Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Scott Lemieux

rss feed

Sunday Linkage, JOHNNY HOCKEY! Edition

[ 45 ] April 26, 2015 |

Why the U.S. Is Going Forward on SSM and Backwards On Reproductive Rights

[ 233 ] April 25, 2015 |

Many great points from Pollitt here. Two points are particularly worthy of emphasis. First, the extent to which SSM meshes better with traditionalist conceptions of the family:

Marriage equality is about love, romance, commitment, settling down, starting a family. People love love! But marriage equality is also about tying love to family values, expanding a conservative institution that has already lost most of its coercive social power and become optional for millions. (Marriage equality thus follows Pollitt’s law: Outsiders get access when something becomes less valued, which is why women can be art historians and African-Americans win poetry prizes.) Far from posing a threat to marriage, as religious opponents claim, permitting gays to marry gives the institution a much-needed update, even as it presents LGBT people as no threat to the status quo: Instead of promiscuous child molesters and lonely gym teachers, gays and lesbians are your neighbors who buy Pottery Barn furniture and like to barbecue.

Reproductive rights, by contrast, is about sex—sexual freedom, the opposite of marriage—in all its messy, feckless glory. It replaces the image of women as chaste, self-sacrificing mothers dependent on men with that of women as independent, sexual, and maybe not so self-sacrificing. It doesn’t matter that contraception is indispensable to modern life, that abortion antedates the sexual revolution by thousands of years, that plenty of women who have abortions are married, or that most (60 percent) who have abortions are already mothers. Birth control and abortion allow women—and, to a lesser extent, men—to have sex without punishment, a.k.a. responsibility. And our puritanical culture replies: You should pay for that pleasure, you slut.

And, second, the class dimensions of abortion rights:

Marriage equality has cross-class appeal: Anyone can have an LGBT child, and parents across the political spectrum naturally want their kids to have the same opportunities other children have. Any woman might find herself needing an abortion, too, but she may not realize that. Improvements in birth control mean that prosperous, educated women with private doctors can control their fertility pretty well—certainly better than women who rely on public clinics—and if they need an abortion, they can get one. It’s low-income women who suffer the most from abortion restrictions—and since when have their issues been at the top of the middle and upper classes’ to-do list?

This is a longstanding hobbyhorse of mine, but the fact that affluent women in urban centers will have access to safe abortions under virtually any legal regime is crucial to abortion politics. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when the Court hacked away at Roe in Casey, the one form of arbitrary regulation that it struck down (spousal notification) was the one that would impose a roughly equivalent burden to women similarly situated to Sandra Day O’Connor.

Another Republican Miracle

[ 52 ] April 24, 2015 |

A couple of people on Twitter thought when they read the description that my article about Kansas would be about Louisiana.  And, certainly, Republican governance has been a disaster in the Pelican State as well:

Louisiana’s flagship university began putting together the paperwork for declaring financial exigency this week when the Legislature appeared to make little progress on finding a state budget solution, according to F. King Alexander, president and chancellor of LSU.

“We don’t say that to scare people,” he said. “Basically, it is how we are going to survive.”

Moody’s Investors Service also announced this month that it was lowering LSU’s credit outlook from positive to stable based on concerns about the university’s overall financial support. The lowering of LSU’s credit rating makes it more likely the university will have to pay more for its building projects in the future.

Being in a state of financial exigency means a university’s funding situation is so difficult that the viability of the entire institution is threatened. The status makes it easier for public colleges to shut down programs and lay off tenured faculty, but it also tarnishes the school’s reputation, making it harder to recruit faculty and students.

“You’ll never get any more faculty,” said Alexander, if LSU pursues financial exigency.

The Louisiana Legislature is closing out its meetings this week without having made much progress in finding more funding for universities, colleges and others. Louisiana’s higher education community is facing an 82 percent funding cut if no extra state money is found.

The change would bring state funding for LSU from around $3,500 per undergraduate student to $660 per undergraduate student next year.

Have the tax cuts that devastated Lousiania’s public services led to more economic growth? Haha no.

Needless to say, aggressively promoting anti-LBGT public policy is the next step.

Oh, So That’s What’s the Matter With Kansas

[ 6 ] April 24, 2015 |


So you’ve wrecked your state with a disastrous experiment in crackpot supply-side economics. What are you going to do now? Why, target the poor, women, and gays and lesbians with gratuitous, discriminatory, and irrational legal disabilities of course.

