Politics: August 2007 Archives

A little while ago I had lots of things to say about the judicial nominee battle going on in the Senate and the claims by some of the Democratic senators, most prominently Senator Schumer, about the process of confirming the newest two Supreme Court justices. I didn't have the time to type up any of my thoughts, and it feels a bit late now. However, one thing I did want to say something about is the interesting reversal of roles that we see when the Senate shifts leadership and each party complains about the tactics of the other side. See Jan Crawford Greenburg's post here for some nice examples.

You might classify the views on such matters in terms of two pure positions. One is the view Senator Chuck Schumer (D, NY) has been consistent in holding (although his application of it leaves much to be desired, in my view). According to him, there is absolutely nothing wrong with expecting nominees to violate the current norm among judicial nominees not to comment on potential future cases or on issues one expects might come before the court one will be seated on. In the Roberts and Alito hearings, he pressed for details on whether they believe certain rights are established in the Constitution, whether they would be willing to overturn certain precedents, whether they thought particular cases were wrongly decided, and so on. They refused in many of these cases to go beyond the standard they both believed to have been presented by now-Justice Ginsburg's nomination process a decade-and-change earlier. Their reasoning is that commenting on what may be central to forthcoming cases will threaten their perception as unbiased judges, since those whose cases will be heard will think the justices' minds are already made up and will not give them a chance. But this is not the reasoning of the other pure view on such matters.

The alternative view is not merely that there is a convention among judges not to engage in such prediction out of fairness to parties in future cases. The alternative pure view is that it is simply not the business of the Senate in confirming judicial nominees to engage in partisan politics. That is for the president to be concerned with, since it is his election that determined who would nominate judges for any vacancies. The Senate's role is merely to safefuard the president's choices against serious corruption and ethical issues and to ensure that the nominees are qualified to carry out the tasks required of them. Deference is given to the president's nominee. The primary objection to this view is that the Senate is also an elected body, and they are elected for partisan reasons to present partisan considerations for or against what the Senate might do, including for or against judicial nominees in their role of advising and consenting. It is thus within their authority to question nominees who are both qualified and not corrupt simply because they disagree with the nominee on issues of legal philosophy.

I think the latter issue is an interesting debate in constitutional interpretation. The Constitution's text merely says that the Senate will advise and consent to the president's nominees. It doesn't give a reason why. It doesn't indicate what process the Senate will engage in before giving their consent or their advice. It doesn't say if the advice and consent are different stages of a two-step process. Those things are all not in the text of the Constitution but are in the Senate's current practice of carrying out this role. I don't know anything about the legal background to this sort of thing and whether English common law explains it. I don't know anything about the debates in the constitutional committees over this language and what light that sheds on it. I don't know anything about whether the federalist papers explain what some of the founders were thinking of as they argued for this kind of wording. In short, I am woefully unqualified to have much of a view about what the Constitution really means by saying this. If I were to go by what I take from it merely by reading the words, I'd be inclined to think that the Senate ought to give advice to the president and then confirm whoever the president selects.

New Charge Against Romney

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Mitt Romney is now being accused not of flip-flopping but of actually holding contradictory positions at the same time. Apparently he has spoken in favor of a constitutional amendment recognizing fetuses as protected by the 14th Amendment, all the while continuing his statements that he would favor overturning Roe v. Wade and returning the abortion question to states.

I see no necessary contradiction here. He sees a problem with the status quo and would be relatively happy with either solution. The Supreme Court could overturn Roe and give it back to the states, or we could pursue an amendment to the Constitution to protect the unborn. He obviously would prefer the latter, but giving it back to the states would be preferable to leaving things as they are.

That's in fact my position, and I'd pursue either goal over what we have now, even if I'd prefer making it explicit that the 14th Amendment makes it unconstitutional to allow abortion (which I think it does do). I am not a federalist on abortion. I think the 14th Amendment is clear. Citizenship isn't conferred until birth or naturalization, but the last clause of section 1 gives equal protection of the laws to all persons, and I know of no attempt prior to 1971 to limit personhood to post-birth stages of development. I don't think there should need to be a constitutional amendment to make that clear, but given current Supreme Court doctrine there does need to be such an amendment for it to be treated as constitutionally guaranteed. Nevertheless, I'd be happy to see the Supreme Court overturn Roe and give it back to states.

