SIX POPULISMS

TPMCafe’s guest stint by Thomas Frank (One Market Under God, by the way, is a masterpiece) has stirred a spirited debate about the place of populism in a progressive future. Populism is a word which has rightly come up fairly frequently in more- and less-enlightened discussions of the left’s future, but too often it seems like folks are talking past each other. Here are six of the somewhat but not entirely related themes I think are in play in the way different people discuss populism:

Progressive Economics: In broad strokes, the economic policy proposals that get labeled as populist are the ones least popular with the Washington Post editorial board and the “Washington Consensus” crowd: fair trade or no trade; downward economic redistribution; unionization. Opposition to immigration often gets grouped in here as well as part of the same package, though for obvious reasons I’d rather apply the populist label to the push for equal labor rights for immigrants.

Direct Democracy: The other set of policy proposals which usually get the populist labels are the ones which bring political decisions under more direct control of the American public. This includes taking decisions away from judges and handing them over to legislatures and taking them away from legislatures and handing them over to public referenda.

Trust in crowds: Populism is also used to describe a posture – whether held by politicians or activists – of trust in the mass public and distrust in elites. Usually, trust in the public is justified by an appeal to the wisdom of common people in identifying their own problems and synthesizing their own solutions. And distrust in elites is justified on the grounds of their inability to understand those insights or, more often, their narrow interests.

Democratic Legitimacy: Populism also describes a particular kind of appeal made by elected or unelected political leaders. Candidates for office, especially, tend to get the populist label for seizing democratic legitimacy for themselves – that is, for framing themselves as the bearers and protectors of the people’s will. The corollary to the candidate as representative of the masses is the candidate as enemy of the elites, whose hostility is easily explained by their opposition to the popular policies and popular mandate.

Prejudice: Populism is also a frequently-invoked label to describe all manner of ugly prejudice, be it directed against Blacks, Jews, homosexuals, or immigrants. In this conception, populism is the cry of some self-defined majority against unwelcome interlopers. This meaning of populism – which gives elites a lot of credit – is never far when someone’s looking to discredit one of the others.

Economic Focus: Maybe the simplest sense in which the word populism is used is to refer to a focus on economic issues (rather than a particular stance on them), to the exclusion of others.

That makes two kinds of policy approaches, two rhetorical/ philosophical postures, a question of focus, and a very bad thing (generally thrown into the mix by pundits like Joe Klein to make everything associated with the word sound ugly). Each of them, though, has a way of showing up implicitly in discussions about what is or should be populist.

What does it mean, for example, to ask whether Bill Clinton was a populist President? He often gets described that way, in large part because he ran on the economy (“It’s the Economy, Stupid”), and because his challenge to Bush benefited significantly from a sense that Clinton represented the concerns of the American people with which the President had fallen out of touch (and supermarket ray-guns). Others associate Clinton with the decline of populism in the Democratic party, and of the party in the country, pointing to his conservative stance on issues like NAFTA and the technocratic underpinnings of the “Reinventing Government” concept. I’m not going to say they’re both right (I’d say Clinton campaigned as a populist, but he didn’t govern as much of one). I will say that on those terms, it’s no surprise that those conversations don’t get farther than they do.

Thoughts?

FISH IN A BARREL

Matt Yglesias offers some deserved criticism of Stanley Fish’s peculiar Times op-ed. Fish basically argues that the authors’ “original intent” is the only accepted or justifiable grounds for constitutional interpretation, because words have no meaning apart from the ones willfully imbued in them by writers. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s two false conclusions (everyone believes in original intent, and only people who believe in it are right) based on a false premise (all that’s in my writing is what I intend to put there). As Matt writes:

I write, “I went to the store and bought sex toys.” What I meant to say was that I bought six toys. Nevertheless, I wrote “sex toys” which means something else. There are two kinds of meaning here — the meaning I had in my head, and the meaning of the sentence. We certainly wouldn’t conclude that the sentence as written was meaningless simply because it was the result of a mistake. Indeed, the whole idea that typos, malapropisms, and other mistakes are possible depends on the idea that written and spoken words have objective (or at least intersubjective), public meanings that are distinct from the intentions of the writer/speaker. If the world were the way Fish thinks it is, it would never make sense to say somebody “misspoke” because the meaning of what they, in fact, said would, by definition, be what they meant to say.

While Matt effectively shoots down Fish’s premise, he doesn’t mention what seems to me the most fundamental problem with original intent (as distinguished from the practical, logical, and historical ones): it’s inherently and irretrievably undemocratic.

In a democratic society, the role of a constitution which often exerts a counter-majoritarian check on democratic initiatives is safeguarded by the recognition that that constitution has a democratic legitimacy of its own. Looking ahead, we have democratic means to change the nature of that constitution, though through processes made more difficult by the requirements of that constitution itself. And looking back, the short-term restrictions on our democratic options reflect the long-term democratic choice made by our predecessors to accept that constitution and those constraints. In other words, we accept that the constitution stops us from democratically passing a law granting titles of nobility not only because with a supermajority we could democratically ammend that limitation but also because Americans (the white male ones, that is) democratically chose a constitution with that limitation in the first place.

