Did Obama Fall Into GOP’s Disingenuous Trap — Again?

Obama and the Republicans play Merrick GarlandJonathan Chait reported something that should surprise no intelligent person, Conservatives Demand Supreme Court Vacancy Be Filled by Next President, Unless That President Is Hillary Clinton. The fate of Merrick Garland hangs in the balance.

The headline overstates what’s going on. It’s just The Wall Street Journal that is saying this. Of course, you can depend upon the fact that the entire Republican establishment is thinking this. I’ve already talked about how they will come up with a new reason why Hillary Clinton can’t appoint a Supreme Court justice either. But what The Journal presents is actually a clever idea, and highlights the fact that Obama still doesn’t really know who he’s dealing with.

As you have probably heard, Obama has nominated Merrick Garland to replace Scalia on the Supreme Court. This is a curious pick for two reasons. First, Garland is a moderate. Second, he’s 63 years old. It’s clear what Obama is doing. He’s saying to the Senate Republicans, “Here’s by far the best justice you are going to get unless you win the general election, which ain’t looking good right now.” I don’ really get it. I keep coming back to John Boehner claiming that he got 98% of what he wanted in the original Debt Ceiling showdown — and still didn’t take it. Does Obama think the Republicans have gotten more reasonable since then?

Obama CopeBut this case is even worse. Because Obama has effectively given the Republicans everything they could have asked for. As The Wall Street Journal put it, the Republicans can stall on Merrick Garland’s nomination and then “vote for him in a lame-duck session — if Mrs Clinton wins the election.” So there is no threat for the Republicans. They aren’t facing Merrick Garland or someone younger and more liberal; they are facing Garland as their worst case scenario. That’s actually really bad.

It takes me back to the old days when Obama played the part of Charlie Brown and the Republicans were Lucy. Obama makes a peace offering and the Republicans repay him by acting like he had wounded them. There is no dealing with the Republican Party. It is a revolutionary power. It doesn’t believe in norms. It doesn’t believe in history. It only believes that it should be in power and it doesn’t matter in the least how that goal is managed.

The Irony of Merrick Garland’s Fate

Of course, there is a wonderful irony to all this. Conservatives have conveniently decided that the president should not be allowed to pick a Supreme Court justice in his last year in office, because it should be left up to the people. The people will decide who the next president is, as though they didn’t decide who the current one is. But once conservatives know that they are going to have another president they don’t like, well, that whole last year thing is out the window.

I understand that “politics ain’t bean bag.” But at the same time, what’s going on here isn’t politics; it is governance. And what the Republicans are engaged in regarding Scalia’s replacement is unpatriotic. It’s all about their power. They show no confidence in democracy or the Constitution or anything else. They’ve been trained to know that they can just talk about Obama’s “imperial presidency” without the media countering them. There is no such thing as truth, so it is wrong to allow Obama to nominate a justice on 7 November 2016, but just fine on 9 November 2016.

And Obama, it seems, has fallen into the same old trap of trusting the Republicans to act in any way like normal people.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

25 thoughts on “Did Obama Fall Into GOP’s Disingenuous Trap — Again?

  1. This is unpatriotic. And while the likes of the New York Times have railed against their historic and extreme obstructionism, I’m worried that most media is fine with regurgitating the GOP talking points, like the non-existent “Biden Rule.” There really needs to be a brighter light shone on their intransigence and obstructing everything Obama’s tried to do, to the man himself. From McConnell prior to the inauguration saying what the GOP’s only goal would be, to “you lie” and the unprecedented lack of civility, class, and – well, maturity, really – to the recent fact that the House will not even accept or consider Obama’s budget. And now the SCOTUS nominee thing. As journalists begin to look back and prepare pieces on the Obama presidency and his 2nd term coming to an end, I’d love to see a huge feature somewhere on how unprecedented this has been, with a big listing of it all…imagine a big infographic showcasing all of it…

    • As I’m always saying, the conservative movement (that has total control of the Republican Party) is a revolutionary movement. And it’s all about power at any cost. Noah Smith wrote a great article about a year ago speculating that all the low hanging conservative fruit had been picked. That is to say, assume that Reagan really didn’t improve the country with lowering taxes and cutting regulation. Are we really to believe that cutting taxes more, de-regulating more, is going to have a similar effect? At best, it will have a minor effect, and I would argue a negative effect. So conservatives literally have nothing good to offer the nation generally. So they are willing to, for example, destroy the middle class so that their true constituency will benefit.

