Short cuts

by Henry on October 29, 2008

(1) When I heard the kerfuffle about Obama’s radio discussion on civil rights and the constitution, I went back and listened to it, drawing two major conclusions. First – that anyone who expects him to appoint lots and lots of radical judges, is likely to be very disappointed; he has a small c conservative understanding of what the judiciary can do. Second, I was reminded how much I missed _Odyssey_ – it was the best radio show I have ever been on, and more generally, a really first rate contribution to public discussion. A full audio archive is “available here”:http://www.chicagopublicradio.org/audio_library/od_ra1.asp.

(2) Via Josh Cohen, Archon Fung and ABC news have put together “MyFairElection”:http://myfairelection.com/, which seems a very useful exercise for those of you who are (unlike me) eligible to vote next week. It combines Google maps with data on polling stations, allowing people to report problems such as long lines etc, and (if it works according to plan), provide a ‘weather map’ of voting conditions across the country.

(3) I did a Campaign Free edition bloggingheads “with Dan Drezner”:http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/15457 yesterday on changes in the global economy. The dialogue stopped early because Dan had to pick up a sick kid from school, but was pretty interesting for me, at least – in contrast to many of these conversations, which involve battles over set piece positions, I found myself actually rethinking what I understood to be going on and its implications during the process (so, a real conversation, or something like it).

{ 38 comments }

1

jonst 10.29.08 at 11:39 am

If you are of mind to please define “radical” as you employ the word here.

2

Brett Bellmore 10.29.08 at 11:42 am

At any rate, he has a small c understanding of what the Warren court actually did. Does he think the same limits apply to the Chomsky court next year is anybody’s guess.

3

Barry Freed 10.29.08 at 11:51 am

Brett has truly jumped the shark. “Chomsky court” indeed (if only.)

4

Kieran 10.29.08 at 11:52 am

The Ahmadinejad court, surely.

5

Steve LaBonne 10.29.08 at 12:18 pm

It’s hilarious that both of the Clintons and Obama, three dead-center politicians if ever there were any, have all acquired this bizarre reputation amongst the wingnuts as wild-eyed lefties. Just goes to show what we all know, that wingnut “reality” and actual reality have precious few points of contact

6

matt 10.29.08 at 12:58 pm

And anyway, Chomsky is way too old to be appointed to the Supreme Court. Ahmadinejad is fairly young, on the other hand, so Kieran is surely more on the right track.

7

rea 10.29.08 at 12:58 pm

If you are of mind to please define “radical” as you employ the word here.

Surely that question would be better directed to John McCain.

8

Barry 10.29.08 at 1:15 pm

Steve LaBonne 10.29.08 at 12:18 pm

“It’s hilarious that both of the Clintons and Obama, three dead-center politicians if ever there were any, have all acquired this bizarre reputation amongst the wingnuts as wild-eyed lefties. Just goes to show what we all know, that wingnut “reality” and actual reality have precious few points of contact”

Overton window – define ‘normal’ to include Bork, and right-wingers are home free.

9

Steve LaBonne 10.29.08 at 1:18 pm

define ‘normal’ to include Bork, and right-wingers are home free.

Hey, don’t be dissin’ the Swedish Chef! ;)

10

jonst 10.29.08 at 1:21 pm

rea…..I addressed the question to the poster who employed the word. Do you have a problem/s with that? If so, and YOU are of a mind to, please share with me what the problem is.

11

Ben Alpers 10.29.08 at 1:50 pm

It’s hilarious that both of the Clintons and Obama, three dead-center politicians if ever there were any, have all acquired this bizarre reputation amongst the wingnuts as wild-eyed lefties. Just goes to show what we all know, that wingnut “reality” and actual reality have precious few points of contact

Since at least 1972, Republicans have tried to equate liberalism with leftism. And they’re willing to tar anyone who the Democrats run with the (double) L-word. I remember Joe Lieberman being denounced in these terms in 2000.

This strategy finally seems to have run its course, however.