With respect to the recent Kansas ban on dilation and evacuation abortions, what Justice Stevens said about bans on D&X abortions applies equally to this statute:

Although much ink is spilled today describing the gruesome nature of late-term abortion procedures, that rhetoric does not provide me a reason to believe that the procedure Nebraska here claims it seeks to ban is more brutal, more gruesome, or less respectful of “potential life” than the equally gruesome procedure Nebraska claims it still allows. Justice Ginsburg and Judge Posner have, I believe, correctly diagnosed the underlying reason for the enactment of this legislation–a reason that also explains much of the Court’s rhetoric directed at an objective that extends well beyond the narrow issue that this case presents. The rhetoric is almost, but not quite, loud enough to obscure the quiet fact that during the past 27 years, the central holding of Roe v. Wade has been endorsed by all but 4 of the 17 Justices who have addressed the issue. That holding–that the word “liberty” in the Fourteenth Amendment includes a woman’s right to make this difficult and extremely personal decision–makes it impossible for me to understand how a State has any legitimate interest in requiring a doctor to follow any procedure other than the one that he or she reasonably believes will best protect the woman in her exercise of this constitutional liberty. But one need not even approach this view today to conclude that Nebraska’s law must fall. For the notion that either of these two equally gruesome procedures performed at this late stage of gestation is more akin to infanticide than the other, or that the State furthers any legitimate interest by banning one but not the other, is simply irrational. See U.S. Const., Amdt. 14.

Alas, majority of the Supreme Court thinks that regulations that negatively burden the health and fundamental rights of women without any rational justification whatsoever is perfectly OK, because women are kind of irrational themselves — ask this scientician!

More Cosby Victims

[ 11 ] April 24, 2015 |

I’m beginning to think there might be a pattern here.

How Mandates Can Matter

[ 19 ] April 23, 2015 |


Julia Azari — who has written a very valuable recent book on the subject — has a useful corrective to my too-glib dismissal of the concept of mandates:

Mandates are essentially stories that tie the practice of political power to the processes that constrain it – namely, the will of the electorate and the rule of law. The content of these stories, and the extent to which they are invoked to justify governance, vary a lot based on the circumstances. And like a lot of stories, much of what we tell ourselves about mandates is owed to invention rather than fact. That doesn’t make the idea of electoral mandates any less important. If anything, it gives us more reason to pay attention.

This is fair. The fact that “mandates” don’t mean what pundits think they mean doesn’t mean that the concept is devoid of value.

With respect to both the point of how perception (as Gordon Gekko would say) becomes reality and the broader point of the centrist pundit view of politics that includes things like the more vulgar understanding of mandates, I’ve been thinking about a point that occurred to me when writing my review of Julian Zelizer’s new book. In a sense, the idea that informed voters pay attention to procedural details and punish obstructionism could function as a sort of noble lie that allowed the presidential system to function. Everett Dirksen both thought that it was his professional obligation to work with the president and the Democratic congressional leadership to pass legislation and thought it was in his political self-interest to do so after Goldwater got clobbered.  This mattered. Mitch McConnell’s analysis of the politics — i.e. that the public doesn’t pay attention to procedural details or in most cases understand how to assign responsibility, so it’s always in the interest of the opposition to obstruct the president’s agenda — is more accurate, but the norms he has created make the government much less functional.

As the data Azari collected and analyzed in Delivering the People’s Message shows, the increasing use of “mandate” rhetoric from presidents in response to polarization is a reflection of weakness more than strength. I would add that a crucial aspect of presidential systems that complicates and potentially confounds electoral accountability — the fact that both legislators and presidents can claim mandates — means that the dysfunction of divided government under current norms is likely to get worse before it gets better.

The Political Origins of Judicial Power

[ 50 ] April 23, 2015 |


An error in this article about Steve King’s discriminatory jurisdiction-stripping bill allows me to explain something about the foundations of judicial power in the U.S. that many people aren’t aware of:

King’s bill strips way Article III of the Constitution, which gives federal courts the jurisdiction to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, any type of marriage.

Although this is counterintiutive, King’s bill “doesn’t strip away Article III.” It actually seeks to exercise powers given to Congress by Article III:

In all the other cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make.

The Court repeatedly held in the 19th century that the exceptions clause permitted Congress to strip jurisdiction from federal courts, even in cases involving rights as fundamental as habeas corpus. As some of you know, Congess used these powers in 1932 to stop federal courts from issuing injunctions in most labor disputes.

This is not to say that King’s proposed bill is constitutional. Stripping jurisdiction to target a particular class of people raises obvious 5th Amendment problems, and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld at the very least undermines the logic of Ex Parte McCardle. And, evidently, King’s bill is a disgrace on the merits. But judicial authority rests much less on fixed Article III powers than most people imagine: the size of the Supreme Court, not only the size but the existence of lower federal courts, and the appellate jurisdiction of federal courts are all subject to control by Congress. Judicial authority has grown because members of Congress generally support judicial authority (which is one reason why King’s bill will be DOA even though a majority of members of the House presumably agree with its substantive ends.) Statutes like the Judiciary Act of 1789 are infinitely more important to the establishment of judicial power than Marbury v. Madison was.

