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Third Party Nihilism: The Arguments Can Always Get Worse!

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To its credit, the occasional inexplicable book-plugging interview aside Salon no longer promotes Camille Paglia. Alas, it is now fairly regularly publishing Matt Stoller, who is sort of Paglia but 1)with fewer references to Madonna and uses of the word “Dionysian,” and 2)less coherent. His latest ridiculous argument in favor of throwing the election to Romney has all of the same transparent defects as his previous ones, the most notable being a lack of an argument for how throwing the election to someone who is far worse than Obama on most things and better on nothing will work any better than it did in 2000. (If you’re looking for an explanation for how taking health insurance away from tens of millions of people and eliminating a major expansion of Medicaid will address economic inequality, or a defense of the implicit proposition that the uninsured should go off quitely and die somewhere until the point sometime after we’re all long dead when Senate supermajorities have the votes to eliminate the American health insurance industry, you’re out of luck.)

But he does add a couple of new twists. First of all, needless to say he asks us to take Connor Friedersdorf’s conservative case against Obama seriously, silliness we’ve already discussed plenty around here. But, even better, we have this remarkably confused argument that electing Romney won’t even matter for the Supreme Court:

Meanwhile, Obama-appointed Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor has in her career already ruled to limit access to abortion, and Elena Kagan’s stance is not yet clear. Arguing that Romney justices would overturn Roe v. Wade is a concession that Senate Democrats, as they did with Alito and Roberts, would allow an anti-choice justice through the Senate. More likely is that Romney, like Obama, simply does not care about abortion, but does care about the court’s business case rulings (the U.S. Chamber went undefeated last year). Romney has already said he won’t change abortion laws, and that all women should have access to contraception. He may be lying, but more likely is that he does not care and is being subjected to political pressure. But so is Obama, who is openly embracing abortion rights and contraception now that it is a political asset. In other words, what is moving women’s rights is not Obama or Romney, but the fact that a fierce political race has shown that women’s rights are popular. The lesson is not to support Obama, who will shelve women’s rights for another three years, but to continue making a strong case for women’s rights.

It’s hard to know even where to begin, given the sheer density of nonsense that, I fear, isn’t even being offered in bad faith. But let’s make a valiant effort at noting the most flagrant errors:

  • The fact that he takes Romney’s statement’s about not wanting to change abortion laws at face value is, in and of itself, a reason to ignore anything Stoller ever writes again.   Anybody who believes this would give their Social Security number and account information to a mortgage broker who was fired for Countrywide for being too unscrupulous.   And this would be true even leaving aside the fact that if you look carefully Romney’s alleged “moderation” on abortion was completely meaningless; it wouldn’t contradict his statements for him to sign legislation restricting abortion or to appoint anti-Roe justices (as he has, rather more credibly, pledged to do, something Stoller omits.)
  • With respect to Sonia Sotomayor’s vote against an abortion rights claim, Stoller doesn’t seem to understand the difference between a circuit court justice and a Supreme Court justice.   In ruling on the constitutionality of the Bush administration’s Mexico City policy, Sotomayor was bound to apply black-letter Supreme Court precedent (that, incidentally, while very problematic did not directly conflict with Roe v. Wade anyway.)  To infer from this ruling that there would be any chance that she would vote to overrule Roe v. Wade would be remarkably foolish.   By the same token, Sam Alito voted to strike down legislation banning D&X abortions while he was a circuit court justice, but (as everyone with the possible exception of Stuart Taylor knew he would) voted to uphold an identical federal ban as a Supreme Court justice.
  • The bigger problem is with Stoller’s belief that what Obama or Romney “really thinks” about abortion matters.   Even if we stipulate that neither cares about the issue (despite the lack of evidence), as leaders of political coalitions presidents will appoint nominees with predictable beliefs on many issues.   Even relatively squishy Democratic nominees (like Breyer) will steadfastly support Roe, and the typical Republican nominee will oppose Roe.  And even if you happen to get one of the dying breed of moderate country-club Republicans like Anthony Kennedy, note that they’re far worse on abortion rights than the typical Democratic nominee even if they won’t go quite so far as to vote to overrule Roe v. Wade.   To pretend that there’s any serious question about whether Elena Kagan or Sotomayor will vote to uphold Roe betrays remarkable ignorance about American politics even if you think that Obama could have done somewhat better (plausible in the former case, not really in the latter.)   “Political pressure,” to state the obvious, doesn’t end once an election is over.
  • For related reasons, the argument that Senate Democrats will be to blame if Romney gets an anti-Roe nominee onto the Court is also all kinds of wrong.    Sure, if Romney can get someone with an egregious paper trail like Janice Rogers Brown confirmed, you can blame Senate Democrats.    But you can’t reasonably expect Democrats to serially reject Supreme Court nominees, which means a justice who’s anti-Roe since the generic Republican appeals court judge in 2012 is anti-Roe even if there’s no Bork-like paper trail to prove it.   The third choice isn’t going to be another Blackmun or Kennedy in 2014, and both early Blackmun and Kennedy are more conservative than you might think anyway.
  • The implication that Democratic and Republican appointees are equally pro-business is also profoundly wrong (note the subtle insinuation that the Chamber of Commerce went undefeated because of Obama — you know, his two nominees could have had three votes each if they really wanted to.)    To take a couple of many examples, AT&T v. Concepcion, an extremely poorly reasoned opinion restricting the rights of consumers who had been defrauded by phone companies, was a 5-4 decision along straight party lines (including Kagan and Sotomayor in dissent.)   So was an even worse opinion gutting Arizona’s public finance law.  Etc. etc. etc.   The Supreme Court is (not surprisingly) a microcosm of the presidential race.   Breyer and Kagan might not be as liberal as Brennan and Douglas, but that doesn’t remotely make them indistinguishable from Thomas and Alito.   Just as while there are many ways in which Obama’s record is less progressive than would be desirable (sometimes due to his choices, sometimes due to structural constraints), it is really stupid to argue that there’s no real difference between Obama and Romney.

And the sad thing is that you could do this with pretty much every paragraph of the article — there’s scarcely a sentence in it that isn’t premised on an obvious factual or logical error.   Could we at least get at Obamney argument that’s a little less insulting to the reader’s intelligence?

…and, yes, the idea that throwing the election to Romney would be a good idea because opposition to awful policies is a worthwhile end in itself is insane.  By the same logic, we should have wanted Bush’s Social Security privatization plan to succeed, because that would have created even more opposition.

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