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The Gaffe Bowl

[ 12 ] October 2, 2008 |

Even though as political scientist I’m duty-bound to note that tonight’s festivities are unlikely to affect the election, I’m also looking forward to watching. I may chime in if there’s something really notable, but here’s a thread for your commenting pleasure.

The famous Jon Lovitz “I can’t believe I’m losing this guy” line may not apply this year (knock on wood), but it certainly applies in re: the Mets and Brewers…


[ 43 ] October 2, 2008 |

(1) As a new blogger I’m clearly not aware of all internet traditions, as I didn’t realize that deleting a post I had put up a couple of minutes earlier after I realized that I was linking to a satire is considered a breach of blogger etiquette. Is there more or less a consensus on this point?

(2) As a fanatic Michigan Wolverine football fan I think I can picture the exact interpretive lens through which McCain supporters are going to be watching the debate tonight. For complicated reasons Michigan’s starting quarterback in the team’s first game this season was a true walk-on (an ordinary college student without an athletic scholarship). He seems like a hard-working kid and I don’t mean to pick on him, but it turned out that he simply didn’t have anything like the talent necessary for the job he was thrust into. But for an entire game we fans talked ourselves into believing that he wasn’t doing that badly. “See, that five-yard swing pass was really accurate!” “See, that go route wasn’t really that overthrown!” “See, he had a pretty solid game if you just don’t count those five horrible passes!” But by the next day everybody sobered up and realized we had to find somebody who could play quarterback.

(3) I’m doing this roundtable Saturday afternoon in NYC. It could be interesting. (The chances of Sarah Palin’s name not coming up can be calculated as approximately zero).

Fundamental Rights and State Interests

[ 19 ] October 2, 2008 |

Since there seems to be some confusion here, allow me to save time in comments by explaining a basic distinction:

1)Under current law, a woman has a fundamental right to choose an abortion. And if Griswold is right, this conclusion is inescapable. (It’s possible to argue that this implicit right doesn’t exist, of course, but that’s a different argument.)

2)To say that a woman has a fundamental right to choose an abortion does not mean that this right is unlimited. The Supreme Court’s current standard has watered the right down in O’Connor’s classic incoherent manner, but even if you believe in a robust right it can be abridged if legislation is narrowly tailored to a compelling state interest. No rights are absolute, and this certainly includes the right to privacy. Bans on post-viability abortions with a health exception qualify. Bans on pre-viability abortions as they are typically written and enforced do not. If you think that obtaining an abortion should carry less legal sanctions than spitting on the sidewalk, you’re essentially conceding that the state does not have a compelling enough interest to override a fundamental right.

At any rate, to say that a right can be overriden in certain limited circumstances is quite different than the more typical conservative claim that a woman’s right to choose an abortion doesn’t exist at all.

Pulling the Thread

[ 28 ] October 2, 2008 |

To follow-up on Adam’s point here, the conservative project to separate the implied constitutional “right to privacy” from Roe v. Wade is longstanding. (I should note, contra to Ponnuru’s fancy shuffling, the question — and Palin’s answer — were both about the “right to privacy” as opposed to whether specific provisions of the Bill of Rights protect “privacy.” Although I guess it’s good to see a conservative admitting that Douglas’s “penumbras and emanations” argument is, in fact, perfectly logical!) Reagan’s solicitor general Charles Fried argued that the Court could “pull the thread” of Roe without affecting Griswold and the general “right to privacy.”

The problem with the argument that privacy could entail a right to use contraception but not a right to an abortion is that it’s absurd. As Stevens memorably pointed out in Thornburgh:

For reasons that are not entirely clear, however, JUSTICE WHITE abruptly announces that the interest in “liberty” that is implicated by a decision not to bear a child that is made a few days after conception is less fundamental than a comparable decision made before conception. There may, of course, be a significant difference in the strength of the countervailing state interest, but I fail to see how a decision on childbearing becomes less important the day after conception than the day before. Indeed, if one decision is more “fundamental” to the individual’s freedom than the other, surely it is the postconception decision that is the more serious.

If there is a fundamental right to use contraception, there must be a fundamental right to choose an abortion, and given how abortion laws are actually written and enforced it’s nearly impossible to argue that a state’s interest in protecting non-viable fetal life could trump a woman’s fundamental reproductive rights.