I’m more surprised by the number of Democrats and self-described progressives who fail to see that Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama are centrists, not liberals, let alone leftists. I suppose it’s a sign of how much the right has controlled the Overton window that Democrats too often believe the Republicans’ construction of Democratic candidates.

It’s worth remembering that the two most liberal justices on the current Supreme Court were both Republican appointees–Souter (a happy accident) and Stevens (a relic of an unfortunately bygone era). And that the current court’s entire “left” would have been in the center of the court as late as the end of the 1970s.

I expect Obama’s Supreme Court appointees to look an awful like Stephen Breyer. More’s the pity.

12

Mrs Tilton 10.29.08 at 2:04 pm

Steve @5,

precisely. Viewed from a German perspective, Obama and Clinton would both nestle as comfortably in the leftwards half of the CDU (Christian Democratic Union, the rough German analogue to America’s Republicans[1]) as they would on the far right edge of the SPD (Social Democratic Party, t.r.G.a.t.A’s Democrats). Possibly more comfortably in the CDU, in fact, as both Obama and Clinton talk about God a lot more than SPD pols normally do [2]. (To be fair, they talk about God a lot more than most CDU pols do as well, but at least the CDU is expected to make room for that sort of thing.)

[1] A very rough analogue, actually. Historically, the German analogue of Republicans would have been the centre-right-to-rightwing CDU; plus its hard-right, sectarian, social-conservative Bavarian sister party the CSU; plus the entirely separate FDP, a right-liberal party, using “liberal” in its traditional European sense, that would not be light years away from that extinct species, the “Rockefeller Republicans”. These days the closest match would be the CSU alone. It will give you some idea of the stranglehold the CSU has over politics in Bavaria to hear that, in the recent state elections, the CSU captured a plurality of 43% of the vote, nearly 25% more than their closest competitor — and regarded that result as a catastrophe necessitating a rolling of heads that is still going on. Adsit omen, say I.

[2] Germany is quite religious by western European standards; that is to say, merely massively as opposed to overwhelmingly non-religious by US standards. But on an individual level, I haven’t found SPD people much likelier to be irreligious than CDU people. Rather, even CDU people with little or no religious belief are likely to think religion-in-general socially desirable in a useful-to-the-magistrate way (as long as the religion isn’t Islam or Scientology); whereas even strongly religious SPD people are likely to think religion a private matter, out of place in politics.

13

Martin 10.29.08 at 3:03 pm

I too miss Odyssey. I stopped subscribing to WBEZ after the show was canceled. The host, Gretchen Helfritch, is now in her third year at the University of Chicago Law School. I think she interviewed most of its faculty during Odyssey’s run. To listen to Henry discuss blogging with Eugene Volokh head to this page and scroll down to June 9, 2005:
http://www.wbez.org/audio_library/od_rajun05.asp

14

lemuel pitkin 10.29.08 at 3:17 pm

The Ahmadinejad court, surely.

No, the bin Laden court. The Hitler court. Or — dear god — the Clinton court.

Also: Preview has returned! Yay preview!

15

Sebastian 10.29.08 at 3:55 pm

“First – that anyone who expects him to appoint lots and lots of radical judges, is likely to be very disappointed; he has a small c conservative understanding of what the judiciary can do. ”

I remember reading a speech or chat of his somewhere and thinking “that is a conservative take on the court”.

He said something to the effect of: courts are institutionally conservative, expecting them to lead the way to new rights is misunderstanding their function.

16

eric 10.29.08 at 4:03 pm

Anyone else get a chuckle from the (presumably unintended) irony of Brett Bellmore linking his name to “yahoo.com”?

17

rea 10.29.08 at 4:08 pm

rea…..I addressed the question to the poster who employed the word. Do you have a problem/s with that? If so, and YOU are of a mind to, please share with me what the problem is.