And what did our forebears ratify? The words of the constitution. Not the original (make that contemporary) intent of its authors. As Frederick Douglass argued 145 years ago, to hold the voters who ratified the constitution – and ourselves – to the “secret motives” of its authors, rather than to the text they ratified, is “the wildest of absurdities.” Even if we could determine what exactly the framers had in mind, we would do well to remember that what the framers had in mind never came up for a vote. And that they had many different things in mind, out of which they compromised on a particular text, likely each hoping it would be understood in a somewhat differently shaded way.

If there’s any original intent that should bear on our reading of the constitution, it’s the original intent of the voters. Here too, though, it bears keeping in mind that a constitution is by nature a democratic compromise among people of differing beliefs to set bounds on future majoritarianism. So while there’s no Rawlsian veil of ignorance in play, there’s at least some haze. In ratifying a constitution, we provisionally inhibit our chances of legislating certain of our majority views in exchange for provisional protection against legislation contradicting certain of our minority views. A, B, and C, for example, may all see fit to paly it safe and ratify a constitution forbidding discrimination against a particular letter, each seeing it mainly as a protection for itself and not for others. To point out afterwards that protecting C may not have been the original intent of 2/3 of voters would miss the point.

We should also remember, sadly, that many of the Americans who for several decades were systematically read out of the constitution were left out of the process of drafting and ratifying it in the first place.

The LA Daily News reports that a few more congressmen have joined up with a bid to repeal the 22nd Amendment’s two-term limit for presidents. Doesn’t seem to have a chance, and it’s hard to get worked up over one way or the other, but I do think the country would be a hair more democratic without the amendment. I generally think it’s a good thing for us to have social norms against third terms of the kind that already existed before 1947, but that’s a decision for primary and general election voters to make for themselves (or, in the case of FDR, not to) in each election year, not one for another generation to make for us. And it’s a norm individual voters should each decide to uphold or reject in their own selections, not grounds for a current or past majority to deny members of a minority or future majority the chance to vote for the candidate of their choice (same goes for the far less sympathetic ban on foreign candidates, especially in an era when the ostensible threat some English prince using his wealth and residual pro-British-empire sympathies as a springboard to the Presidency is that much less of a reasonable concern…). As Aaron Sorkin once wrote, when the system works, “we have term limits in this country: they’re called elections.”

The real implications of term limits are far greater here in Mexico, where elected officials at all levels are government are limited to single terms. I heard a convincing lecture here at UDLA last week echoing what some political scientists in the US have warned about term limits: they shatter the already-fragile subject-agent relationship between voters and candidates, in which voters do their best to evaluate the performance of their representatives and reward or punish them at the voting booth. That’s why the conventional wisdom we’ve heard repeated non-stop recently is that your first term as President is for re-election, and the second is for history – a charming idea, maybe, but not a very democratic one. And it becomes much worse when no one’s term at anything is concerned with getting elected again. Defenders of the term limits I spoken to here argue that in a parliamentary system where voters are choosing parties rather than candidates (a set-up the lecturer is opposed to as well, though I’m not), this makes little difference, even holding voting based on parties constant, in a scenario without term limits voters have the chance in party elections to reward or punish incumbents, and if those incumbents make it to the top of the party’s list, then all voters get the chance to take performance into account. This professor isn’t the only Mexican I’ve spoken to here who identifies term limits as one of the reasons they feel ignored by their elected leaders, who are looking ahead not to re-election but to currying favor with party elites to make it onto the ballot for a different office (Mexico also seems to provide support, incidentally, for another hypothesis about term limits: that they reduce institutional conflict between different branches of government as you see more of the same people cycling through different offices). Of course that concern is also heightened by the overwhelming perception of party corruption, which is itself the main argument I’ve heard from Mexicans for keeping term limits in place. So earning faith that the system works seems the first step here towards convincing voters here that elections are term limits enough.

Even after last summer’s daily voter registration rejections in Tampa, the level of cynicism about Mexican electoral politics manifested in the limited number of conversations I’ve had about it with folks in Cholula is pretty striking. Students and others here have told me they weren’t planning to vote next July, that they didn’t care who won, or that that they were planning to cast blank ballots. Even the few people I talked to who were firmly behind a candidate were fairly resigned about future prospects. One thirty-something public employee in Fox’s PAN acknowledged significant disappointment with Fox’s term but blamed it on PRI obstructionism and union intransigence, and called the PRI’s Madrazo a selfish egomaniac and the PRD’s Lopez Obrador a corrupt socialist encouraging dependency. A student who wants to work as an engineer for Pemex (Mexico’s national oil company) told me Fox is criminally corrupt, Madrazo is out for his own power, and only Lopez Obrador seems to care about the Mexicans who are struggling – though his populism scares her. She was dubious about whether Fox and the Mexican elites supporting him would make it possible for Lopez Obrador to take office.

There’s certainly plenty to be cynical about. On the other hand, here the front-runner in next year’s election is a self-identified “humanist” who’s overcome the majority party’s legal bid to eject him from the race and seems to be gaining despite the opposition of economic elites throughout the country and abroad. Which certainly wasn’t the kind of pitch I was able to make last summer.

