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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Presidents and Polls

In our chapters on public opinion (pp. 250-251) and the presidency (pp. 450-451), we discuss how presidents use polling to measure and shape public opinion. At the Huffington Post, Sam Stein adds some detail about the current administration:

In a speech at the National Urban League's 100th anniversary convention on Thursday, the president himself laughed at the "scribes and the pundits" who wonder why he pursues policies that don't poll well.

"I have to explain to them, I've got my own pollsters. But I wasn't elected just to do what's popular," Obama said. "I was elected to do what was right."

All of which may be true. But the administration, like those of the past, is far more invested and interested in the flow of public opinion than it lets on -- wary of the perception that it is operating off anything other than pure conviction. At one point during the presidential campaign, Obama was spending more money on pollsters than the notoriously poll-driven Clinton camp.

Part of the current buys has to do with the state of American politics. The Democratic Party has congressional majorities bigger than any of those Republicans enjoyed during the Bush administration. Keeping those majorities involves a duty to protect incumbents.

"We laid out an agenda in the election and we are pursuing it now," said a senior party official. "Our polling is to get the pulse of the American people, to understand where they are, what their priorities are and how they are responding to the policies we are pursuing."

Friday, July 30, 2010

Immigration Policy Memo

ABC News reports:

Critics of President Obama's immigration policy have pounced on an internal government memo they say shows the administration is trying to circumvent Congress on immigration reform and avoid deporting some illegal immigrants.

An undated, internal draft memo by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services leaked Thursday outlines "administrative relief options to… reduce the threat of removal for certain individuals present in the United States without authorization."

"In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform," it reads, "USCIS can extend benefits and/or protections to many individuals and groups by issuing new guidance and regulations."

The memo describes possible steps the agency could take to address the situation of the country's estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants, including granting some groups conditional legal residency.

One of the most controversial proposals in the document involves immigration courts showing greater leniency in some deportation cases by "deferring action"– possibly indefinitely.

This story touches on several items that we discuss in the book:

  • Citizenship and the status of undocumented aliens;
  • The oversight role of Congress;
  • The importance of administrative action.

The story also involves deliberation:

U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services press secretary Christopher Bentley responded to the accusations saying, "nobody should mistake deliberation and exchange of ideas for final decisions. To be clear, the Department of Homeland Security will not grant deferred action or humanitarian parole to the nation's entire illegal immigrant population."

"Internal memoranda help us do the thinking that leads to important changes; some of them are adopted and others are rejected. Our goal is to implement policies wisely and well to strengthen all aspects of our mission," he said

For more, see a news story posted by Senator Charles Grassley:

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fiscal Crisis

In our chapter on economic policy, we discuss the growing federal deficit and debt. The Congressional Budget Office explains the possible consequences:
Although deficits during or shortly after a recession generally hasten economic recovery, persistent deficits and continually mounting debt would have several negative economic consequences for the United States. Some of those consequences would arise gradually: A growing portion of people’s savings would go to purchase government debt rather than toward investments in productive capital goods such as factories and computers; that “crowding out” of investment would lead to lower output and incomes than would otherwise occur. In addition, if the payment of interest on the extra debt was financed by imposing higher marginal tax rates, those rates would discourage work and saving and further reduce output. Rising interest costs might also force reductions in spending on important government programs. Moreover, rising debt would increasingly restrict the ability of policymakers to use fiscal policy to respond to unexpected challenges, such as economic downturns or international crises.

Beyond those gradual consequences, a growing level of federal debt would also increase the probability of a sudden fiscal crisis, during which investors would lose confidence in the government’s ability to manage its budget, and the government would thereby lose its ability to borrow at affordable rates. It is possible that interest rates would rise gradually as investors’ confidence declined, giving legislators advance warning of the worsening situation and sufficient time to make policy choices that could avert a crisis. But as other countries’ experiences show, it is also possible that investors would lose confidence abruptly and interest rates on government debt would rise sharply. The exact point at which such a crisis might occur for the United States is unknown, in part because the ratio of federal debt to GDP is climbing into unfamiliar territory and in part because the risk of a crisis is influenced by a number of other factors, including the government’s long-term budget outlook, its near-term borrowing needs, and the health of the economy. When fiscal crises do occur, they often happen during an economic downturn, which amplifies the difficulties of adjusting fiscal policy in response.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Massachusetts Endorses National Popular Vote

An earlier post dealt with the National Popular Vote proposal for the electoral college. As The Boston Globe reports, the Massachusetts Legislature has now acted on it:

"What we are submitting is the idea that the president should be selected by the majority of people in the United States of America," Senator James B. Eldridge, an Acton Democrat, said before the Senate voted to enact the bill.

