Constitutional Conservatives Are Neo-Confederates

Steve KingLast week, Steve Benen wrote, Steve King Unveils Radical Court Scheme. It seems that King is proposing a new law, Restrain the Judges on Marriage Act of 2015. It would stop federal courts from having jurisdiction over cases related to marriage. It is actually somewhat funny. This is the ultimate sign that conservatives have lost the same sex marriage debate. But Benen is confused because King claims to be a “constitutional conservative,” and such a law would be outrageously unconstitutional. What gives?

Well, Ed Kilgore responded, Yes, Constitutional Conservatives Are Radicals. He pointed out that what these conservatives mean when the append “constitutional” to their descriptor is just that they want to go back in time — to when the Constitution was new — “before it was ruined by courts and legislators and presidents alike.” And so, in this particular case, King doesn’t see a problem, because this is a states’ rights issue: the federal government should have nothing to say about how states want to deal with issues related to marriage. I have a few things to add.

Note that by this logic, the federal government would have no right to end slavery — much less Jim Crow. The thinking of people like Steve King is so shallow that their philosophy basically gives no guidance regarding policy matters. It is very much like the Stephen Colbert idea of “truthiness” where the the truth is whatever you feel in your gut. They really think this is a good thing. But Rob in High Fidelity is right, “I’ve been listening to my gut since I was 14 years old, and frankly speaking, I’ve come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains.” Or more to the point: the gut is just a repository for all our baser instincts, like hating and fearing people who aren’t members of our tribe.

The more fundamental issue is that constitutional conservatives actually are neo-confederates. Because the document that they constantly return to is not the Constitution but the Articles of Confederation. I wrote about this last year with regards to Garrett Epps’ excellent book, Wrong and Dangerous: Ten Right-Wing Myths About Our Constitution, Conservatives on Constitution Are Wrong and Dangerous. The Tenth Amendment has a very distinct change. The Articles said “the powers not expressly delegated to the United States” are given to the states. The Constitution said, “The powers not delegated to the United States…” The difference is in implied powers, and this is huge as Epps explained:

If “implied powers” still sounds like tricky lawyer talk, ask yourself the following question: is the American flag unconstitutional? The Constitution doesn’t make any reference to a national flag. By the “express” argument, states and only states would retain what we might call “the flag power.” The US Army would have to march under the fifty state flags, depending on the origin of each unit. That would be cumbersome, confusing, and dangerous — and more to the point, stupid. Congress can “raise and support armies.” Armies have to have flags — they are required under international law and necessary for military discipline and cohesion. A country that has an explicit power to raise an army has the implied power to designate a flag. Nobody seriously reads a constitution any other way.

If you hang out with hardcore conservatives (including libertarians), you will hear the Tenth Amendment brought up all the time: the federal government is interfering, taking all this power from the states, and it is unconstitutional. This is because their understanding of the Constitution is that it is just following the Articles of Confederation — when this one difference is the primary reason that we needed a Constitution and could not continue on as a confederacy.

This is also why these kinds of conservatives so often turn out to be racists. This misunderstanding of the Tenth Amendment was using in the nullification campaign of John Calhoun to support slavery. And after the Civil War, it went away — only to come up again in the 1950s in support of Jim Crow. These same people gloss over the far greater powers that the Fourteenth Amendment gave to the federal government. So Ed Kilgore is right that these people are indeed radicals and they want to go way back in time. But they are also neo-Confederates, and the main reason that they are is because they want the right to discriminate.

Elections Matter: 2012 Edition

Brian BeutlerIf Mitt Romney had defeated President Barack Obama in the 2012 election, a lot of things would be very different today. Had fortunes been so reversed, Romney would likely have come into office with a lock on Congress, and thus the power to pass a big tax cut and repeal (or at least hobble) the Affordable Care Act. When the economy improved and unemployment fell below six percent much earlier than Romney promised, Republicans would have claimed credit and Romney would have faced an easy path to re-election.

