Tyranny of the Majority

October 12, 2009

A Case for Empathy | The American Prospect

A Case for Empathy | The American Prospect.
Back in 2007, Barack Obama said that if he got the chance to make a Supreme Court appointment, one of his criteria for a justice would be a capacity for "empathy." Conservatives were predictably outraged. But last week, we got to see what it looks like when a justice is unable to view the world from another's perspective.

[Justice Antonin Scalia ] seemed positively gobsmacked that American Civil Liberties Union attorney Peter Eliasberg would argue that a giant cross is a -- get this -- a Christian symbol....

Scalia apparently thinks that the cross is some kind of universal symbol of death, not a Christian one. "The cross doesn't honor non-Christians who fought in the war?" he asked the ACLU lawyer incredulously. Eliasberg explained that "a cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity," to which Scalia shot back, "It's erected as a war memorial. I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead. It's the -- the cross is the -- is the most common symbol of -- of -- of the resting place of the dead, and it doesn't seem to me -- what would you have them erect? A cross -- some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David, and you know, a Moslem half moon and star?"

Eliasberg replied, "The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of Christians. I have been in Jewish cemeteries. There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew." This was greeted with laughter in the courtroom, which no doubt made Scalia's blood boil.

Something tells me those who share Scalia's perspective would feel a little differently about questions like the one raised by the Mojave case if they were outnumbered. For example, healthy majorities of the public have always supported prayer in public schools. But imagine that your typical advocate of school prayer happened to move to, say, Dearborn, Michigan, home of the densest concentration of Muslims in the country (according to the 2000 census, 30 percent of Dearborn residents were of Arab descent; the number is probably higher by now). Then imagine that at the local public elementary school, parents suggested starting each day with a passage from the Koran read over the P.A. system. Our defender of classroom prayer would probably discover a newfound affection for the separation of church and state.

Coming to that realization before you become a minority yourself requires an ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes [-- empathy]. It's seldom an easy thing to do. But some people who never thought they'd have to do so will get the chance before long.

May 05, 2009

The noose of "plausible legality"

The Nixon era falsely tried to create "plausible deniability", the Bush era falsely tried to create "plausible legality".

Re: They Tortured With Good Will  | By Andrew Sullivan:

Condi Rice tries to walk back her statement that if Bush authorized something, it was not illegal. She says instead - in a cosy conversation with Leon Wieseltier - that the president ordered that interrogation go to the limits of the legal. My own sense, from a few off-the-record conversations as well, is that president Bush simply said: do what you have to do, but make sure it's legal. Cheney ran with that. Bush meant it as cover. He needed legal cover to torture in a systematic way. And, because this was the Bush administration, they did what the great leader asked. Even though it was, in fact, impossible. And was impossible. And so America became a torturing country. And Rice sat by and let it happen. Andnow wants to be in polite society.

I do not believe in being polite to war criminals. I believe in prosecuting them.

December 17, 2008

Bush: I Didn't Compromise My Soul To Be Popular

Bush: I Didn't Compromise My Soul To Be Popular:

... I didn't compromise my soul to be a popular guy....

Well, at least now we have eliminated one (self-professed) reason why he sold his soul to torture people, sell out our Constitution and the rule of law.

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September 29, 2008

Report criticizes Gonzales, deputy in firings of U.S. attorneys

Re: Report criticizes Gonzales, deputy in firings of U.S. attorneys - Los Angeles Times:

WASHINGTON -- Former Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales and his top deputy, Paul McNulty, “abdicated their responsibility” in the 2006 firing of U.S. attorneys, were strikingly aloof and ill-informed about the process and offered the public reasons for the dismissals that were “inconsistent, misleading and/or inaccurate,” Justice Department investigators concluded today.


But the authors also said they were unable to get at the truth in all cases because of a lack of cooperation from the White House in offering up documents and testimony about the role of officials there in the dismissals.