Under the new bill, he said, "Every vote will be of the same weight across the country."

But Senate minority leader Richard Tisei said the state was meddling with a system that was "tried and true" since the founding of the country.

"We've had a lot of bad ideas come through this chamber over the years, but this is going to be one of the worst ideas that has surfaced and actually garnered some support," said Tisei, who is also the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.

The bill, which passed on a 28-to-9 vote, now heads to Democratic Governor Deval Patrick's desk. The governor has said in the past that he supports the bill, said his spokeswoman Kim Haberlin.

Former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, likes the idea. From The Salem News:

Why is it so important to pass this legislation? Because under the current system, running for president means just one thing: Focus on the so-called swing states. I did it. Al Gore did it. John Kerry and Barack Obama did it, and our Republican opponents did it, too.

A big turnout in Massachusetts and more than two-thirds of the other states is irrelevant to winning the election. Only winning the swing states matters, and presidential candidates are under tremendous pressure to embrace issues and positions that will resonate in those few states. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that in the past several presidential elections, candidates have spent almost all of their time between Labor Day and Election Day in about six states. That's not healthy, and it's not right.

At National Review, Tara Ross argues that the idea would thwart the Founders' design:

The Massachusetts legislature has forgotten (or never knew) the lessons of history that caused the founding generation to create institutions such as the Electoral College. The Founders had an interesting challenge in front of them: How could they encourage successful self-governance in a country as big and diverse as America? They faced two challenges: First, they knew that, as a matter of history, pure democracies fail. John Adams once noted, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” In such a system, it is simply too easy for bare or emotional majorities to tyrannize minority groups. The Founders’ second challenge came from the vastness of America’s territory: Some wondered how the alternative to democracy, republicanism, would operate in such a large nation.

The Founders solved their dilemma by drafting a Constitution that blended three different governmental principles: republicanism, democracy, and federalism. America would be self-governing, but minority groups (especially the small states) would have tools with which to protect themselves from unreasonable rule by the majority. The federalist aspects of the nation would help solve the problem of extending a republic across such a broad swath of territory.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Our chapter on the mass media discusses the role of leaks in news reporting (p. 381). And our chapter on national security and foreign policy looks at the advantages and disadvantages of secrecy (pp. 595-596). Both issues have come up with the recent case of Wikileaks, which has revealed a large number of classified documents concerning the war in Afghanistan. PBS reports:

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ashley Judd and Public Service

Actress Ashley Judd recently earned a graduate degree at Harvard. The New York Times explains:

Ms. Judd, who plays tough-yet-vulnerable women on Broadway and in film (“Double Jeopardy,” “The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood”), has spent the last year in the midcareer master’s program in public administration at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Hollywood has always had its share of activists — from Ronald Reagan and Warren Beatty to Madonna and Angelina Jolie. But Ms. Judd is one of the few to get formal training in public service.

She hardly lacks for causes. She has delivered impassioned speeches to the United Nations General Assembly about sex- and labor-trafficking, and to the National Press Club about mountaintop-removal mining in Kentucky, her home state. She is a board member of PSI, a global health organization where she has worked on issues like maternal health, family planning and malaria prevention.

During her travels in developing countries, she has met women who support themselves with native handicrafts. But it was Martha Chen, one of her Harvard instructors, who taught her the concept of the “informal economy” that exists beyond the regulated economy.

Ms. Judd says she attended Harvard not for the prestige — “compare, despair,” she says — but to become a more effective activist. “I didn’t go to Harvard Kennedy School to be approved of by anyone, but to immerse myself in some very serious, earnest, practical learning with people who have literally dedicated all they have to public service.”

(She is not the only Hollywood figure with such a degree. Actor Peter Falk earned his MPA at Syracuse University's Maxwell School, albeit before his acting career.)

