April 27, 2012

Romney Selects Robert Bork as Legal Advisor: Was Rejected as Supreme Court Nominee

After the American Century

Robert Bork
Gov. Romney has made a disturbing decision. He has appointed Robert Bork, an extremist, as his chief legal advisor, as discussed in the New York Times editorial page. A former professor at Yale, Bork was rejected as a Supreme Court nominee by a wide margin in 1987, and he has since that time moved further to the right. In recent years he converted to Catholicism and he is now married to a former nun. Bork is perhaps most (in)famously recalled by the public for the "Saturday Night Massacre" in 1973. That is, he was the man who fired Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox who was getting too close to the truth. That Bork would carry out this order from Richard Nixon rather than resign (as his superior did) says a great deal about his character and opinions.

Romney might have chosen any number of reputable conservative thinkers who are less controversial. Making Bork the head of his "Justice Advisory Committee" suggests that Romney agrees with Bork's extreme views. It also suggests the kind of nominees he might try to send to the Supreme Court. 

What, then, does Bork stand for? A great many things, but here are a few of them:

(1) Chicago School style economics applied to the law. He famously argued that mergers and near monopolies should not be opposed by law, because they in fact benefit consumers. (I am not making this up.)

(2) He has opposed the Supreme Court's decision (in a series of cases) to acknowledge and defend a right to privacy.  (See Dronenburg v. Zech, 741 F.2d 1388, decided in 1984.) At issue in this case was a gay man's right to privacy, not at all incidentally.

(3) Despite his general advocacy of something much like strict-construction of the Constitution (adhering to the ideas of the authors of that document in the late eighteenth century), Bork supports a new amendment to the Constitution that would allow large Congressional majorities to override Supreme Court decisions.

The late Senator Ted Kennedy vehemently (and successfully) opposed Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987, and his words are worth repeating here:

"Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy ... President Reagan is still our president. But he should not be able to reach out from the muck of Irangate, reach into the muck of Watergate and impose his reactionary vision of the Constitution on the Supreme Court and the next generation of Americans. No justice would be better than this injustice."

Bork now provides Romney with advice on justice? Presumably this is part of his outreach to the Republican Right, but it will only confirm Romney's unpopularity with women and minorities.

April 20, 2012

Election 2012: Romney's Campaign Strategy Could Determine What Kind of Running Mate He Needs

After the American Century  

The election campaign is moving into a new phase that will test Romney in ways he has not been tested until now. The questions and problems he now faces cannot be solved by spending more money or by negative campaigning. These two fundamental questions are the following.

(1) Can Romney move toward the center and still attract the more conservative Republicans? He must move toward the center to court the swing voters, most of them Independents. They decide most elections. Almost every candidate makes this move toward the center after the primaries, but it may be harder for Romney to do so, because he is constantly referred to as a flip-flopper on the issues. I have seen at least five editorial cartoons showing him speaking out of both sides of his mouth or contradicting himself. Moreover, can Romney move toward the center in a way that leaves the evangelical and right-wing voters feeling comfortable and enthusiastic? One possibility is that he will do this by making the campaign a contrast between himself and Obama. The more he emphasizes persons the less policies will matter to many of the voters. This approach has a problem, however, namely that Romney is not a terrific personality. Whether you liked or agreed with FDR or Ike or Reagan, all of them were warm, likable people. Call it charisma or what you will, they each had in their own way a strong personal presence. But Romney does not have anything like that, and to a greater degree, Obama does. He has turned out to be somewhat less inspirational in office than he was on the hustings, but he does have oratorical powers that no recent candidate can match, certainly not Gore, Bush, Kerry or that Senator from Arizona who ran last time, you know who I mean, but his name is fading away. In short, emphasizing personality might not be a winning strategy for Romney.

Romney would be better off choosing the other option, which is to emphasize policy differences and to keep personality in the background. If he can convince voters that the election is about fundamental policy differences, then the more conservative Republicans presumably will help push that bandwagon. He would need to stick to domestic issues using this approach, since Obama has continued the Bush foreign policy more than most people thought he would. The Defense Department has the same head, and the troops are still in Afghanistan. (It may be fortunate for both candidates, in fact, that the public does not care too much about foreign policy.)

(2) The answer to the first question has an effect on the second one. Will Romney choose a running mate who appeals to women and minorities more than he does? He wants a VP who brings him votes that he cannot get himself, but is he looking on the Right, in the Center, or toward women and minorities?  His ideal partner would have more of the common touch, appeal to women and minorities, and be a big lovable personality. With such a side-kick Romney can be a bit more centrist, presenting himself as the analytical businessman and champion of free and unregulated markets, smaller government, and lower taxes, while leaving alone the cultural issues like abortion, gay marriage, teaching Creationism in the schools, etc. etc. that instead the VP can talk about. His VP  might borrow Santorum's playbook but tone down the rhetoric. In short, the ideal VP should be a more intelligent Palin. (A certain Minnesota member of Congress does come to mind, but note that I did not name her in my list of four leading candidates for VP, posted here at the end of March.)

