Josh Marshall helpfully pointed us all to a Focus on the Family radio interview of Mark Levin (author of Men in Black: How the Supreme Court is Destroying America, the latest right-wing bestseller) by James Dobson. Talk about a fair and balanced discussion…. it’s like listening to a couple of McCoys covering a Hatfield family reunion.Josh went right to the money quote near the end of the broadcast, when Dobson quotes some nameless minister who compared the white-robed men of the Ku Klux Klan to the black-robed men of the federal bench.And that’s vintage Dobson, who loves phony analogies depicting himself and his fellow extremists as brave souls defending themselves and the human race against totalitarian tyranny. A few years back, in a bout of self-pity about being “persecuted” by gay rights activists, Dobson took to comparing himself to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and other “Confessing Church” victims of Hitler. Now, apparently, he’s a Freedom Rider risking violence from the Klan.Any day now, I expect to see Dobson at some Save Tom DeLay rally leading a horde of lobbyists and cultural warriors, arms linked, in a heart-felt rendition of “We Shall Overcome.” The whole Dobson-Levin conversation is an eye-opener for those, like me, who haven’t quite had the stomach to digest the Latter-Day Right’s view of the U.S. Constitution. Levin is a real piece of work, and it is not good news that his bestselling book may provide hundreds of thousands of readers with their only exposure to constitutional law. Unless I am missing something, he seems to object not only to recent Supreme Court opinions, but to Marbury v. Madison, the landmark case that established the right of judicial review 202 years ago.Levin’s mastered the trick of stringing together every generally acknowledged constitutional abomination since then–Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson, Korematsu v. The United States–and breezily identifying them with Roe v. Wade, which creates a nice litany of “black-robed masters” enabling “slavery, segregation, internment and abortion.” His “solutions”–term limits for federal judges and a congressional veto of Supreme Court decisions–would, of course, require either constitutional amendments or armed revolution, but that doesn’t trouble Levin. At one point, he says “we can’t get our hands on the Supreme Court, but we can get our hands on elected officials.” Nice turn of phrase for a legal beagle, eh? But then again, in addition to being a best-selling author, Levin’s now a radio talk show host.The other really striking thing about the Dobson-Levin “interview” is exactly how far the Souderization of Justice Anthony Kennedy has gone. God, they hate this appointee of Ronald Reagan so much more than the “liberals” on the Court. With his usual stance of posing as a victim of those he is attacking, Dobson says: “Anthony Kennedy scares me;” Levin seems to posit Kennedy as at the center of a “cabal of radical leftists” who are literally taking over the country at the behest of “moral relativists” and one-worlders.This duo’s reasoning is something to behold. Dobson slips effortlessly from yammering about “lifetime appointees to the Court” to blasting Florida Circuit Court Judge George Greer, the Devil Figure in the Right’s view of the Schiavo case. I suspect Dobson knows Greer is an elected judge who won a new six-year term just last year, but hey, can’t cut those judicial murderers any slack, can you?After all, when you’re fighting today’s black-robed Klan, you have to fight fiery cross with fiery cross.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
After reading a few days worth of carping about Joe Biden’s performance, I decided enough’s enough and responded at New York:
Joe Biden has been president of the United States for 43 days. He inherited power from a predecessor who was trying to overturn the 2020 election results via insurrection just two weeks before Inaugural Day, and whose appointees refused the kind of routine transition cooperation other administrations took for granted. His party has a four-vote margin of control in the House, and only controls the Senate via the vice presidential tie-breaking vote (along with a power-sharing arrangement with Republicans). Democratic control of the Senate was not assured until the wee hours of January 6 when the results of the Georgia runoff were clear. Biden took office in the midst of a COVID-19 winter surge, a national crisis over vaccine distribution, and flagging economic indicators.
Biden named all his major appointees well before taking office, and as recommended by every expert, pushed for early confirmation of his national security team, which he quickly secured. After some preliminary discussions with Republicans that demonstrated no real possibility of GOP support for anything like the emergency $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief and stimulus package he had promised, and noting the votes weren’t there in the Senate for significant filibuster reform, Biden took the only avenue open to him. He instructed his congressional allies to pursue the budget reconciliation vehicle to enact his COVID package, with the goal of enacting it by mid-March, when federal supplemental unemployment insurance would run out. Going the reconciliation route meant exposing the package to scrutiny by the Senate parliamentarian
,It also virtually guaranteed total opposition from congressional Republicans, which in turn meant Senate Democratic unanimity would be essential.