From Alyssa

Hey, I’m Alyssa. I’m a veteran of a whole bunch of different blogs; Josh is right that I can’t hold on to one of my own, at least not with school and work, and a life, so I’m thrilled that he’s invited me back. I’m a junior at Yale, and a Humanities major, which means I enjoy geeking out over things like obscure Inquisitorial tribunals and Florentine artistic and political movements. When I reemerge into the real world, I like indie rock, social justice movements of a bunch of different stripes, big American cities and their problems, and writing.

To get started…The New Yorker is bad about keeping their articles online (although with the New York Times taking much of the good stuff electronic, who am I to complain), but Hendrik Hertzberg, who writes the always excellent lead political piece in the beginning of the Talk of Town section, delivers a trenchant analysis of the latest British election in the May 23 issue. He takes on the perception among American liberals that the British system is a lot more democratic (participation, though much higher, slipped in this election). I’m not voicing agreement or disagreement-I simply don’t know enough to do that. But Hertzberg is always worth taking a look at; I think he gets too little attention among bloggers for how good he is. Making sure that people like him, and the New York Times commentators, get excerpted on the net despite not being widely available online (especially in archived form) is going to be important. I think the sentiment that so much is happening on the internet that anything not available online is replacable is sadly mistaken, if only because it sacrifices much of the challenging and interesting style out there.

Two things that were striking in reading local news in Puerto Rico while we were there:

One of the dominant stories was Rumsfeld’s much-anticipated list of base closings, which Puerto Rico’s Buchanan ultimately escaped. What generally goes unstated in news write-ups of the process by which base closing decisions are made is what all the major players – the Secretary of Defense and his commissi on, the President, the US House, and the US Senate – have in common: no one in Puerto Rico gets to vote for them, or for the people who appointed them. While it goes without saying in local papers, it’s striking from an outsider’s perspective, and deeply problematic from a Heldian perspective that understands democracy as a measure of control over the decisions which shape one’s life, though arguably no more so than the situation of groups like the poor in the continental US who – largely – have the formal franchise but face significant obstacles to political mobilization and to getting a hearing from economic elites, or of the people’s of other countries which while not US territories are drastically affected by policies of the US government and its delegates over which they have no form of democratic control.

The other dominant story was an intensifying showdown between the territory’s Popular Democratic Party Governor and its New Progressive Party-controlled legislature over the Governor’s Cabinet appointments, especially his appointee for Secretary of State, whom the legislature voted down but who began serving in the job anyway. What was really striking to me as an outsider to Puerto Rican politics, but almost as true of coverage of the struggle over judicial appointments in the US Congress, is the total suffocation of any kind of issue background by horse race coverage – that is, speculations about who’s winning. Over five days of reading articles about this fight, I was unable to find a single sentence discussing the ideologies of any of these appointees or the issues at the heart of the power struggle. I know that Governor Acevedo Vila thinks Pont would be an excellent Secretary of State, and that NPP leaders think she’d be terrible, but I honestly could only guess what the areas of contention are. Seriously, if you know, I’m pretty curious at this point. And I doubt I’m the only one. Meanwhile, pundits in the continental US complaining about how boring the filibuster fight is to the American public should consider why the very real ideological issues driving forward the collision – like the power of the American people to harness government to pursue racial and economic justice – have been sidelined in the presentation of that fight.

Keith Urbahn makes an unpersuasive comparison between graduate student workers and allies fighting for the right to organize and flat-earthers:

Our lovable but deluded Flat-Earthers are the members of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization (GESO), the self-proclaimed representatives of graduate students. GESO’s unremarkable history is marred by failure and distinct feelings of apathy and even opposition from many graduate students — both realities the organization continues to deny. Never mind the fact that the Yale administration has always refused to consider it a legitimate interest group, or that over the summer the National Labor Relations Board unequivocally struck down any right for students to organize as employees at private universities, or that GESO just might be the only group in history to lose its own rigged election, as it did in April 2003.

As I argued at the time, the vote by the Bush-appointed majority to overturn a unanimous decision and strip graduate student workers of their rights as employees is one of a constellation of anti-labor decisions pushed through by right-wing activist NLRB judges over the past three years. Other recent targets have included non-union workers, casual workers, and disabled workers. Hell, even the prophets of classlessness at The New Republic have taken notice. It wasn’t so long ago in this country when publice employees, or agricultural workers, or workers as a whole were denied a legal right to unionize. It’s hard to imagine that the same Yale administrators who blithely ignored the NLRB’s historic NYU decision now expect graduate student workers to roll over because lobbying by, inter alia, those administrators has yielded a new one.