Henry isn’t calling prospective Obama appointees “radical”–he’s referrring to the fact that McCain and his supporters have made that accusation. Of course, not being Henry, I speak subject to correction, but that seems to me to be the plain meaning of what he’s saying, and anyone who has spent more than a few minutes following the election knows that’s a fair characterization of McCain’s position. What McCain means by “radical,” socialist, etc. is something of a mystery, but that’s not my problem, or Henry’s

18

Michael Turner 10.29.08 at 4:50 pm

Chomsky? Ahmadinejad? But over at InTrade, it’s going hands-down to Ward Churchill. I saw it there a minute ago, anyway. Can’t find it now, for some reason. Let me check again after the peyote wears off.

19

Martin Bento 10.29.08 at 5:05 pm

The thing is: I actually agree with the conservatives about judicial restraint, but not only are they insincere about it (as the interventions of the current court show), but their canonical examples don’t seem to me to hold up. Roe v Wade? You can see a fetus as part of a woman’s body and therefore see abortion as a personal matter, or you can see a fetus as a human being and therefore see abortion as murder. Both are coherent positions. You could certainly argue that Roe was wrongly decided. But judicial activism? As in, it’s not a legitimate question for the Court to address? A fetus can be a human being in Georgia, but part of a woman’s body in New York? We tried this “basic human rights can be decided at the state level” thing back when we had slave states and free, and boy was it expensive to resolve that. If one believes that Roe’s concept of privacy overinterprets the Constitution, absent the privacy there is still no basis for an accusation of murder absent some assertion that a fetus has human rights. I suppose one could argue a default state right to regulate medical procedures regardless of the basis, but I don’t see how that conservatives to a basis for the strong claims they want to make. What am I missing?

I suspect “judicial activism” is coalition-building. The corporate world wants the Courts constrained for other reasons, so economic and social conservatives can make common cause if the arguments are framed in this way.

20

Jordan DeLange 10.29.08 at 6:21 pm

I’m more surprised by the number of Democrats and self-described progressives who fail to see that Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama are centrists, not liberals, let alone leftists. I suppose it’s a sign of how much the right has controlled the Overton window that Democrats too often believe the Republicans’ construction of Democratic candidates.

I hear this from some lefty types, and I’ve always wondered what the justification for it was (and I consider myself a lefty type, I’m just curious). As compared to European political parties? While the Clinton’s and Obama are hardly centrists regarding, say, abortion with respect to (many) Europeans I guess I can see that. But any cursory examination of Obama’s website shows him to be something of a center leftist with respect to, you know, the American electorate. So, for anyone who says that Obama is a centrist or someone on the center-right, is this in comparison to Europeans (and if so, why is that the appropriate comparison) or is this in comparison to some “objective measure of political orientation” that you have access to and I do not? Or something else?

21

mollymooly 10.29.08 at 7:01 pm

Ahmadinejad is rumoured to be in poor health, so maybe Muqtada al-Sadr would make a more enduring Chief Justice.

Regarding long lines at polling places: how long is the average wait on Election Day in the U.S.? In Ireland, in my experience, average waiting time is about ten seconds. Although we’re not so big on postal voting.

22

Righteous Bubba 10.29.08 at 7:07 pm

So, for anyone who says that Obama is a centrist or someone on the center-right, is this in comparison to Europeans (and if so, why is that the appropriate comparison) or is this in comparison to some “objective measure of political orientation” that you have access to and I do not? Or something else?

There’s the Golden Age to consider.

23

Steve LaBonne 10.29.08 at 7:08 pm

But any cursory examination of Obama’s website shows him to be something of a center leftist with respect to, you know, the American electorate.

That’s not what any number of polls say, when you ask people about actual policy choices without using party labels (so as to control for the effects of years of Republican well-poisoning.) My best estimate is that Obama is actually a centimeter or two to the right of public opinion, which is itself drifting leftward as the economy sours.

