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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.


[ 43 ] July 2, 2015 |

Whew, for a second I was worried that the “neoconfederate apologist in 2015” niche in the Democratic primaries would go unfilled. And, fortunately, he also takes care of the “people who would have a 0% chance of winning the nomination even if every other candidate were to get killed in a blimp accident today” niche in case Linc Chaffee drops out.

Antonin Scalia’s Fraudulent “Textualism”

[ 55 ] July 2, 2015 |

Scalia gesture

Patterico argues that federal judges not abiding by the tenets of ACA tooferism is not merely wrong, it’s an impeachable offense:

I would support all manner of reactions that the GOP will lack the guts to try — and that, if they did try, would cause them to get shellacked in the elections. For example, I would support impeachment of any and all of the Justices that voted in the majority of either King v. Burwell or Obergefell. That, in my view, is a proper constitutional reaction to lawless decisions (notwithstanding the disastrous precedent established by the Samuel Chase impeachment proceedings).

There are countless ways of demonstrating that this argument is being made in bad faith. But let’s go with my favorite one, the Rehnquist Court’s “sovereign immunity” jurisprudence. The Eleventh Amendment reads, in its entirety:

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

Despite what people who think that disagreeing with their interpretations of the 14th Amendment is an impeachable offense will tell you, most of the constitutional provisions whose interpretation leads to frequent Supreme Court cases are so broadly worded that the text does not yield technically “correct” or “incorrect” answers in a case of any interest. Reasonable people can disagree with what constitutes a “cruel and unusual punishment” or a denial of the “equal protection of the laws.” (This broad wording is necessary: an 8th Amendment that listed specific punishments rather than enacting a general principle against “cruel and unusual punishment” would essentially be a roadmap for how to get away with torture, in addition to becoming instantly obsolete.)

The 11th Amendment is an exception: it enacts a clear and specific restriction, not a general principle. It forbids a state from being sued in federal court without its consent by any citizen of another state or a foreign state. By implication, the amendment also answers another question: a state can be sued in federal court by a citizen of the state. The amendment could have been easily worded to ban any federal suit against a state; the fact that it didn’t logically requires the conclusion — absent another constitutional provision or act of Congress saying so — that citizens retain the right to sue their state government in federal court.

As it happens, in 1991 the author of the spittle-drenched dissent in King v. Burwell had the opportunity to address this very question. And:

Despite the narrowness of its terms, since Hans v. Louisiana, we have understood the Eleventh Amendment to stand not so much for what it says, but for the presupposition of our constitutional structure which it confirms: that the States entered the federal system with their sovereignty intact; that the judicial authority in Article III is limited by this sovereignty.

If the Eleventh Amendment forbids citizens of a state from suing their state government, one might say, words have no meaning. But that’s what the Court ruled.

At this point, I might be accused of committing a tu quoque fallacy. Since I’ve been consistently critical of the ridiculous line of “sovereign immunity” cases, am I therefore required to declare that the card says “Moops”? Of course not. In the ACA case, the “Exchange established by the State” language is embedded within a statute that takes up 1,000 pages of the U.S. Code. It is an elementary principle of statutory construction that statutory language must be read in the context of the statute as a whole. In this case, reading the isolated phrase as denying tax credits on exchanges established by the federal government on the state’s behalf produces an absurd result that contradicts both other specific provisions of the law and the general purpose of the statute. Which is why 6 members if the Supreme Court, including one justice who believes the law to be unconstitutional, refused to bite this particular lemon.

With the 11th Amendment, conversely, there is no other text — it says what it says in one sentence and that’s it. The text read properly does not produce an absurd result; it is perfectly logical to make state governments accountable in federal court to their own citizens but not to those in of other states or nations. As Justice Souter explains in his dissent in Seminole Tribe Congress considered but rejected language that would bar suits against a citizen’s own state. Conversely, no legislator involved with the ACA ever suggested the preposterous idea of going to the trouble of establishing a federal backstop that wouldn’t work; that idea is solely an ex post facto invention of the statute’s most fanatical opponents.

Justice Scalia attempts to get around all this by making a structuralist argument about the meaning of the Constitution as a whole. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this method of interpretation (although Scalia’s King dissent would rule it out.) But in this case, the argument is lousy. It’s true that states retain their “sovereignty,” but the idea that royalist assumptions of immunity for states that violates the rights of citizens upon whose consent the legitimacy of the government rests is an essential element of sovereignty in a democratic state is the purest question-begging, and perverse question-begging at that. If anything, the presumption created by a Constitution that “guarantee[s] to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government” should be the opposite. There’s certainly not nearly enough there to overcome the very strong presumption created by the specific wording of the Eleventh Amendment.

