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The Jacksonian Democratic Party Could not be Revived Even if it was Desirable, Which it Most Certainly Isn’t

[ 175 ] July 8, 2015 |


Ed Kilgore has a smart intervention on the question of the Jacksonian tradition in the Democratic Party.  Let us acknowledge the one major progressive achievement of Jackson’s presidency — staring down Calhoun on nullification — before moving on to this point:

So the idea that today’s parties are simply the reverse of those of the Age of Jackson, while useful, isn’t entirely accurate. Just as we pause at Jefferson’s views on church-state separation before labeling him the father of “constitutional conservatism,” there are discontinuities in both the major party traditions after him.

There’s no question that trying to map partisan disputes and coalitions from the antebellum era onto 21st century ones is inherently problematic, and whether it has much value at all is questionable. But I would say that if we have to pick one contemporary party that’s the heir of the Jacksonian tradition, it would certainly be the Republicans, although such an answer is unnecessarily simplified.

This conclusion is beautifully put:

Still, the idea there is some distinctively Jacksonian Democracy out there waiting to be harvested by—let’s face it, this is what some anti-Obama writers implicitly suggest—a national Democratic leader of the right race or the right “populist” ideology is quixotic at best and offensive at worst. You can call it the Party of Obama now as Chait does, if you wish, but it’s really the party formed by Americans who unambiguously view the federal government as the instrument of equality and opportunity and prosperity built on the work and talents of every citizen, who in an old-fashioned Jacksonian sense deserve the full fruits of their labor.

Both the “quixotic” and “offensive” points are crucial. Evidently, Wilentz’s version of the argument puts the matter in the most offensive way possible. It’s one thing to say that it’s in the strategic interests of the Democratic Party to pursue culturally conservative border state whites; it’s another thing to say that the Democratic Party belongs to this faction, and a different Democratic coalition represents a usurpation. But particularly with Obama having established that a Democratic victory doesn’t need West Virginia or Kentucky, even more superficially benign forms of the argument carry the same implication. To be obsessed with Scots-Irish white men retaining their permanent place in the Democratic fold implies that they are primus inter pares. They aren’t, and prettifying Jacksonianism to make this argument is intellectually bankrupt on every level.

But even if it was desirable to restore this element of the 19th century Democratic Party, it’s not something that can just be done by running the right candidate or making some marginal changes. Coalitions drive leaders, not vice versa. There’s nothing Hillary Clinton could do to make Kentucky or West Virginia competitive, any more than running Mitt Romney could make Massachusetts competitive for the Republican Party. (Dana Houle is very good on this point starting here.)

Jacksonian nostalgia is as much a dead end electorally as it is intellectually. If you don’t believe me, look at how Jim Webb does in the Democratic primaries.


It’s Time For Everyone’s Favorite End of Term Activity, Supreme Court Mad Libs

[ 68 ] July 7, 2015 |


How many bad analogies and metaphors and cliches can be crammed into a blog post? Can we learn something from bad arguments about the Supreme Court? Let’s find out!

I wrote in a book review once that the basic distinction between Right and Left when it comes to the Constitution is “rules vs. tools”: Conservatives see the Constitution as a set of rules that must be followed, while liberals see it as a box of tools that can be used to put their policies into effect. And if you have to use a chisel as a screwdriver or bang in nails with a pair of pliers, it’s no problem as long as the thing gets built.

It’s amazing at this late date that people can write such utter crap with a straight face. Where is the clear “rule” mandating that “the equal sovereign dignitude of the states trumps the powers explicitly granted to Congress under the 15th Amendment“? Where does it say that “states must use uniform vote counting methods if not doing so might result in the election of a Democratic president in 2000 but not in any other case?” When was the text of the Eleventh Amendment changed from “another State” to “any State?” Where exactly is the “anti-commandeering” clause of the Constitution? I could go on like this but you get the idea.

This principle turns the 14th Amendment into a Swiss Army knife and the Commerce Clause into a roll of duct tape.

So, it turns out that re-stating the metaphor doesn’t make it any more coherent.