It is true that Romney could have stated this more clearly, acknowledging both items on any occasion when he mentions one or the other or simply being more careful in his language, not overstating his points. But he's not a philosopher. He's a politician. It's rare that even those with the more nuanced views in politics will not occasionally have problems like this. It may be right to complain about how he put things, but I don't think his views are necessarily inconsistent, and I don't think this is a sign of any continuing problem with Romney. He's had a couple changes in positions, and he's several times been accused of a change or an inconsistency that isn't a real change or inconsistency, but usually that's due to his having a nuanced position that his critics don't understand or to immoral manipulation of his statements out of context to get a result that looks inconsistent. It's not due to uncareful statements, as here. So I'm unwilling to call this a pattern.

The Christianity of War?

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When I first saw this video, I was wondering what Andrew Sullivan was getting at by calling it The Christianity of War. He obviously finds it problematic but says nothing about what is so problematic. But then I followed the link to the original location and read some of the comments, and I think I know what's wrong with it. The problem is that the makers of the video produced something for the evangelical community that anyone remotely biblically literate would understand as a call to spiritual action, cognizant of the reality of Satan and the necessity of bearing up the weapons of Christian warfare as listed in Ephesians 6:10-20 and referred to in II Corinthians 6:7; 10:4; Hebrews 4:12 (among other places). These weapons are things like faith, righteousness, the good news message about Jesus Christ, the word of God in general, and salvation. Most of them are defenses against spiritual attacks from Satan and his minions.

But it seems to me that in a biblically-illiterate culture, it's setting yourself up for misunderstanding to post something on the internet if many will not understand the biblical context of the metaphor you're using. This is especially true given those vocal anti-evangelicals who adamantly misinterpret everything evangelicals do in order to further the completely ridiculous thesis that evangelicals are all about political agendas and that evangelical missions groups have nothing to do with spreading the gospel but seek to fight human enemies (not the spiritual enemies discussed in the verses I just referred to that the video was actually about) with human weapons (not the spiritual enemies in the verses I just referred to that the video was actually about).

I am not going to absolve the pretty ridiculous commenters on the video from doing their homework. Anyone who thinks that video was about political fighting against the political opponents of the religious right is morally at fault. There's plenty of publicly-available information that should easily make it plain that that's not the case, and it is indeed immoral to make base charges, that are so obviously false, against such a large movement when it's so utterly obvious that you know so little about that movement.

But I think evangelicals have a calling to make the message of the good news plain and clear in a way that videos like this are not going to get in the way of that. This was obviously not intended to do anything but motivate Christians to pray, study the Bible, hold each other up in times of spiritual trial, and seek to live a godly life. Its creators therefore didn't expect this to be viewed by those who know very little about evangelicals besides the popular misconception based on how evangelicals are treated in the media. But they put it on the internet, and they failed to take into account the small but vocal miscreants who find anything they can about evangelicals in order to take it out of context and put evangelicals in as bad a political light as possible, and that's what's happened here. Those who would produce such videos ought to take that into account and not just leave metaphors like this hanging unexplained to be taken to be about whatever the viewer happens to want it to be about.

Update: I write this post, and then I check up on what's been going on at the Volokh Conspiracy in the last couple days while I haven't had the chance to check in there, and I find this post, which has statistics showing that the demographic group that is most disproportionately Christian fundamentalist in the U.S. is African-American women, and more fundamentalists are Democrats than Republicans. Neither of these is all that surprising to me once I think about it a bit, but it certainly goes against the sort of thing I was trying to confront in this post.

I've commented a little on Hillary Clinton Joe Biden and John Edwards' discussions of their faith and politics from intrerviews posted at this 2008Centeral.net post from a couple months ago. I have a little bit more to say from the interview with Barack Obama now. I'm not going to comment on any of the other candidates, because they didn't really say anything about which I thought I had something worth saying.

My first observation from what Senator Obama had to say is that what he positively says on faith and politics is very similar to what the current president has said. It's even the sort of thing that gets many of my colleagues riled up and attributing to him all manner of things he's never said (e.g. that he's ontologizing evil, that he thinks God is on his side no matter what he does or believes, etc.). Obama, to his credit, makes a number of qualifications that might prevent some people from such misunderstandings, although I don't think those qualifications should be enough to satisfy these people I know. I do think it's actually qualified a bit too much for me; I agree more with Bush on substance even if Obama puts his similar view in a clearer way.

