NOT A GOOD WEEK FOR JUSTICE

Robert Bork’s failed domination set a crucial precedent that a nominee whose jurisprudence endangers fundamental freedoms can and should be rejected by the Senate regardless of his personal competence. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats set a new one on Monday by stopping short of a filibuster on Sam Alito, a man who literally wrote the brief on how to kill Roe v. Wade, who has shown unwavering support for the power of the federal government to have its way with marginalized individuals, and who rejects that government’s responsibility and power to act in the service of the disenfranchised. Monday set a dangerous new precedent that when push comes to shove, the Senate will advise and consent only on whether the nominee is a sex offender or an incompetent. It’s a precedent Republicans can be depended on to take advantage of, to the real detriment of everyone who looks to an independent judiciary to safeguard their rights.

The Democrats’ ostensibly rebellious clapping after Bush said that Congress hadn’t enacted his plan to erode Social Security only emphasized the dark irony of the day: politicians who express their opposition through unauthorized clapping but not through the parliamentary avenues available to stop the confirmation of men who will leave us less free.

Want to put some real progressives into Congress? Here’s a good place to start.

THE WEEK IN RESTORING HONESTY AND INTEGRITY TO GOVERNMENT

If Roberts’ nomination was supposed to push perjury and the outing of an undercover agent off the front pages, it hasn’t been entirely successful. We now know that Ari Fleischer (don’t you miss him?) had the memo identifying Plame, that it was marked as secret information, and that he told the Grand Jury he never saw it. And we now know that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby are both under investigation for perjury over their own Grand Jury testimony. And now Time is casting further doubt on claims that Rove heard about Plame from media contacts and reporting one official’s account of “general discussion with the National Security Council and the White House and State Department and others” about Plame.” But they’re not the only ones failing to tell the truth under oath on an issue of urgent public concern. Turns out John Bolton falsely disclaimed having been interviewed about the original Niger forgeries which inspired Rove and company to smear Joe Wilson in the first place. Bolton’s truth problem, unsurprisingly, seems not to have given any pause to President Bush in his plan to bypass the Senate with a recess appointment.

As for Roberts himself, looks like he’s been less than upfront about his role in litigating Black Floridians’ votes out of existence in the name of equal protection. Same goes for his Federalist Society membership, which makes you wonder what other groups he doesn’t remember joining. And most troublingly, he may have told Dick Durbin that he would recuse himself from casting votes to uphold laws or rulings in accordance with the constitution and opposition to his faith, an especially eerie argument in light of his callous, anti-pluralistic advice that students who don’t feel comfortable with sectarian religious observance at their graduations just stay home.

THE RIGHT WAY TO HONOR THE 4TH

is to extend the reach of Americans’ constitutional freedoms by enfranchising those who’ve had their civil rights wrongfully stripped from them over prior felony convictions. That’s exactly what Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack has done in an Executive Order which goes into effect today. Now tens of thousands of Iowans (a quarter of whom are Black, though only a fiftieth of the state is) have the chance to exercise that most fundamental franchise, one which fosters opportunities to fight for the all too many others whose realization in this country remains deferred or denied. As the Des Moines Register wrote:

It is the right move. Convicts who have served their time should not forfeit such a fundamental constitutional right…Vilsack’s announcement, which came out of the blue Friday afternoon, stunned even close observers of the issue. It also angered critics, including Republican state legislators who saw it as a political calculation to add 50,000 or more likely Democratic voters to the rolls. Perhaps, but that sounds like support for denying ex-convicts constitutional rights to maintain a Republican edge in numbers…restitution [to victims] should eventually be paid in full, and the state has many tools at its disposal to push for compliance. The toolbox should not include denial of constitutional rights, however. The inability to vote is a visible brand ex-felons bear that labels them social outcasts, increasing the risk they might commit new crimes. The sooner convicted felons are allowed to participate in this civic responsibility, the better their odds of leading successful lives.

Guest-blogging over at Ezra Klein’s site (mazal tov!), Dan Munz is suggesting the possibility of a Mfume v. Steele Maryland Senate race as a chance for Democrats to take on and shoot down the GOP argument that Democrats take Black voters for granted. I think Dan’s absolutely right that a concerted, rigorous response from the Democrats is long overdue. I’d say part of the problem, though, is that the Democratic party establishment does indeed take Black voters for granted, in much the same way it takes most chunks of the party’s base – union voters for example – for granted, and in a way the GOP simply doesn’t treat it’s own base. Wherever one comes down on the Katha Pollitt vs. Thomas Frank debate on whether or not evangelicals who vote Republican to erode reproductive choice get their money’s worth, the Republican party makes a serious, year-in and year-out campaign of selling itself to its base while the Democratic party more often treats its base like the weird uncle who always shows up drunk to Thanksgiving (the pundits who complain about how short-sighted the NAACP is for wanting Democrats to swing by when the NRA doesn’t ask the same of Republicans might spend their energies better considering why the parties’ records might leave NAACP members with more concerns about how loyal the candidates they vote for will be).

Granted, President Bush’s appeal to Black voters to better defend their interests by spreading their votes more evenly is pure condescending silliness (I’d like to see him apply the same logic to, say, Enron executives: “As long as you all keep voting for us, what incentive do we have to keep giving you those invisible handjobs?”). More fundamentally, of course, the problem with Bush’s case is the idea that Democrats brazenly push forward with liberal policies they know are bad for their Black constituents. The reality, unfortunately, is that Democrats tend not to do nearly enough brazenly pushing forward with much of anything. The problem isn’t that the Democrats are too far left; the problem (I know I know, I’m the guy with the hammer, and look – it’s another nail!) is that the Democrats are failing Black constituents, as well as White ones, by not offering a program or an approach that’s progressive enough. The Republicans are hard at work rolling back the gains of the Civil Rights Movement, while the Democrats, even when they had branches of government of work from, have shown precious little initiative in extending them. Republican national candidates have mastered the art of the coded appeal to racist voters, while Democratic candidates remain anxious about looking like they’re trying too hard to attract Black voters (or, god forbid, “dependent” on them).