As for the election Keith calls “rigged,” the date and time were well-publicized, the qualifications were clear and well-scrutinized, and the whole process was overseen by the League of Women Voters. Every graduate student who showed up, whether or not they were on the list of those who would be part of the bargaining unit, got to cast a provisional vote, and GESO chose not to contest any of them. Certainly, GESO should have done a better job of turning out their supporters, more of whom went out on strike with the union than made it out to vote for it. Unfortunately, Yale’s strategy of depressing pro-union turnout through publically describing it as “like getting your friends together to have an election,” while hiking anti-union turnout through intense pressure from advisors on advisees, particularly in the sciences, was more effective than many had predicted. Read more about Yale’s anti-union campaign here. Even under those circumstances, the result was a near tie. Nearly two years later, last month three out of five teaching assistants in the humanities and social sciences declared they had signed union cards and demanded Yale recognize their union. But Keith is unfazed:

And indeed, a 12-week process of soliciting names from a predetermined list of eligible “voters” had finally created the results GESO organizers long desired. Sixty percent of 521 eligible TAs in the humanities, social science and language departments voted in favor of unionization. In a crude attempt to lend at least a veneer of legality to the sham of an election, GESO solicited the help of Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz to certify the “vote.” What Bysiewicz and giddy GESO supporters failed to mention at the Dec. 14 meeting was that the card count was hardly representative of the whole graduate student body. In an effort to exclude departments predominately opposed to unionization — most notably those in the natural sciences — GESO changed the eligibility requirements, denying the right to vote to hundreds who differed with the group’s agenda.

What the vote was representative of is a three-fifths consensus of those whose primary employment is teaching in the humanities and social sciences supporting a union of teaching assistants in the humanities and social sciences. For years now, Yale has been claiming that GESO was illegitimate because its proposed bargaining unit included both students in the sciences and the humanities. Since the new NLRB decision, the union’s opponents have flipped their argument. Negotiations over the shape of a bargaining unit are a standard part of a unionization process. The problem is, Yale is still maintaining its dozen-year policy of refusing to negotiate – or meet – with GESO about anything. That includes the nature of a fair process for unionization, another issue on which Keith takes the administration’s side:

Furthermore, the method of a “card count,” a process in which GESO representatives solicited support for unionization by approaching eligible TAs, is hardly a fair way of gauging the graduate community’s interest in unionization. The card count allowed for the possibility of intimidation and coercion — both well-worn GESO tactics according to some graduate students.

Card count neutrality agreements provide workers a measure of protection against the employer intimidation made possible by the asymetrical power relationship in the workplace. As Kate Bronfenbrenner’s research demonstrated, majorities of workers during NLRB election processes strongly fear losing their jobs if they vote for the union, and a third who vote against the union themselves identify their vote as a response to employer pressure. That’s why politicians of both parties are pushing the Employee Free Choice Act in support of card check processes. That said, GESO’s demand for years was an agreement with Yale on a fair process whose results both sides would follow. But Levin, while with one breath telling GESO only an NLRB process was acceptable, that “democracy means elections,” with the other maintained that he would appeal the results of any election, leaving the ballots uncounted and impounded, as his allies in the Penn, Brown, and Columbia administrations have done in response to NLRB elections there. Democracy means following the results of elections. And as I’ve said before, I don’t think a graduate school in which students refrain from trying to win over students who might disagree with them on the issues they face is one living up to the values of liberal education. If you think it’s hard being an anti-union graduate student in a department where most of your peers are in the union, trying being a union member whose research funding depends on a supervisor who hates the union. Now imagine that situation if, say, losing your research funding means being deported out of the country. The plight of international students is, incidentally, one of many issues on which GESO’s lobbying has successfully brought change from the administration. But Keith isn’t too keen on GESO’s issue agenda either:

GESO has become increasingly involved with locals 34 and 35 on issues that are at best tangentially related to graduate student organization…Duped by that word “union” and the “Norma Rae” fantasies of some Yale graduate students — or more likely, attracted to the opportunity of political allies in the fight against the Yale administration — members of the real unions locals 34 and 35 attended the December meeting, dutifully holding up signs and chanting in support of the new “union” of graduate students.

This is the classic “narrow agenda/broader agenda line of argument Yale’s administration has been firing at its unions for at least as long as Keith and I have been at Yale: Either the unions are parochial institutions only narrowly concerned with their members’ wages and benefits who could care less about the greater good, or they’re shadowy, expansive conspiracies with designs to meddle everywhere they’re not wanted. The truth is, unions best protect the rights of their own workers and of all Americans when they have broad agendas. That’s why the trade union approach of the CIO did more for American labor, and for America, than the craft union approach of the AFL ever could. GESO is right to recognize that fighting for graduate student workers means fighting for their rights as immigrant workers against capricious deportation. And GESO is right to recognize that graduate student workers’ voices are most powerful, and their interests are best represented, when they stand together with other Yale employees on issues of common concern, like diversifying Yale’s workforce and supporting working mothers. And members of Locals 34 and 35, far from being the ignorant dupes Keith labels them, are right to recognize that their rights as workers are best protected and advanced by safeguarding the right to organize for all Yale employees and joining them in struggle over common challenges. That’s why, for so many in Yale’s service, maintenance, and clerical workforce, it rings hollow when Dan Koffler argues that:

The suggestion that Ph.Ds in waiting have a common class interest with lifelong wage-laborers, least of all Yale Ph.Ds in waiting, is an unfunny, borderline obscene joke. It is, moreover, a notion that can only hurt the cause of real workers.