They devise new uses for dusty old buggy whips like the 13th Amendment,

What’s funny about this is that Schwarz almost certainly considers himself an “originalist.” And yet the new scholarship about the 13th Amendment is based on historical analysis. There is good evidence that the contemporary limitation of slavery to only chattel slavery does not reflect the understanding of many at the time of the founding, and there is also good evidence that 13th Amendment was read much more broadly in 1865 than it is 2015. I’m not an originialist or a believer in grand constitutional theory, so I don’t believe that these are knock-down arguments. But the fact that conservative originalists not only have no interest in this scholarship but feel free to contemptuously dismiss it should tell you something.

and even the forlorn Third Amendment was pulled out of the back of a drawer somewhere to be cited in Griswold v. Connecticut (and is now being invoked by the Left and the Right to oppose NSA surveillance).

This is the slightly more sophisticated sounding SCORCHING HOT TAKE on Griswold, used in lieu of the more famous one (“durr, he said ‘penumbras and emanations,’ durr.”) And, yet, if you read the citation of the 3rd Amendment in context in makes perfect sense:

The foregoing cases suggest that specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance. Various guarantees create zones of privacy. The right of association contained in the penumbra of the First Amendment is one, as we have seen. The Third Amendment, in its prohibition against the quartering of soldiers “in any house” in time of peace without the consent of the owner, is another facet of that privacy. The Fourth Amendment explicitly affirms the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The Fifth Amendment, in its Self-Incrimination Clause, enables the citizen to create a zone of privacy which government may not force him to surrender to his detriment. The Ninth Amendment provides: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

The Fourth and Fifth Amendments were described in Boyd v. United States as protection against all governmental invasions “of the sanctity of a man’s home and the privacies of life.” We recently referred to the Fourth Amendment as creating a “right to privacy, no less important than any other right carefully an particularly reserved to the people.”

Douglas’s perfectly straightforward point is that many of the individual protections in the Bill of Rights are based on the underlying principle that the state cannot be omnipresent in private homes and in individual lives. (It’s true that he does not defend this point extensively here, but this is because he already did so four years before, and cites this opinion at the end of the “penumbras” sentence. Both the Douglas and Harlan opinions in Griswold should be read as summaries of arguments they made in much more extensive detail in Poe v. Ullman.) This principle was obviously highly relevant to this case, concerning the constitutionality of a statute banning the private use of contraception. And the 3rd Amendment — forbidding the state from using private residences to house military personnel except with legislative authorization during wartime — is plainly relevant to this structural analysis. It wouldn’t make sense to say that the 3rd Amendment standing alone would make the Connecticut’s uncommonly silly law unconstitutional, but Douglas doesn’t say that it does. One can agree or disagree with the conclusions Douglas reaches, but this kind of structuralist argument is a widely-used form of constitutional interpretation, and only hacks think it can be dismissed by repeating a 3-word phrase or mischaracterizing its use of the 3rd Amendment.

And they think nothing of turning the strictest rules on their heads, so that “shall not discriminate on account of race” means “must discriminate on account of race”

I’m not sure what copy of the Constitution Schwarz is using; mine does not contain the former phrase. It does most assuredly guarantee the equal protection of the laws, but I see nothing in this phrase that specifically proscribes every affirmative action program. (Oh, and what I said about originalism.)

and “freedom of speech” requires restricting speech. What, you thought these provisions actually mean what they explicitly say?

Leaving aside all the question-begging, he has a point — I don’t recall the “bong hits 4 Jesus” or “but Islamic! 9/11!” exceptions to the First Amendment either. I wish conservatives would stop trying to turn the First Amendment from a cinder block into one of those cabinets of tools they sell at the Home Depot.

“She meets me back stage. I give her Quaaludes. We then have sex.”

[ 301 ] July 7, 2015 |

The payoffs, backscratching, and cover-ups that allow a famous serial rapist to get away with it.

I’ve mentioned this before, but the fact that a major, extensively promoted biography of Cosby could be published in 2014 that ignored the history of women accusing him of sexual assault and reviewers would barely mention or outright ignore this is highly instructive. It’s amazing what you can fail to find out if you really don’t want to know.

“He’s Right, Williamson Merkel.”

[ 140 ] July 7, 2015 |

Some #realtalk from Thomas Piketty:

But Piketty, who penned the blockbuster 2013 book on income inequality Capital in the Twenty-First Century, slammed conservatives who favor the economic austerity measures Germany and France are demanding of Greece, saying they demonstrate a “shocking ignorance” of European history.

