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.

Advertisements

NEAR-VICTORY HAS A THOUSAND FATHERS

Democrats got the closest thing to a surprise electoral victory we’ve had in a while on Tuesday when Paul Hackett pulled over 48% in the most Republican district in Ohio. Understandably, spin machines on all sides have been in overdrive in the week since to claim vindication in the results. Case in point: Ed Kilgore’s claim that Hackett made it to 48% because the unreconstructed liberals in the “netroots” were willing to face facts, eschew their litmus tests, and let Hackett run with the kind of centrism the DLC has been shopping around the country:

The best sign, IMO, is that all this excitement was generated on behalf of a candidate nicely tailored to a “red” district, whose policy views probably were at odds with those of a lot of the folks generating the excitement and the cash. And I gather the national groups and bloggers involved in Hackett’s campaign let the candidate and his staff call all the important shots.

Reading Kilgore’s take, you’d think Hackett was a regular Zell Miller – or at least a conservative Democrat, emphasis on the conservative, like Ken Salazar. It makes good copy if your organization is devoted to pulling the party away from the left: in a sudden fit of reasonableness, the liberal fringe recognizes reality and gets behind the centrist candidate who can win. Trouble is, Paul Hackett is no Ken Salazar. Don’t take it from me – check out his website. He bucks the party on guns, but otherwise, he’s in or to the left of the mainstream of the House Democrats. Not only is he resolutely opposed to Bush’s social security privatization scheme, he takes the step most Americans support but too many Democrats are afraid to talk about: calling for an increase in the cap on the payroll tax (hear that suggested by the DLC recently? Didn’t think so). He condemns outsourcing, and rather than echoing GOP rhetoric about “big government,” he exposes it for the sham argument that it is. And on perhaps the signal issue of the campaign – the war in Iraq – he stands well to the left not only of the DLC of a significant chunk of the Democratic party in the House. If not for his being a veteran, one would expect the DLC to respond to his rhetoric opposing the decision to go to war with the usual hand-wringing about the party’s flagging credibility on national security.

Of course, if Paul Hackett hadn’t been a veteran, it would have been a very different race. But if all Kilgore means is that liberals conceded to pragmatists by getting behind a veteran, then the obvious question is whhere he got the idea that liberals in their hearts of hearts would rather have men and women in Congress who’ve never served in war. Maybe by reading all those DLC memos about how the Democratic party has no credibility on national security.

Bottom line is, if Paul Hackett had tanked, we’d be hearing from the conservative wing of the party about how his unreconstructed liberalism failed to resonate with mainstream voters. Making Hackett out to be an extreme left-winger would certainly be less of a leap for them than it was to make one out of John Kerry or Al Gore.

No real surprises in tonight’s press conference. That Bush saw the need to have it at all demonstrates what must be a growing sense that public opinion is only further solidifying against this administration on each of its major domestic policy initiatives. Still not much of a social security plan. Un-conservative as means testing may sound, ultimately it’s an approach to fray the social contract by transforming social security in the public mind from a universal compact into a payoff to the poor. The next step, a generation from now, is capitalizing on that image to further assault the program. Meanwhile, makes sense that Bush set himself up as the good cop on the “filibuster against people of faith” line, although he can’t really distance himself from that nasty line without actually, well, distancing himself from it. Interesting to see him say that his energy bill won’t help for a decade.

A compelling argument against libertarianism…from Glenn Reynolds:

…if bankruptcy law is “anti-freedom.” then what’s pro-freedom? Debtor’s prison?

Glenn is responding to a reader questioning how a devout libertarian like him can be so opposed to the bankruptcy bill that would make it harder for those who fail in the free market to mitigate the effects of that failure. The reader’s right: if the free market is really a just and efficient tool that distributes goods according to virtue, any good libertarian should see the existence of bankruptcy law as a reward for bad behavior or even a “perverse incentive,” and staunchly support a bill like this one to further shred that protection net. Protections for debtors are a good idea, and this bill is a trainwreck, because – contra the libertarians – it’s too often the obstensibly free market which fails citizens, not the other way around. Contemporary libertarianism is, dare I say it, bankrupt precisely because it posits a vision of economic freedom which fosters greater economic slavery for the majority by accelerating the race to the bottom, encouraging exploitation, further marginalizing the already vulnerable, and denying the rights and freedoms which enable consumers and workers to leverage demands from employers. As Glenn himself recognizes, a system which leaves someone who goes bankrupt to rot leaves him less free. But so does a system which allows employers to lock their employees inside for the night with impunity, or forces parents to choose between medical treatment for themselves or their children. Debtor’s prison is certainly “anti-freedom,” but so is child labor, so is union-busting, so is social security privatization, so is cutting tax cuts for the rich, and so is the Senate’s refusal to reverse the near decade-long decline in the value of the minimum wage. It’s nice to see Glenn and other conservatives recognize that this bankruptcy bill is a threat to real freedom, but the threat isn’t just this bill: it’s the broader economic agenda this administration is inflicting on America.