Assuming this is how Romney decides to play it, he might have a good chance to win. However, how much different is this from McCain's strategy?

See also my earlier posting on four possible VP candidates

April 06, 2012

Election 2012: Florida's Discriminatory Voting Laws Continue

After the American Century

The State of Florida has perhaps never conducted an election that was fair, when it comes to race. The long and sorry history is outlined in a New York Times article. 

After the debacle of the hanging chads in the 2000 presidential election, one might have thought that Florida would do all in its power to make its voter registration and election above reproach. Not so. The Republican dominated state legislature is actively inhibiting voter registration. It has done so by passing laws that fine volunteers who help others to register to vote. These are not trivial fines. The first version of the law set the fine at $5000 for every form with a mistake on it. The League of Women Voters, hardly a radical organization, took this law to court and it was struck down. But the Florida Republicans know that their state is crucial in the coming election, and they immediately got up another law which reduces the fine to "only" $1000.  

The intimidation and fines have worked: the League of Women Voters has stopped registering people to vote in Florida. 

Imagine that you are a volunteer, seeking to register voters for either party, and the form you help someone submit has a mistake on it somewhere. Perhaps the middle initial in the applicant's name has been left out. Perhaps you have forgotten to tick the small box, which says that you have never been judged insane or mentally handicapped. (I am not making this up.)Three forms out of 100 lack that little tick in the box, and are rejected.  Register voters at your peril, for not only is there a fine of $1000 for each erroneous form, but the volunteer's name ends up in a database. Instead of being praised for trying to do the right thing - helping people to vote - volunteers feel threatened by the Republican State of Florida.  In other words, every mistake is treated as though one were engaged in the fraudulent activity of intentionally filing a false claim. That, of course, should be punished.

But the State of Florida has created more obstacles. Suppose that you discover an error in your own voter registration, quite possibly an error made by some state employee in recording the information. Possibly a computer error, especially when dealing with a Spanish or Russian or Scandinavian name. Suppose your name has the letters ñ or ø or å in it, and suppose that  the State of Florida - glorious state of the hanging chads - has computers that simply do not process those strange letters. Un-American letters. What then? Even if the mistake is not one you made, on election day, you will not be allowed to vote. 

Now, who benefits from such a system? Who are those new voters that the Florida Republicans are so keen to punish? The punishment is completely non-partisan, of course, and the fines can be taken from anyone, rich or poor, white or blank, Anglo of Hispanic.  These laws are surely not directed at poorer people, who tend to vote Democratic. Why would the State want them to decide not to register since it could cost so much money?  It would be unworthy of me to suggest that Florida's Republicans are  carrying on the traditions of voter intimidation pioneered in the American South and used so successfully against African-Americans and poor people for more than a century. Of course Florida today has escaped from its racist heritage and it is ashamed of the disgraceful 2000 Presidential election. Or so one might think.

In fact, Florida is a disgrace to American values. Its history of voter intimidation offers a model only to tin-pot dictators. Florida ought to be ashamed, but it is apparently a state with no conscience, no shame, and no shred of self-respect. 
The Presidential election of 2000 was quite possibly stolen in and by the State of Florida. Land of the hanging chads.

April 02, 2012

Historical Document, 1891: Horses Won’t Go Out of Fashion

Horse driven cotton gin
After the American Century

The following article appeared in the Rocky Mountain News on July 14, 1891, page 23. It declared the unnamed author's belief that horses would continue to be popular and numerous in the United States, regardless of the technological changes in the wind. In fact, the number of horses in the nation would continue to increase to an all-time high during World War I. So for at least a quarter century, the author of this piece proved correct.

Horses Won’t Go Out of Fashion
If any one is laboring under the delusion that horses are going to become curiosities when the trolley railroad people have grid-ironed the streets with electric wires, he will soon get rid of it. He will catch the fact that the horse is still appreciated as the pet, companion and pride of man, woman and child, even if he is to be relieved of the heavy labor of pulling streetcars. A similar change in the condition of horses occurred when the railroads took the place of turnpikes and engines superseded horses, but the census showed no diminution, but an increase in the number of horses sold, raised and owned. Rapid transit may be improved until the city or country man may go anywhere he wishes at a hundred miles an hour. The dry goods stores may deliver bundles by pneumatic tube express, and plowing and harrowing for a whole township be done by a central electric power plant with wires running to each farm – imagine any improvement or extension of motive power you will, but you can’t imagine the horse becoming effete and disused, so long as men’s blood runs red in their veins. In fact, the horse – the typical, average horse – will be vastly improved a a thing of beauty, power, grace and intelligence by his enfranchisement from coarser and heavier labors.  [reprinted from Horse and Stable, n.d.]

Notes about the technology of 1891
Streetcars were being rapidly adopted after Sprague's successful construction of a system in 1887 that worked well in hilly, Richmond, Virginia.
Pneumatic tube systems of moving mail and other small items were successfully being used in Paris, London, New York, and elsewhere.
Electric power stations had been around for a decade by 1891, although they were largely confined to larger cities and towns. Almost no one in 1891 had electricity in their home yet.