“Look at the history of national debt: Great Britain, Germany, and France were all once in the situation of today’s Greece, and in fact had been far more indebted,” Piketty said. “The first lesson that we can take from the history of government debt is that we are not facing a brand new problem.”

Germany, Piketty continued, has “no standing” to lecture other nations about debt repayment, having never paid back its own debts after both World Wars.

“However, it has frequently made other nations pay up, such as after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, when it demanded massive reparations from France and indeed received them,” Piketty said. “The French state suffered for decades under this debt. The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.”

Piketty criticized the “infantile” moral uprightness of Germany, whose economic success upon reunification has led it to rebuke nations like Greece for being in similarly weakened financial states as Germany itself was in decades ago.

Piketty argued that the same debt relief accorded to Germany after World War II should be granted to Greece today.

“After large crises that created huge debt loads, at some point people need to look toward the future. We cannot demand that new generations must pay for decades for the mistakes of their parents,” Piketty said. “The Greeks have, without a doubt, made big mistakes. Until 2009, the government in Athens forged its books. But despite this, the younger generation of Greeks carries no more responsibility for the mistakes of its elders than the younger generation of Germans did in the 1950s and 1960s. We need to look ahead. Europe was founded on debt forgiveness and investment in the future. Not on the idea of endless penance. We need to remember this.”

The Party of Lincoln Is Now the Party of Jackson, and Vice Versa

[ 104 ] July 6, 2015 |


It’s not exactly news that Sean Wilentz’s punditry during the 2008 primaries was an embarrassment. But, via Chait, I somehow missed this definitive example:

Under those pressures, the Barack Obama campaign and its sympathizers have begun to articulate much more clearly what they mean by their vague slogan of “change” – nothing less than usurping the historic Democratic Party, dating back to the age of Andrew Jackson, by rejecting its historic electoral core: white workers and rural dwellers in the Middle Atlantic and border states.


This year’s primary results show no sign that Obama will reverse this trend should he win the nomination. In West Virginia and Kentucky, as well as Ohio and Pennsylvania, blue collar white voters sent him down to defeat by overwhelming margins. A recent Gallup poll report has argued that claims about Obama’s weaknesses among white voters and blue collar voters have been exaggerated – yet its indisputable figures showed Obama running four percentage points below Kerry’s anemic support among whites four years ago.

The idea that a majority coalition isn’t really a majority coalition if it contains too many people of color is appalling on its face. To say that the first major party African-American presidential candidate is “usurping” the Democratic Party in the context of making this argument is…special.

As Chait says, in addition to being offensive the argument is also dumb — Wilentz is confusing cause and effect. As we will see in 2016, Hillary Clinton will not win Kentucky or West Virginia either, and Obama won Pennsylvania and Ohio twice while assembling two majority electoral coalitions. This is because the country’s partisan coalitions have become much more ideologically coherent, with “voted for Eisenhower because Lincoln won the war” voting finally giving way to more rational voting patterns. (Wilentz is actually combining two exceedingly terrible arguments here: “a winning coalition doesn’t really count if it doesn’t have enough culturally conservative whites in it” is married to “who wins states in a Democratic primary is a good indication of who will win them in the general election.”)

And not only is pining for Andrew Jackson’s electoral coalition pointless nostalgia for a ship that’s already reached the other side of the ocean, it’s wishing for a Democratic Party that’s much worse than the current one. Chait:

Jackson is, clearly, the father of the modern Republican Party. As the modern historian Daniel Howe has noted, Jackson’s aggressive policy of Indian-fighting shaped the political landscape of the era. A humanitarian protest movement sprung up to oppose Jackson’s savage aggression, which heavily overlapped with the slowly deepening divide over slavery. In the House, four fifths of slave-state representatives voted for the Indian Removal Act, while only a third of representatives from free states did.

Jackson was a populist, but he directed his populism not at the local elites (of which he was one) but at the federal government. He favored the gold standard, and his opposition to a National Bank served the interests of the local banks that competed against it. He believed the Constitution prevented the government from taking an active role in managing economic affairs. He was instinctively aggressive, poorly educated, anti-intellectual, and suspicious of bureaucrats. (Jackson replaced more qualified federal staffers with partisan hacks.) He resisted any challenge to racial hierarchies. The opposition to Jackson stood for the reverse — a more interventionist federal government, more lenient treatment of racial minorities, a less aggressive foreign policy.

