist Justice, keeping the Court at a 5-4 tilt against liberals, but if Ginsburg had died, then Obama could appoint a liberal justice, keeping the Court at….a 5-4 tilt against liberals? It presupposes, as Stephen notes above, that the Court should always favor Republicans, despite the popular vote for the last quarter-century favoring Democrats. Nice balance there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  36. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Joyner:

    Replacing Scalia with a moderate would shift it decidedly to the left and possibly for decades.

    Again, yeah, and, so? Why not? Elections have consequences, you know. Since the American people keep voting in Democrats to the presidency, there’s a clear preference for a leftward tilt to the Court away from the rightward tilt that Reagan and Bush established.

    Given their control of the Senate, I don’t think Republicans are required to confirm a very liberal replacement for a very conservative Justice.

    In 1991, Democrats had control of the Senate, but they confirmed the very conservative Thomas as replacement for the very liberal Marshall – which they did because Thomas was the president’s choice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  37. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Joyner:

    Given their control of the Senate, I don’t think Republicans are required to confirm a very liberal replacement for a very conservative Justice.

    Is “what we’re required to do” the only standard, or are there accepted norms and customs that we observe because without them American democracy becomes unworkable?

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  38. James Joyner says:

    @Rafer Janders: Thomas was subjected to very contentious hearings and was ultimately confirmed by “a 52–48 vote on October 15, 1991, the narrowest margin for approval in more than a century.[75] The final floor vote was: 41 Republicans and 11 Democrats voted to confirm while 46 Democrats and two Republicans voted to reject the nomination.” It was a very different time in our politics, alas. We’ve become much more contentious.

    @Rafer Janders: I use “required” in a moral sense. Constitutionally, they have no obligations whatsoever. But I think being sporting requires that Obama gets to confirm a moderate to replace Scalia near the end of his tenure but was entitled to liberal judges early in his tenure, especially when replacing liberal judges.

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  39. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner: It is worth noting that Thomas’ contentious nomination was contentious not for ideological reasons, but because of accusations of sexual harassment. “Who put this pubic hair on my Coke?”, etc.

    And, these accusations fit into America’s troubled views on race and black men as predators, which caused some on the right (possibly Thomas himself) to refer to it as a “high tech lynching”.

    And, as convincing as Thomas’ testimony about all of this was, Anita Hills’ testimony was just as convincing.

    And then, you have the questions of Thomas’ competence — again, with a bit of America’s troubled views on race assuming that a black man could never be qualified, combined with Thomas’ relatively thin level of accomplishments. And the questions of whether his rise was simply the benefit of affirmative action.

    And, in the end, once he was confirmed, he has been a judicial benchwarmer just taking up a slot on the right. The most notable things about him now are his never asking questions, and his refusal to fill of disclosure forms on his wife’s advocacy work or recuse himself in cases where this creates a conflict of interest.

    Thomas may have gotten the smallest number of votes to confirm of any justice actually confirmed in the last N years, but he was a pretty mediocre candidate with a whole lot of baggage, who has turned out to be mediocre. Advice and concent was pretty spot on.

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  40. stonetools says:

    @James Joyner:

    In any case, all of this is academic. The Republicans have already signaled that they’re opposed to any Obama nominee whatsoever, regardless of character, qualifications, or political or legal persuasion. Obama is thus free to nominate any of five or six nominees with impeccable qualifications and innocuous voting records. He can then sit back and watch Senate Republicans lapse into babbling incoherence as they try to justify why the nominee isn’t worthy of at least a hearing. It will make for interesting, depressing theater, and will galvanize the Democratic base to turn out. Normally, Democrats aren’t interested in judicial nominations the way Republicans are. They will be interested this time though, especially if Obama goes out and campaigns hard for it, as he undoubtedly will.

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  41. Pch101 says:

    This is what negotiator Herb Cohen referred to as “Soviet-style negotiation”: Take an extreme position in an effort to move the middle closer to their side of the table, while putting on a show of bravado (e.g. Kruschev pounding a shoe on the table), then collapsing like a house of cards if it doesn’t work.

    In any case, the hope here is to use this nomination as a wedge issue that increases the GOP’s odds of winning in November. Holding the hearings now would obviously deprive them of that.

    And conservative populists loathe negotiation, seeing it as a sign of weakness and the absence of principles — yes, acting like lunatics isn’t just how they roll, but a source of pride. So short of replacing Scalia with a new Scalia on steroids, there is no way to proceed with hearings in a way that will please the hard right. They want the world and they want it now.

    This really typifies today’s GOP: Anyone who isn’t shouting at the top of his lungs, hurling epithets at minorities and generally freaking out is denounced as a RINO. You can’t be nice to them without earning their contempt, and the last thing that they’ll respect is bipartisanship with a party that is anywhere to its left.

