The Four MVPs of the Kavanaugh Confirmation

Now that Brett Kavanaugh has finally been confirmed to take a seat on the Supreme Court, I would like to highlight the four individuals who played an essential part in getting him past the finished line.

I have been following politics for the better part of three decades. I admit to certain biases, and I have been very critical of all four of these individuals. But all four deserve kudos.

Donald Trump: Brett Stephens is singing his praises, so he’s done something right. I’m not sure any other Republican president would have stood firm on this nomination. Moreover, for once in his presidency Trump knew to keep quiet. Well, mostly. He couldn’t help but take some potshots at Doctor Ford at a rally earlier this week, but aside from that, he let the process play out. This might have been the best moment of his presidency.

Mitch McConnell: Ah, Cocaine Mitch triumphs again. He, too, gets credit for keeping his head down and not wavering on the nominee. Despite the fact that it is widely rumored that he was not a fan of the pick, McConnell never threw in the towel. But his role in this fiasco goes further back. He took advantage of the opening Harry Reid so helpfully provided him, and he has outmaneuvered the Democrats every step of the way. The Democrats scored some own goals, it is true, but the Senate Majority Leader took advantage and has been every bit as critical as President Trump(‘s advisors) in ensuring that originalist judges get confirmed at a breathtaking pace. The reshaping of the Court will be McConnell’s legacy, and a damned fine one at that.

Lindsey Graham; The turning point in the Kavanugh confirmation process may have been Kavanaugh’s own testimony, but Graham also changed the dynamics by his heated chiding of his Senate colleagues on the Democratic side of the aisle. Who knew that moment would cause Graham to go full Bullworth, as he’s been on a roll ever since. This picture is a wonderful representation of Graham’s newfound DGAF attitude.

What’s impressive about Graham’s shift in attitude is, unlike some of the theatrics coming from the folks on the other side, you don’t get the impression it’s a put on. He’s not running for higher office, and whatever conservatives around the country may think of him, he probably has that seat for as long as he wants it.

Susan Collins: Fifteen minutes into her floor speech, I said, “She just loves this attention.” But as she continued, I appreciated what she was doing. Though it is likely to be fruitless in the end, I think it was her attempt to calm the mobs and bring perspective on Kavanaugh’s ascendancy to the Supreme Court. Even though I don’t think too many people will take her message to heart, she deserves credit for trying.

Some conservatives have joked that her floor speech convinced them that Kavanaugh shouldn’t be confirmed. Time will tell what kind of Justice he will be. I do hope he disappoints conservatives from time to time. The entire point is that the men and women of the court are not super legislators, so I would be more disappointed in Kavanaugh if he never rendered a decision upsetting to conservatives. My hope is that if I do disagree with his vote, he justifies it in a more convincing manner than Anthony Kennedy.

So here we are. At least we can finally put this rancor behind us.

Or not.

Rethinking Jeff Flake’s Rethinking

John McCormack credits Jeff Flake for helping to clear Brett Kavanaugh’s name through his push for a one week pause in the proceedings.

Shortly after 11 a.m. on Thursday, October 4, Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer spoke to the press following a confidential briefing about the FBI’s supplemental background check. While the senators were limited about what they could say, Feinstein focused first on the fact that neither Kavanaugh nor Ford, who testified publicly for hours last week, were interviewed by the FBI.

If the FBI investigation had turned up some groundbreaking new information, that is not the kind of thing you’d expect the Democratic senators to focus on.

The FBI interviewed all the alleged party attendees—Ford’s lifelong female friend Leland Ingham Keyser, Kavanaugh friend P.J. Smyth, and alleged accomplice Mark Judge. Keyser had previously said she recalls no party at which Kavanaugh was present and does not know Kavanaugh. Schumer and Feinstein gave no indication Keyser has changed her story.

The FBI also interviewed Chris Garrett, a person Ford went out with around the time of the alleged assault in 1982 and Ford’s only known social connection to Kavanaugh and Judge. The FBI also interviewed Tim Gaudette, who hosted a July 1, 1982, party that has been the focus of much speculation. Schumer and Feinstein gave no indication those interviews turned up groundbreaking information.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley said in a statement: “This investigation found no hint of misconduct and the same is true of the six prior FBI background investigations conducted during Judge Kavanaugh’s 25 years of public service.”

Republican senator Susan Collins of Maine, a key undecided vote, said this morning: “It appears to be a very thorough investigation.”

Indeed, the constant goalpost moving is a sure sign that the FBI investigation turned up nothing to corroborate Ford’s allegations, and other developments suggest Ford’s case against Kavanaugh is more suspect than we thought even a week ago.