Nathan’s had a series of good posts recently the kind of social security reform we should all be behind: taking on the regressive income cap on the payroll tax so that Bill Gates no longer can finish earning his payroll contribution for the year long before he wakes up on New Year’s Day.  Payroll taxes are a huge chunk of the tax contributions made by low income Americans in the post-Reagan era, and that a CEO making millions a year pays no more in absolute dollars than an employee making $90,000 is an outrage we should be hearing much more about from the Democratic side of the aisle.  It’s time they did, because it would be good for the country and as Nathan observes, it would be good politics as well:

The argument against talking about a deal is reasonable as short-term politics: when your opposition is stumbling, let them fall on their feet. But that does buy the idea that there’s nothing wrong with Social Security that needs fixing. No, there is no funding crisis, but the reality is that social security is fundamentally a regressive tax…This has been a problem for decades and progressives never took proactive action to improve the situation. Which opened the door for this rightwing attack in the first place…We know that House Republicans won’t agree to elminating the payroll tax cap, so there is no danger that proposing it as a reform will be met with any real negotiation on the issue. But we can slam the conservatives for supporting such a regressive policy.

And since progressives don’t believe there is a crisis, we don’t think there needs to be any new revenue raised TODAY, so any rise in revenue from eliminating the payroll tax cap should be matched with an overall cut in payroll tax rates paid by average workers– probably equivalent to saving them 2-3% of their income. Yes, Dems should be proposing a TAX CUT! You want wedge politics, you’ve got it. Many progressives have pushed for raising the cap to cut payroll taxes over the years (see here), and we should not abandon pushing the idea just as national attention is on social security. Progressives are not going to revive their national fortunes by only playing defense and defending the status quo. They need to play political jujitsu to take ideas put on the national agenda by Bush and use that debate as a vehicle for selling a vision of better, more progressive alternatives. Otherwise, we may win a few rearguard fights, but we won’t move forward in building broader support for the changes WE want.

And as Nathan further notes, eliminating the cap will keep social security solvent for most of a century, while gaining many more voters than it would lost. The polling bears it out as well…

A week and a half ago, President Bush called attention to African-Americans’ lower life expectancy – as a case for dismantling social security as we know it:

African American males die sooner than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people. And that needs to be fixed.

Yesterday on Meet the Press, Congressman Bill Thomas made clear cutting benefits for demographics which live longer – rather than improving conditions for those who don’t – is a new GOP talking point:

We also need to examine, frankly, Tim, the question of race in terms of how many years of retirement do you get based upon your race? And you ought not to just leave gender off the table because that would be a factor…If we discuss it and the will is not to do it, fine. At least we discussed it. To simply raise the age and find out that you’ve got gender, race and occupational problems later, I would not be doing the kind of service that I think I have to do.

I’d suspect that this message won’t test as well amongst Americans that weren’t hand-picked for “Conversations” by the White House.

Shorter Bush Press Conference:

Question: How can Russia become more democratic?

Bush: Putin should have supported the war in Iraq. Also, the WTO.

Question: What does Rumsfeld have to do to rebuild trust?

Bush: Nothing.

Question: What did you learn from Bernard Kerik’s failed nomination as Secretary of Homeland Security?

Bush: He would have been an awesome Secretary of Homeland Security.

Question: Why are Americans so anxious about your plans in Iraq:

Bush: It’s those Iraqi troops’ fault for running off the battlefield whenever things get tough. Also, the media for some reason seems to think that bombings are more newsworthy than small businesses.

Question: Some people are worried that your social security plan will force millions of Americans to retire into poverty. What’s the deal?

Bush: Keep in mind, I also wannt to strip your right to sue big business and shut down more schools for getting low test scores. As for social security, don’t bother trying to trick me into telling you what my plan is. For now, I’m just focusing on whipping the public into unsubstantiated panic. And keep in mind, FDR is dead.

Question: How many more Christmases are American troops going to have to spend in Iraq?

Bush: I’m too clever to set policy goals that’ll you’ll just turn around and criticize me for when I abjectly fail to meet them. Also, I know how to use the expression “in toto.”

Question: What are you going to do about Iran and North Korea?

Bush: Saddam Hussein, he was a bad guy. He violated a lot of UN resolutions.

Question: Why don’t you veto some of these spending bills?

Bush: Because I told Congress what to put in them.

Question: Whose benefits are secure?

Bush: Killing Social Security would be a lot easier if those old people didn’t keep getting so panicked. It’s not their checks I want to reneg on – just everybody else’s.

Question: How is it no one seems to agree with your immigration plan?

Bush: I know immigration. I was Governor of Texas.

Question: Where the hell is Osama bin Laden? And what’s with the violations of international law at Guantanamo Bay?

Bush: Well, we’ve killed a bunch of people other than Osama bin Laden. And clearly the world community isn’t paying enough attention to our Supreme Court decision.

Question: Why doesn’t Rumsfeld sign condolence letters to the families of troops he’s sending to get killed?

Bush: I know he seems gruff, but believe me he’s a real teddy bear inside.

Question: How did the war in Iraq affect prospects for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Bush: Everybody’s got a lot of responsibilities. Also, Yasser Arafat and Colin Powell are both out of the picture now. Now, on to high school football…