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McCain’s Abortion Gambit

[ 5 ] August 15, 2008 |

I disagree with Steve Benen about the politics of John McCain not “ruling out” a pro-choice running mate; it’s a reasonably clever move by McCain. Obviously, there’s no chance of this actually happening, so the GOP’s anti-choice base won’t care about this once the pick is made. But it does help McCain accomplish a key goal — namely, to blur his extremely unpopular position that abortion should be banned in all 50 states. Given the number of pundits determined to believe that McCain is a moderate on abortion despite the mountain of evidence making it clear that this isn’t true, it could very well be effective. Hopefully Obama will do a better job of drawing attention to the GOP’s extremism on the issue than most past candidates have.


Don’t Do Them Any Favors

[ 32 ] August 14, 2008 |

Peter Beinart gets plenty of criticism for being wrong about the Iraq War, but in fairness he’s been wrong about other things too. For example, when the New York courts declined to rule that the state’s exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage rights was unconstitutional, Beinart asserted that the courts “actually did the gay marriage movement a favor.” Two years later, the staus quo in New York remains intact, and who knows when this will change. But, still, waiting until New York’s exceptionally top-down and unresponsive legislature acts is better then what happened in Massachusetts, where a judicial intervention created a massive backlash that made the prospects for same-sex marriage much worse. Right?

Nearly five years after the state’s Supreme Court ruled that a ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, the vitriolic battle that brought international attention and apocalyptic fears to Massachusetts is all but dead. Since the first marriages on May 17, 2004, more than 11,000 couples have tied the knot. They’re busy mowing lawns and hauling kids to soccer practice, and the sky has not fallen.

Polls have shown consistent public support for gay couples. And with overwhelming support for gay marriage in the state legislature — the last effort to put it on the ballot failed 151-45 — the opposition has, for the most part, packed its bags and gone home.

“The biggest surprise about the whole thing is that there really has been no surprise,” Republican state Rep. Paul Loscocco said. “It’s been fairly much a nonevent.”

Whoops! One would think that what happened in Massachusetts may cause people to rethink conventional non-wisdom about how the public evaluates judicial opinions, but given the reaction to the decision in California earlier this year I doubt it.

The Empirically Baseless Paternalism of Anthony M. Kennedy

[ 14 ] August 13, 2008 |

Anthony Kennedy, in his appalling opinion for the Court in Carhart II, asserted:

While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude that some women shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads about manly medical treatment come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained. Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow.

The APA, however, has found that to the extent that the claim is relevant it’s false:

…the American Psychological Association has determined (PDF) that “abortion hurts women” rhetoric is bunk. The APA, which was to have adopted the new standard this morning, says in its draft language “the relative risks of mental health problems are no greater than the risks among women who deliver an unplanned pregnancy.” In other words, forcing women to carry through with an unplanned pregnancy is just as risky for mental health as it is to have an abortion.

And when you combine this with the greater physical risks of pregnancy, the rationale for abortion regulation or criminalization based on protecting women’s health vanishes entirely. And despite some claims that Kennedy was somehow going off the reservation with his embrace of the new paternalism, without such assertions bans on “partial birth” abortion have no rational connection to any legitimate state interest whatsoever.

Class Warfare Atfter Shea

[ 10 ] August 13, 2008 |

I’ve neglected to mention that the great Roy Edroso is now blogging for the Voice. Today, he brings some of the bad news about Citi Field for those of us who like to go to the odd Mets game. What concerns me is not so much the prices of the high-end seats (which I’m never in anyway), but the much lower supply, which will make it difficult to make game-time decisions. I’m not saying I miss my Montreal days where you could buy a $7 seat at gametime and sit near home plate, exactly, but…

The "Authenticity" Catch-22

[ 0 ] August 13, 2008 |

Bob Somerby makes what I would like to think is an obvious point about Michael Crowley’s complaint about Obama returning to his home state for vacation. It’s not just that Hawaii is, in fact, a perfectly middlebrow vacation spot. It’s that the whole premise is a trap; once you lend credence to claims to that Obama is an Elitist Other then any choice is a bad one from the standpoint of RNC smear ads. If Obama had gone to [insert whatever affluent D.C. journalists think mythical Real Americans consider a good vacation spot here], then Obama would be a big phony would who would obviously rather be on the Riveria with several nubile but unpopular young white actresses, so you know he’d do anything to be president! Digby makes a similar observation with respect to a similar argument from Cokie Roberts.

