Democrats Have a Path Forward If They Take It

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

When I heard that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, I reacted better than most of my liberal friends. I was sad, of course. She was not only a brilliant liberal jurist. She was also the end of a generation. She was the last liberal to be put on the Supreme Court.

But I didn’t freak out at the news. Part of it was just that I’ve been checking the news each morning looking for this since the start of the year. There was nothing surprising. It would have been a miracle if she had made it to next year.

But more than that, I had a very pleasant thought. “Now the Democrats have no choice but to do what I’ve been begging them for years.” Those things are:

  • End the filibuster
  • Expand the Supreme Court
  • Add Washington DC and Puerto Rico as states.

Let’s go over these.

Filibuster

I’ve been on this forever. A lot of liberals don’t like the idea of getting rid of the filibuster. They say, “But what happens when the Republicans are in control?!” There are two issues here.

First, it is ridiculous to think that the Republicans have maintained the filibuster out of a sense of fairness or commitment to norms. They have cut back on the filibuster exactly as much as has been necessary.

They don’t need to worry about the filibuster for tax cuts. Sure, they are limited to ten years. But they know they won’t be in power that long anyway. And that brings us to the second issue.

The filibuster hurts the Democrats more because they want to govern. It isn’t like the Republicans want to pass any other legislation. (This may change after the Court strikes down Roe v Wade. Then they will be quick to pass a law outlawing abortion nationwide because it turns out that state and local control really doesn’t matter to them.)

If this isn’t enough for you, consider this: if we don’t get rid of the filibuster, the Democrats will not be able to do anything. The Republicans will have established minority rule for a decade or more.

Expand the Court

The Republicans stole a Supreme Court seat in 2016. As a result, for the last 4 years, we have had a conservative court when it should have been liberal. (Actually, there are no liberals on the court. There are only centrists now. But I’ll refer to it as liberal because it’s easier.)

The death of Ginsburg should now realign the court to be conservative. As a result, we should increase the size of the court to 11 members. Or 13. The truth is, the Republicans should be punished for their behavior.

But I understand: if the Democrats do this, the Republicans will just expand the court when they get in. I know! It will help change attitudes about the court. It will allow people to see that the Supreme Court is just another partisan branch of the government.

Liberals need to understand that historically, the Supreme Court has been aggressively conservative. Ian Millhiser discusses this at length in his excellent book, Injustices. The Court’s main use over the years has been to stop social progress. And we are going to see that in a big way if the current situation stands.

It’s not just that Roe v Wade is dead. Obamacare could be dead within a few months. And the woman we are looking at on the Court is a real loon. And young so she’ll have lots of time to “build the Kingdom of God.”

Add New States

Republicans are saying that the addition of states for DC and Puerto Rico is unfair. Well, the mainstream media can pretend that this is anything but disingenuous, but we don’t have to.

The truth is that if these two areas had leaned Republican, they would have been made states decades ago. I’ve been for making them states for years without even considering it from a partisan perspective.

But the truth of the matter is that the Senate is a highly undemocratic institution. It leans heavily Republican despite the fact that the nation votes heavily Democratic. And if we add these two states, the Senate will become less ridiculously unfair. But it will still provide a major advantage to Republicans.

Reality Sets In

I was actually feeling good that maybe this horrible event would lead to something good. But then reality set in. Dianne Feinstein set in. She said:

I don’t believe in doing that. I think the filibuster serves a purpose. It is not often used, it’s often less used now than when I first came, and I think it’s part of the Senate that differentiates itself.

This is the problem. For all the complaining about Joe Biden and other supposed centrists, the real problem with the party are these supposed institutionalists who have somehow missed the last three decades of Republican behavior.

I’ve been told that if it comes to it, Feinstein will fall in line. And she may well. But there are others. There are too many people who would rather install permanent Republican minority rule than give up the moral high ground.

They remind me of the cosplay socialists who can’t soil their moral purity by voting for a Clinton or a Biden. Except these Democrats are potentially far more harmful. I’m just hoping that they will bend to pressure. We will need to press hard.


Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in the public domain.

Town Halls: Trump vs Biden

Joe Biden 2019

Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden attended cable news town halls this week. And the difference was stark.