History’s Greatest Monster in the History of History Itself May Escape Punishment For Horrible Crimes

[ 78 ] April 22, 2015 |


You may recall federal prosecutors wasting tens of millions of dollars prosecuting Barry Bonds. Bonds committed the Very Serious crime of breaking non-enforced non-rules threatening the sentimental fog of various narcissistic sportswriters, and hence was targeted in an indirect War on (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs prosecution. While prosecutors came up with a goose egg in their similarly asinine prosecution of History’s Other Greatest Monster Roger Clemens, they were able to secure a conviction against Barry Bonds. The conviction was on an obstruction of justice charge. What was the basis for the obstruction charge? Bonds was asked a question in court and gave a rambling non-answer to a question…that he answered directly in a follow-up question.

It’s as absurd as it sounds, and Bonds’s conviction was thrown out today by the 9th circuit. A superb use of taxpayer dollars!

I’ll give the final word to Judge Kozinski’s concurrence:

Making everyone who participates in our justice system a potential criminal defendant for conduct that is nothing more than the ordinary tug and pull of litigation risks chilling zealous advocacy. It also gives prosecutors the immense and unreviewable power to reward friends and punish enemies by prosecuting the latter and giving the former a pass. The perception that prosecutors have such a potent weapon in their arsenal, even if never used, may well dampen the fervor with which lawyers, particularly those representing criminal defendants, will discharge their duties. The amorphous nature of the statute is also at odds with the constitutional requirement that individuals have fair notice as to what conduct may be criminal.

Merry Krautmas!

[ 34 ] April 22, 2015 |

On a certain pundit’s permanent credibility problem, in the context of his accusing Obama of making Iran an economic and military hegemon:

This is a … remarkably un-self-aware … set of fulminations coming from a pundit who advocated invading Iraq as the second stage of a Grand Master Plan which would precipitate regime change in Iran by demonstrating “the fragility of dictatorship” next door. How exactly did that work out? Right. And I think we’ve already touched on Charles Krauthammer’s magisterial grasp of anti-proliferation issues – the man who confidently opined that we needed to go into Iraq, because Saddam “is working on nuclear weapons [and] … has every incentive to pass them on to terrorists who will use them against us,” should really just shut up. Forever. And not only shut up, but devote the rest of his life to doing whatever pathetically inadequate things he can to make up for the strategic and humanitarian catastrophe that he helped cheer-lead. Of course, Charles Krauthammer has no intention of shutting up. Which is why I’m marking this squalid anniversary yet again.

The Vacuous Cynicism of Florida Republicans Who Oppose the Medicaid Expansion

[ 43 ] April 22, 2015 |


Jon Cohn has a good piece on Florida Republicans painting themselves into a corner on the Medicaid expansion:

To put it another way, expanding Medicaid in Florida would likely require a net investment by state taxpayers that, over the course of a decade, would work out to less than a half-billion dollars a year. That’s without accounting for any additional growth and tax revenues that the huge infusion of federal dollars might provide. That’s also without accounting for the more than $1 billion a year in that, without expanding Medicaid, Florida would probably have to scrounge up in order to help hospitals defray the cost of charity care.

In short, if the numbers were lopsided in favor of expanding Medicaid before, they are even more lopsided now. And it’s not as if anybody is arguing seriously that those grants are a superior way of financing care for the poor. If anything, the opposite is true — and it’s one reason the editorial page of the Tampa Bay Times called Scott’s position “indefensible.” Other editorial pages, civic organizations, and business groups across the state have made similar statements.


No, the level of hostility to Obamacare makes very little sense — unless it’s about something beyond the policy particulars. It could be the fact that Democrats finally accomplished something big, for the first time in several decades, thereby expanding the welfare state at a time when conservatives thought they were on their way to shrinking it. Or it could be the idea that, on net, the Affordable Care Act transfers resources away from richer, whiter people to poorer, darker people. Or it could be the fact that “Obamacare” contains the word “Obama,” whose legitimacy as president at least some conservatives just can’t accept.

Who knows? The only thing certain is that, in Florida, turning down Medicaid has even weaker logic than it did before — except for officials obsessed with Obamacare or determined to please the people who are. Rick Scott may belong in either category and he might just belong in both.