24

Kenny Easwaran 10.29.08 at 8:12 pm

Steve Labonne – there are certainly lots of policies that a majority of the public prefers the more “left” option on. But taking a separate poll on each issue doesn’t give an accurate left-right picture of the public. How many people actually prefer the more “left” option on every issue? I don’t know, but if we look at five issues, I wouldn’t be surprised if 60% prefer the more left option on each issue, and yet only 5 or 10% prefer the more left option on every issue. Thus, it’s perfectly possible for a candidate to be less left than “the electorate as a whole” (if you ascribe to this fictional entity the preference of the majority on each issue), while being more left than 80% of the individuals in the electorate.

Of course, this analysis depends on the empirical facts actually matching, but I would not be surprised if views on gay rights, affirmative action, free trade deals, and welfare (to name a few issues) bear only a moderate correlation with one another.

25

Jordan DeLange 10.29.08 at 8:34 pm

There’s the Golden Age to consider.

But which Great Society programs is Obama against? If he accepts most of them but also supports expanding Federal health care support beyond Medicare and Medicaid (and so on), how does comparing his proposals to the Great Society show him to be on the center right?

That’s not what any number of polls say, when you ask people about actual policy choices without using party labels (so as to control for the effects of years of Republican well-poisoning.) My best estimate is that Obama is actually a centimeter or two to the right of public opinion, which is itself drifting leftward as the economy sours.

I guess I was thinking something of the reverse and that Obama was a tad to the left of public opinion, at least on most things (I’d be quite happy to be wrong). Just perusing this doesn’t seem to throw up many instances where Obama is to the right of public opinion. Do you know any resources that do show Obama being a bit to the right?

26

Stuart 10.29.08 at 8:45 pm

So, for anyone who says that Obama is a centrist or someone on the center-right, is this in comparison to Europeans (and if so, why is that the appropriate comparison) or is this in comparison to some “objective measure of political orientation” that you have access to and I do not? Or something else?

Places like this regularly put pretty much the entire of US politics on the right wing.

27

Watson Aname 10.29.08 at 8:55 pm

Places like this regularly put pretty much the entire of US politics on the right wing.

Unsurprising if it’s attempting to measure against some sort of global left-right scale. It’s not clear how much sense can be made of that, nor how useful it might be (assuming some accuracy) except for attempting global comparisons.

28

Righteous Bubba 10.29.08 at 9:28 pm

But which Great Society programs is Obama against?

Has he called for the end of the “end of welfare as we know it” somewhere? There are Great Society programs left and I’m sure he supports them but the bag of goodies at http://www.barackobama.com/issues/ are not leftwards of that and I haven’t seen that he wants to reinstate the Great Society at all.

how does comparing his proposals to the Great Society show him to be on the center right?

It doesn’t, but your is this in comparison to some “objective measure of political orientation” that you have access to and I do not? Or something else? looked to other countries when you could also have looked to history. “Is Obama more or less liberal than FDR or LBJ” might be as useful a way to situate him politically as pointing only to the contemporary state of play.

29

engels 10.29.08 at 9:46 pm

I don’t think it’s at all obvious that the meaning of the word ‘left’ should be purely relational or context-sensitive. Mightn’t there be certain characteristics (eg. substantive egalitarianism, an oppositional attitude to capital, support among the working class, etc) that any genuinely leftwing movement must have in some degree? If none of these are at all salient in the Democratic party then it’s understandable that people would baulk at calling it ‘left’, or even ‘left of centre’, even if it is the leftmost mainstream political organisation in the US or it’s policy positions are among the leftmost ones which enjoy any significant popularity with the US population.

30

Righteous Bubba 10.29.08 at 9:49 pm

I don’t think it’s at all obvious that the meaning of the word ‘left’ should be purely relational or context-sensitive.

Right. Er, correct.

31

engels 10.29.08 at 9:50 pm

(I’m not trying to start an argument about whether these are the correct characteristics, or whether the Democratic party has them or not, just trying to show how the term might be used in other than a purely relational way.)