What might an aggressive Civil Rights agenda look like? An aggressive push for comprehensive voting reform, including a constitutional individual right to vote, uniform standards for ballot access and machinery, paper trails, and abolition of felon voter disenfranchisement. An aggressive push to transform the crimminal justice system into one which takes seriously the equal protection rights of Americans of different races and classes and which rehabilitates rather than stigmatizing those who pass through it. An aggressive push for drastically increased investment in education at all levels. An aggressive push to raise the minimum wage and strengthen the right to organize. An aggressive push to strengthen anti-discrimination legislation. An aggressive push for universal health care. An aggressive push for real affordable housing. That would be a start. Some of these areas have attained greater prominence in the Democratic party’s agenda of late, to a lot of people’s credit; others are still waiting. As Dr. King observed not long before death, the reforms that will achieve real progress in Civil Rights will cost billions. All of these reforms are changes in which Americans of all races have a stake, and which could be achieved such that the great majority of Americans would benefit. And this summer in Florida, I had infinitely more conversations with African-Americans reluctant to register to vote because of the party’s silence or meekness on continuing the progressive work of the Civil Rights movement than because they wanted school vouchers or felt demeaned by affirmative action or were scared of gay people.

So yes, the Democrats need better answers to the Republicans’ cynical appeals to Black voters, and they need candidates who are better at articulating them. But any message which boils down to “No, Democrats don’t take [you/us] for granted, they care about [you/us] very much” is doomed to fail. What the Democrats need, as Al Sharpton put it several times during the Presidential debates, is candidates who can give the donkey the kick it needs (not something Sharpton accomplished a great deal at). And the most powerful kicks tend not to come from candidates at all. As much as Dan talks about a “traditional” relationship between Democrats and Black voters, the tradition is fundamentally one of tension and contestation, one which envelops both Jack Kennedy’s supportive call to Coretta Scott King and Bobby Kennedy’s call to John Lewis pleading him to cancel the freedom rides. As with so many other cases, the job facing the leaders of the Democratic party is as much about improving its record as defending it.

I have to say, the face the Democratic Party showed today deserves much more respect than the one we saw on the same day four years ago. Barbara Boxer deserves the nation’s gratitude for choosing to be a first mover – and the brunt of reactionary criticism – to force a congressional confrontation over a national disgrace. The Democratic leadership, to their credit, chose to frame the challenge as an opportunity to probe a critical crisis of legitimacy in our electoral process rather than distancing themselves from those objecting as fringe radicals. While few were willing to directly question the Bush win, speaker after speaker on the Democratic side shared accounts of suppression and made the case for reform. And in retort, the Republicans had little more to offer than readings of newspaper editorials, whining about whining, stories of dead people voting, and disingenuous praise for John Kerry’s good sportsmanship. As Jesse Jackson argued, no individual’s right to vote will be secure until voting is recognized as an individual right. The Democrats’ report bears troubling witness to just how much work we have to do.

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.

Watching the Gonzales Confirmation Hearing:

11:30: So far, the GOP Talking Points on the challenge to the vote count and the Gonzales nomination, respectively, seem to be “Don’t listen to them because they’re whining and you’ll just become confused,” and “He was just a lowly bureaucrat up against a Big Bad Justice Department.”

11:40 Gonzales: The abuses which we all object to, no one supports.

11:45 Gonzales: The Geneva Convention only works as a universal human rights standard if it only applies to some people.

11:54 Gonzales: At least we don’t cut people’s heads off. (Talk about defining deviancy down)

12:02 Gonzales: It’s not that I don’t offer my own opinions, it’s just that the Department of Justice is very persuasive.

12:07 Gonzales: If I didn’t mention in my memo to Bush on whether to execute this guy that his lawyer slept through the trial, it must be that we’d realized it was frivolous.

12:12: Senator Cornyn (R-TX): If people disagree with you on torture, it’s because they don’t want to win the war on terror as much as you.

12:13 Cornyn: They say you haven’t given you the documents you want, but they have given us these two file folders which seem to have lots of pages in them.

12:17 Gonzales: If there was a possibility of you all reading my candid advice, I might give different candid advice.

12:18 Senator Schumer (D-NY): Of course we need a little less liberty these days. Only, maybe not this much less. And could you at least talk to us about it?

12:27 Gonzales: The Executive Branch has no opinion on whether the Legislative Branch should be able to filibuster its nominees.

12:31 Senator Brownback (R-KS): We need to do more to lower recidivism rates by helping prisoners to function in society…with Jesus.

12:34 Brownback: Sure there’s a first amendment, but porn is really unpleasant. I’d like to recruit your wife to look into it.

12:37 Gonzales: I wasn’t calling my colleagues judicial activists for wanting to force minors to get parental permission for abortion, I was just saying their conclusions were judicial activism.

12:42 Gonzales: What do you mean did my redefinition of torture encourage abuse? The majority of prisoners have not been tortured.

12:44 Gonzales: I don’t think we’re ever allowed to commit war crimes, but I’ll keep you posted.

12:45 Gonzales: The President hasn’t used his authority to disobey the law, but he has it.