Romney’s successes — or his perceived successes — would have rehabilitated the Republican party’s reputation, and the public would have once again presumed that conservatives had effective ideas about economic and fiscal policy. The New Deal consensus would have dwindled, possibly enough for Republicans to shrink, devolve, or privatize parts of the safety net. With time on their side, conservatives would have looked forward to gaining decisive control over the Supreme Court for a generation.

The first black president of the US would have left office humiliated by a white electorate, and the Democratic Party would have regressed, fearful that the country would not stand for long behind minority political leaders, and progressive social policy.

—Brian Beutler
Ignore the Cynics: 2016 Is an Extremely Important, Exciting Election

Political Correctness Is Not Partisan

Politically CorrectEd Kilgore wrote an interesting article earlier this week, A Whole New Brand of “Political Correctness.” It is about how the coverage of Obama’s low approval ratings, and how they affect Hillary Clinton’s campaign, never discuss racism. He mentioned the Republican “Southern Strategy” is known — from statements by its own proponents — to be racist. “I’d suggest that we are now in an era where ‘political correctness’ has been turned on its head.” I’d suggest that it isn’t turned on its head. I would suggest that the idea of political correctness as some kind of liberal thing was always wrong.

You may remember back a few days, I wrote, Robert M Price and the Limits of Brilliance. In that, I talked about Price’s argument in favor of Mike Huckabee for president was based upon the fact that he would “stand against PC and Islamo-fascism.” Forget the “Islamo-fascism” — the idea that the president would take a stand against PC is just ridiculous. It is impossible in the sense that “PC” is not something legislated, but rather socially enforced. And it is such a trivial issue. Price, after all, was arguing that we don’t need to worry about Huckabee’s homophobia, because we get in return his bold stand against people looking down on Rush Limbaugh calling women whores.

But the truth of the matter is that “political correctness” is just a name for any form of speech codes that the speaker doesn’t like. I don’t ever remember as big a bout of PC as after 9/11 and the way that almost everyone came down on any person who tried to explain why we were attacked other than with the simplistic, “They hate us for our freedom.” But this is never the kind of PC that conservatives complain about. And that’s fine. But to think that they don’t have their own speech codes is just madness.

This idea is not new. Rational Wiki even has a name for it, Conservative Correctness. It provides a classic example, “The rebranding of ‘French fries’ as ‘Freedom fries’ in the Congressional cafeteria after the French refused to support the Invasion of Iraq in 2003.” And to take it to a more official level, there is the still common use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” instead of “torture.” Or “private military contractor” instead of “mercenary.” And, of course, “pro-life” instead of “anti-choice.” There are also concerted efforts at negative PC like “pro-abortion” for “pro-choice” and “Democrat Party” instead of “Democratic Party.”

Now I assume that a lot of people would just say that these are euphemisms. But that is all that PC is. What are the non-offensive words that a group uses for contentious or disturbing subjects. For example, almost everyone uses the term “passed away” instead of “died.” That is language meant to spare the feelings of sensitive people. Can it be taken too far? Like anything else, yes. But the intention is usually good. The truth is that there are very few conservatives today who actually think it is acceptable to use the term “nigger” rather than “African American.” Everyone understands that the former term is offensive to pretty much everyone — but especially African Americans.

But here’s the thing. Since when did being polite become contentious? When it comes to our political correctness, it isn’t contentious. It is, in fact, just being polite. It is only when it is their political correctness that it becomes a bad thing. But I don’t recall scores of liberal books decrying conservative political correctness. For liberals, conservative correctness is just silly — not a threat to freedom. But for conservatives like Price, it is very serious indeed. They whine about it even while coming up with new pejoratives to call us.


Remember how Bill Maher’s show Politically Incorrect was canceled because of right wing outrage over him saying something that wasn’t politically correct — as the right wing defined it? In the time since then, left wing political correctness has only waned. But right wing political correctness (largely because it isn’t seen as political correctness) has flourished.