Trump

Trump’s town hall was pretty bad. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but in his press conferences, Trump relies a whole bunch on yelling at reporters. If he gets a difficult question, he just calls the reporter “nasty” (especially if it’s a woman) or “fake news.” Then he moves on.

But with the town hall, he couldn’t really do that. And the fact that he didn’t shows that he’s more together than he often appears. So he was left with his other weapon: bold-faced lies. And he used it a lot.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Donald Trump

Daniel Dale has been documenting Trump’s lies for a long time. After the town hall, he said, “There was just so much lying, Don. I’m going to go quickly here so literally just stop me whenever you need to.” Over a minute and a half later, he said, “Don, this is a preliminary list. I have hours of fact-checking to do today because there is even more of this. This was just a fire-hose of lying, again, from the president.”

And when cornered, he just blamed Obama. Remember back in June 2009 when Republicans were outraged that Obama occasionally mentioned Bush? Republicans really are a postmodern party that believes in nothing other than that it is good if they do something and bad if the Democrats do it.

“I Don’t Feel Your Pain”

But it’s more than just the lying. It’s also that Trump seems to be unable to empathize with other people. When he was asked if he understood that the MAGA slogan was tone deaf for African Americans, Trump responded that things were better for blacks under his administration.

It went so poorly that Laura Ingraham called the town hall an “ambush.” It doesn’t make any sense to call it that. Trump must have known what he was getting into. And frankly, it wasn’t all that hard a venue. It’s just that Trump is really, really bad at this stuff.

Biden

The only bad thing I can say about Biden’s town hall was that he’s showing his age. But he’s still the same old Joe. And one thing I thought while watching it was that he was standing throughout it. Yeah, I know Trump will be standing in the debates. But he sat for his town hall and that’s how I always think of him: sitting. Or wandering around on the grass.

Biden was really focused at the town hall. Again and again, he showed himself to be really informed about policy and related minutia. I guess that’s what comes from dedicating your life to this stuff.

Biden Is Good at Politics

Check out the following clip of Biden answering a question from a woman whose mother has cancer. Biden engages with her. He even manages to remember that the woman said “multiple myeloma” in her question (a feat I could not accomplish). And he still manages to use it to attack Trump.

During part of the answer, he veers off to talk about his son and attack Trump’s comments about soldiers being “losers.” I’m sure that’s something that Biden cares deeply about. But it was still a brilliant piece of political theater. His son died of cancer so it was related. And I’m sure Biden has no problem getting choked up when thinking about his son.

Watch this; it really is brilliant.

Republicans Respond

Of course, just as the right-wing came to the defense of Trump’s horrible town hall, they had to trash Biden’s. And the best idea they came up with was from Bill O’Reilly.

The truth is that Bill O’Reilly knows better than this. But it doesn’t matter. They have to come up with some reason to claim that Trump is right and true and Biden is not.

Dean Baker responded, “Yeah, someone must have told Biden there would be questions on the pandemic and the economy. Otherwise, how could he be so well prepared.”

But most of the better responses were like BrooklynDad Defiant! who said, “Hilarious that Joe Biden is supposed to be Sleepy and Slow, but guys like Bill O’Reilly think he has the mental acuity to memorize a ton of questions AND answers.”

Final Analysis

I’ve become far more pragmatic in my politics over the last year or two. I think Trump does that to people. This isn’t to say my goals for politics have changed — just that I’m more risk averse and focused on the short-term.

I like Biden and I think he’s a decent guy. If he becomes president, I won’t be thrilled with his foreign policy, but it will be far better than Trump’s. And I’ll generally find his domestic policies to be less bold than they should be. But I fully expect to be significantly more pleased than I was with Obama.

And Biden showed that he is rather good at this whole politics thing. Who would have thought?! I mean, he’s only been doing it for 50 years. But it’s more than that. I’ve said before: Joe Biden is the best retail politician of my lifetime — with the possible exception of Bill Clinton.

Trump is a bad retail politician. He’s at his best in front of big adoring crowds. He will struggle in the debates. His only hope is that the media grade him on a curve. And they have so far.