I was a bit disappointed at how he described Republicans:

So we say either people are entirely responsible for their own lot — and this tends to be expressed within Republican circles, but not entirely — pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, act responsibly, act morally, a great emphasis on private morality, or, conversely, that individuals are responsible, society is acting on them, and they are not free agents.
And my attitude — and I think the attitude of every religious leader and scholar that I value and listen to — is that we have these individual responsibilities and these societal responsibilities. And those things aren’t mutually exclusive. 

It's hard for me to see that as fair. Sure, there are Republicans who leave it at that. But Ron Paul is at this point pretty extreme for the Republican Party. But we've had a Republican president since 2001 whose "compassionate conservatism" motto has been to emphasize societal responsibilities but to direct tax money toward what he considers more effective means of achieving largely the same goals.

He goes on to say:

I discussed some of John Edwards' comments on his faith and its relation to his politics from this old 2008central.net post. I don't have as much to say about Hillary Clinton Joe Biden's section, but I thought this section was interesting: 

And we are a spiritual nation. We are a nation that was founded upon — the only nation I can think that was founded upon the notion that there is a — a — that there is a God. We hold these truths self-evident, that all men are created equal, et cetera.

And, so, I think, what has happened with the Democratic Party, there’s been this reluctance, in the face of the evangelical, judgmental movement on the far right in the past, of even invoking religion, for fear of being put in the same category. But we’re a spiritual nation. We’re a nation of faith.

In almost the same breath, he (1) claims that the U.S. was founded on belief in God, something many Democrats are loath to admit and many Republicans, particularly socially conservative ones, think is obvious, and (2) treats evangelicals and judgmental people in grammatical apposition, as if the term 'evangelical' and the term 'judgmental' go hand-in-hand. Is he trying to cater to evangelical voters while offending them at the same time? I wasn't sure what to make of this.

Sean at myelectionanalysis makes great use of a Harry Potter reference in his reflection on the Ames, Iowa strall poll, speaking of Sam Brownback's taking third place and Mike Huckabee's coming in second:

I know a lot of people think that his third place showing is enough to keep him in the race. I’m not so sure. He threw everything he had into Ames, and still came up short. I think donors who are considering Brownback are going to look long and hard at him, then turn to Huckabee. One of them needs to exit quickly though, as neither can live while the other survives.

This is such a nice appropriation of pop culture that I had to mention it here, but I think it's accurate too. Huckabee and Brownback are marketing themselves to those who because of some intellectual vice (ignorance, too comfortable accepting lies without checking them, inconsistency in who to trust) see Romney as a pretender to the pro-life label. Huckabee could be a contender, but if Brownback is taking much of his support he's not going to have a chance. Brownback doesn't have much of a chance if Huckabee steps out, but the same is not true in reverse. So on the assumptions of those who wrongly fail to recognize that Romney is the best pro-life candidate (which is all that's driving the Brownback campaign at this point), Brownback ought to get out.

John Edwards' Faith

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I was reading an old entry from 2008central.net that I'd saved in my RSS reader until I had more time. It includes some of the Democratic presidential candidates' discussions of religion. I have a few comments on three of the candidates, but I'm going to treat them in separate posts, starting with John Edwards.

O’BRIEN: What do you say to all the people — and there are millions of people who go to church every Sunday and who are told very clearly by their pastors that, in fact, the Earth was created in six days, that it’s about creationism? Are those people wrong? Are their pastors wrong?
EDWARDS: No. First of all, I grew up in the church and I grew up as a Southern Baptist, was baptized in the Baptist Church when I was very young, a teenager at the time. And I was taught many of the same things. And I think it’s perfectly possible to make our faith, my faith belief system consistent with a recognition that there is real science out there and scientific evidence of evolution. I don’t think those things are inconsistent. I think a belief in God and a belief in Christ, in my case, is not in any way inconsistent with that.

Is that even coherent? I mean everything after the "No" is coherent, but given the question asked, and his initial answer, can he coherently say what he goes on to say? I'm having trouble imagining how unless Edwards is a relativist about religious truth such that these people are correct in their six-day creationism while he is correct in his acceptance of evolution as consistent with his faith.

One reason I worry that that's going on is his answer to the question about gay marriage. He goes on to say that he has a personal belief against gay marriage but doesn't think he could as president enforce his personal religious views. I'm sure that's how many Christians will view these statements, but I think it's a mistake.