As I argued here before, the salient question is not and should not be whether a teaching assistant or a secretary is more exploited or more sympathetic. The question is, do these workers face common challenges? And out of these common challenges, how do they find common cause and better effect progressive change in their own lives and in Yale as an institution? The argument that different kinds of workers should keep to themselves is not new. It was a hallmark of Yale’s anti-union campaign against clerical and technical workers before Local 34 was finally recognized in 1984. Unions are all well and good for the largely male, largely minority, blue-collar workforce of Local 35, Yale clerical and technical workers were told, but are they really the kind of institutions that Yale’s “pink-collar” clerical and technical workers should be associated with. Local 34 and Local 35 stood together, in the face of threats of reprisals against Local 35 by Yale’s administration, and after Local 34 won its ten-week strike and its first contract, Local 35’s new contract was settled quickly once Local 34 made clear its intention to stand in support of Local 35. That’s what winning looks like. And so it’s strangely appropriate how Keith chooses to end his article:

…we know whom they truly stand for: themselves.

Yes, graduate students signing union cards are standing for themselves, and for each other. And because many undergraduates see themselves as future graduate students, its understandable that those who believe in a comfortable dichotomy between service and self-interest have more trouble getting on board with GESO. But now more than ever, in the face of the growing casualization of the academy (a trend which makes Dan’s description of graduate students as “YalePh.D.s in waiting” more misleading), graduate students are right to organize for better working conditions and a better university, and others in the Yale community are right to stand with them.

Watching the objection to the Ohio Count:

1:20 Whatever the Times said, Dick Cheney sure doesn’t look happy about this.

1:30 Rep. Tubbs Jones (D-OH): “If they are willing to stand for countless hours in the rain, as many did in Ohio, then I should be willing to stand for them in the halls of Congress.”

1:35 Rep. Pryce (R-OH): Just be nice and take it like John Kerry. The election is like so 2004.

1:38 Rep. Pryce (R-OH) and Sen. DeWine (R-OH) simultaneously: Lots of newspapers agree with us. Why don’t you?

1:42 Rep. Conyers (D-MI): “Not a single election official in Ohio has given us an explanation for the massive and widespread irregularities across the state.”

1:45 Rep. Sanders (I-VT): “What today is about is to demand that the federal government begin to move forward to ensure that every voter is country can be confident that every vote is counted accurately and every voter is treated fairly.”

1:46 Rep. Blunt (R-MO): People who were elected shouldn’t attack elections. And if you attack the election process, you don’t support the electoral troops.

1:49 Sen. Durbin (D-IL): “We can and should do better…I will take [Jackson’s amendment] seriously.”

1:51 Rep. Watt (D-NC): “The eyes of the world will be watching how we handle this – we’ll not treat it as frivolous when people are denied the right to vote…If we pretend that this is frivolous, then we are not moving forward.”

1:55 Sen. Stabenow (D-MI): “In Ohio, the provisional ballot was rendered virtually worthless when Ohio’s Secretary of State ruled that the ballot was legitimate only when the ballot was cast in the precinct.”

1:57 Rep. Ney (R-OH): Your standards are too high. Anyway, Republicans get disenfranchised sometimes too.

2:00 Sen. Wyden (D-OR): Ohio has a lot to learn from Oregon. Why is the GOP more concerned about allegations that one dog got to vote than that hundreds of thousands couldn’t?

2:03 Rep. Pelosi (D-CA): “This is their only opportunity to have this debate while the country is listening, and it is appropriate for them to do so…This is not just about what happens in counting votes, but in all three phases: before, during, and after the election…lines of up to ten hours in some areas. You can deny it all you want, but it is a matter of public record that it happened, and that it is wrong.”

2:10 Rep. Reynolds (R-NY): Come on, we already passed a law about this. You guys are like a Japanese soldier who can’t surrender.

2:13 Sen. Clinton (D-NY): Can’t we at least get a hearing? Why do we get better paper trails on lottery tickets?

2:16 Sen. Reid (D-NV): “While the literacy tests and poll taxes of the past are gone, more insidious practices continue to taint our electoral system.”

2:22 Sen. Harkin (D-IA): “Standing in line hours to vote is like throwing acid in the face of democracy…There was an average of 4.9 machines in Bush districts, while there was an average of 3.9 machines in Kerry districts…What we saw was a concerted effort to suppress the right of Americans to cast a vote.”

2:25 Rep. Hayworth (R-AZ): Doesn’t Kerry’s concession speech sound better when you read it with em-pha-sis on every sin-gle sy-lla-ble?

2:27 Rep. Kucinich (D-OH): “They encouraged the use of provisional ballots to make it more difficult for minority voters to vote.”

2:30 Sen. Obama (D-IL): “This is something that we can fix…What we’ve lacked is the political will.”

2:34 Sen. Dodd (D-CT): “The real test will come in the next few days when we have the chance to introduce legislation on this.”

2:36 Sen. Voinovich (R-OH): We know how to count in Ohio. “I am proud of how the election went in Ohio.”

2: 39 Rep. Cummings (D-MD): “What we are addressing is the fundamental right to vote.”

2:40 Rep. McKinney (D-GA): “It is not only our right but our responsibility to demand full democracy at home…This is not about a recount. This is about a blackout.”