September 05, 2007

On Bush/Cheney Impeachment

My position on impeachment for some time has been that, without a doubt, Bush and Cheney deserve it for multiple, flagrant abuses of their oaths of office (see links, below).  I consider impeachment to be the ultimate “Congressional Privilege”, with actual standing in the US Constitution, to oppose the over-reaching of so-called “executive privilege”, etc.

Although one can see how Bush and Cheney could be impeached in the House, given the party-first nature of Republicans elected over the last 25 years which has purged all but a small handful of moderates from the party, you can never get the 67 votes needed to convict in the Senate (“no Person shall be convicted [of impeachable offenses by the Senate] without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.” [I.3]). 

The other factor differing from, say, the impeachment process of Nixon stemming from Watergate, is that this time it isn’t a matter getting out the “hidden” facts not yet revealed which  might sway Republican Senators’ views.  The issues are well-documented already (even if there is even more specifics to be revealed).  So we pretty much know where the Republican Senators stand already.

This in spite of the fact that libertarian types in the Republican party are outraged too, with the result that the US population has bipartisan and independent voter support for impeachment.  The hardcore 2/3 of the Republican party is still with the president and more importantly, is what the Republicans in the Senate represent, as Chris Bowers of Open Left pointed out:

“The current incentive and ideological structure in Washington is such that most Republicans have more to lose in bucking the Republican leadership than they do from the specter of defeat in the general election. After all, even in another wave election, at least 80% of all congressional Republicans will hold onto their place in Congress, and the possibility of well-financed primary challenges and the loss of chairmanships or leadership positions remains more real to an overwhelming supermajority of Republicans than does the possibility of a Democrat taking their seat.”

This is because, he says,

“For thirty years, Republicans have elected extremist conservatives in primary after primary, elevated those extremists to leadership positions in Congress and, more recently, both run campaigns and governed in a way that was aimed at the conservative base rather than at a diverse partisan and ideological range of the electorate. Thus, we are left with a situation where even though Bush has historically low approval ratings, he is still popular among the Republican base, his party leadership is dominated by wingnut extremists, and as such major Republican figures, including virtually every Republican presidential candidate, refuse to abandon either him or his policies. Compromise thus becomes extremely difficult, especially with Democrats taking power in Congress by opposing Bush, and heading toward a second wave election by continuing to do so (at least for a while, until the vetoes and filibusters start flying).”

So for me, the concern about impeachment has been, given I don’t think that conviction is possible in the Senate, that the tradeoff seems to be:

  • forcing Congresspersons and Senators to stand up and be counted for posterity even though
  • Bush & Cheney are acquitted of the impeachment charges (that is, found not guilty!).

I have not been convinced that their acquittal is a good thing.  It would provide a rallying point for the right as well as having given a false sense of innocence, possibly further embedding the claims of executive privelege and expanded notion of the powers of the commander-in-chief role as legitimate, given most of these will never make it to the Supreme Court for resolution.

However, at a recent David Wu (CD 1) townhall in McMinnville, I was struck at the vehemence of support for impeachment from the right as well as the left.  Hearing it, as opposed to reading it in polls, was impressive.

Big Eddie (Ed Schlultz) said on his talk radio show, roughly:  instead of castigating our Democratic representatives for not pursuing impeachment aggressively by threatening to turn them out of office next go round, we should push them toward impeachment but also tell them “we’ve got your back” on this. 

That is, we need to give them the political popular support that would allow them to push this through.

I still don’t think  you get conviction in the Senate, but increasingly I have moved to think that the accountability moment for the Republican Party should be there as well as for Bush & Cheney, and an opportunity for the rest to say that they stood up for the US Constitution when it came down to it and the others did not.

Impeachment links:

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July 30, 2007

Clip: Why Can't They Impeach The Entire Republican Party?

A bit tongue in cheek, but still the motivating point is true.

