Liberal intellectuals actually could have aided their candidate, while also doing their professional duty, by pressing him on his patently evasive accounts about various matters, such as his connections with the convicted wheeler-dealer Tony Rezko, or his more-than-informal ties to the unrepentant terrorist William Ayers…Instead, the intellectuals have failed Obama as well as their readers by branding such questioning as irrelevant, malicious or heretical.
Yes, if anything could have helped both Obama and the Democratic Party, it would have been to lend their imprimatur to wingnut guilt-by-association smear jobs! The logic is impeccable! Good of Wilentz to help the party out with his sincere advice like that.
By the way, can someone point to the article where Wilentz solemnly informed us about the immense benefits that would accrue to both Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party if only liberal intellectuals had focused more on, say, Todd Purdam’s vacuous insinuations about Bill Clinton’s sex life and business practices. Or think of how much it would have helped Clinton if liberal intellectuals had looked more carefully into Kathleen Willey’s accusations! Anyway, I’m sure Wilentz has pointed all of this out; it certainly couldn’t be the case that he developed his innovative theory that repeating Republican smears as widely as possible helps the Democrats purely to further his petty hatred of Barack Obama, could it?
To put fair criticisms of Biden’s record as head of the Judiciary Committee in context, Jon Cohn extensively details Biden’s role in creating the Violence Against Women Act and its importance:
It may be hard to remember now, but widespread awareness of domestic violence–and how to deal with it–is a relatively new phenomenon. As late as the early 1990s, many communities had no domestic violence shelters at all, while those that did couldn’t fund them adequately. And neither law enforcement nor the judicial system were prepared to deal with the special nature of domestic violence. If a woman who’d been battered or raped went to the police, she was frequently lucky if she got sympathy–let alone experts trained in how to handle such cases, go after perpetrators, and counsel the victims. “At that time there were no victim rights and [somebody] had to witness an act of violence in order to prosecute it,” says Judy Ellis, now executive director of First Step, a domestic violence program based in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. “The criminal justice system lacked information and training on the dynamics of domestic violence and its effects on the family.”
VAWA changed all of that. It cracked down on interstate stalking, set standards for the collection and use of evidence in abuse cases, and set up a national domestic violence hotline. No less important, VAWA poured money into local communities for the creation of new prevention and treatment initiatives. In Detroit, according to Ellis, a VAWA grant allowed local authorities to hire prosecutors, police officers. and counselors specifically trained to deal with domestic violence. It also paid for outreach programs into non-English speaking communities, where many victims had no idea of their rights–or the resources now available to them.
So what did Biden have to do with all of that? Everything. Biden had been promoting a domestic violence bill starting in the early 1990s, and although it didn’t go far at first, he kept at it, finally getting his chance in 1994, once Bill Clinton became president and began pushing for a crime bill. Even then, it was a tough sell. Critics, led by Republican Senator Robert Dole, thought the ’94 crime bill was bloated with unnecessary spending and demanded cuts from it–including the $1.6 billion over six years set aside for VAWA. But Biden held firm and, eventually, got his way. “You can sponsor a bill, but if you just sponsor a bill and let it sit there, that’s nothing,” says Pat Reuss, a longtime activist who was one of the measure’s chief advocates in Washington. “He shepherded it. He made sure it happened. He assigned staff to it, gave them carte blanche to do with they needed, they spent days and nights on it.”
Combine that with his large role in defeating Bork, and…it’s more than many long-term Senators accomplish in itself.
Many thanks to frequent commenter Howard for generously sending me the classics Out To Lunch and Underground from the ol’ wish list. Supoib choices, and as they are now freshly loaded into ITunes will make my upcoming train ride all the more pleasant.
In addition, when it comes to my reverse-hedge bets with Howard I note that as of now I would be on the hook for $50 donations to Planned Parenthood and the anti-Prop 8 campaign, as the Yankees are missing the playoffs as well of course as being out of the division. Until we see the upcoming series, though, I’m at least not writing off the former…
Shorter Sean Wilentz: “John McCain will tell Vladimir Putin to sit down and cut the bullshit. This represents the kind of ‘comprehensive vision of international politics’ that Obama lacks.”
Reading his praise of McCain at least makes me understand why he repeatedly goes too far in exculpating Jackson’s racist militarism. Also, for further amusement remember that Wilentz is also a hack JFK worshipper. I think this makes it even more clear that the experiential standards (like his ex post facto primary system preferences) are strictly ad hoc.
In my defense, I was engaged in Real Work and had the Devil Rays/Sox game on in the background, so I needed the sound. But as bad as seeing the Rays lose after a beyond-farcical call when A.J. Pierzynski elbowing Willy Aybar resulted in an interference call…on Aybar, hearing the Pale Hose’s uber-hack announcers try to rationalize the whole thing was much worse.
Admittedly, I may have been upset because the Mets somehow managed to lose by giving up — in the same inning, I swear! — the first post-Clinton administration homer for both Brad Asumus and Darrin Erstad. Do you know what the odds of that are? It’s in the billions! It couldn’t happen, wouldn’t happen! Did you not see you were being set up after the second hit?