War on the Cheap Leads to Eternal War

John KasichAs I say quite a lot around here, in many ways, I am a conservative. There are two kinds of conservatives in the world. Imagine you are trying to sleep and your next door neighbor is having a party. If you are the kind of conservative that has now taken over the Republican Party, you are waiting for the slightest sound so they can make angry phone calls, pound on the neighbor’s door, or call the cops. If you are my kind of conservative you just want to live and let live. And this is not just because I don’t like confrontations. In general, people should be allowed to live their lives unless doing so is really infringing on my doing the same. It is probably not hard to see how I managed to be a libertarian for so long.

Daniel Larison at The American Conservative — like most of the staff there when it comes to foreign policy — is my kind of conservative. He highlighted an interview that John Kasich had with Hugh Hewitt. In it, Kasich says a number of things that are wrong, and dangerous. And they all show that despite his reputation, Kasich is just your typical Republican. Well, just like with conservatives, there are two kinds of Republicans when it comes to foreign policy. There are those who want to go to war everywhere and there are those who just want to fund and supply arms to some faction everywhere in the world.

Larison refers to the first kind of Republicans as “expensive hawks” and the Kasich kind as “cheap hawks.” And I don’t think he means that just in the sense that expensive hawks cost the nation more money than the cheap hawks. There is definitely the sense — which I share — that the cheap hawks get their policy on the cheap. It is easier to make war everywhere if there aren’t dead American soldiers and grieving American families. This is a big problem with drone warfare. There isn’t a political price to pay for this foreign policy adventurism. So I would much rather deal with the expensive hawks, because at least they are being upfront about what they want to do.

One of Larison’s great insights about Kasich — and by extension, all the hawks — is that the policies that he’s for will not further the goals he claims to have. “Kasich wants to create the impression that he wants to maintain stability, but everything he recommends doing here is necessarily destabilizing.” As we knew well before the Iraq War, but should be crystal clear since, overthrowing dictators — while potentially good — is hugely destabilizing. To go back to my party analogy, sending weapons to insurgents is like thinking that you are going to make your neighbor’s party quieter by having a few cases of beer delivered.

Of course, other than being a whole lot smarter and less inclined to go everywhere, the Democratic Party is filled with cheap hawks as well. I have been happy that Obama has limited our engagements. But where he hasn’t — most especially in terms of drone warfare — he is cheap hawk all the way. And we are the worse for it. At least as the Iraq War dragged on, people started talking about it. Almost no one in the mainstream media talks about the drone strikes, except when something “notable” happens like an American getting killed. Drone strikes and funding rebels is a very cheap approach to war indeed.

Morning Music: Not Paul Krugman’s Pick

100 Lovers - DeVotchKaOn Thursday, Paul Krugman did his usual music post a day ahead, Friday Night Music, Early Edition: San Fermin. He wrote, “Yes, I know it’s Thursday — but they have a new record just out…” Well, I had to check out San Fermin. But I was skeptical. Krugman has very definable taste. There is probably a name for it. I think of it as: middle age white guy indie. And San Fermin was no exception.

I’m not saying it is bad. Like all of Krugman’s favorite music, it is professional and relatively creative. But it is never anything really good. It is more style than substance. It is never upsetting. It is the sort of thing that you would think that a modern day Nobel Prize winning economist would listen to. I should be glad he is into it and not middle Romantic Period classical music. And I am!

But what I’m not going to do is pass on this group’s music. I listened to a number of their songs online and I didn’t like a single one. It is possible to do music with this kind of sound and be captivating. DeVotchKa is such a group. I never get tired of them, even though their sound is largely unchanged. But it all has a passion and flavor that I just don’t hear in San Fermin — or most of the music Krugman is interested in. So we will listen to a song I’ve written about before, The Man from San Sebastian from their 2011 album 100 Lovers.