  2. I often think the same thing about Obama and then it turns out he was playing fourth dimensional chess while they were playing go fish.

    Of course I wanted him to pick a woman who had been a PD but maybe she turned it down since it would require her to have to face some thoroughly nasty attacks and not everyone has that ability.

    • I had to look up “PD.” Of course! Public Defender. I have my dense days. Maybe I should accurately say I occasionally have bright days.

      The problem with a better nominee is it would have to be someone who was willing to take the hits and quit. Because a truly liberal judge would be demonized so the GOP could pretend they weren’t obstructing Obama, and some of the talking points would stick. No way they lame-duck confirm a liberal.

      I could see this WSJ scenario coming true on Nov. 9th. As part of a strategy to say “yes, Obama was the worst socialist ever, but we’ll accept his nominee because Clinton will be The Worstest Socialist Ever.”

      • It is a case of someone not being willing to have everything from their judicial decisions scrutinized (fair) to decisions made as a teenager for who to go see at a rock concert (not fair.) And not everyone is willing to put up with it. Especially women.

        • I’m a little confused. We know women in general, and female political figures specifically, face more pointless assaults on their competence. This I grant you (and apologize for!) But doesn’t that make women more able to deal with being underestimated than men? (Something we all agree Clinton is good at.) If I read you right, you’re saying a judge with a fine career will not want to take abuse from dingbats on the off chance she might get a SCOTUS post after a year of insults. Yeah, I don’t know too many people who would take that deal.

          This makes me think (tangent time!) of a conversation I had many years ago with a lady who loved turn of the century writers (as I do.) Hemingway stated that women don’t like Conrad, and this lady backed up Hemingway. The protagonists in Conrad are almost always men who feel dehumanized by society; they are undervalued (or sometimes overvalued, like Lord Jim) because of their position, not because of their capabilities and personality. The lady pointed out how women deal with this bogus social ranking all the time based on their appearance, marital status, role as mothers, etc. So it was hard for her, as a woman, to give a damn about the men who felt objectified in Conrad’s novels.

          • It is the differences in how to cope with all the crap we already deal with and then volunteering to add to it.

            Clinton is excellent at hiding how she feels about how she is treated. However she probably has cried more in the bathroom then most people would realise outside her secret service detail. Not every woman wants to deal with that nor can every woman keep herself on an even keel while being told they are slime for having effectively argued for their client. So yes, the opportunity to be on the SCOTUS is probably not going to necessarily be a huge draw. The last two women were confirmed when the Dems were in charge of the Senate and the process was kept respectful.

            • Thanks for the clarification, sorry I was dense.

              I wouldn’t recommend that ordeal to a friend, particularly not for an outside shot at the appointment. Yes, SCOTUS judges can do good, but so can people in lower courts; maybe more good in many instances.

              An African-American nominee would have been nice, too. Maybe Clinton will nominate an African-American woman.

    • Why would she do that just for the sake of a political stunt? The Republicans will not allow anyone. But they might try to get this guy approved after the election. Of course, they haven’t shown themselves to be too effective. I mean, the Senate is better than the House. But I can imagine them screwing it up.

      In my experience, when Obama seems to be screwing up and I hope he is playing 19-D chess, he is just screwing up. But we’ll see.

      • Well he had to nominate someone who would be okay with being treated poorly and generally women don’t want to walk into situations where they will be treated poorly unless there is a very good reason. Sitting on the SCOTUS is not that great of a reason.

        I guess we do have different views. Most of the time I think “what a stupid move” then later it is revealed it was sensible all along.