So, did Flake wind up helping Kavanaugh, or at least did he help engineer something which will at ease some of the bitter feelings against him? I am not sure about that. Susan Collins is set to announce her vote, and Flake has already said he is now a yes (though he’s said that before). If Collins and/or Manchin vote for Kavanaugh, then he will be confirmed despite Lisa Murkowski’s no vote. At the very least, then, this pause didn’t hurt Kavanaugh.

But did it really make a difference? Did the general public’s opinion of the situation change appreciably? McCormack ably lays out the various ways the case against Kavanaugh has crumbled, but how many people are paying close attention and had their opinions change? That may be unknowable.

At the very least, I have been moved enough to delete an earlier post about Flake’s actions from a week ago. It was much too snarky and condescending, and in retrospect I let emotions run away from me.

Oddly, it was listening to Rush Limbaugh that caused me to delete the post. I have listened to Limbaugh only a handful of times in the past three years, and just happened to catch his program for a few minutes today. He was actually very understanding towards Flake, Collins, and Murkowski. The three of them have been inundated with calls, emails, tweets, etc, and they have received vile threats against them and their families. All Republicans have, but these three have borne the brunt of most of the anger. I can’t imagine what it would be like to face that much hate, and to receive credible threats against one’s security.

Buckling to the angry voices – as Flake may have done after being confronted by angry protesters – does embolden those angry voices, but I also haven’t been in his shoes. I’m not totally convinced Flake should receive credit for his seeming change of heart, but I’ll give him enough benefit of the doubt to back off my earlier denunciation.

George Will’s Bizarre Attack on Whittaker Chambers

I recently read Whittaker Chambers’s Witness, a truly superb autobiographical account of not just his involvement in the Alger Hiss case, but his early life, enthrallment with Communism, and ultimately his decision to leave the Communist movement. It is a gripping, well-written book. It provides a stunning look inside how an American communist revolutionary may be made, as well as the ways in which Communists tried to subvert the American government from the inside. Even in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, it should be recommended reading for anyone interested in a sort of psycho-political analysis.

After reading Witness, I happened upon this scathing column from George Will written over a year ago. Unlike many other conservatives I haven’t completely given up on Will, though some of his work is rather execrable, and this is a case in point. In a column otherwise dedicated to the wisdom of William F. Buckley, Will decides to unleash a bromide on the entire conservative movement in the age of Trump, a bromide which is not without merit, mind you. Somehow, though, Will looks to Chambers as the progenitor of this anti-intellectual, populist strain of conservatism, writing:

[Buckley], to his credit, befriended Whittaker Chambers, whose autobiography Witness became a canonical text of conservatism. Unfortunately, it injected conservatism with a sour, whiney, complaining, crybaby populism. It is the screechy and dominant tone of the loutish faux conservatism that today is erasing Buckley’s legacy of infectious cheerfulness and unapologetic embrace of high culture.

Chambers wallowed in cloying sentimentality and curdled resentment about “the plain men and women” — “my people, humble people, strong in common sense, in common goodness” — enduring the “musk of snobbism” emanating from the “socially formidable circles” of the “nicest people” produced by “certain collegiate eyries.”

This is quite a departure from what Will wrote about Chambers three decades ago. It is also a bizarre, unhinged attack that has no basis in reality.

Witness is roughly 700 pages long. Will has taken a few quotes from towards the end of the book as Chambers descibes how he felt in the aftermath of the Alger Hiss fury, when it seemed most of the intellectual class was arrayed against him. As Nathanial Blake puts it:

If Will has changed his mind about Chambers and now considers him to have been dangerously populist, that is his prerogative. But he offers only one quotation to illustrate his point, and it is cobbled together (six fragments patched together!) to the point of being disingenuous. It is an unconvincing piece of evidence, especially coming from a writer who in the same column insouciantly dismissed Buckley’s famous crack about preferring to be governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard.

Indeed. If anything, Buckley sounds much more like a screecher at times, particularly in Up from Liberalism, a book so tedious even I had to put it down halfway through.

Richard Reinsch and Adam White also take Will to task.

At the time of Witness, Chambers had been vilified in the press and in elite circles for his testimony against Alger Hiss’s Soviet espionage. Only a few prominent voices had defended him. And, Chambers sensed, the folks in the center of America were always with him.

