Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events
–Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1783)
As democracy is perfected, the office of the president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron.
–H. L. Mencken, The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 26, 1920
“A devious man, but when cornered a patriot.” That was Henry Kissinger’s assessment of Melivin Laird, who died today, at least as recorded by William Safire in his book Before the Fall.
For some reason, that line always stuck with me.
Rabbi Michael Lerner gave a barnburner of a memorial speech at the memorial for Muhammad Ali.
Based on the reaction shots, Bill Clinton seemed to really enjoy it, especially the part at 6:20.
Also tempts me to buy subscriptions to Tikkun for a few former students I know.
Here’s the optimal strategy if the President’s goal is to get a nominee past an obstructionist Republican Senate: appoint a flaming liberal as a recess appointment Justice, and couple that with the nomination of a middle-of-the road Supreme Court nomination for the permanent seat on the Court.
For the next few days — and only for the next few days — President Obama (arguably) has the right to make a recess appointment to the Supreme Court. To the limited extent there is a tradition (the appointment of Justice Brandeis), the tradition is that if a recess appointment is made the President then nominates the same person for a lifetime appointment.
But that tradition has quite a lot working against it. For starters, it means at least temporarily one Justice not only lacks lifetime tenure, but has to make decisions either with an eye towards confirmation, or in the teeth of the cost to possible confirmation. In these polarized times, that is asking a lot. Plus there is a real danger that the Justice is not confirmed in the end.
Why not instead appoint a temporary Justice, someone old enough for it to be the capstone to a distinguished career, and then a different, younger, person for the permanent position. Make the temporary appointment someone very very liberal (Patrica Wald? Stephen Reinhardt?); make the permanent appointment someone more moderate. Since the confirmation of the permanent Justice immediately removes the recess appointment Justice from office, the sooner he or she is confirmed, the fewer decisions the more liberal appointee gets to vote on. Thus, a vote against the permanent appointment becomes a vote for keeping the more liberal Justice in office. Not only does it put the GOP in a bind, but it creates cover for voting for the Democratic nominee.
On balance, I’m not sure I like this strategy as it ends up with a middle-of-the-road Justice, but unlike most other things I can think of, it does have some chance of working. You heard it here first.
Today’s top quote on President Obama’s tour of a federal prison:
As David Maraniss reported in his biography, Mr. Obama and his friends were so enthusiastic about their marijuana that they called their group the Choom Gang. Unlike the men he met on Thursday, however, Mr. Obama escaped that life and ultimately ended up at Harvard Law School, the Senate and now the White House.
He, too, has security around the clock. But they work for him.
Bonus quotes, not from today, in James Fallows’s Obama’s Grace, a very fine essay about President Obama’s eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney. It contains many sharp observations including this one:
Obama, certainly on purpose, “code switched” with regularity through the speech. Sometimes he spoke almost as if he were an A.M.E. preacher, and certainly as if he was so comfortable in this setting as to know its stresses and pronunciations and styles. Listen for the words “Shout Hallelujah!” about 12 minutes into the speech to hear this tone. …
In other places—including, fascinatingly, his most explicit discourse on racial justice late in the speech—Obama sounds as neutrally professional-class-white-American as he does in most speeches from the Oval Office.
It also includes this sharp aside, which is not about the President:
Political writers wonder when the Republican party will produce its next really shrewd strategist, the one who knows how to pick his battles rather than getting mired in obstructive pandering to the base. Such a figure already exists. His name is John Roberts.
Jon Schwartz writes, Russian Oligarch Boris Berezovsky Wanted to Turn My Joke Into Reality. The joke is
One of my core political beliefs is that there would still be a Soviet Union if they’d been smart enough to have two communist parties that agreed on everything except abortion.
Obviously that’s a joke about the U.S., where we have two capitalist parties that largely agree on everything. The exceptions are issues that matter a lot to the regular people who make up the two parties’ bases, but are largely irrelevant to party elites who fund and run both of them.
I first heard a version of this in the early seventies, when someone told me what was already an old saw about Kwame Nkrumah being interviewed by an American reporter for the AP shortly after taking Ghana to a one-part state in 1964.
“Don’t you believe in democracy, sir?” the reporter asked.
“Oh you Americans,” Nkrumah supposedly replied, “You already have a one-party state, but with typical American excess you have two of them.”
Update: It seems I’ve blogged this joke before. More American excess?