Blah blah blah

[ 0 ] October 2, 2008 |

Jim Pinkerton and I recorded a diavlog last week; he asked a lot of good questions and let me do most of the talking. Unfortunately, we spoke before the Couric interviews were broadcast, so there’s something a bit antique about this already. In this Palinesque clip, I noodle around for about four minutes in a vain attempt to make two or three innocuous points. The best part comes about a minute or so into the segment, when one of my cats begins banging her head against the back of the laptop.

Oh, and yes, that’s a grow lamp behind me.

If you’ve recently been fired from your job, or if you’re looking for a soft landing after a mid-week bender and/or acid trip, the entire conversation is here.

OK, this isn’t satire

[ 16 ] October 2, 2008 |

I think:

Palin also claimed she was eager for the debate since the media had been ‘censoring’ her: “Getting to speak directly to Americans without that filter of mainstream media trying to I think maybe censor some of my comments as we lay out those contrasts between these two different tickets.”

Apparently she gave a bunch of brilliant and incisive responses to questions posed to her by biased Katie Couric and mean ‘ol Charlie Gibson, and the mainstream media edited all that stuff right out of the broadcasts.

Those bastards!

Please make it stop

[ 28 ] October 2, 2008 |

COURIC: Do you think there’s an inherent right to privacy in the Constitution?

PALIN: I do. Yeah, I do.

COURIC: That’s the cornerstone of Roe v Wade

PALIN: I do. And I believe that –individual states can handle what the people within the different constituencies in the 50 states would like to see their will ushered in in an issue like that.

COURIC: What other Supreme Court decisions do you disagree with?

PALIN: Well, let’s see. There’s –of course –in the great history of America rulings there have been rulings, that’s never going to be absolute consensus by every American. And there are–those issues, again, like Roe v Wade where I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there. So you know–going through the history of America, there would be others but–

COURIC: Can you think of any?

PALIN: Well, I could think of–of any again, that could be best dealt with on a more local level. Maybe I would take issue with. But you know, as mayor, and then as governor and even as a Vice President, if I’m so privileged to serve, wouldn’t be in a position of changing those things but in supporting the law of the land as it reads today.

Her answers here are a complete mess.

(1) She believes there’s a constitutional right to privacy, but she disagrees with the holding in Roe, which is the leading case for that proposition. Well what’s encompassed by this right then? What about, for example, Griswold? (Unconstitutional to criminalize the purchase of contraception by married couples). I realize Couric isn’t a lawyer, but that followup would have occured to a lot of journalists.

(2) If the basis for opposing Roe is because you believe, as she says she does, that abortion involves the killing of an innocent human life, then its nonsensical to turn into a states’ rights issue as she does. That’s equivalent to saying you think slavery is a gross violation of human rights, but whether its legal ought to be left up to individual states. In effect she’s saying “I think whether murder ought to be legal or not should be decided at the local level.”

(3) She can’t name one other SCOTUS decision she disagrees with? This isn’t a law school classroom — it’s not like she even has to give a case name. How about Kelo, the recent takings case that had all Wingnuttia in an uproar? She could have simply described what happened — elderly lady kicked out of lifelong home for the sake of a private development project. How about affirmative action? The death penalty? Lawrence v. Texas? (State can’t criminalize homosexual activities between consenting adults — another privacy case by the way).

This is probably a classic example of dog whistle politics — even she seems to realize that on culture war issues the orthodoxies demanded by the GOP base have become quite unpopular, so she dodges the questions by feigning total ignorance. On the other hand, at this point Occam’s razor suggests she may actually be this ignorant.

(4) The last bit about having no role in changing the law seems to be based on an implicit promise that she’ll never actually be president.

Update: Reading through the responses in the cold light of day I realize I’ve way overanalyzed this: as Aimai reminds me, she really doesn’t know anything about anything. OK she knows two things: she’s opposed to legal abortion (this is part of the hard drive and requires no software installation), and the federal government should leave a lot of controversial issues to the states (this is probably the one talking point that stuck when she was being drilled over the last month on what to say regarding these matters).

And dogwhistle and Hogan make a key point: if she can’t even repeat the half dozen basic buzzwords on an issue like the role of the courts in American life, how reliable will she be on anything? They’ve really outsmarted themselves with this one.