In this video, Ms. Judd talks about the International Violence Against Women Act:

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Joshua DuBois

A profile of the White House point person on religion:

The young minister's alarm goes off at 6 a.m., time for his own devotional and the one he will send to the president of the United States.

This particular morning, Joshua DuBois meditates on the disciple Peter's first letter to the early church. The text he prays over and e-mails to Barack Obama half an hour later is about something else.

It's a private start to the day for the president and the pastor, a spiritual BlackBerry session they guard carefully.

Hours later, they meet in a public setting, when the president arrives to give a speech at a community center.

DuBois is wearing an ear bud and carrying a clipboard, standard equipment for a mid-level White House staffer. Obama climbs from his car and greets DuBois and another aide with a casual, "Hey, guys."

A sheen of perspiration glistens at DuBois' hairline as the group heads toward the stage area. He keeps a deferential step behind Obama.

Colleagues say DuBois is entitled to a spot on the platform, as director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Read more:

See interviews with DuBois:

Saturday, July 24, 2010

DISCLOSE and Deliberation

This is the Democrats' response to the Supreme Courts' recent Citizens United v. FEC ruling. It seeks to increase transparency of corporate and special-interest money in national political campaigns. It would require organizations involved in political campaigning to disclose the identity of the large donors, and to reveal their identities in any political ads they fund. It would also bar foreign corporations, government contractors and TARP recipients from making political expenditures. Notably, the bill would exempt all long-standing, non-profit organizations with more than 500,000 members from having to disclose their donor lists.
The proposal, which has passed the House, enjoys the president's support:

I welcome the introduction of this strong bi-partisan legislation to control the flood of special interest money into America’s elections. Powerful special interests and their lobbyists should not be able to drown out the voices of the American people. Yet they work ceaselessly toward that goal: they claim the protection of the Constitution in extending this power, and they exploit every loophole in the law to escape limits on their activities. The legislation introduced today would establish the toughest-ever disclosure requirements for election-related spending by big oil corporations, Wall Street and other special interests, so the American people can follow the money and see clearly which special interests are funding political campaign activity and trying to buy representation in our government. I have long believed that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and this legislation will shine an unprecedented light on corporate spending in political campaigns. This bill will also prohibit foreign entities from manipulating the outcomes of American elections and help close other special interest loopholes.

At the Cato Institute, John Samples argues that it would be bad for deliberative democracy:
Disclosure is often assumed to provide many benefits to voters while rarely imposing costs on speakers. Here the link between the mandates in the bill and useful information for most voters seems weaker than with contributions. A few voters who already have a lot of knowledge about politics may find the disclosed information useful. Many other voters may use the information about the funding of ads to act contrary to the message of the ad. At the margin, DISCLOSE will encourage debate about the origins of electoral messages rather than about their truth, which may be counted a cost to society insofar as fostering illogical or irrational debates ill serves a deliberative democracy. While DISCLOSE may chill some speech, its mandates will certainly make American elections less rational and deliberative, a cost easily missed in the partisan struggle. The costs of mandated disclosure may be higher and its benefits lower than most people assume.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Deliberation in the White House and Capitol Hill

AP reports:
President Barack Obama has ordered a more patient, deliberative style of governance from his aides and Cabinet members in the wake of a convulsive week surrounding the ouster of Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod.

After telling Sherrod he regretted her forced resignation over racial remarks she made to an NAACP audience, Obama said in a nationally broadcast network interview he believes Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack "jumped the gun" in sacking the veteran Georgian federal worker.

A furor erupted this week over a conservative blogger's posting of portions of a speech Sherrod gave in which she told of giving short shrift attention 24 years ago to the pleas for financial aid by a poor white farmer. Sherrod is black, and the operator of the website posted a portion of her speech. The blogger, Andrew Breitbart, said he did so to illustrate racism within the NAACP, which earlier accused the tea party of having racist elements.
In an interview, House Republican Leader John Boehner discussed how his party would run the House if it regained a majority:
He said he wants bills posted online at least three days in advance, and he wants cameras in the Rules Committee room. He also insists he won’t be like past Republican speakers, vowing to be candid and straightforward in his dealings with the public and media.

“I am not Barack Obama and I am not Nancy Pelosi,” he said. “I say what I mean, and I mean what I say. And those of you who have dealt with me over the years know that that’s a fact and it will remain a fact.”