It’s very simple: once you start down this road (which, like it or not, implicitly validates silly Republican smears), you can’t win. The appropriate response of journalists is to ignore such trivia. And the appropriate response of liberal commentators is to ridicule the idea of someone with 8 houses calling someone else an “elitist” for anything, rather than dispensing inherently futile or counterproductive advice.

Mukasey: Hack

[ 0 ] August 12, 2008 |

Rule of law!

“But not every wrong, or even every violation of the law, is a crime.”

But I was informed by the highly serious priests of High Contrarianism that Mukasey’s need to work with Congress would provide powerful disincentives against this sort of thing! I’m shocked that this didn’t work.

In addition, Marcy Wheeler argues that while Mukasey is certainly a hack, the real problem is the toothless sanctions of the Hatch Act.


In general, I agree with Mukasey. Breaking the letter of the law shouldn’t always amount to a prosecutable crime. I guess my problem is that prosecutors seem much more likely to adopt Mukasey’s position when they’re looking at infractions committed by political allies, police officers, or other government employees than they are with the rest of us.

If anything, government employees should be held to a higher standard than the rest of us, not a lower one–especially the people charged with enforcing the laws in the first place.


Most Likely, You Are, Or Know Someone, Morally Worse Than A Slaveholder

[ 25 ] August 11, 2008 |

Shorter Verbatim Michael Novak: “As a violation of natural right, abortion is even more extreme than slavery.” I certainly hope that John McCain will repeat this as often as possible as an attempt to appeal to the Catholic vote!

The rest of the column involves feeble defenses of idiotic, useless abortion regulations and hilarious attempts by Novak to justify his own cafeteria Catholicism, which has a remarkable tendency to reach policy results favored by George W. Bush.

Justified Wars

[ 46 ] August 11, 2008 |

Balko has a poll. Inferring from his comments that we’re judging wars in retrospect, I get five (Balko’s three plus the Civil War and the first Gulf War.) A couple of these would be more problematic at the time, especially the Civil War. (Evaluating the Civil War after the fact, conversely, one has to account for not just emancipation but the Fourteenth Amendment, which almost certainly could never have passed under normal circumstances.) Afghanistan also looks worse in retrospect but I’m not prepared to say it was unjustified yet.

John McCain: Staunch Opponent of a Woman’s Right To Choose

[ 13 ] August 11, 2008 |

Sarah Blustain powerfully reminds us of what should be obvious: John McCain is a strong opponent of reproductive freedom. He’s certainly no moderate on the issue. Make sure to read the whole thing, but a taste:

McCain’s views may matter especially to Hillary Clinton supporters, many of whom are pro-choice; according to syndicated columnist Froma Harrop, “[T]hey’ll want to know this: Would McCain stock the Supreme Court with foes of Roe v. Wade?” But, she writes, “The answer is unclear but probably ‘no.’ While McCain has positioned himself as ‘pro-life’ during this campaign, his statements over the years show considerable latitude on the issue.”

That, however, is simply not true. There is no “latitude” in McCain’s position on abortion. Interviews with dozens of people who have dealt with him on the issue–pro-choice and pro-life activists, Hill staffers, McCain confidants, pollsters, and staffers–along with a two-and-a-half-decade-long perfectly anti-abortion voting record, make that clear. And his record on related issues, like contraception, is no better. “I think it is outrageous that people give him a pass, as they gave George W. Bush a pass,” reflects Feldt. “John McCain will be that and worse.”