32

Jordan DeLange 10.29.08 at 10:16 pm

@Righteous Bubba

Has he called for the end of the “end of welfare as we know it” somewhere? … [His issues page] are not leftwards of that and I haven’t seen that he wants to reinstate the Great Society at all.

His issues page doesn’t seem too far to the right (if at all) of most of the war on poverty aspects of the great society. Job training programs, head start, food stamps are all in there. Its true he doesn’t call for bringing back the New Deal’s AFDC, but its not clear to me why that program is superior (or more “leftwing”) than increasing the minimum wage and the EITC and increasing child-care credits.

And in any case, if he wants to expand the federal government’s role in health care, through expanding CHIP and expanding access to health insurance generally, this would seem to put him to the left of Great Society programs, at least regarding health care, right?

Is Obama more or less liberal than FDR or LBJ” might be as useful a way to situate him politically as pointing only to the contemporary state of play.

I agree, and should have said before : that is another axis of comparison. I guess I still don’t see a justification for calling Obama a center-rightist on a historical conception, but if he is to the right of Great Society programs and we take them as our “center” then I see how that could work.

@Engels

There may well be commitments any movement must possess to qualify as left-wing. I guess I think when those commitments get translated into whether someone is center-left or center-right, Obama (and some of the Democrats in general) still comes out on the center left (albeit more towards the center than the left). I’d say that the commitments you listed are salient for some of those Democrats, and their stated policy goals with respect to labor unions, the minimum wage, taxes, and regulation would serve to put them on the left side of the center.

33

Jordan DeLange 10.29.08 at 10:20 pm

@ Engels

Oops, I didn’t see your latest comment, sorry. My point is I don’t really see a good reason to classify Obama as center right, on either a relational account or on one like yours. Whatever the correct account, it doesn’t seem like Obama really qualifies as “center right” is all I was trying to say. Incidentally, I think something like what you say is probably closest to what I mean when I talk about left-wing or right-wing or centrist policies or politicians.

34

Martin Bento 10.29.08 at 10:33 pm

engels,

It is a problem as left and right as used in both absolute and relative senses all the time. Part of what McCain is doing is deliberately conflating the notion that Obama is a bit to his left with the notion that Obama would be Leftist by the average global standards of the 20th century. Personally, I think it’s best to keep left and right relative though. We have other terms for substantive positions like “socialist” and “libertarian”; relative terms are also useful, and as metaphors for directions that are always defined relatively “left” and “right” are well-suited to that.

35

Martin Bento 10.29.08 at 10:39 pm

As for Obama, I think he is about dead center relative to the electorate, which I believe is the proper gauge. Pro: affordable heath care, choice, slightly more progressive taxation, greater financial regulation, winning in Afghanistan, basic civil liberties and rule of law. Anti: Iraq War, International belligerence generally. These seem to me to be positions with plurality if not majority support (though some might depend on phrasing). He might be pro-affirmative action, which I think is no longer close to a majority position, but that’s an outlier and something he has certainly not emphasized (and on which I expect him to let the status quo stand, rather than open the can of worms)

36

Righteous Bubba 10.29.08 at 11:00 pm

And in any case, if he wants to expand the federal government’s role in health care, through expanding CHIP and expanding access to health insurance generally, this would seem to put him to the left of Great Society programs, at least regarding health care, right?

Then, yes. Now I think it’s a less radical position given the evolution of the problem and the burden on employers.

In the rest of Obama’s platform I see a lot more coded calls for responsibility – an echo of the Clinton end of welfare to my eyes and a lure to reasonable conservatives – than I do about actually relieving poverty. That’s to be expected in today’s culture I suppose.

37

Martin Bento 10.29.08 at 11:14 pm

To elaborate on Bubba’s point, in the LBJ days I believe the percentage of the population well-covered by their employers was much higher and the cost or private insurance in real dollars much lower. It doesn’t make sense to evaluate positions without reference to the situation.

38

Jon H 10.30.08 at 4:20 am

I hope someone at WBEZ is kicking themselves for not keeping Odyssey going.

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