And like many Democrats and Republicans of late, Boehner bemoaned the state of Washington politics. The House, he said, is devoid of legislators and many are merely “members.”

“This is supposed to be the greatest deliberative body in the history of the world,” he said. “But there’s very little deliberation, there’s very little, very few legislators among the 435 members. And I really think that members are being short-changed. I came out of the Ohio Legislature, a place where it was a legislature and you were taught and you learned how to become a legislator. And I think that we need legislators in the U.S. Capitol.”

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Confidence in Institutions

Gallup has released its annual survey on confidence in institutions. As we note in our chapter on foreign policy and national security (pp. 597-598), the military has great prestige, and the poll confirms that it still commands more confidence than other institutions on the list. Other notable findings are that confidence in the presidency has plunged 15 percent in the past year and that confidence in Congress is at just 11 percent, its lowest point ever.

Confidence in Institutions -- % Great Deal or Quite a Lot of Confidence, June 2009 and July 2010, and Difference Between the Two

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

American Exceptionalism and Culture

In National Review, James C. Bennett says that culture underlies American exceptionalism:
American exceptionalism took on institutional and legal form with the Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. These milestones certainly make us exceptional, but they should be understood in the context of the cultural foundations that preceded them, which gave rise to a constitutional republic and have kept it going for over two centuries. The lesson is that American exceptionalism is primarily cultural, and only secondarily constitutional or economic or technological or military. Our rule of law, our economic might, our technological dynamism, our military power, all rest on cultural foundations that have taken form over four centuries in North America, and have deeper roots going back to England.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tea Party and the Constitution

The Constitutional Accountability Center, a progressive think tank, has released Setting the Record Straight: The Tea Party and the Constitutional Powers of the Federal Government, In this paper, Elizabeth Wydra and David Gans argue against the tea party movement's claim that our country’s Founders established a sharply limited national government. (Some of this material appeared in a Huffington Post article, cited here.)
This Issue Brief documents first that the Founders established the federal government to act whenever the states were “separately incompetent” and granted the federal government broad power to, among other things, regulate interstate commerce and tax and spend to promote the general welfare. To be sure, our Constitution established a national government of enumerated and not unlimited powers, as affirmed by the Tenth Amendment and recognized by the Supreme Court in cases such as United States v. Lopez. But while these powers are enumerated, they are also broad and substantial.

Second, we chronicle how most constitutional amendments ratified by “We the People” in the last two centuries have expanded the enumerated powers of the federal government, building on the already robust powers granted to Congress in the 1789 text of the Constitution. These amendments gave vast powers to the federal government to protect equality, civil rights, and voting rights and to raise funds through taxes on income.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Counter-Terrorism, Bureaucracy and Deliberation

In our chapter on national security and foreign policy, we describe the complexity of the intelligence community and the efforts to improve its coordination after the 9/11 attacks (see pp. 603-604). In an important article today, The Washington Post indicates that problems persist, and in some ways, have gotten worse.

The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.

The Washington Post that discovered what amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight. After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.

The investigation's other findings include:

* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.

* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.

* In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings - about 17 million square feet of space.

* Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.

* Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year - a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.

Deliberation depends on the ability to gather and comprehend relevant information. But size and complexity pose daunting obstacles, as the article reveals:

In the Department of Defense, where more than two-thirds of the intelligence programs reside, only a handful of senior officials - called Super Users - have the ability to even know about all the department's activities. But as two of the Super Users indicated in interviews, there is simply no way they can keep up with the nation's most sensitive work.

"I'm not going to live long enough to be briefed on everything" was how one Super User put it. The other recounted that for his initial briefing, he was escorted into a tiny, dark room, seated at a small table and told he couldn't take notes. Program after program began flashing on a screen, he said, until he yelled ''Stop!" in frustration.

"I wasn't remembering any of it," he said.

Religion and Immigration

In the Orange County Register, Dena Bunis reports:

Lawmakers and clergy members traded biblical passages on Capitol Hill Wednesday at an immigration subcommittee hearing on the moral implications of comprehensive immigration reform.

Rev. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics and religious liberty commission, quoted Matthew, Leviticus and Micah, passages which talked about the biblical mandate to care for “the least of these among us,’’ to care for the “strangers” who reside in our land and to act “justly and mercifully.’’

But Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, had a different interpretation of some of those same passages and had his own to cite.

“The scriptures clearly indicates that God charges civil authorities with preserving order, protect citizens and punishing wrongdoers,’’ Smith said, quoting Romans that says “Let every person be subject to governing authority.’’

And when it comes to Matthew calling on people to care for the least among us, Smith said that refers to acts of individual kindness; that it doesn’t mandate a particular policy on government.

The New York Times

At a time when the prospects for immigration overhaul seem most dim, supporters have unleashed a secret weapon: a group of influential evangelical Christian leaders.

Normally on the opposite side of political issues backed by the Obama White House, these leaders are aligning with the president to support an overhaul that would include some path to legalization for illegal immigrants already here. They are preaching from pulpits, conducting conference calls with pastors and testifying in Washington — as they did last Wednesday.

“I am a Christian and I am a conservative and I am a Republican, in that order,” said Matthew D. Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a conservative religious law firm. “There is very little I agree with regarding President Barack Obama. On the other hand, I’m not going to let politicized rhetoric or party affiliation trump my values, and if he’s right on this issue, I will support him on this issue.”

When President Obama gave a major address pushing immigration overhaul this month, he was introduced by a prominent evangelical, the Rev. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois. Three other evangelical pastors were in the audience, front and center.

Their presence was a testament, in part, to the work of politically active Hispanic evangelical pastors, who have forged friendships with non-Hispanic pastors in recent years while working in coalitions to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage. The Hispanics made a concerted effort to convince their brethren that immigration reform should be a moral and practical priority.

Hispanic storefront churches are popping up in strip malls, and Spanish-speaking congregations are renting space in other churches. Some pastors, like Mr. Hybels, lead churches that include growing numbers of Hispanics. Several evangelical leaders said they were convinced that Hispanics are the key to growth not only for the evangelical movement, but also for the social conservative movement.

Also see:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Marijuana and Federalism

In The Los Angeles Times, Mark Kleiman reinforces a point that this blog made on an earlier post:
There's one problem with legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis at the state level: It can't be done. The federal Controlled Substances Act makes it a felony to grow or sell cannabis. California can repeal its own marijuana laws, leaving enforcement to the feds. But it can't legalize a federal felony. Therefore, any grower or seller paying California taxes on marijuana sales or filing pot-related California regulatory paperwork would be confessing, in writing, to multiple federal crimes. And that won't happen.

True, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. has announced that the Justice Department will not prosecute people who are selling medical marijuana in compliance with California's law. But that's an entirely different matter. The attorney general could cite good legal and constitutional reasons for that policy, because the regulation of medical practice is a state and not a federal responsibility. And if the medical justification for most of the pot sold through dispensaries is sketchy at best? Well, that too is a state problem. The international treaties that require their signatories, including the United States, to ban the production and sale of cannabis have an exception for medical use.

Most important, the feds can afford to take a laid-back attitude toward California's medical marijuana trade because it's unlikely to cause much of a trafficking problem in the rest of the country. Because dispensaries' prices are just as high as those for black-market marijuana, there's not much temptation to buy the "medical" sort in California and resell it out of state.

By contrast, the non-medical cannabis industry that would be allowed if Proposition 19 passed would quickly fuel a national illicit market. According to a study issued by the RAND Corp.'s Drug Policy Research Center this month, if the initiative passes, the pretax retail price of high-grade sinsemilla marijuana sold legally in California is likely to drop to under $40 per ounce, compared with current illicit-market (or dispensary) prices of $300 an ounce and more. Yes, the counties would have authority to tax the product, but even at a tax rate of $50 an ounce — more than 100% of the pretax price — the legal California product would still be a screaming bargain by national standards, at less than one-third of current black-market prices.

Divided Government

Ronald Brownstein says that the decline of faith in parties may have contributed to the rise of divided government:

One party simultaneously controlled the White House and Congress for 50 of the 58 years from 1896 through 1954. Republicans held all of Washington's levers for 14 years under three presidents (1896-1910) and for another 10 under three others (1920-30). Democrats held unified control for six years under Woodrow Wilson, and for 14 under Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman (1932-46). Truman and Republican Dwight Eisenhower then managed another six years of unified government between them. During the 1960s, Democrats held the House and Senate throughout the eight years that John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson sat in the White House.