As Ezra says, this probably sums up the case for Biden as well as anything:
In theory, his knowledge of foreign policy and refreshing willingness to take the fight to Republicans should be somewhat undermined by his vote on the war. But in the strange calculus of the Beltway media, being wrong about the war seems to give you more foreign policy credibility…
Obviously, one wants to be careful about such scoops — ask the previous Democratic running mate, Dick Gephardt — but apparently it will be Biden.
I guess I feel relief without happiness. Certainly, if the other runners-up were Kaine and Bayh, Biden has to be considered the best choice by a huge margin. If we must have someone who voted for the war, it would be nice to at least have that person be a pro-choice progressive of some accomplishment (and Biden was at least much more critical post-war than Bayh or Clinton.) On the other hand, I would have much preferred Sebelius, preferred Reed, and perhaps marginally preferred Clinton (unlike Rob, I’m not sure about Clark.) Still, it’s a decent choice. I am at least glad that Obama focused ability rather than chasing phantom political gains that never materialize.
Richard Posner has an interesting article — essentially an application of his recent HLR Foreword — critiquing the Supreme Court’s decision in Heller, the D.C. gun control case. It’s a useful corrective to the glib certainty of the majority opinion and its strongest supporters. And yet, it’s frustrating in its own right.
One problem is his apparent assumption that until very recently conservatives had a principled opposition to an activist judiciary, as opposed to an opposition to the substantive decisions of the Warren and early Burger Courts: “The idea behind the decision–it is not articulated, of course, and perhaps not even consciously held–may simply be that turnabout is fair play. Liberal judges have used loose construction to expand constitutional prohibitions beyond any reasonable construal of original meaning; and now it is the conservatives’ turn.” Given that there’s never been a post-Civil War court with a conservative median vote that didn’t engage in significant activism with highly contestable constitutional moorings, the basis for this is unclear. Well over a century after the Civil Rights Cases and Allgeyer and nearly a century after Hammer v. Dagenhart, it’s strange indeed to view reactionary judicial activism as a 21st century phenomenon. Also odd is the absence from Posner’s account of a rather notable recent example of unprincipled “judicial activism” far, far more egregious than Heller: Bush v. Gore. Presumably, this is because Posner wrote an entire book using pragmatism and what can only be called law-office democratic theory to defend the Court’s decision. Posner is entitled to change his mind, of course, but when he complains the he “cannot discern any principles in the pattern of the Supreme Court’s constitutional interpretations” one would think this would compel an acknowledgment of his own strong support for a “loose construction” that reached congenial results for conservatives.
This brings us to another problem, which is that rather than correctly noting that the legal materials surrounding the Second Amendment are considerably more complex than Scalia can allow and admit to multiple reasonable interpretations, he simply asserts without anything like the necessary evidence that Scalia is wrong. (“The text of the amendment, whether viewed alone or in light of the concerns that actuated its adoption, creates no right to the private possession of guns for hunting or other sport, or for the defense of person or property.”) This goes too far. His analysis is at one point even contradictory: he can’t seem to decide whether Scalia’s position is nonsense because “[i]t is doubtful that the amendment could even be thought to require that members of state militias be allowed to keep weapons in their homes, since that would reduce the militias’ effectiveness,” or because “the ratifiers of the amendment probably did think that the right of militiamen to keep and bear arms entitled them to keep their weapons in their homes.” Which is it? His overreaching certainty extends to other cases : for example , he claims that the contemporary doctrine that the Bill of Rights is “incorporated” against the states was “decided in the teeth of the language of the Fourteenth Amendment.” It is true that the Fourteenth Amendment repeating the language of the due process clause of the Fifth is a point against the incorporation theory, but it is hardly dispositive. Proponents of incorporation can point to the other side’s own textual puzzles — why did the framers of the 14th Amendment bother to include a privileges and immunities clause that allegedly just re-affirmed some minor rights already recognized prior to the Civil War? — and cite important historical evidence such as the fact that the floor manager of the Amendment expected it to incorporate the Bill of Rights. One can disagree with Black’s arguments, but to claim that they contradict the text of the Fourteenth Amendment is silly.
Posner is right that constitutional interpretation in interesting cases inevitably involves a significant amount of judicial discretion, although I don’t think that calls for “judicial modesty” have much point; as long as activist judicial review serves the interests of the legislators who make it possible, it will continue, and will come from judges of all ideological persuasions. But Posner’s own unfounded certainties about the meaning of broad, ambiguous constitutional provisions tend to undermine his own argument.
I ended up interviewing Beauchamp a couple times — once in person and over email a couple times — and did a bunch of follow-up reporting. And I came to a much different conclusion than I started out suspecting: Scott Thomas Beauchamp did not lie and did not misrepresent his service. The New Republic’s investigation did not uncover any such misrepresentation, and yet the magazine threw him under the bus to spare itself the controversy. Yet it was also true that TNR was the victim of cynical misportrayal from conservatives.
The fundamental problems with trying to report stories recounted by a still-serving soldier — most importantly, that the sources who could effectively corroborate Beauchamp’s account won’t go on the record — mean that deciding whether to trust Beauchamp remains a gut judgment. We still don’t really know if the stories hold up — but nor, with the exception of one error in location, have any been convincingly rebutted.