Hiss and Chambers had conspired together from roughly 1935 to 1938 as members of a Soviet underground cell. As an employee of the State Department, Hiss provided documents to Chambers that he in turn handed off to Soviet handlers. But Chambers left Communism in 1938 and fled his former life as a Soviet agent with his wife and two children.  He illustrates his exitus from the Communist inferno in Witness with magnificent formulations from Lazarus, Isaiah, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, George Fox, Ibsen, Rilke, and Koestler, among others. He also embraced Christianity but stood apart from any particular theological orthodoxy, preferring instead the stillness of the Quaker Meeting. Many leave Communist ideology, Chambers noted, but remain socialists or some type of collectivist sympathizer. In short, they only leave communism because of its violence, but not the ideology itself. Chambers’s conversion was root and branch.

In 1948 Chambers’s former life revisited him, and he was called by the House Committee on Un-American Activities to testify against those who had served with him in the Soviet Underground. Chambers provided HUAC with 21 names and all have been confirmed in subsequent evidence as noted in John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev’s Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (Yale University Press, 2009). Hiss was convicted in a 1950 federal trial for perjury, ostensibly regarding espionage, with the statute of limitations prohibiting a conviction on that grave charge.

The modern-day legacy of Witness is reduced by Will to little more than a contributor to the “screechy and dominant tone of the loutish faux conservatism that today is erasing Buckley’s legacy of infections cheerfulness.” Will does little to connect Chambers’s actual words to the modern-day problems that Will is lamenting. Nor does Will pause to concede that maybe, just maybe, the problems he’s lamenting could much more easily and directly be traced to the more recent media phenomena. Instead, Chambers’s autobiography, usually regarded by friend and foe alike as one of magnificent spiritual and philosophical intensity, is traduced by a conservative essayist regarded by many as a giant in his own right. Why?

The last question is unanswerable. Will has produced vastly more good than bad in his career, but this attack on Chambers is unconscionable.

The Federalist Solution?

It’s never not appropriate to post a scene from the only screen adaptation of a Clancy book that didn’t veer wildly from the novel*, but it seems especially apropos in this current environment.

* Except for the not entirely insignificant difference that in the book the US knows Ramius is defecting, whereas in the movie it’s a good guess on Jack Ryan’s part.

So, things are pretty nuts out there, huh? If you’ve had conversations with just about any other human being who is even remotely tuned in politically, it seems the country is bursting at the seams. Some think we’re on the precipice of a civil war, while others (or at least one other in my comments section) have compared it to the environment leading up to the American Revolution.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think these dire assessments are wide of the mark. Our political discord has been getting testier by the year, and no, it did not begin with the ascension of Donald Trump, nor do I think he necessarily hastened developments (though he certainly didn’t help). Violent fantasies about killing George W. Bush made their way to print and film, and life did not get quieter during Obama’s presidency. A quick perusal of twitter comment threads are a good reflection of the anger boiling over in every direction.

The Kavanaugh confirmation hearing has brought together several different threads, and that is why I believe it has been especially rancorous. Kavanaugh has been nominated to replace Anthony Kennedy, who has been a swing vote on the Supreme Court. Kennedy’s votes on cultural/social issues (which tended towards a leftist/broad interpretation of the constitutional text) and economic/regulatory issues (tending more towards a conservative/textualist approach) are themselves flashpoints in the political and cultural cold war we’ve been living with. And of course Kennedy’s appointment was the result of perhaps the most contentious Supreme Court confirmation battle before this one, when Robert Bork’s nomination was, well, borked by Senate Democrats. Ted Kennedy famously bellowed “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.”

So you can see we’ve had a lot of anger billowing underneath the surface for quite awhile now. Kennedy’s nightmare vision of Bork’s America – to be contrasted with Ted Kennedy’s America, where helpless women are permitted to drown in automobiles just feet from shore – helped sink Bork. After Reagan’s next pick, Douglas Ginsburg, was sunk because of revelations of pot usage (oh for more innocent times), Kennedy became the compromise pick.

And so here we are. The proper role of the Supreme Court, the proper method of interpreting the Constitution, the appropriate scope of the federal government, and dealing with the question of sexual assault and abuse and the levels to which alleged victims should be believed unconditionally: these are just some of the small, minor issues this process has brought to the fore. I can’t imagine why we’re all at each other’s throats over this.

The question all this poses for us is whether we can actually function as something like a united nation in light of all this, or have our politics diverged to such an extent that there is no living with the other side?

Charles Murray was posed a question like this on an episode of Jonah Goldberg’s Remnant podcast, and he hinted at an answer: federalism. Actually, Murray dug a little deeper. He noted that there were liberal (and majority white) urban enclaves such as Portland, Burlington, and Austin who have essentially adopted the “we just want to be left alone” mantra typically ascribed to southern and more conservative outposts. “Keep Austin Weird” is, after all, a popular bumper stickers around that town. The idea is that there is a unique local culture, and outsiders should not come and mess things up.