Occasionally during these periods, the governing party lost effective control of Congress (as FDR did after 1938). But mostly, this enduring authority allowed the dominant party to pass, implement, and entrench an agenda that set a distinct and durable direction for the country. From Jefferson and Lincoln to Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, presidents from these periods of consolidated control have usually left the deepest marks on America.

But since 1968, only Jimmy Carter (1976-80) and George W. Bush (2002-06) have secured unified control for as long as four consecutive years. (Bush added another four months in 2001 until a party-switcher cost Republicans their Senate majority.) Bill Clinton managed only two years with undivided authority until the GOP captured both congressional chambers in 1994. This fall, Barack Obama also could lose one or both chambers after just two years. No other president in this period ever achieved undivided control. Overall, one party has managed unified control for only 12 of the past 42 years (plus those four months).

Saturday, July 17, 2010

States and Immigration

In our federalism chapter, we have a box on state government policies on immigration (pp. 94-95). The Los Angeles Times provides an update:
Colorado restricts illegal immigrants from receiving in-state tuition. Nebraska requires verification of immigration status to obtain public benefits. In Tennessee, knowingly presenting a false ID card to get a job is a misdemeanor.

Arizona's strict new law has generated the most controversy, but there are hundreds of immigration-related laws on the books across the country. The laws regulate employment, law enforcement, education, benefits and healthcare.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit last week to stop the Arizona law from taking effect July 29, saying that immigration policy is a national responsibility and "a patchwork of state laws will only create more problems than it solves." But according to experts, that is precisely what exists.

In fact, the number of immigration-related laws and resolutions enacted by states surged to 333 last year, up from 32 in 2005, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And during the first three months of 2010, lawmakers introduced more than 1,000 bills and resolutions, though it's too early to tell how many will become law. Bills on topics such as employment verification and driver's license requirements are on the table in 45 states.

Deliberation in Pennsylvania

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports:

The gnarled, centuries-old issue of Allegheny County's divided governance is about to get a fresh look from 300 people who don't even know it yet.

A sample of 300 residents, chosen to reflect the county's demographic and partisan makeup, will be a centerpiece of an effort spearheaded by The Pittsburgh Foundation to get governmental cooperation moving, officials said Friday. The effort is not meant to replace a stalled, 27-month-old push to merge the county with the city of Pittsburgh but is in part a recognition that other avenues may be more productive.


The 300 residents will be engaged in what's called a "deliberative poll." They'll be asked to review materials on policing, broken into small groups and invited to submit questions to a panel of experts. After they've talked with the experts, they'll be polled, and their attitudes will be distilled into a series of pie charts, said Robert Cavalier, a Carnegie Mellon University philosophy professor who heads the Program for Deliberative Democracy. The program has been leading deliberative polls since 2004.

Participants "bring with them their own experience," said Dr. Cavalier, and typically develop "a deep appreciation of the details" when they're invited to study an issue. The result is a "much richer and more nuanced appreciation of citizens' opinions" than can be had through a phone poll.

See also an article in The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Congress and the Application of Laws

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle took Rand Paul to task when he suggested earlier this year that Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act shouldn’t apply to private businesses.

But a new report from Congress’s Office of Compliance notes that Congress has never applied the provision to itself.

“The OOC Board of Directors has taken the position that the rights and protections afforded by Titles II and III of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against discrimination with respect to places of public accommodation should be applied to the legislative branch,” OOC officials wrote in the report.

In Federalist 57, Madison wrote:

I will add, as a fifth circumstance in the situation of the House of Representatives, restraining them from oppressive measures, that they can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as on the great mass of the society. This has always been deemed one of the strongest bonds by which human policy can connect the rulers and the people together. It creates between them that communion of interests and sympathy of sentiments, of which few governments have furnished examples; but without which every government degenerates into tyranny. If it be asked, what is to restrain the House of Representatives from making legal discriminations in favor of themselves and a particular class of the society? I answer: the genius of the whole system; the nature of just and constitutional laws; and above all, the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America -- a spirit which nourishes freedom, and in return is nourished by it.