An Army Of Morons

[ 5 ] October 1, 2008 |

Blogs of the year, every one!

The Apotheosis of Gibberish

[ 0 ] October 1, 2008 |

Go ahead. Interview Palin.

Turning trick questions

[ 0 ] October 1, 2008 |

Although I haven’t seen it I understand there’s a David Cronenberg movie in which people are subjected to telekinetic bombardment until their heads actually explode. If the increasingly unstable state of my cranium is any indication, the McCain campaign seems to be deploying Sarah Palin for a similar purpose. From her cozy little chat with Hugh Hewitt yesterday:

HH: Now Governor, the Gibson and the Couric interview struck many as sort of pop quizzes designed to embarrass you as opposed to interviews. Do you share that opinion?

SP: Well, I have a degree in journalism also, so it surprises me that so much has changed since I received my education in journalistic ethics all those years ago. But I’m not going to pick a fight with those who buy ink by the barrelful. I’m going to take those shots and those pop quizzes and just say that’s okay, those are good testing grounds. And they can continue on in that mode. That’s good.

Palin’s response has gotten surprisingly little attention. After all, she’s accusing Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric of breaching journalistic ethics, by asking her pop quiz-style trick questions, intentionally designed to embarrass her. This, needless to say, is a serious accusation.

Of course if her response had been to a question from a real journalist instead of an intellectual crack whore, the follow-up would have been, “What specific questions were you asked that in your view were unethical?”

But not everybody is Hugh Hewitt. Somebody ought to ask her now. Does being asked what she thinks of Congress trying to bail out Wall Street count as a pop quiz? How about Couric’s relentless queries regarding her newspaper-reading habits? At this point, what would count as “fair” question to ask Palin? How much she loves her kids?

Also, this column was posted at a couple of the bigger right-wing sites, so I’ve gotten a couple of hundred emails. Although most are devoted to informing me that I am an elitist, an encouraging number are from Republicans or right-leaning independents who say they were going to vote for McCain before he picked Palin, but now won’t.


[ 12 ] October 1, 2008 |

The Romanovs were victims of political repression:

Russia’s Supreme Court has ruled that the last Tsar, Nicholas II, and his family were victims of political repression and should be rehabilitated.

The rehabilitation has long been demanded by the tsar’s descendants. Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, their five children, doctor and three servants were shot dead by Bolshevik revolutionaries in July, 1918. Lower courts had previously refused to reclassify the killings, which had been categorised as simply murder.

Waiting for the moment when Vladimir Putin discovers he’s actually the long lost heir of Nicholas II…

Ask an Apocalypse Specialist

[ 72 ] October 1, 2008 |

Dear Dr. Farley,

Should I be preparing a boat or a car?

Distressed in DC

Dear Distressed in DC,

The failure of the modern energy transportation network will make such distinctions irrelevant. It would be better to ask “horse or bike?” I recommend the former; horses can swim, and in a pinch can be eaten.

Dear Dr. Farley,

Is cannibalism really as bad as they say?

Preparing in Peoria

Dear Preparing in Peoria,

As in all things, it depends on who you’re with.

Dear Dr. Farley,

In the event of an apocalypse, is it more important to save our shotgun shells for the zombies out to eat our delicious tasty brain matter or for the mutants that will arise in the radioactive wastelands that were once our cities?


Dear NN,

Neither. Shotgun shells will be ineffective against the monkey-cyborgs that are likely to rise from the ashes of what was once American civilization. I recommend an M-16 with M995 armor piercing cartridges, or a .50 caliber machine gun. Details here. Also, aim for the monkey parts.

Dear Dr. Farley,

As a political science grad who became a journalist, obviously I’m screwed when the apocalypse arrives and absolutely must find a new career. Brewing sounds too complicated — how does one become an accredited acpocalypse specialist? Is there a correspondence course?


Dear RP,

Absolutely! Please send your application, a CV, and your first tuition installment of $5000 to Apocalypse Industries, Box 544460, Terre Haute, Indiana 47802. For obvious reasons we cannot accept credit cards. However, student loans are available to qualified applicants.

Dr. Farley, accredited* Apocalypse Specialist, has a twice-weekly column at