A good compromise to my ears is that we’ll keep Austin weird as long as we keep the rest of the state an outpost for individual liberty. Refugees from California ought not flee from their state because of the onerous regulatory environment only to come to Texas and vote for the same types of politicians who made them relocate in the first place. In other words, states and localities should be given wide latitude to govern as they see fit without a larger group forcing change upon them.

In a sense this not far from the Catholic doctrine of subsidiarity,  which encourages decision making at the lowest (or smallest) level possible. In a nation of 320+ million souls, subsidiarity and its political cousin, federalism, are likely the best answer.

Moreover, this approach would solve the dilemma of one of the other concurrent heated debates: the role of the courts. We’re only having this moment right now because of the awesome power of the courts, and in particular the Supreme Court. The nationalization of every issue and the over-sized role of the Court in arbitrating constitutional disputes are self reinforcing problems. Simply because the other two branches have allowed it to happen, the Supreme Court has become a super-legislature, handing down binding decisions that impact every facet of American life. This is, shall we say, not optimal, and certainly not what the Framers envisioned.

And yet, it feels a bit like saying the solution to our fractured politics is to be a constitutional, federalist America. To save America, America must become America again. While this restoration of the American ideal might sound attractive to me and many of those reading this, it doesn’t exactly satisfy everyone. Furthermore, unless we’re willing to be proponents of the “constitution in exile” theory, it begs the question of how this awesome constitutional design left us where we are today. In other words, maybe bad actors didn’t subvert the constitutional design, but rather the constitution itself was fraught with unresolvable conflicts. To put it in ways that might hurt delicate ears: maybe the constitutional design itself is flawed. Maybe the anti-federalists had it right from the beginning.

When I started this blog post, there was no question mark at the beginning of the title. There is now because as I think through these problems, I’m less certain there is a solution.Then again, as Darwin Catholic put it, catharsis isn’t coming, so maybe we shouldn’t be aiming for it.

I put these questions out there not as a rhetorical ploy. This isn’t a case where I’m throwing out a question about the anti-Federalists only to reply strongly in the negative (or affirmative). I’m genuinely puzzling through these questions even as I type.

It’s easy to sit here and say the Supreme Court should not be the ultimate arbiter of constitutional questions. It is much more difficult to propose ways to curtail some of its authority in ways which would preserve the delicate checks and balances of our constitutional system in a way satisfactory to all – or heck, most. Pundits are supposed to confidently posit world-stopping solutions to all our problems. At this moment in time, I am not afraid to say that I have no easy solution to resolving the growing tensions in American society.

 

 

 

Thanks, Maxine

I mean if stunts like this are effective, why not keep repeating them?

Republican Maryland Rep. Andy Harris was reportedly assaulted by protesters inside of his office on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

According to Jennifer Bendery, a reporter for The Huffington Post, the Capitol Police confirmed that protesters pushed in the door to Harris’ office and assaulted the congressman.

“Harris was trying to hold his office door closed but was not successful,” Bendery tweeted. “Also the demonstrators were smoking weed.”

Wait, they were smoking weed? Isn’t weed supposed to make you mellow?

Sadly, we’re almost certain to see more of this.

Update: Turns out they may be pro marijuana protesters.

 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Again, pot is supposed to make you mellow.

The Kavanaugh confirmation circus has amped up tensions, but this is a good reminder that we reached a fevered state long before the Kavanaugh nomination.

Orval Faubus Comes to California

Though certainly not nearly a sentiment shared by most conservatives, some have suggested that the proper response to judicial overreach is to simply ignore the courts. In other words, for example, Donald Trump should have made like Andrew Jackson when his travel ban was put on hold and declared that “The Ninth Circuit has made its decision, let them enforce it.”*

More popular on the right – though again, not necessarily a majority opinion – is the concept of nullification. According to this theory, states are within their constitutional rights to ignore federal law that is facially unconstitutional. Thomas Jefferson justified this concept in his draft of the Kentucky Resolutions  (in response to the alien and sedition acts), though Madison did not go so far in the Virginia Resolutions.

Both sentiments are put forward as proof as the recklessness of the right. Furthermore, the intransigence of certain states righters is historically symbolized by the likes of Orval Fauvus, who defied the Supreme Court’s order to desegregate public schools. Thus these concepts are tied with the forces of evil and racism.

So which state is actively engaged in both nullification and defiance of court orders? Alabama? Mississippi? Texas? Look away, look away, look away, it’s California.

That’s right. Not only is California acting in de facto nullification by prohibiting all local governments from cooperating with federal officials to uphold immigration law, the state is now ignoring a court order barring the state from enforcing this statute upon charter cities who refuse to be sanctuary cities.