If this spirit shall ever be so far debased as to tolerate a law not obligatory on the legislature, as well as on the people, the people will be prepared to tolerate any thing but liberty.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

James Madison and Party Politics on the Hill

As William F. Connelly Jr. puts it in a new book of the same title, "James Madison rules America." Case in point: A Washington Post story on internal Democratic tensions illustrates how bicameralism and the separation of powers continue to shape party politics:

House members complain that the White House routinely shows them disrespect. Until recently, some said, administration aides would wait until the last minute to inform them when a Cabinet official would be traveling to their districts to give a speech or announce a government grant. Lawmakers love these events, which let them take advantage of local press coverage.

House Democrats are far more upset that they have repeatedly voted to support Obama's agenda and then felt they were left to fend for themselves when the legislation was watered down in the Senate. First with the nearly $800 billion stimulus plan and then again with the landmark health-care bill, House members approved far-reaching, controversial early versions that reflected the White House's desires. But the bills stalled in the Senate under Republican filibuster threats and were scaled back. Now these lawmakers are left to defend their earlier votes on the campaign trail.

Some representatives from industrial states are especially angry over their efforts to enact climate change legislation. At the urging of the president and Pelosi, the House narrowly approved a controversial bill in June 2009. But more than a year later, the Senate has yet to take up the issue, leaving lawmakers feeling as if the White House pushed them to take a huge political risk -- and one they now have to explain to the voters -- for nothing.

"My experience is, we always feel neglected. The experience the Republicans had with Bush -- they felt neglected. That's the nature of the relationship between the House and the White House," House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) said before Wednesday night's White House huddle.

Civic Virtue Under Stress

Doyle McManus writes in The Los Angeles Times:

As the recession deepens, participation in civic activities — community organizations, volunteer groups, even church attendance and social clubs — is likely to drop. Sociologists once assumed that during hard times people would naturally band together, if only to protest their plight or to give each other solace. It turns out that the opposite is true: Economic distress causes people to withdraw.

"Rather than get together and hold community meetings or march in protest, the effect of unemployment in the Great Depression was to cause people to hunker down," said Robert D. Putnam, the Harvard sociologist whose book, "Bowling Alone," examines Americans' civic engagement in the 20th century. "We found exactly the same thing in the recessions of the 1970s and 1980s … and I'm pretty confident we'll see the same pattern in this recession too."

Though a few political movements, such as the "tea party," may have been invigorated by the downturn, more broad-based civic organizations such as the League of Women Voters have seen their membership drop.

Why does civic participation drop during hard times? Jennie E. Brand of UCLA studied the ripple effect of unemployment among families in Wisconsin, and she says there are several reasons: People who lose their jobs feel depressed; they sometimes feel ashamed of their financial troubles; they lose some of their trust in society; and some of them move to new communities where they have no ties.

See also a 2009 post on the Social Capital blog.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Invoking the Constitution

At NPR, Mara Liasson says that members of the tea party movement frequently invoke the Constitution.

This isn't the first time the Constitution has been invoked by a social movement. Abolitionists, feminists, Dixiecrats and the civil rights movement have all appealed to the Constitution, says Akhil Amar, who teaches law and political science at Yale.

"Dr. Martin Luther King actually says, 'I'm here to redeem the Constitution, it actually does say equal, and we're not doing equal,' " Amar says. "And now we're seeing a populist movement on the right, and both of them are claiming a constitutional legacy."

But these days, says Amar, the grass-roots debate over the true meaning of the Constitution is a little one-sided. "I think it's a mistake for folks on the left to concede the Constitution rather than claim it as their rightful inheritance," he says. "If one side is claiming it, and the other side is not, I think that the side that claims it has a huge advantage in the culture wars."

King's exact words, in the "I Have a Dream" speech:

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Craig McPherson, a Republican congressional candidate in Kansas who is sympathetic to the tea party movement, invoked those words in a defense of the movement.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Religion, Legislative Leadership, and Speaker Pelosi

In The Christian Science Monitor, Gail Russell Chaddock offers a shrewd portrait of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, illustrating the fine points of legislative leadership and the pervasive influence of religion on American politics:

Even before she took over as Speaker, Pelosi had maintained close relations with Catholic women's religious organizations. They shared not only the same faith but often also the same politics. Catholic activists would meet at least weekly with members of her office. They worked together on issues such as support for the uninsured, child nutrition, immigration, and expanding health coverage for poor children. Those ties were about to become pivotal.