The qualities of the right-wing opposition during the Obama era has made the historic reversal all the more clear. Republicans have revived what they call “Constitutional conservatism,” which reprises the Jacksonian belief that the Constitution prevents economic intervention by the government. Tea-party activists in particular have sounded deeply Jacksonian themes in their populist attacks on TARP, and then Obama’s programs, as giveaways to powerful insiders. As a writer for the right-wing Breitbart News argued several months ago, “Jackson’s views on federalism and economics should be more carefully studied today.”

Oh, and while we’re here can we point out that Arthur Schlesinger Jr. was a hack?

The Age of Jackson, which won the Pulitzer Prize for history, was filled with analytic errors and ghastly omissions. Schlesinger imagined that Jackson had rallied the American proletariat with his populist attacks on wealth. (“The East remained the source of the effective expression of Jacksonian radicalism.”) Actually, Jackson’s strongest support came from the South, which is logical, since that’s where the beneficiaries of his land seizure lived. Schlesinger glossed over Jackson’s veto of legislation to create a national transportation network, which he opposed as unconstitutional. And incredibly, Schlesinger ignored Jackson’s campaigns to seize native lands — his book literally does not mention the Indian Removal Act, the most important policy initiative of Jackson’s presidency.

The “usurpation” of this ugly Jacksonian tradition within the Democratic Party is long overdue.

Bloody, Bloody William Kristol

[ 34 ] July 5, 2015 |

The Man Who Just Couldn’t Be Right About Anything.


[ 154 ] July 5, 2015 |


In a landslide.

I don’t claim expertise, but I’m inclined to defer to this actual expert and see this as the least terrible outcome. As Krugman acknowledges, there’s reason to be concerned about Syriza’s competence (and indeed the heighten-the-contradictions bureaucratic reform proposal is amateur hour.) But nevertheless the troika’s conduct and its offer of austerity today austerity tomorrow austerity forever — punishing ordinary Greek citizens to bail out creditors who made bad bets, even though they won’t even be bailed out — has been abominable. I can understand why the electorate wouldn’t submit to these terms.

And now I’ll leave the discussion to the many people who know more than I do.

…This seems right: “Greece is less likely to get a deal after the referendum, but will get a better deal if it does get one.”

The Reverse Grift

[ 166 ] July 5, 2015 |


In some cases — Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain most obviously in the last cycle — no-hope presidential candidates are essentially running a grift, trying to build their personal brands and sell books or get themselves Fox News sinecures or whatever. Some are ideological true believers trying to draw attention to issues — your Ron Pauls and Bernie Sanderses. I guess maybe Pataki’s generally inexplicable campaign falls into this category — he wants to make the case for old-fashioned northeastern Republicanism to the three or four people left in the party who remain receptive to the message. Then you have the candidacies where the reason and/or scam is less obvious. Your Lincoln Chafees, your Bobby Jindals — there’s no money in this deal, they don’t have any message that isn’t being communicated by someone else, they not only have no chance of winning but no chance of even getting any significant attention.

But Donald Trump is really innovating here, in that he seems to be actually conning himself: his vanity campaign is costing him bucketloads of money. Now, one could argue that the attention he’s getting is gratifying enough that it’s worth all the money. Only 1)for reasons I’ve never understood Donald Trump seems to have a large media platform for every dumb thing he says, and gesturing at running for president every four years was more than sufficient to maintain it, and 2)his campaign is actually costing him access to some mainstream media outlets he would presumably like access too once he stops pretending to run for president. If he wants a Republican to become president — admittedly, I have no idea if he cares — his saying-the-quiet-parts-loud routine isn’t helping. Maybe he’s decided that after a lifetime of grifting it was time to grift himself.

The Real History of the Confederate Flag

[ 7 ] July 5, 2015 |

Glad we’ve cleared that up.