2:43 Rep. Dreier (R-CA): Democratic criticism of the functioning of the democratic process in the United States encourages terrorists. Why would anyone want to become a democracy when they see that there can be disputes?

2:47 Rep. Drake (R-VA): Either the President is an idiot, or he’s an evil genius. But not both.

2:50 Rep. Jackson (D-IL): “At present, voting in the United States is a state right, not a citizen’s right…All separate, all unequal…Our voting system is built on the sand of states’ rights…We need to build our democracy on the fundamental individual guarantee in the constitution of the right to vote.”

2:53 Rep. Lewis (D-GA): “Our electoral system is broken, and it must be fixed once for all…How can get over it when people died for the right to vote?”

2:54 Rep. Jindal (R-LA): I am really excited about getting elected, and you guys are ruining it. Next thing you know the Palestinians will sue when they lose elections.

2:57 Rep. Tiberi (R-OH): You’re hurting the feelings of election workers by criticizing things that happened during the election.

3:00 Rep. Woolsey (D-CA): “If we don’t [change], why would any American bother to vote?”

3:02 Rep. Owns (D-NY): “Our mission for democracy in Iraq would be totally shattered if we insisted that that country be split in thirty or fifty divisions, each with its own rules, each with its own standards.”

3:05 Rep. Kingston (R-GA): Dead people voting is a bigger problem than systematic disenfranchisement. If these Democrats loved America as much as my blind father, they wouldn’t mind waiting in lines.

3:07 Rep. Keller (R-FL): Michael Moore has used voodoo on Barbara Boxer.

3:13 Rep. Waters (D-CA): “There is no justification for denying the vote of someone voting in the right county but the wrong precinct. The voter’s intent is clear.”

3:16 Rep. Boehner (R-OH): You’ve disrupted my healing process. “If we really want to have a debate about how elections are run, that debate ought to happen in each of the fifty state legislatures.”

3:25 Rep. Portman (R-OH): If there was a conspiracy to disenfranchise people, I would have known about it.

3:31 Delegate Holmes Norton (D-DC): “If we are the democracy we say we are, we must show it today.”

3:41 Rep. DeLay (R-TX): The Democrats are blowing a great chance to declare support for all of Bush’s plans for the country. Me, I love the New Deal and Civil Rights. I would love to see more like that from them.

This post has sparked some strong disagreement from Errol and Jamie. Errol writes:

Why shouldn’t that student or students like him be able to go to a school where he feels comfortable expressing his opinion on campus. This is a very widespread opinion because it’s almost uniformly ignored by liberals on college campuses around the nation. We simply ignore that while making our campuses an open forum for almost every liberal, progressive, leftist or whatever you want to call left of center opinions, that we impose an almost tyrannical speech code on our more conservative students. They’re not only often afraid of being relegated to being pariah by speaking their minds in class about what they might see as the negative effects of an encroaching welfare state, the evils of moral relativism, or the value of tradition in human interaction, but they must constantly be bombarded with propaganda with which they disagree. The implication of your post seems to be that conservative students or others that feel very much marginalized on college campuses should just suck it up. Why should they? Is it because they’re in the minority? Or is it because you have such a firm control over the truth or over what’s right and what’s wrong that you can suddenly feel comfortable excluding certain voices from discourse? Because ultimately that is what lost when people feel so uncomfortable, when people feel strongly enough about the social pressures that they feel to evoke “the Nazi button policies” as a way to explain to others the level of oppressiveness that they feel.

For sake of time, I’ll reprint here my response in the comments: I’m not clear on how it is, Errol, in your argument, that “an almost tyranical speech code” is imposed on “our more conservative students.” Is it simply by nature of disagreeing with these more conservative students that the majority is teetering on the edge of tyranny? What I labelled as immature in the piece I linked was the contention that merely being asked by peers to support a social cause that one disagrees with is oppressive. The natural end point of this argument, it seems to me, would be that no Yale Law student should ask for another Yale Law student to join a cause unless she knows that he already is aware of and supportive of it. That seems likely to translate into very few causes getting off the ground at a school which prides itself on – and attracts students through – its reputation for cultivating students concerned about their surrounding and national communities and prepared to use the law in support of social justice.

As someone who tends to come down pretty far on one side of the spectrum of opinion at Yale, I’ve often been in the position of being an ideological minority. But while I’ve certainly been critical of policies – like police seizure of leaflets in the Woolsey Rotunda – which restrict my expression of those views, I’ve never argued that my views are being stifled simply by not being widely shared. The past few years have provided endless chances to watch the same national and local figures relentlessly bemoan a “culture of victimhood” amongst historically marginalized groups while raising alarms over the supposed oppression of campus conservatives who are stuck, for example, having liberal commencement speakers. Few of them have gone so far as to compare solicitations to support a cause to Nazism.

We’re told that “there was very little opportunity to express alternative opinions at the law school,” but we get no account of any dissent that was stifled, or any attempt to express those alternative opinions. He offers no evidence that he tried to do so – or to identify himself as an intentionally “non-button wearing student” rather than someone who hadn’t had the chance to get one. Democracy is messy. Sometimes it involves being asked to do things one doesn’t want to. If he had said no and discovered as a result that his grades were being lowered or his posters were being torn down or, say, his door was being slammed with a 2 by 4, that would be more like persecution.