Greg Sargent observes that one anti-Medicaid-expansion Florida rep “chanted ‘liberty’ as he walked past reporters camped in the hallway.” Poor people suffering and dying because they lack access to health care is not a “liberty” that should be valued very highly. But, as Sargent says, the rather obvious problem here is that there isn’t even any such principle involved. Scott and his allies aren’t opposed in principle to the federal government giving Florida money to cover health care for poor people. They’re opposed to the federal government giving Florida money to cover health care for poor people if it’s done via “Obamacare.” It’s pretty hard to argue that there’s some sort of major liberty interest involved when you’re literally making (idiotic) arguments that the state of Florida is constitutionality entitled to federal health care grants.

Evidently, exposing the empty, posturing mendacity of the Florida Republicans who oppose the Medicaid expansion won’t be much consolation to the poor people who will be denied health care in the short term. But eventually (particularly after Obama leaves office), more and more states are going to start taking the money.

Speaking of which, it looks like despite the barrage of money from the lavishly taxpayer-subsidized Koch brothers Montana will be taking the Medicaid expansion. Not in an ideal form, but still a major improvement on the status quo. Every state counts.

“Hell Exists On Earth? Yes. This Fall on HBO.”

[ 16 ] April 22, 2015 |

Rarely has a more terrifying sentence appeared in these virtual pages:

Whitney Cummings has landed an untitled pilot inspired by Maureen Dowd’s book “Are Men Necessary?” at the pay cable network…

I feel I should have saved some of the invective I used for The Newsroom. Hopefully at least Cummings’s character will be named “Judy Miller…”

More #PSFrustration

[ 98 ] April 21, 2015 |


Jennifer Victor has a very useful addition to the debate. Since people are oddly defensive about the idea that gerrymandering is responsible for polarization, let’s start here:

Gerrymandering does not cause political polarization. The U.S. Senate is the best example here: there is no gerrymandering in the Senate because state lines are not often redrawn, yet the Senate has become increasingly polarized in recent years, just like the house. The causes of political polarization are complex and interactive; redrawing districts may play some role but it is not the boogeyman of politics that it is often made out to be.

That’s pretty much checkmate. Also note that even to the very modest extent to which the House is more polarized than the Senate, most of that is about redistricting, not gerrymandering. Even if districts were drawn in an entirely nonpartisan manner, legislators representing local constituencies would be expected to be more polarized than those represented statewide constituencies.

Gerrymandering is potentially relevant to American politics because it distorts electoral outcomes. It’s not relevant because of “polarization.”

I also wanted to repeat something I said in comments about this:

There will never be a viable third party in the U.S. The number of parties in any democracy is determined by its electoral rules. The U.S. has one representative for each congressional district (rather than many) and the candidate who earns the most votes wins. This combination of rules nearly always produces a system with two parties. Third party movements in the U.S. have a tendency to get absorbed by existing strong parties. Political scientists refer to this as Duverger’s Law.

In addition, even if it were possible to have a multiparty system in Congress — and I don’t think it is given the separation of the executive and legislative branches and the electoral college — it’s never really clear what problems third parties are supposed to solve. From the left, calls for third parties are fundamentally a means ignoring the fact that votes (particularly as distorted by the Senate’s malapportionment, single-member house districts, and the electoral college) just aren’t there. Putting the leftmost members of Congress into a new Magic Pony Party Just For You, The Valued Customer party doesn’t make the median vote in the Senate any more liberal. There’s no problem worth solving that dividing the Democratic coalition into multiple parties would actually solve. Indeed, I think it would probably act as an additional veto point that would make things worse — if you thought that the Democratic Congresses under Carter were too productive, you’d love a Congress controlled by an ad hoc multi-party coalition that had to assemble a coalition for every issue without a strong party apparatus.

We cannot be reminded too much that conflict is what politics is about:

Electing the right person to a position of power in Washington will not “fix” politics. While our politics has never been more divided, the divisions are natural and perhaps “true” representations of differing ideologies, beliefs, and preferences. Our government is designed, in some ways, to foster division and (dis)agreement, and to encourage slow, incremental, and glacial progress. The alternative would leave us all dizzy with constant change and lurching policies. The Messiah being elected president would not change this. Disagreement is a natural by-product of democracy, so we should learn to value it more.

Just so. And, finally, it’s always important to be reminded that “mandate” is a Latin word meaning “bullshit.”

There is no such thing as a political mandate–I don’t care how much you won your election by. This is true for more than one reason, but mostly it’s true because people elect candidates not platforms. Also, Condorcet and Arrow tell us that even when a majority has chosen something, it doesn’t mean that thing is the “will” of the group. This is because a different majority could have chosen a different, just as legitimate, option.

I remember having more than one earnest conversation in 2000 with people who assured me that it wouldn’t matter if Bush won because he wouldn’t really have a “mandate” to do anything. One thing Bush did understand is that it’s pretty much all nonsense.

Page 1 of 76312345...102030...Last »