Clip: RJ Eskow: Why Can't They Impeach The Entire Republican Party? - Politics on  The Huffington Post:

The shameful fact that no Republicans joined today's call to investigate Gonzales raises a question: “Why can't they impeach the entire Republican Party?” After all, the utter lawlessness of the last six years could not have occurred without the active complicity of the full GOP leadership. They have chosen to react in a partisan way to both unconstitutional usurpations of power and simple acts of criminality, and have benefited as the perpetrators seized and held office through unscrupulous means.

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May 21, 2007

Re: Conservatism and Fascism

[Emailed in response Conservatism and Fascism 5/21/2007]

James Joyner's response was wildly off the mark, and yours a bit so.

What your reader was saying in describing today's conservatives as an “intensely nationalist movement intent on defining membership in the ‘nation’ on linguistic, religious, and (increasingly) ethnic/racial criteria, ”was that he observes the right wing saying that the only “real Americans” -- the nation in quotes as opposed the the nation -- are those that are Christians, that are English-speakers, that are Republicans, etc.

There are two possible definitions of “nation” used -- as the people of a sovereign state, or as some other large collection of people independent of the soverign country -- the Aryan nation, or whatever.  I believe your reader was referring to the nation of the the people of the United States of America as a nation and the fascist right as defining the nation in “tribal” terms, which in fact is the very notion that Joynes rose to defend:

First, by definition, membership in a nation is exclusionary.  Matt Rosenberg’s short description of nations as “culturally homogeneous groups of people, larger than a single tribe or community, which share a common language, institutions, religion, and historical experience” is pithy and consistent with most established uses.  Certainly, in the United States, we have expanded the definition to include belief in certain core values and have removed the racial component given our multi-ethic heritage.

Yes, membership in a nation is exculsionary: it excludes those that aren’t people of that soveriegn state.  America defines itself by that definition, not by belonging to other attributes.  This is the reason your reader put what the fascistic conservatives define in quotes.  What Joynes defends by quoting Rosenberg is a subset of America because Americans are not necessarily culturally homogenous, nor do they share a common religion (which is in fact expressly a forbidden requirement in the Constitution), etc.

Now, to bring that back in more detail to the entire question of fascism, your definition is quite a bit narrower than the standard definitions of fascism or of its common understanding, narrow enough to not represent the accepted definition.  From various dictionaries:

'A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.'“


” 1. A political regime based on strong centralized government, suppressing through violence any criticism or opposition of the regime, and exalting nation, state, or religion above the individual.
2. A system of strong autocracy.“


”an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.  (in general use) extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practice.“

Historically this sort of authoritarian political/social system includes a corporatist state.

Joyner, by using Rosenberg’s definition of nation in his defense, instead of refuting your reader, actually proves your reader’s point that fascistic tendencies run deep in the outlook of modern conservativism -- defining the American nation not by the people of the United States of America, but rather as Christianist, English-ist, non-immigrant-ist, War-ish, cronyist, corporatist.

[For more, Every 50 Years - America Fascism in 2004, Reclaiming The Issues: Islamic Or Republican Fascism?, The Ghost of Vice President Wallace Warns: ”It Can Happen Here“Recent Right-wing language manipulation.]

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April 19, 2007

Confirmations have consequences

[Cross-posted from Attorney General Hearings 4/19/2007]

Confirmations have consequences. This was predictable when Gonzales was confirmed in 2007 by the Republican-controlled Senate.

It was one thing for President Bush to nominate Alberto Gonzales, a man who advocated torture, isn't sure about the constitutionality of the filibuster and doesn't think there is a constitutional right to Habeas Corpus in the Constitution.  But it was another for the Republican-controlled Senate to approve his nomination two years ago in the face of clear knowledge of his constitutional incompetence and Bush loyalty-first approach to life.

I wrote at that time to Wyden and Smith that Gonzales should have been rejected on grounds of an incompetent understanding of our Constitution, an evident unwillingness to uphold his oath to the Constitution over personal loyalties and of lying and evasion to Senators while under oath.

And here we are. This is not just a Bush administration fault, but a fault of Republicanism.