Despite an Orange County judge’s ruling this week that California’s so-called sanctuary protections for immigrants who are in the country illegally are unconstitutional as they apply to charter cities, state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said Friday that the state would continue to uphold its laws.

“Preserving the safety and constitutional rights of all our people is a statewide imperative which cannot be undermined by contrary local rules,” Becerra said in a statement. “We will continue working to ensure that our values and laws like the California Values Act are upheld throughout our state.”

SB 54 is the law in question here, and I don’t see how it can be viewed as anything but nullification. In essence, California is saying it will not comply with federal law. Or, to put it a bit differently, it will refuse to cooperate with enforcement of federal law. Not only that, but it has prohibited municipalities from even thinking of cooperation.

More troubling, though, is the state’s ostentatious “eff you” to the ruling issued last week exempting charter cities in the state from the law. Not only will the state refuse to comply with the feds, it’s bluntly saying that no court will make it respect the will of resident in any locality which chooses not to participate in California’s defiance.

Most Californians vociferously denounce the supposed tyranny of President Trump, yet he has done nothing even remotely as brazen as this.

I must also chuckle at Becerra go on about “preserving” the “constitutional rights” of all Californians. So the constitutional rights of illegal aliens must be upheld, even though they possess no such rights. As for the lawful citizens of their state, such constitutional guarantees as the right to a republican form of government can safely be ignored.

And people wonder why much of the country looks upon California with disdain.

*It is not certain Andrew Jackson actually said this famous quote about Marshall, but the sentiment was a historical fact.

Early Morning Reads

A trio of good reads, none of which have to do with Brett Kavanaugh:

– Recent graduate Naweed Tahmas writes about life on the Berekeley campus as a conservative.

I have been harassed, stalked, chased, punched, and spat on during my time at UC Berkeley, and in early 2017, I was chased by a mob of masked, black-clad thugs. These thugs, members of a fringe political faction, threw bricks at police officers, launched Molotov cocktails, set fires, beat innocent bystanders, and cut a wide swath of destruction through the downtown area of an entire city.

This was not an outbreak of sectarian violence in a developing nation. This occurred here in the United States, on the campus of UC Berkeley, once home of the Free Speech Movement. The thugs who chased me were far-left anarchists styling themselves as “Antifa” (short for “anti-fascist”). They were responding to a planned talk by Milo Yiannopoulos, which administrators administrators canceled for the safety of the speaker and the attendees. Police made only one arrest that night.

-Dan McLaughlin with a fascinating look back on the 100th anniversary of the bloodiest battle (for Americans) of World War I.

– A brutal but fair analysis of Dinesh D’Souza.

The Lies They Must Tell Themselves

Saw this on a Facebook friend’s feed:

Another Facebook friend posted something along those lines:

Image may contain: one or more people

Neither of these people live in bubbles. They are both red-state Democrats who (I can attest) know enough conservatives/Republicans to presumably have a decent understanding of what we actually believe. And yet both posted these disgusting calumnies.

It’s bad enough to encounter play-actors like Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand who mouth ridiculous caricatures of Republicans in order to rile up their base. But when people – intelligent people – propagate these falsehoods, you know we are the point of no return.

Emotion has completely swallowed reason. It will only get worse from here.

 

Random Observations

– One of the talking points going around is that Brett Kavanaugh is acting “entitled” to a SCOTUS seat, because showing emotion about being accused of a sex crime is assuredly a signal of one’s entitlement. These very same people have talked about the Merrick Garland “seat” as though President Obama’s mere nomination meant Garland was entitled to the seat.

– Speaking of double standards, the Catholic left is lining up against Kavanaugh. America Magazine has urged he be  voted down, shocking no one exactly. Meanwhile detective Steven Greydanus and Dr. Watson, err Mark Shea crack the code of Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook and thus conclude that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Shea is of course one of the members of the papal online guard who resort to ad hominem attacks anytime the current pontiff is alleged to have gone soft on clerics guilty of abuse. And of course these claims contain much more corroboration than those against Kavanaugh. But Shea, nevertheless, is on the lookout to tamp down those unreasonable Christianists. (I should emphasize here why I noted my Catholicism in my initial post. This internecine warfare is another topic I will be sure to deal with in the future.)

– Yale law students are certainly free to take time off to protest, but I do hope none of those protesting wearing “Believe All Women” shirts, or shirts with slogans to that effect, ever work in a public defender’s office. Similarly, I do hope all those other online warriors who have expressed similar opinions are never assigned to a jury on a rape case.