And yet, I can find nothing in Patterico’s archives calling for the impeachment of Scalia and Thomas (or Alito, who also shares this misreading of the Eleventh Amendment.) Indeed, as a first approximation the group of people fulminating against King who have anything critical to say about the “sovereign immunity” cases is a null set. I wonder what could possibly explain this?

Oh, and as for the idea that the Obergefell majority should be impeached, I have a certain equal protection case to discuss…

Does It Violate the Constitution to Not Admit Students Who Wouldn’t Be Admitted Anyway?

[ 103 ] July 2, 2015 |

The Supreme Court seems poised to rule all public affirmative action programs unconstitutional, although Anthony Kennedy might step in with another one of his “affirmative action might be permissible in theory although it never is in practice” specials. This would be regrettable, as well as revealing the “originalism” of Thomas and Scalia for what it is. Jamelle Bouie reminds us of an instructive fact about this particular plaintiff:

What’s striking about this case—and what makes it frustrating to some observers—is the curious question of Fisher’s academic record. Put simply, as Nikole Hannah-Jones documented for ProPublica, affirmative action wasn’t her problem.


Neither special circumstances nor grades were determinative. Of the 841 students admitted under these criteria, 47 had worse grades than Fisher, and 42 of them were white. On the other end, UT rejected 168 black and Latino students with scores equal to or better than Fisher’s.

To call this discrimination is to say that Fisher was entitled to a space at the UT Austin, despite grades that didn’t make the cut. It’s worth pointing out that the university gave her the choice of transferring from a satellite school, which she rejected.

Despite the “taking slots from people who deserve them” narrative so beloved by opponents of affirmative action, the “victims” are highly likely to be these kinds of very marginal cases, coming from the part of the applications process where distinctions are essentially arbitrary. Using diversity is a criteria in making these otherwise arbitrary distinctions isn’t bad policy and doesn’t violate the Constitution.

Why Honoring Jefferson Davis Is Unacceptable

[ 109 ] July 1, 2015 |


The discussion that starts here raises a very important point. There’s one defense of monuments to Confederates that runs something like “sure, Davis was a slaveholder, but we have slaveholders on the $1 and $2, a white supremacist on the $5, a slaveholder and ethnic cleanser on the $20, and so on. Why is Davis different?”

I think the answer to this should be clear. There’s a difference between honoring a slaveholder or white supremacist from the 18th or 19th century and honoring them for their support for slavery and white supremacy. Washington isn’t on the $1 because he was a slaveholder, but because he was the first (and still one of the best) presidents and also a major leader in the Revolutionary War. Lincoln is widely honored because of his crucial role in preserving the union and smashing the slave power, not because of the belief he held for most of his life that a multiracial democracy was impossible. The Constitution protected slavery, but its sole purpose was not the protection of slavery. (And we should also remember that the options the framers had in 1787 were a Constitution that provided some protection for slavery, or no deal. The idea that Virginia or Georgia or South Carolina would have agreed to an antislavery constitution with better bargaining is Green Lanternism that makes “Obama could have made Joe Lieberman vote to nationalize the American health care industry” look plausible.) The Revolutionary War and the Constitution were both the product of a combination of admirable motives, immoral motives, self-interest, and practical politics. One can admire the sentiments of the Declaration of Independence while also being mindful that the “all mean are created equal” part was observed in the breach to disastrous effect. Evaluating these things involves complicated judgments.

The Confederacy is a different story. Protecting slavery was its sole reason for being. Confederate leaders aren’t honored in spite of their commitment to treason in defense of slavery; in 99% of cases they’re being honored because of it. (Nobody would be naming highways in Washington state after Davis because he was Pierce’s Secretary of War.) As I said in the previous post, the idea that people like Robert E. Lee are being honored because they were fine gentleman or fathers (except for, you know, the slaves) is absurd even if you take the assertions at face value like you shouldn’t. I have great parents and you probably do too, but nobody’s building statues of them or naming schools after them. Confederate leaders are honored because of their role in the Confederacy. And the purpose of secession was 1)protecting slavery, and 2)that’s it.

To be clear, I’m not arguing that tributes to non-Confederate leaders shouldn’t be assessed critically. (Personally, I’m OK with Washington and Lincoln on the currency, but would remove Jackson with all non-deliberate speed.) A norm may emerge that honoring slaveholders in any way and no matter what else they did is unacceptable, and that would be OK with me. Norms could develop against naming things after political leaders in general. But those are complicated questions. Confederate leaders are an easy case.

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