Unitary Executive

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Ilya Somin nicely clears up some confusions about what's commonly called the unitary executive. There are two issues: the scope of executive power and its distribution. The unitary executive view is that the president's authority over the executive (an intra-executive issue) is absolute. I would have thought this to be absolutely clear in the Constitution, but apparently some disagree. A separate issue is about the scope of executive power. How much authority does the executive has with respect to the other branches (an inter-branch issue)? In other words, unitary executive allows the president sovereign control over what happens within the executive branch, but this other view sees the executive power as expansive in a way that many find controversial. The problem is that many people keep calling the latter view by the term "unitary executive".

Somin says:

As Alito explains, one can consistently support a unitary executive with a narrow range of powers (which is roughly my position). One can also consistently support a unitary executive with very broad, almost unlimited powers (John Yoo's view, and also that of the Bush Administration). You could - also consistently - endorse a nonunitary executive with broad powers. The latter was the position of liberal Democrats during the New Deal and for many years afterwards, when they endorsed both broad executive power and the creation of numerous executive agencies outside presidential control.

Is there an example of someone who both denies the unitary executive and thinks the executive has a limited role? Given that both positions serve to limit the president, perhaps hardly anyone seeks to try both ways at doing so, but I'm curious whether someone has tried.

I've finally gotten back to continuing my series at Right Reason with Religious Motivations in Politics. Given the Augustinian framework I've already presented, Christians have a motivation to seek the good of our neighbor around us by participating politically based on what we believe to be good, which does in part come from religious motivations. The post spends most of its time responding to objections that this is immoral because it forces a moral view on those who don't have it and that a secular society (or a religiously plural society) should not allow such a thing.

A Pro-Choice GOP?

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I keep seeing a pretty horrendous argument against the GOP nominating Rudy Giuliani for the 2008 presidentyial spot. According to this argument, if the Republican Party selects him then it no longer is the pro-life party, and that would be a tragedy. I agree that it would be unfortunate if there were no pro-life party in this country. But I think it's pretty outlandish to claim that a Giuliani nomination would make the GOP no longer pro-life.

One problem with this argument is that it needs to be applied equally to all pro-choice candidates. Thus those who are making it should also be saying it about Fred Thompson, who is pro-choice for the first trimester, when most abortions take place. Are these people saying that nominating Thompson would make the GOP pro-choice? Maybe some are, but I'm not seeing that point made when I see it made about Giuliani.

Second, I am not willing to concede that the GOP ceases to be a pro-life party just because it concludes that the best way to achieve its other goals is to nominate a presidential candidate who is pro-choice. The Democratic party didn't stop being the pro-choice party when the Democrats in the U.S. Senate elected a pro-life senator as their majority leader. The GOP didn't stop being tough on immigration when they reelected a president known to be in favor of the very immigration reform that the party base has been outraged about. It may be a sign that many consider other issues more immediately important right now, and it may be a sign that some consider electing him better than guaranteeing a win by Hillary (even for pro-life reasons, since he would be better, even much better, than any Democratic candidate when it comes to pro-life issues). But it is not a sign that the party is no longer pro-life.

For the record, I don't support nominating him. But it's not because I think nominating him would make the GOP pro-choice. It wouldn't. It's because there are candidates I prefer to him, who I think would represent the pro-life party better than he would, partly because they are pro-life and are thus like what the party tends to be (and would still be even if he gets nominated). It's just crazy to suggest that a party with an official view no longer has that view simply because one of its nominees in one year (or perhaps two years) doesn't hold that view.

Political Test

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Here's a political positions test to see which presidential candidates you agree with the most. It allows you to support, oppose, or other (i.e. unsure or other) each position, and then it ranks the candidates in terms of how closely their views match up to yours. Apparently it includes only declared candidates, so Fred Thompson is not among them. It also seems me to be overly simplistic on many issues, including abortion. I'd consider the selection of issues very far removed from the ones I consider most important. I only thought a few were key issues. There are more good criticisms here. Still, it's interesting to see how you match up according to this measure.

Judging by the statistics, it seems as if fans of Dennis Kucinich have been heavily linking to this test.

For the record, here are my scores:

Duncan Hunter 32
Mitt Romney 30
John McCain, Mike Huckabee 24
Rudy Giuliani 21
John Cox, Tom Tancredo 18
Tommy Thompson 18
Sam Brownback 5
Ron Paul -2
Bill Richardson -17
Joe Biden -18
John Edwards -19
Chris Dodd, Hillary Clinton -21
Barack Obama -23
Mike Gravel -27
Dennis Kucinich -31

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