During his political career, McCain has participated in 130 reproductive health-related votes on Capitol Hill; of these, he voted with the anti-abortion camp in 125. McCain has consistently backed rights for the unborn, voting to cover fetuses under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and supporting the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which allowed a “child in utero” to be recognized as a legal victim of a crime. He has voted in favor of the global gag rule, which prevents U.S. funds from going to international family-planning clinics that use their own money to perform abortions, offer information about abortion, or take a pro-choice stand. And he has voted to appoint half a dozen anti-abortion judges to the federal bench, as well as Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. During the Bork hearings, McCain attacked the Court’s creation of a right to privacy in Roe v. Wade: “Whether one is pro-or anti-abortion,” McCain said in an October 1987 hearing, “it is difficult to argue that the Court’s opinion is not constitutionally suspect.”

Blustain also hasn’t gotten the key script on this issue, which is that holding highly unpopular (Republican) views on abortion isn’t a political problem; it’s only holding the majority (Democratic) position that should be a political liability. Blustain seems to think that holding unpopular positions is a political problem, giving McCain and his acolytes every incentive to obfuscate their categorical opposition to abortion rights. What a strange view of politics!

And while I’ve said this before, it’s also worth addressing this particular attempt to portray McCain as a moderate that Blustain cites:

He also told reporters that if his then-15-year-old daughter got pregnant, they would make “a private decision that we would share within our family and not with anyone else”–a response that to some ears sounded a lot like code for the right to privacy and abortion.

Of course, having no objection to your daughter getting a safe abortion in that context doesn’t make you a pro-choicer; it makes you a Republican. John McCain’s daughter will be able to obtain a safe abortion under any legal regime, including if Roe v. Wade was overturned tomorrow and her home state banned abortion. It’s not women with the connections to obtain gray market abortions or the resources to travel who are affected by abortion bans, and the fact that McCain would exempt his daughter from rules he would apply to poor women in Mississippi makes his support for criminalizing aboriton even worse.

The Cat That Won’t Cop Out

[ 2 ] August 11, 2008 |


Hopefully Never To Speak of This Again

[ 1 ] August 10, 2008 |

With Rob doing yeoman work covering the real news, I was planning on not commenting, but seeing that MoDo has decided to combine inevitable attacks on the “Breck Girl” with mockery of Rielle Hunter (apparently once relevant novelist Jay McInerney was appalled!), I’m compelled to say something. So let me start with the obligatory concession that whatever one wishes the rules were, a candidate has to largely work within the established rules, and it was therefore grossly irresponsible of Edwards to run for president under these circumstances. I don’t feel the same bitterness that Paul must, because I was never an Edwards supporter in this cycle, largely because his campaigned seemed amateurish compared to his two largely ideologically similar opponents. I suppose this could be seen as further evidence of this.

Still, especially since it’s not just right-wingers who have used this opportunity to engage in easy moralism and to construct tortured rationalizations of why this really matters, let me be clear: the idea that this kind of thing could be seen a decisive factor in determining who should become president is, as Mizner says, “a national sickness.” This is politics-as-selling-jeans, and any difference between this and “OMG a woman adviser is telling Al Gore to wear earth tones!!!!!!” trivia is one of degree, not kind.

And, when you come down to cases, I don’t think anyone really could dispute this. This is particularly evident when you consider all of the McCain supporters now claiming that this should have been a major story in the (at least nominally) serious political press. Do they really believe this? Well:

Recall: John McCain returned to the United States from Vietnam in March 1973. His wife, Carol, had been in a near-fatal car accident while he was gone. She was overweight, on crutches, and 4 inches shorter than when McCain had left. McCain ended up divorcing Carol for Cindy Hensley, his current wife. Carol has remained mostly silent on her marriage to John, except for one notable comment to a McCain biographer: “John was turning 40 and wanting to be 25 again.”

There were legal complications, too. The Los Angeles Times reported in June that McCain obtained a marriage license while still legally married to his first wife. McCain suggested in his autobiography that he divorced Carol months before marrying Cindy. In fact, that period was about five weeks. He also said that for the first nine months of his relationship with Cindy, he still “cohabited” with Carol. Social conservatives were never McCain’s base, but yes, it could get worse.

So these people will support Obama, because a candidate’s commitment to marriage is Really Important, right? Of course not — and it would be incredibly foolish for them to do so. As Digby says, “[i]t’s not a useful proxy for public behavior, never has been.” And, fundamentally, I don’t think anyone really disagrees. They just pretend to in order to justify treating interesting gossip as if it was serious news.