As for the enforcement of the non-discrimination policy, if you have evidence that it’s going unenforced in other cases, or questions about its parameters, there’s a phalanx of lawyers and futures lawyers on this campus much better equipped to respond.

Jamie also argues that I should have more sympathy for the Patrick P:

And yes, Yale is an “oppressive” place to be if you’re a conservative, er, rather, not a leftist. I often have to ask myself if those who think not being a liberal at Yale is easy live on the same planet as I do. When I ask myself this question, the answer I always come up with is, no, these people do not live on this planet. And don’t even try to tell me that you’ve felt unfairly marginalized as part of the “ideological minority.” You haven’t. For people who use the word “Nazi” and “fascist” so freely to describe your political opponents, its clear that you’ve lost any and all ability you might have once had (which probably wasn’t all that much to write home about in the first place) to recognize literary devices like facetiousness or overstatement. To act as if being one of 90 people not to sign a petition that the other 500 of your professors and peers have deemed to be a moral necessity is an easy situation to live with flies in the face of reality.

Look, it’s never easy to disagree be surrounded by people who disagree with you, as generations of college students on various parts of the political spectrum on various campuses have discovered over the past several generations. Fortunately, many choose to speak up anyway. Hopefully, all of us are at college looking to encounter articulate advocates for positions we disagree with, and hopefully we’ve each been successful. Jamie’s quick to dismiss the claim that those of us to the left of the Yale center may also have it less than easy sometimes. I think it’s worth noting that the major instance of violent response to dissent while we’ve been on campus was targeted against a girl hanging an upside-down American flag. And I think it’s worth noting that it’s been students criticizing University policy from the left who’ve been stopped or detained by the police. To read some of Jamie’s earlier posts you’d think that left-wing critics of University policy represented a tiny fringe; to read ones like this you would think that the student body was a massive cohort of far-left radicals. I’d say the truth is somewhere in between.

To argue that Yale oppresses those to the right of the left simply rings hollow. For copies of Light and Truth to be confiscated by administrators back when because they suggested skipping sex-ed lectures was certainly outrageous, although I’m not fully persuaded that can be chalked up to left-wing bias rather than a generally spotty record on protecting dissent from administration policy. Of course, it’s usually been students on the left who’ve borne the brunt of Yale’s failures in this vein. On the other hand, a student who chooses to attend a political rally supporting a candidate but claims he can’t release his name out of fear of intimidation doesn’t persuade me that it’s the liberals creating, in Jamie’s words, “an environment in which students are meant to keep their opinions to themselves.” And I’d say there’s something twisted in students arguing that professors and students who make strong criticisms of the Republican President, Republican House, or Republican Senate are responsible for othering those students who support the party running our government, or doing some other verb to them which Jamie and others don’t believe in when it’s used to describe the experience of, say, a black female student marginalized by the presence of only one black woman with tenure at Yale. I’m sure that there are situations in which professors overly antagonize students they disagree with on the right, or wrongly let disagreement affect how they grade students on the right, or in which students are rude or dismissive towards students on the right, just as all of these cases are experienced in reverse by students on the left. But that does not oppression make. And if we hear more about the marginalization of conservative students nationally, it may be in part because conservatives have been very effective in using the think tanks and media they dominate the perpetuate the idea of an oppressive liberal university to complement the supposed oppressive liberal media, and to bring accounts of said oppression to light and onto the airwaves.

The account I responded to isn’t even a borderline case. Here the supposed oppression consists simply of the articulation of a viewpoint by a majority of other students, and the appeals of some of those students that he join. It’s ridiculous to claim that as persecution. And it’s that much more ridiculous to compare it to Nazism. Contrary to Jamie’s implication, I’ve never referred here, or in any other venue I know of, to my peers as Nazis. I also haven’t called him a “homophobe” for opposing the activism of Yale Law students. If there are examples to the contrary, let me know. I do believe that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is soaked in and perpetuates bigotry in a similar manner to the racial segregation of the military not so very long ago.

Errol and Jamie are also disappointed that I and others in what Jamie sees as “Yale’s ever-so-righteous corps of lefty bloggers” haven’t gotten around to critiquing this column. What is there to say? Instead of exploring the divide Bush’s cabinet appointments have demonstrated between descriptive and substantive representation of ethnic minorities, or assessing the destructive impact of Bush’s policy on black communities, or considering the frightening implications of another four years of this foreign policy, she launches an offensive, outrageous, and useless attack on Rice as secretly being a white man. It’s a terrible column. I think we can all agree there.