The House passed the massive and complex reconciliation bill on February 27, right on schedule, with just two Democratic defections, around the same time as the Senate parliamentarian, to no one’s great surprise, deemed a $15 minimum wage provision (already opposed by two Senate Democrats) out of bounds for reconciliation. The Senate is moving ahead with a modified reconciliation bill, and the confirmation of Biden’s Cabinet is chugging ahead slowly but steadily. Like every recent president, he’s had to withdraw at least one nominee – in his case Neera Tanden for the Office of Management and Budget, though the administration’s pick for deputy OMB director is winning bipartisan praise and may be substituted smoothly for Tanden.
Add in his efforts to goose vaccine distribution — which has more than doubled since he took office — and any fair assessment of Biden’s first 43 days should be very positive. But the man is currently being beset by criticism from multiple directions. Republicans, of course, have united in denouncing Biden’s refusal to surrender his agenda in order to secure bipartisan “unity” as a sign that he’s indeed the radical socialist – or perhaps the stooge of radical socialists – that Donald Trump always said he was. Progressives are incensed by what happened on the minimum wage, though it was very predictable. And media critics are treating his confirmation record as a rolling disaster rather than a mild annoyance, given the context of a federal executive branch that was all but running itself for much of the last four years.
To be clear, I found fault with Biden’s presidential candidacy early and often. I didn’t vote for him in California’s 2020 primary. I worried a lot about Biden’s fetish for bipartisanship. I support a $15 minimum wage, and as a former Senate employee, have minimal respect for the upper chamber’s self-important traditions. But c’mon: what, specifically, is the alternative path he could have pursued the last 43 days? Republican criticism is not worthy of any serious attention: the GOP is playing the same old tapes it recorded in 2009 when Barack Obama (and his sidekick Biden) spent far too much time chasing Republican senators around Washington in search of compromises they never intended to make. While they are entitled to oppose Biden’s agenda, they are not entitled to kill it.
Progressive criticism of Biden feels formulaic. Years and years of investment in the rhetoric of the eternal “fight” and the belief that outrage shapes outcomes in politics and government have led to the habit of seeing anything other than total subscription to the left’s views as a sell-out. Yes, Kamala Harris could theoretically overrule the Senate parliamentarian on the minimum wage issue, but to what end? So long as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema oppose the $15 minimum wage, any Harris power play could easily be countered by a successful Republican amendment to strike the language in question, and perhaps other items as well. And if the idea is to play chicken with dissident Democrats over the fate of the entire reconciliation bill, is a $15 minimum wage really worth risking a $1.9 trillion package absolutely stuffed with subsidies for struggling low-income Americans? Are Fight for 15 hardliners perhaps conflating ends and means here?
Media carping about Biden’s legislative record so far is frankly just ridiculous. Presumably writing about the obscure and complicated details of reconciliation bills is hard and unexciting work that readers may find uninteresting, while treating Tanden’s travails as an existential crisis for the Biden administration provides drama, but isn’t at all true. The reality is that Biden’s Cabinet nominees are rolling through the Senate with strong confirmation votes (all but one received at least 64 votes), despite a steadily more partisan atmosphere for confirmations in recent presidencies. The COVID-19 bill is actually getting through Congress at a breakneck pace despite its unprecedented size and complexity. Trump’s first reconciliation bill (which was principally aimed at repealing Obamacare) didn’t pass the House until May 4, 2017, and never got through the Senate. Yes, Obama got a stimulus bill through Congress in February 2009, but it was less than half the size, much simpler, and more to the point, there were 59 Senate Democrats in office when it passed, which meant he didn’t even have to use reconciliation.
There’s really no exact precedent for Biden’s situation, particularly given the atmosphere of partisanship in Washington and the whole country right now, and the narrow window he and his party possess – in terms of political capital and time – to get important things done. He should not be judged on any one legislative provision or any one Cabinet nomination. So far the wins far outweigh the losses and omissions. Give the 46th president a break.