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  42. anjin-san says:

    @James Joyner:

    Reagan managed to govern

    Reagan had a pragmatic streak, and he liked to get things done. The days of Howard Baker and Tip O’neill rolling up their sleeves and hashing things out seem like a very long time ago now…

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  43. al-Ameda says:

    @James Joyner:

    It should. Replacing Scalia with a moderate would shift it decidedly to the left and possibly for decades. Given their control of the Senate, I don’t think Republicans are required to confirm a very liberal replacement for a very conservative Justice. But I think Obama is entitled to appoint a Justice until he becames a true lame duck.

    I don’t normally place wagers but ….

    If Obama nominated an “Anthony Kennedy” type of Justice I have no doubt that Republicans would not approve that nomination.

    As you know, as conservative as Scalia was known and understood to be at the time of his nomination to the Supreme Court, he was approved without opposition. Why? Because of his strong qualification, credentials and experience – which is as it should be.

    We’ve moved very far from that standard – nominees like Kagan, Sotomayor, and Alito should have been voted to the Court with strong bipartisan approval – but these days we care a lot more about ideology than about qualification.

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  44. anjin-san says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    Or you just can’t bring yourself to admit that you’re a (very small) part of what gave us Trump.

    And you can’t bring yourself to admit that you (and people like you) are a bigger part of what gave us Trump.

    Not terribly bright. Check.
    Ignorant/willfully ignorant. Check.
    Bone headed denial of reality. Check

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  45. Jenos Idanian says:

    @anjin-san: Oh, look. Condescending asshole offers nothing but gratuitous personal insults.

    You sure you want to use the only trick you have in your bag all at once?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 9

  46. Jenos Idanian says:

    But re: Bill Clinton —

    If a CEO chooses to engage in a consensual sexual relationship with an employee who is very, very, very much his subordinate (assuming consent is even possible with that level of power disparity), engaging in sexual relations in the workplace, lie under oath about the relationship under oath, and then reward her silence with a very well-paying job under someone else, it really isn’t any business of the stockholders, is it? They should just shut up and let him bang the help in the office all he wants, ‘cuz it’s private.

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  47. Dmichael says:

    @Ron Beasley: I respond to Ron’s post not merely because I am an Oregonian but also because it reflects a larger point about this post and David Brooks. David Brooks is a right wing hack that needs his readers to forget what he wrote the previous week and in previous years when not pretending to be an “objective observer.” If you need evidence, read Driftglass. When forced to face Republican obstructionism, he resorts to “both sides do it.” As an Oregonian for nearly 40 years, I am confident in saying that that our legislative assembly works, even when nearly evenly split (and in fact, about three sessions ago, it WAS actually numerically even in one of the chambers). It can be done when a sufficient number of Republicans believe that government can do something worthwhile. It is not the Democrats who believe government is the problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  48. SKI says:

    @James Joyner: remind me who Scalia replaced again….

    Oh, that’s right it was Warren Burger. With the exception of being anti-gay, Scalia is quite a contrast. Even where Burger was conservative (crim), Scalia was far more protective of defendants’ rights.

    Explain to me again how much we have to preserve the ideological consistency of the seat…

    Also this

    The problem is that the rubes took the extreme rhetoric seriously and finally figured out that the Republicans they were electing weren’t living up to the rhetoric. Thus, the Tea Party.

    Misses the elephant in the room; POTUS was black.

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  49. An Interested Party says:

    Now, if Obama were to nominate a moderate Justice candidate, then the leveraging would have worked.

    What is this horse$hit…Scalia’s body was barely cold when McConnell basically told the president not to nominate anyone…

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  50. DrDaveT says:

    @Pch101:

    For what it’s worth, the Kenneth Starr affair is what turned me from being an independent liberal who sometimes voted for Republicans into an anti-Republican who always votes for Democrats just for the sake of opposing Republicans, even though I am not and probably never will be a Democrat.

    Exactly. This.

    I have no love for the Democratic Party and their history of venality and pandering. But compared to the Republicans, for at least the last 50 years, the choice is pretty obvious.

    …Which makes it all the more ironic when James writes:

    Barack Obama contributed to this when the sweeping rhetoric of his 2008 campaign failed to match a relatively pragmatic governing style.

    …entirely failing to notice the overwhelming fact of Obama’s presidency, which was that he campaigned on a list of very popular reforms, but instead was forced to spend his entire 8 years trying to undo the worst of the damage done by his predecessor’s administration. It’s not his fault that he promised to renovate the kitchen and put on a new roof, but instead had to spend that time and money repairing catastrophic fire and water damage.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  51. An Interested Party says:

    To be sure, Barack Obama contributed to this when the sweeping rhetoric of his 2008 campaign failed to match a relatively pragmatic governing style.

    Indeed…rather than the soaring rhetoric he should have simply told the truth…

    “Republicans in Congress only care about getting their own way, some will even treat my presidency as illegitimate, and they will oppose me at just about every turn even with sensible things that will help the country as a whole”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  52. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @James Joyner: I’m still ambivalent about Bork as I have played Devil’s Advocate in academic settings many times myself, although recent revelations that I have seen discussed here recently certainly make some of his “Devil’s Advocate” positions seem less “hypothetical” than he portrayed them. Describing Harriet Miers as qualified in any sense of the word baffles me (although I do note that you only hinted at that idea by implication).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  53. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @JKB:

    Now, if Obama were to nominate a moderate Justice candidate, then the leveraging would have worked.

