Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Politix Update: Those Obdurate Republicans Keep Planting Ice & Harvesting Wind

And now the consequences of the death of conservative judicial darling Antonin Scalia can be added to the dizzyingly long list of self-inflicted Republican wounds. 
Karma aside, bad things don't necessarily happen to bad people -- or bad political parties -- but the Republican Party has become a welcome exception. The battle royal in the wake of the passing of the Supreme Court associate justice is a timely reminder of how out of step the GOP has become with most voters and that the battle, as if we need reminding, confirms that the high court is not above politics.   
The court really never has been above politics, of course.  Justices always leaned one way or the other across the political spectrum, but the Roberts court has been different because its conservative majority has been so overtly activist that it has become a de facto arm of the Republican Party.  Consequently, the priorities of that conservative majority in general and partisan hackery of Scalia in particular -- including further empowering big corporations and their oligarch overseers, trying to deny women access to reproductive health care, pushing back against environmental regulation and undercutting the Voting Rights Act -- are deeply unpopular.   
And let's not forget that the conservative majority bequeathed the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush although he lost the popular vote, and in turn Bush gifted us the Iraq War and Great Recession, as well as nearly killed Obamacare.  (None of which is mentioned as he stumps for his hapless baby brother in South Carolina.)   
A strict constructionist like Scalia, who at least paid lip service to judicial restraint, is spinning in his grave over Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declaring, with nearly unanimous partisan support, that a president in his final year of office has no right to name a Supreme Court justice, or renowned constitutional scholar Donald Trump shouting, "Delay, delay, delay."  Oh wait!  Scalia hasn't even been buried yet. 
Republicans these days rewrite and interpret history as casually as they wipe their butts, but let's pretend for a moment that real history matters, and in that respect it's not exactly on McConnell's side.  The last time the Senate tried to block a lame duck's pick for the Supreme Court was in 1844, the last such nominee was Anthony Kennedy, whom the great conservative god Ronald Reagan successfully nominated in 1988, while the last 12 successful top court nominees waited no longer than 100 days for a vote.  Some 337 days remain in President Obama's term.   
So much is at stake.  Obama's nominee, the third of his presidency, may be more important to the long-term health of the country than who the next president will be, and as legacies go, will fall just below implementation of Obamacare in historic importance.  His nominee is likely to be a minority with a constitutional law pedigree like his own, and hopefully break the mold.  (You read the name Sri Srinivasan here first. Surely a headline writer's dream.)  Seven of the eight remaining justices, as was Scalia, are East Coast appeals court judges and all attended law school at Harvard or Yale.  Boring.   
I trace the genesis of the Republican march to its present state of affairs, which is to say decreasing national relevance and increasing likelihood of nominating a kook for president, to its rediscovery in the early 2000s that there was something to Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy -- that polarization and fear mongering could win elections, or at least attract new voters as blacks and other racial minorities were driven away and independent-minded women fled. 
Forget about good governance, reaching across the aisle and all of the stuff they used to teach in poly sci -- later called Problems of Democracy.  Nihilism is in. Exploiting differences, notably between Evangelicals and more socially accepting people, is the way to go.  Inclusiveness is replaced by rank nativism, economic recidivism, nonsensical beliefs and an almost pathological fear of change.   
This stratergy, as Dubya would say, resulted in short-term gains but longer-term losses.  Republicans are rich in statehouses and state legislatures and have done well in recent off-year and off-off-year elections, but are poor where it matters most.  The GOP is no closer to capturing the White House than in 2012, let alone keeping it back in 2008, and arguably is even further from that goal today.  As considerable as the party's legislative and congressional successes have been, they have had much to do with gerrymandering and it is the big dance that counts the most.  In that respect, the party's record is awful because voters have elected Democrats in four of the last five presidential elections, not including the one thrown by that Supreme Court, and have prevailed by a 2-to-1 electoral vote margin.   
An overlooked consequence of Scalia's death is that it could help flip the Senate back to Democratic control.   
Democrats need to pick up only five seats -- four if they retain the White House -- to control the upper chamber, and the most vulnerable Republican senators are moderates who are the most likely to support Obama's Supreme Court nominee in an effort to retain their blue state seats.  But could lose those seats by bucking their own party. 
The corruption of conservatism is a sad affair. 
Liberal-leaning Democrats are little better than Republicans in some respects and certainly as addicted to the crack cocaine of politics -- big money -- but the Republicans' cynicism, naked partisanship and quest for control and power, never mind what Scalia's beloved Constitution and its Article II says, has resulted in a civil war that has hamstrung the president no matter how benign his initiatives are, engulfed Congress, and now threatens to paralyze the Supreme Court.


© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN



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