[Update -- this is a link to a couple articles on impeachment of Gonzales]

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March 20, 2007

The Shame of Republican Senators - Alberto Gonzales

As the fallout of firings of Attorney Generals continues to proceed, we shouldn't forget how we got here.  It was one thing for President Bush to nominate Alberto Gonzales, a man who advocated torture, isn't sure about the constitutionality of the filibuster and doesn't think there is a constitutional right to Habeaus  Corpus in the Constitution.  But it was another for the Republican-controlled Senate to approve his nomination two years ago in the face of clear knowledge of his constitutional incompetence and Bush loyalty-first approach to life.

As I wrote at that time, Gonzales should have been rejected on grounds of an incompetent understanding of our Constitution, an evident unwillingness to uphold his oath to the Constitution over personal loyalties and of lying and evasion to Senators while under oath.

The question for Democrats is, how to ensure that neither John Woo nor Alberto Gonzales hold a position of responsibility in any future administration?

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February 26, 2007

Clip: Why I Am Not a Conservative

This, from 1960, provides an excellent contrast of conservative and progressive/liberal worldviews and the inherent problems of conservatism -- it neither provides real solutions and tends toward authoritarian, anti-democratic leadership, such as Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon and George Bush.  In contrast to the claims of today's conservative apologists, who blame Bush for not being a “true conservative”, this is built into conservatism and the Republican Party -- it may not be true of them personally, but it is how conservatives act collectively.

To see this, it is only necessary to read this and look at the current conservative government since 1994 -- not just Bush, but Gingrich, Delay, etc. and you can see that the entire Republican conservative system is corrupted by this worldview, not just the Bush administration.

Interestingly, this is essentially a scientific proof: Hayek described the conservative worldview and the consequences of it and, starting from Reagan, we have seen it play out exactly as he predicted.

Clip: Why I Am Not a Conservative - Institut HAYEK:

Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving. It may succeed by its resistance to current tendencies in slowing down undesirable developments, but, since it does not indicate another direction, it cannot prevent their continuance ... What the liberal must ask, first of all, is not how fast or how far we should move, but where we should move.
....But the admiration of the conservatives for free growth generally applies only to the past. They typically lack the courage to welcome the same undesigned change from which new tools of human endeavors will emerge.
As has often been acknowledged by conservative writers, one of the fundamental traits of the conservative attitude is a fear of change, a timid distrust of the new as such,[5] while the liberal position is based on courage and confidence, on a preparedness to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead. There would not be much to object to if the conservatives merely disliked too rapid change in institutions and public policy; here the case for caution and slow process is indeed strong. But the conservatives are inclined to use the powers of government to prevent change ....
This fear of trusting uncontrolled social forces is closely related to two other characteristics of conservatism: its fondness for authority and its lack of understanding of economic forces. Since it distrusts both abstract theories and general principles,[6] it neither understands those spontaneous forces on which a policy of freedom relies nor possesses a basis for formulating principles of policy. Order appears to the conservative as the result of the continuous attention of authority, which, for this purpose, must be allowed to do what is required by the particular circumstances and not be tied to rigid rule. A commitment to principles presupposes an understanding of the general forces by which the efforts of society are co-ordinated, but it is such a theory of society and especially of the economic mechanism that conservatism conspicuously lacks.
Let me return, however, to the main point, which is the characteristic complacency of the conservative toward the action of established authority and his prime concern that this authority be not weakened rather than that its power be kept within bounds. This is difficult to reconcile with the preservation of liberty. In general, it can probably be said that the conservative does not object to coercion or arbitrary power so long as it is used for what he regards as the right purposes. He believes that if government is in the hands of decent men, it ought not to be too much restricted by rigid rules. Since he is essentially opportunist and lacks principles, his main hope must be that the wise and the good will rule - not merely by example, as we all must wish, but by authority given to them and enforced by them.[7] Like the socialist, he is less concerned with the problem of how the powers of government should be limited than with that of who wields them; and, like the socialist, he regards himself as entitled to force the value he holds on other people.