        • He’s surprised me at times. I still think he’s awfully naive to be in that job.

          It’s also very possible that he sees this as his only chance of getting on the Court. He’s fairly old and a moderate: what other time will he get the opportunity. And if he isn’t seated, everyone will know that it was totally unjust.

          • I think he is a black man who wasn’t raised completely in the US. Which has helped him a great deal but it also means I don’t think he quite understands why he has the fights he has had. Michelle does understand which is why there hasn’t been much effort from her on anything more than “let us be healthy! Rah Rah!” Or maybe he just thinks we should all get along because logic dictates that.

            Yeah, that works for why Garland agreed. It is also why Obama probably got shot down by most of his other choices.

            • I think that’s about right regarding Obama. In general, I think it is correct to assume that what he does he does because he thinks it is right. Now he seems to look on the Republicans with wry disbelief.

              • He cannot believe these weirdos exist and keep making him have to go to Paris and other ares and negotiate deals that specifically exclude Republicans who then throw fits because no one included them.

                • We do live in a curious time. They are crazy. In hindsight it will be obvious, but it apparently isn’t to a lot of people now.

  3. Wouldn’t the Senate Democrats be able to filibuster a sudden change of mind by the Republicans in a lame duck session after a Hillary victory? They’d be well justified in doing so, and since it would be for a limited period, it wouldn’t be holding up important legislation, hopefully.

    • I thought about that. But they really couldn’t do that to Garland. At least, I would be totally against it. He put himself up for nomination and by all accounts, he is extremely well qualified. Even though the Senate Republicans are behaving in the vilest of ways, I think we have to take the high ground.

      • I would say the Democrats would retain the high ground in that case – since the Republicans have already declared their intention to not even discuss a nominee until the new president and congress are seated, to go back on that right after they’d lost the presidential election would be so blatant that it would be a time when a filibuster would be justified.

        If the Republicans had been a bit more subtle about their obstruction, they might have a case. But they beat their chests and shouted “damn the torpedoes” as soon as they could.

        • Good point. Something else: the Republicans have shown themselves to be incapable of strategy because they’ve developed in the base the idea that any compromise is weakness. So they will probably doing what is easy after the election: nothing. They will only allow a vote when the political pressure becomes overwhelming, which would after the next president is seated. Let us hope that is not a Republican.

  4. I’ve been pretty disappointed in Obama’s dealings with the Republicans as well; while hoping for a Thunder And Shake The Ground moment all I could see was this boring, underwhelming, optimistic nuance.

    But, y’know, that Vaderesque unstoppability Conservatives had during the last Bush administration? That’s gone. They’ve lost the one thing every serious criminal organization needs in order to operate: respect.

    It’s why Democrats have, by and large, found spines again (some are even using them) and why the rabid right-wing base is voting for the party establishment’s nightmare to carry the banner in the presidential election.

    That’s what Obama’s done with all the underwhelming strategy, by being nice, by giving the Republicans shot after shot after shot to screw him over – he’s pulled the sheet off the ghost so we can see it was Don Knotts all along.

    He put Garland up because if the Republicans were what they pretend to be, if they were even remotely interested in the health of the Nation, if they actually cared about the patriotic values they profess, he’d be approved faster than it takes to say it.

    But they won’t – that’s the wager. The betting line is that, in refusing, the GOP will have reached enough voters with their true message – that they’re selfish, greedy and dysfuntional – to be crippled in November.

    Good lord. Sorry to spill that out on my first visit, but I just had that (hopefully accurate) insight after reading through a few of your posts – it had the fervor of a new idea.

    • Fear thee not vengeance for thy fine post. Yea, verily I sayeth unto thee, when the LORD passes judgment on post length, thou shalt not be named among the condemned. Me, I’m gettin’ smoted straight to TL;DR hell.

    • I generally agree. The truth is that the Republicans are so afraid of their base that thinks that Obama is Satan that I doubt that they would be able to do it. I suspect that the idea of having a liberal on the court is less worrisome than having to vote for anyone that a Democrat nominates.

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