Against “Authenticity,” Pea Guacamole Edition

[ 240 ] July 3, 2015 |


Burneko saved me a lot of time by writing this:

The New York Times published a recipe for guacamole with green peas in it. Not to insist that all guacamole must contain peas forever; not to say that people who have made guacamole without peas are dirty heathen swine; not to assert that pea-free guacamoles are inadequate. To suggest a fun variation on a tasty foodstuff. Hey, we think if you try adding some peas to your guacamole, you’ll like it. This has occasioned just such a performance, from too many corners of Twitter to call out here. Swooning and fainting and rending garments. Because somebody said that guacamole with peas in it tastes good.

This is dumb. Guacamole is mashed avocado dip. If it tastes good, it is made correctly.


When guacamole spread to other parts of the world, the familiar ingredients came to be thought of as the right ones because adding them to guacamole made it taste like guacamole made in Mexico. If your favorite guacamole recipe contains those familiar ingredients, that is fine. Make the guacamole that tastes best to you, because its only purpose is to taste good to the people who will be eating it. If it contains peas, that is fine. It is mashed avocado dip; the right way to make it is so it tastes good.

My guacamole is fairly basic—four avocados, a small fistful of finely chopped cilantro leaves, maybe a big tablespoon or so of minced white onion, some minced fresh jalapeño (or good cayenne powder if I’m feeling lazy), a big squeeze of lime juice, sea salt—because I am fanatical about avocados and only want enough accompaniment to flatter (and not compete with) them. But, I have had good-tasting guacamoles that contained: garlic, shallot, mint, basil, yogurt, sour cream, mango, corn, tomato, pineapple, lemon zest, olive oil, queso blanco, chipotle pepper, and more. A Guyanan coworker of mine once brought to an office potluck a bowl of guacamole that contained enough Scotch bonnet peppers to sizzle a fucking tunnel through the bowels of the earth so that we could deliver a serving of it to people on the far side, and it was delicious, even if a single bite of it prevented me from being able to taste anything else for the entire rest of the day. All of these guacamoles were fine, because they tasted good, which is guacamole’s only job, because it is food and not a fucking Republic of Texas flag.


Here’s what to keep out of your guacamole: the opinions and judgments and performative populism of food-scared internet weenies.

There are many variations of guacamole; Clark’s recipe is well within the family of recipes that can be fairly called “guacamole.” The criteria by which it should be judged are 1)whether it tastes good, and 2)that’s it.

Not Getting the Memo

[ 117 ] July 3, 2015 |

I pretty much agree with Stern on this:

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling that every state in America must grant marriage licenses to gay couples, at least two clerks tasked with issuing such licenses have resigned—one in Mississippi, one in Arkansas. Both will undoubtedly be chastised by the LGBTQ community for their blatant display of homophobia. But I think these clerks should be praised for their integrity. In other states, clerks are begging for a special right to discriminate against gays. At least these two had the courage to admit that their prejudice prevented them from honoring their oath of office.

I obviously strongly disagree with the underlying reason for the resignations. But I can certainly respect their actions more than the Mr. Plow conservatism that tends to be advanced in these cases — i.e. “I don’t want to do my job but I want to be paid anyway.” And when it comes to public officials, as in this case, treating citizens impartially is a core part of your job.

The Majoritarian Difficulty, ACA Trooferism Edition

[ 33 ] July 3, 2015 |

I don’t think the impeachment campaign is going to go well:

For the second time this week, we have polling confirmation that about 3 out of 5 Americans approve of the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell last week. In findings that closely echo those of an earlier CNN/ORC survey, the Kaiser Family Foundation’s tracking poll on health issues showed approval by a 62/32 margin, with a nearly identical 61/34 margin among self-identified independents. Unlike the CNN/ORC poll, KFF’s also breaks down the reaction by general opinion on Obamacare, showing that 30% of ACA opponents still think it makes sense to offer the same assistance to people buying insurance under the law whether or not a state purchasing exchange was established.

This is one of the oddities of Ted Cruz calling for retention elections as a remedy to judgifying he doesn’t like. It’s a quite terrible idea in itself. But in this case, it’s funny that conservatives think that retention elections fought in the issues at the end of the term would work out in their favor. Obergefell is the even stronger case. As is often the case, the Court was siding with national public opinion majorities against regional outliers. In some cases, this means national public opinion trumping local public opinion; in other cases it means national and local public opinion trumping state legislators. But whatever one wants to say about the two decisions that have eroded the saliva supply of the nation’s conservatives, they’re not “countermajoritarian” when it comes to the national population.

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