When I say that the conservative lacks principles, I do not mean to suggest that he lacks moral conviction. The typical conservative is indeed usually a man of very strong moral convictions. What I mean is that he has no political principles which enable him to work with people whose moral values differ from his own for a political order in which both can obey their convictions. It is the recognition of such principles that permits the coexistence of different sets of values that makes it possible to build a peaceful society with a minimum of force. The acceptance of such principles means that we agree to tolerate much that we dislike.... To live and work successfully with others requires more than faithfulness to one's concrete aims. It requires an intellectual commitment to a type of order in which, even on issues which to one are fundamental, others are allowed to pursue different ends.
....I sometimes feel that the most conspicuous attribute of liberalism that distinguishes it as much from conservatism as from socialism is the view that moral beliefs concerning matters of conduct which do not directly interfere with the protected sphere of other persons do not justify coercion.

In the last resort, the conservative position rests on the belief that in any society there are recognizably superior persons whose inherited standards and values and position ought to be protected and who should have a greater influence on public affairs than others. The liberal, of course, does not deny that there are some superior people - he is not an egalitarian - but he [the liberal] denies that anyone has authority to decide who these superior people are. While the conservative inclines to defend a particular established hierarchy and wishes authority to protect the status of those whom he values, the liberal feels that no respect for established values can justify the resort to privilege or monopoly or any other coercive power of the state in order to shelter such people against the forces of economic change. Though he is fully aware of the important role that cultural and intellectual elites have played in the evolution of civilization, he also believes that these elites have to prove themselves by their capacity to maintain their position under the same rules that apply to all others.

Closely connected with this is the usual attitude of the conservative to democracy. I have made it clear earlier that I do not regard majority rule as an end but merely as a means, or perhaps even as the least evil of those forms of government from which we have to choose. But I believe that the conservatives deceive themselves when they blame the evils of our time on democracy. The chief evil is unlimited government, and nobody is qualified to wield unlimited power.[8] The powers which modern democracy possesses would be even more intolerable in the hands of some small elite.
....Conservatives feel instinctively that it is new ideas more than anything else that cause change. But, from its point of view rightly, conservatism fears new ideas because it has no distinctive principles of its own to oppose them; and, by its distrust of theory and its lack of imagination concerning anything except that which experience has already proved, it deprives itself of the weapons needed in the struggle of ideas. Unlike liberalism, with its fundamental belief in the long-range power of ideas, conservatism is bound by the stock of ideas inherited at a given time. And since it does not really believe in the power of argument, its last resort is generally a claim to superior wisdom, based on some self-arrogated superior quality.
...By refusing to face the facts, the conservative only weakens his own position. Frequently the conclusions which rationalist presumption draws from new scientific insights do not at all follow from them. But only by actively taking part in the elaboration of the consequences of new discoveries do we learn whether or not they fit into our world picture and, if so, how. Should our moral beliefs really prove to be dependent on factual assumptions shown to be incorrect, it would hardly be moral to defend them by refusing to acknowledge facts.
.... the liberal position shares with conservatism a distrust of reason to the extent that the liberal is very much aware that we do not know all the answers and that he is not sure that the answers he has are certainly the rights ones or even that we can find all the answers. He also does not disdain to seek assistance from whatever non-rational institutions or habits have proved their worth. The liberal differs from the conservative in his willingness to face this ignorance and to admit how little we know, without claiming the authority of supernatural forces of knowledge where his reason fails him. It has to be admitted that in some respects the liberal is fundamentally a skeptic[12] - but it seems to require a certain degree of diffidence to let others seek their happiness in their own fashion and to adhere consistently to that tolerance which is an essential characteristic of liberalism.

....What distinguishes the liberal from the conservative here is that, however profound his own spiritual beliefs, he will never regard himself as entitled to impose them on others and that for him the spiritual and the temporal are different sphere which ought not to be confused.

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