    I’m guessing you missed that trial balloon where the proposition of nominating a moderate Republican was met with a resouding “NO” from the powers that be in the Senate. They want their Scalia 2.0, and it appears that they actually believe (for reasons passing understanding) that they’ll get him/her.

    It’s the definition of partisan insanity.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  54. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @SKI:

    Scalia replaced Rehnquist. Rehnquist replaced Burger.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  55. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @anjin-san: In the human scale of things, 30 or so years ago is a long time ago

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  56. anjin-san says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    Well, I can’t talk to you about actual issues, that stuff goes right over your head. Why don’t you just tell everyone what a victim you are and call it a day?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  57. Kylopod says:

    @Jenos Idanian: Please point me to the part of the Constitution stating that the standard for impeaching a president should be the same as for firing a CEO.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  58. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Kylopod: The Constitution is totally vague on what the standard for impeachment is — ” Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” means whatever Congress wants it to mean.

    Bill Clinton was being sued for attempting to engage in a sexual relationship with a very low-ranking subordinate while he was governor of Arkansas. In the course of that suit, he was asked under oath about his alleged sexual relationship with a very low-ranking subordinate while he was president, which was admissible under a sexual harassment law he himself signed. He lied about that relationship, and worked like hell to get others to lie for him.

    Just which unwritten exception to the law covers that situation?

    1) He’s a Clinton; they’re allowed to lie when it will personally benefit them.

    2) Had he told the truth, it would have helped Republicans, so he had to lie.

    3) The lie was about sex, and it’s OK to lie about sex, even in a lawsuit based on sexual conduct.

    4) Some other people have committed adultery, so it’s fine that Bill Clinton tried to pressure a subordinate into a sexual relationship.

    It’s complicated, so I understand if you think more than one applies here.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 9

  59. James Joyner says:

    @SKI: I don’t doubt that race played a part in the rise of the Tea Party. But, fundamentally, it was a revolt against the Republican Establishment, not Obama. They started nominating much more extreme candidates and voting out top notch Republicans who had been in office for years, were conservatives by any sane measure, for having compromised too much. It was a backlash against bailouts—which Bush had signed off on before Obama increased them—and Medicare Plan B and all sorts of things that had passed with sane Republican votes.

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: As I noted somewhere upthread, I came over time to think Bork, who was brilliant and otherwise qualified, probably shouldn’t have been confirmed. But that’s because, over time, it became more fully clear to me what a crackpot he was. I always thought Harriet Mier was a decent and impressive woman who was nominally qualified for the Supreme Court but who wasn’t up to the standard that has been the norm for the last century and thus opposed her confirmation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  60. Moosebreath says:

    @James Joyner:

    “As I noted somewhere upthread, I came over time to think Bork, who was brilliant and otherwise qualified, probably shouldn’t have been confirmed. But that’s because, over time, it became more fully clear to me what a crackpot he was”

    James, just because you were late to that realization doesn’t mean we all were. When I was in law school, but before he was nominated to the Supremes, he was generally referred to as “Bork from Ork”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  61. Kylopod says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    The Constitution is totally vague on what the standard for impeachment is — ” Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” means whatever Congress wants it to mean.

    Baloney. “High crimes and misdemeanors” is a much, much stricter standard for throwing a person out than for almost any other job in America. Of course Congress gets the power to interpret the phrase however they like, but the Framers deliberately made the process very difficult, which is why it’s only happened twice in history. Bringing up the things which can get a CEO fired is a non sequitur, because CEOs get fired all the time for matters well below criminal acts, including simply bad job performance. The Congress which impeached Bill Clinton understood this distinction in principle, which is why not a single one of the articles of impeachment was that Clinton had had an affair with a subordinate. Of course they could have impeached him for the affair itself and called it a “high crime and misdemeanor” if they had so chosen, but they didn’t because they knew no one would buy it.

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  62. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    Clinton was impeached, and had a trial in the Senate in which he was acquitted. I’m not sure what more you think is called for with respect to satisfying the mandates of the Constitution here.

    And before you go off on some party line tangent, 10 of the votes to acquit came from Republicans.

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  63. gVOR08 says:

    Can we get over any idea that David Brooks is a centrist? David Brooks pretends to be a centrist. Appearing to be centrist is key to his success (fading, I think) as the world’s champion concern troll. David Brooks is a committed mouthpiece of the Republican Establishment.

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  64. gVOR08 says:

    @gVOR08: I commented above without having had a chance to read the Brooks column in question, feeling the risk of mis-characterizing Brooks to be minimal. I have now read the column. It’s typical Brooks, both sides do it, although he can’t right now come up with a Dem example. He’s supporting the GOP establishment fight against Trump, while trying to lay the blame for Trump elsewhere. If you disbelieve my characterization, looks like about the first fifty “readers picks” comments make my case.

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