Image cropped from Joe Biden by Gage Skidmore via Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Ben Shapiro Hates BLM’s Goals, Not Its Tactics

Ben Shapiro

Recently Ben Shapiro was on Joe Rogan’s podcast. And he made this very nuanced argument that when it comes to protest, Colin Kaepernick was wrong but Martin Luther King Jr was right.

His argument was that King said that “In the name of the flag you should stop racism” but that Kaepernick is saying that America is racist.

But really: this is a distinction developed to justify a predetermined conclusion. And Shapiro’s conclusion is based upon his visceral dislike of Black Lives Matter and all modern social justice movements.

Shapiro could as easily argue that King was right because he showed respect by wearing a suit. Or that Kaepernick is disrespectful because his hair is too long. Or that we should listen to religious leaders but not sports figures. It does not matter!

If Ben Shapiro Had Been Alive in 1963

As I’ve noted in the past, conservative beliefs only has a shelf-life of a generation or two. After that, the beliefs’ naked racism and general villainy is clear even to present-day conservatives.

If Ben Shapiro been around in the 1960s, he would have been like William F Buckley Jr was. In his 1963 book, Rumbles Left and Right: A Book About Troublesome People and Ideas (1963), Buckley wrote:

Dr Martin Luther King is more sensitive, and so more bitter, than the average Southern Negro, and hence unqualified as a litmus of the Southern Negro’s discontent.

You see, conservatives always have a reason to explain being against the justice movements of the moment. In fact, when NBA players recently staged a walk-out over police shootings, Jared Kushner responded condescendingly, “Look, I think that the NBA players are very fortunate that they have the financial position where they’re able to take a night off from work without having to have the consequences to themselves financially.”

The subtext is clear: what are all these rich guys whining about! This is what Buckley was saying: they don’t have the right to speak for ordinary blacks. The only thing that distinguishes Ben Shapiro is his specific justification for discounting what Colin Kaepernick says.

Ben Shapiro Can’t Admit What He Thinks

The problem for people like Shapiro is that they can’t come out and say what they believe: that all the struggles of the past were great but all the modern ones are wrong and are tearing this country apart. Saying that would make it clear that they are hateful, clueless, or both.

No modern conservative would say that a poll tax is okay. That is a relic of the racist past! If, however, you propose a poll tax in the form of new ID requirements that black people disproportionately don’t have, well, that’s just common sense. And, of course, that’s just what Ben Shapiro believes.

Ben Shapiro Isn’t Against Racism

Let’s be clear here. Ben Shapiro isn’t against Colin Kaepernick for the way he makes his argument. He is against Kaepernick’s goals. And Shapiro is not acting out of ignorance. He will not admit the existence of systemic racism. But it isn’t just an opinion he repeats.

He has lots of cherry-picked research (usually also distorted) to back up his position. And the only way you can cherry-pick is to go through the orchard. So Ben Shapiro is well aware that the arguments he’s making are not well-supported by the data. Yet he makes them anyway.

I cannot say why it is that conservatives are determined to find that the world is right and just — however it happens to be at the moment and regardless of how often their previous claims are shown to be wrong. But that is what this is all about: pushing a particular narrative of the world.

Ben Shapiro Is Disingenuous

That requires that you discount any evidence the pushes against your utopian narrative. And we all do this to one extent or another. So I don’t exactly blame Shapiro for that.

But I do blame him for not being honest: for not simply saying that he doesn’t believe in what Colin Kaepernick is protesting. Instead, Ben Shapiro tries to sound high-minded. Like he disagrees with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it!

But he’s not willing to do that. So he wants to shut down the conversation. He knows that ultimately the facts are not on his side. So in order to stop people talking about the stuff that makes him feel uncomfortable, Shapiro must distinguish between the good black protest of MLK and the bad black protest of Colin Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter.

That makes Ben Shapiro an evil man. He’s nothing even in the realm of an honest broker. It’s no wonder he’s so beloved on the right. It’s no wonder the rich shovel so much money at him.


