September 10, 2018

Whose Fault is This Again?

At some point, likely on September 20th, I read, the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote to approve the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. If the timing is right and everything goes according to plan, he'll then quickly be confirmed by the full Senate (I'm guessing with at least a couple of Democrats going along) and will take his seat on the bench on the first Monday of October.

The hearings were as we expected - Kavanaugh bobbed and weaved like a boxer to not answer simple yes or no questions. He got softballs from the Republicans, along the lines of "you're a helluva guy, aren't you, Brett?" and presidentially consequential questions from Dems, some of whom might be in the mix for 2020. Kavanaugh was admonished to 'be careful' how he answered certain questions, as if the hearing room had a bunch of shoes hanging from the ceiling, waiting to drop. None did - at least, not yet. Maybe they're saving those for the big show, the full vote on the Senate floor?

We had protesters (they got removed); we had some documents and we didn't have others, and then we had them, but we didn't read them because there wasn't time; and we released others (Cory I, Spartacus Booker), but they had already been released a few hours earlier (oops). Good theater, but unlikely to make a difference. And there was Akhil Reed Amar, a Yale Law professor; while he offered words in support of Kavanaugh, he had these words of caution for the Dems:
Don't be mad. He's smart. Be careful what you wish for. Our party controls neither the White House nor the Senate. If you torpedo Kavanaugh, you'll likely end up with someone worse.
That, like death and taxes, seems certain, doesn't it?

Lisa Murkowski, the moderate Republican from Alaska, is facing a lot of pressure to vote no, as is Maine's Senator Susan Collins, who has received thousands of wire coat hangers, symbolizing what was before Roe v. Wade, which Kavanaugh could will threaten. But hey - he hired lots of women and minorities, and he coaches basketball!

He could also threaten lots of other things, too - voting rights, rights of disabled; LGBTQ equality, and so on, but that is a consequence of elections, right? We knew all about those consequences when Mitch McConnell slowed approval of Obama appointees to the federal bench after the Ds lost control of Congress, and of course when he refused to allow consideration at all on the appointment of Merrick Garland.

But while the Garland debacle was primarily McConnell's fault, there's blame elsewhere too, according to this article from June. Consider blaming Barack Obama and whoever it was who convinced him Merrick Garland was the right person to nominate for Justice Scalia's seat.
For example, imagine if Barack Obama had nominated the first African-American woman to the Supreme Court - one who was young and unabashedly progressive in her jurisprudence. When McConnell subsequently vetoed her appointment - and thereby nullified Obama's attempt to give a modicum of representation in the halls of high power to the Democratic Party's most loyal constituency - wouldn't it have been easier to mobilize the Democratic base in outrage, than it was to rally them behind Merrick Garland?
Democrats could have painted McConnell's unprecedented act of obstruction as one of racial animus. Then, when Republicans persisted, they could have combined this identify-based appeal with paid advertisements spotlighting how the Roberts Court had eviscerated voting rights, legalized bribery, disempowered consumers, and abetted the dominance of employers over workers - while explaining how Antonin Scalia's replacement could exacerbate these horrors, or reverse them. Hillary Clinton could have campaigned on a promise to install Obama's nominee after November, and invited progressive voters to elect the first woman to the presidency - and (effectively) the first African-American woman to the Supreme Court.
The author, Eric Levitz, notes that this approach might not have been enough to have held onto the Rust Belt and prevented Trump's victory, but there would have been much more attention paid to the consequences of a Red presidential win on the Court. And, he suggests, the message from the Dems against McConnell's obstruction- that we need nine justices because, well, that's how many we're supposed to have - was also unmotivating for the base, and essentially added insult to injury.

So, here we are, facing the consequences of Obama's 'safe' pick of Garland, of Mitch McConnell's iron hold on his caucus, and of all the 'whatever the hell happened' in 2016.

Barack Obama is out on the stump now, telling us that our apathy is the biggest threat to our democracy. At the same time, he's telling us that the problems we're facing now stem from politicians playing to their worst element, for a long time:
It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. He's just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years.
Solving this is not going to be easy; after all, apathy comes from somewhere, from something, and we need to figure that out, and find people to vote for who can address those needs.

The midterms will be a good test: do we have people to vote for, instead of against? Are the candidates fanning the flames of passion for the future of the country, or fanning the selfish, resentful tribal flames Obama mentioned?

All I know is, if people don't vote now, they're probably never going to.