As a punchline, Kenny has a good roundup of Instahackery on the subject. In addition to everything else (yes, newspapers that routinely put Judith Miller on the front page in the runup sure were committed to stopping the war), what kills me is that Reynolds thinks that by not reporting on this before the MSM was helping…the Democrats. Yeah, that sure would have been great for the Dems if this had come out now if Edwards was the candidate! But, of course, I’m forgetting the rules: Edwards’s adultery is bad news for Barack Obama, Bill Clinton’s adultery is bad news for Hillary Clinton, but John McCain’s adultery isn’t an issue for John McCain.

More on The Myth of Saint Casey

[ 3 ] August 8, 2008 |

Yesterday, Tom Maguire pointed to what he claims is an old defense of the “conventional wisdom” on the exclusion of Saint Casey from the 1992 Democratic convention (although, in fairness, his analysis is actually a little more intelligent than that.) I see no reason to believe that Begala is wrong that Casey’s failure to endorse the Democratic ticket played a role in his not being invited to speak, but purely for the sake of argument let’s say that this is just ex post facto rationalization. It remains rather critical to distinguish between two distinct claims: the argument that Casey (as the Times said yesterday) didn’t speak “because he is pro-life” and because “he wanted to give a speech attacking his party’s position on reproductive freedom.” (Maguire carefully conflates the two by framing this as whether Casey was excluded “because of abortion.”) The Myth of Casey relies on dissembling and giving version #1. And this is necessary, because if stated as the much more accurate version #2, the claim that the party did something wrong is transparently ridiculous.

Well, maybe not fully transparent. Maguire, whatever his other sins, does us the favor of reminding us of this remarkable claim from Peter Beinart:

I think one of the great problems in the debates about abortion and gay rights is the perception that liberals are illiberal and nondemocratic. It’s remarkable to me how many people still mention the fact that [the anti-abortion Pennsylvania governor] Bob Casey was denied the right to speak at the 1992 Democratic convention. That was an illiberal thing the party did. And there is an important debate for liberals to have about the role of the courts in pushing social change.

So “liberalism” requires that a political party give a speaking slot at its nominating convention to anyone who wants to give a speech attacking a party’s core values? Is this guy for real? What would the idea of a political party even mean if this was true? I think we can see why Beinart thought that running Joe Lieberman in 2004 was a peachy idea.

And as dumb as this idea is in the abstract, it’s even worse in context:

  • Casey’s support of using state power to compel (poor) women to bring pregnancies to term came in the context of a recently argued Supreme Court case seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade.
  • It was Casey’s government that was not only defending the abortion regulations at issue in the case but that filed a brief urging that Roe be overruled.
  • Although this now seems less threatening, it’s also important to remember that at the time the overruling of Roe seemed to be nearly certain. The most recent Court pronouncement on the subject has only three clear votes for re-affirming Roe, and two of those justices had just been replaced. Kennedy joined Rehnquist’s majority, not O’Connor’s more moderate concurrence. Even assuming the O’Connor wouldn’t vote to explicitly overrule and not counting on the unknown views of Souter, Thomas and Kennedy seemed to give the clearly anti-Roe Rehnquist, Scalia and White a majority negating a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

So Casey Sr. was not some random pro-lifer. He was not a nominal pro-lifer who wasn’t actively trying to criminalize abortion in the manner of Harry Reid. He was at the epicenter of a movement to take away a cherished constitutional right from American women, and moreover a movement that seemed at the brink of succeeding in forcing poor women to the black market if they wanted to control their reproductive destinies. And he wanted to broadcast his views — both unpopular and contrary to core party principles — at the party’s convention.

Of course he wasn’t permitted to do this, and even if had been the sole reason for his exclusion the party’s decision would have been indisputably correct. The only “illberal” or “intolerant” actions here were the actions of Casey. Are the Republicans obligated to give speaking spots to people who support single-payer health care and Denmark’s tax policies? If John Lindsay wasn’t permitted to give a speech at the nominating convention in 1984 attacking Reaganonmics despite his demands would we still be hearing about how the “intolerant” Republicans had “treated him shabbily” decades later? I think these questions answer themselves.

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