Some will argue in the months to come that the Senate filibuster, insofar as it allows a minority of representatives to stop legislation a majority of representatives support (sometimes). When they do, remember that even more deeply-entrenched and far more problematic law which allows a minority of voters to get legislation passed (via their representatives) which a majority of voters oppose. Which one? The US Senate itself. In this case, as Nick Confessore observes that legal perversity means that even in the wake of the Democrats’ apparent drubbing in the Senate, Democratic Senators represent more Americans than Republican ones:

Brad Plumer calculates that the 44 Democratic senators (plus one independent) who will take seats in the Senate next year actually represent a majority of Americans, albeit a small one. (50.8 percent, if you give each senator half the population of his or her state.) Better numbers still come from Hendrick Hertzberg, who notes here that 41.3 million voters cast their votes for Democratic Senate candidates, compared with the 37.9 million who voted for a Republican. Add in the numbers for folks who weren’t up for re-election, and it turns out that 44 Democratic senators and one independent got the votes of 59.6 million voters, but the 55 Republicans only 57.6 million voters. This is, of course, a consequence of the Senate’s antimajoritarian nature, which privileges smaller-population states over larger ones, combined with the particulars of our current political era, in which Republicans tend to represent those states. But the bottom line is that, come January, Harry Reid will represent the interests of — and be responsible to — more Americans than Bill Frist…it should provide some backbone to the Senate Democrats as they confront the four years ahead, during which the White House and its allies in Congress will attempt to ram through fundamental changes to the American political system…The Democrats not only have the right to contest those policies, including through the parliamentary tactic of filibusters — in the most democratic sense, they have a duty to do so.

FAIR questions the factuality of John Stossel’s hatchet job against John Edwards on 20/20 last week, and the justice of giving him the space to fulminate from the right each week without any counter-balance from the right:

How much of the increase in C-sections is due to medical judgment, rather than fear of lawsuits? Stossel doesn’t address the question. Dr. Luis Sanchez-Ramos, an obstetrics professor at the University of Florida, noted in the British Medical Journal (2/12/94) that “in Brazil and Mexico, where malpractice is not a problem, the caesarean section rate is still high.” Sanchez-Ramos suggested that profit may be another motive driving C-sections, pointing out that rates are higher in for-profit hospitals and with patients who have good health insurance.

But Stossel focused on lawsuits as the core problem: “So are women today suffering more pain, even risking their lives on unnecessary surgery, partly because lawyers like John Edwards scared doctors?” It’s a complex question, depending among other issues on how much of the surgery is actually “unnecessary.” But Stossel’s answer just assumes that trial lawyers are the villains: “Well, maybe all Edwards’ cases were good ones, but the fearful atmosphere that lawsuits create has far-reaching consequences.” That we should see malpractice suits as making doctors “fearful” rather than “careful” is something that the ABC journalist asserts rather than explains.

Of course, political candidates are fair game for criticism. But given Stossel’s politics, it’s unlikely that he will be doing a similar attack on George W. Bush or Dick Cheney this campaign season– certainly not one that fits in with their opponents’ talking points so well. (When Edwards was picked by Kerry, the Republican National Committee’s website headlined its response, “Who Is John Edwards? A Disingenuous, Unaccomplished Liberal And Friend To Personal Injury Trial Lawyers.”) When ABC’s parent company Disney refused to allow its Miramax subsidiary to distribute Michael Moore’s film “Fahrenheit 9/11,” company CEO Michael Eisner offered this rationale (5/5/04): “We just didn’t want to be in the middle of a politically oriented film during an election year.” So why does ABC air one-sided political commentary during an election year?

When I watched part of Stossel’s commentary on TV, I thought to myself “Maybe we should let both sides bring medical experts to argue their case to the jury. Except – we already do.” Conservatives are always claiming that their opposition to judicial decisions which limit the power of their constituencies is based in an abiding faith in democracy and a distrust of unelected judges. But in the same breath they argue for tort reform in order to protect those same constituencies from regulation by juries. And they gleefully marshall technocratic arguments to suggest that a sampling of “the people” shouldn’t be trusted to decide such cases. They’re stuck making that argument because for all the talk about Americans hating lawyers and malpractice suits, it isn’t trial lawyers who decide cases and determine damages. It’s a (not fully representative) sampling of the American people. So conservatives’ concern isn’t about democracy. It’s about power.

“They say it’s our fault and we don’t care about politics,” someone told me yesterday at the Unemployment Office, “but when you try to get involved, it seems like they’re trying to stop us from really being able to vote.”  Looks like the Civil Rights Commission <a href=”agrees’>http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=584&e=3&u=/nm/20040715/pl_nm/campaign_florida_dc”>agrees:

Florida faces another debacle in the upcoming presidential election on Nov. 2, with the possibility that thousands of people will be unjustly denied the right to vote, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights heard on Thursday.  In a hearing on the illegal disenfranchisement of alleged felons in Florida, commissioners accused state officials of “extraordinary negligence” in drawing up a list of 48,000 people to be purged from voter rolls, most of them because they may once have committed a crime.  “They have engaged in negligence at best and something worse at worst,” said Mary Frances Berry, chairperson of the commission, an independent bipartisan body whose members are appointed by the President and Congress.   She said the commission would ask the Justice Department to investigate the matter.  “It does seems to me there is a smoking gun here,” said commissioner Christopher Edley. “There has been extraordinary negligence in the way the felon purging process has been conducted. … If it was intentional, this could be a violation of the federal Civil Rights Act.”