Ben Shapiroby Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Jay Leno and Monica Lewinsky

Jay Leno Is a Dick

I didn’t pay much attention to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. At that point in my life, I didn’t pay much attention to politics. But I remember the time. I considered myself a libertarian, but I couldn’t believe all the nonsense that the right-wing did to the Clintons.

And that was all the Monica Lewinsky scandal was: an opportunity for the right-wing to further attack Bill Clinton. It’s kind of hard to imagine now. I mean, Bill Clinton had an affair. It was improper. He didn’t have an open relationship with his wife. And Lewinsky was a subordinate.

But the great wrong done to her way by the right-wing with the fawning help and approval of the mainstream media. Ultimately, it didn’t really affect Clinton all that much. But Lewinsky became an object of public shame. She was only 22 when the affair started. But that hardly mattered. She was a woman so it was open season.

I didn’t know quite how bad it was until I watched this excellent segment from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, “Public Shaming.”

Jay Leno

According to Oliver, the comedian who was the worst when it came to attacking Monica Lewinsky was Jay Leno. On one level, that’s not at all surprising. Although I thought Leno was pretty good early on in this career, his work on The Tonight Show was very much like the meals I always imagine him eating: large and poorly prepared.

Monica Lewinsky jokes are not hard to write. You can see upwards of a dozen groaners in the video. So of course Leno dipped into that well deep and often.

What does surprise me is who the consumers for this material were. For example, my mother used to watch his show. I remember Leno was seen as the middle-of-the-road comedian who didn’t offend anyone.

But I probably should have known. Whenever something is held up as an ideal for middle-America, it usually means that it is overflowing with the prejudices of the time.

John Oliver’s Response

In the image above, you can see that Jay Leno presented a Dr Seuss parody to go after Lewinsky. It’s called, “The Slut in the Hat.”

So John Oliver offered up the following Dr Seuss parody: “Oh, the Places You Can Go Fuck Yourself, Jay Leno!”

But I will give Leno this: he has largely gone away. But I’m sure we can count on him to turn up every now and then to complain about how people are doing things that he doesn’t like. You know: things he used to do.

Oh, the Places You Can Go Fuck Yourself, Jay Leno!

Images taken from the John Oliver video under Fair Use.

Letters From Jehovah’s Witnesses

I’ll try to post something later. I’m super busy at the moment so I don’t have time for a regular article.

But I got a letter posted to my business partner, William, at our business address. It had handwriting on the envelope. I opened it to see if there was a check inside. There wasn’t.

But there was a handwritten letter. It was in rather bad cursive and I couldn’t easily read it. So I contacted Will and rather than come over, he had me read it to him, which I did with some effort.

Jehovah's Witnesses Letter

Jehovah’s Witnesses COVID-19 Waste

Will figured it out long before I did. In fact, he might have known from the start. The letter says it is from one of his neighbors, Janell, and that if he is looking for meaning in this crazy world, he is in luck! It ends by mentioning that there is a website that will answer all the big questions like:

What is the purpose of life and many more answers [to] the questions that you can ask and search out. Something for everyone including cartoons for the little one. The website is J.W.Org [sic] and I hope you will take time to check it out.

It’s clear that this is a pre-written letter. So the Jehovah’s Witnesses are now limited in terms of going door-to-door. So they are having their members sit at home and hand-write these things. And they are apparently going to people in databases because I can’t imagine how else this letter would have found its way to our business address.

Will tells me this is nothing new. The church has people do this who can’t normally go door-to-door. So even if you are confined at home, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have a way for your to waste your time annoying the wider world!

Witnessing Is Nonsense

Many years ago, I read an article by Bible scholar Robert M Price about this idea that all Christians should be out witnessing to the rest of us. He argued that the books that make up the Bible were meant for the priest class. So when the Bible talks about witnessing, it means the priests, not the ordinary followers.

I think it is horrible that any group does this. And it is only because we are all extra gentle to religious people that we don’t meet them on the porch with our guns. What they are doing is not just useless; it is rude.

It also involves child abuse. They always use the “little ones” because they are great calling cards.

Truly, I say to you: any church that must depend upon indoctrinating children worships a false god.

The only thing that is good about the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they don’t vote. I assure you, if they did, they would be all-in for Donald Trump.