A week before the vote [on comprehensive health legislation], it had all come down to a fierce, intraparty dispute over language limiting federal funding of abortion. Rep. Bart Stupak, an anti-abortion Democrat from Michigan, publicly backed by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he and at least 40 of his supporters would vote down a Senate bill that did not contain the stronger House language blocking public abortion funding.

In response, 40 abortion-rights Democrats, led by Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado, signed a letter pledging to vote down any legislation that further restricted a woman's right to choose. For the speaker, it appeared to be a cul-de-sac.

Enter the nuns. In a decisive move, Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, and Sister Simone Campbell, representing NETWORK, a social-justice lobby for Catholic churchwomen, said publicly that the Senate language did not, in fact, expand federal funding for abortion and announced their support of the Senate bill – a rare public break with the bishops. "Our contacts there [in Pelosi's office] helped us know the rhythm and concerns of the speaker's office," Sister Campbell says. "We knew where the votes were or weren't. It's not rocket science. Key Catholic votes were needed – and [these members] needed assurance that this new abortion mechanism would work."

Mr. Stupak was stunned. "We had never heard of these nuns before," he says.

At the climactic hour, Pelosi offered Stupak and other holdouts a sweetener: The White House would issue an executive order clarifying that public funds would not be used to fund abortion. This agreement, as well as the public backing of the Catholic churchwomen, gave anti-abortion Democrats cover for backing the Senate bill – and gave Pelosi her last critical votes for passing the Senate health-care bill. "Three or four in the Stupak coalition went over to the other side explicitly saying they [were] moved by the nuns...," says Deal Hudson, president of the Catholic Advocate, an anti-abortion advocacy group. "So it was a very powerful move at that moment in time."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Video on Naturalization

From ReasonTV, a libertarian site:

Knowledge and Politics

In our chapter on public opinion and participation, we note studies suggesting that Americans do not know as much about politics and policy as one might want in a deliberative democracy. An article in The Boston Globe adds some detail:
Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.
In the field of economics, two researchers have come up with an equally disturbing result. Analyzing a December 2008 Zogby International nationwide survey of 4,385 American adults, they found:
[F]or people inclined to take such a survey, basic economic enlightenment is not correlated with going to college. We also show economic enlightenment by ideological groups, and we show that the finding about education holds up even when we look within each ideological group (with perhaps the exception of the “conservative” group).
(One of the authors also had a recent Wall Street Journal article on their findings about ideology and economic knowledge.)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Political Ads

At Politics Daily, Walter Shapiro has some shrewd observations about the continued dominance of TV ads in state and national races:
The enduring power of television in politics is partly due to the little-known fee structure under which media consultants in both parties have been traditionally paid: They receive as much as 10 percent to 15 percent of the total ad buy as their commission. True, in recent years, some frugal and smart campaigns have demanded that their media consultants work for a flat fee like pollsters. But whatever the details (and they are almost impossible to decipher from candidate filings to the Federal Election Commission), this antiquated payment formula for media consultants guarantees heavy pressure to spend virtually the entire campaign budget on television.

But there is another intriguing reason why campaign tactics in both parties are about as creative and innovative as those employed by the French general staff during World War II. No major candidate is willing to risk his or her political future on untried campaign plans built around embracing new media and playing down TV spots. With a Senate seat or a governorship at stake, the political herd instinct is as powerful as it is debilitating. So every campaign resembles every other campaign with cookie-cutter ads since the creative potential of 30-second spots was exhausted decades ago.


The Los Angeles Times reports:

The consummate public servant, Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D- Texas) can now be summoned by his constituents 24/7 with the click of a remote.

Cable subscribers in Ortiz's district and five others can watch up to 30 minutes of on-demand programming from their legislators, just as they view reruns of their favorite shows and movies. A new service called MiCongress offers members of the House of Representatives the chance to buy their own personal cable channels for an average of $2,000 a month.

A prerecorded video that will air on Ortiz's channel illustrates his path to politics with grainy black-and-white photos of him as a chubby tot in his Sunday best and a young soldier standing at attention.

"Never did I even dream that I would be where I am today," Ortiz explains, accompanied by a wind symphony.

The new technology is raising some eyebrows, however, because taxpayers are picking up the tab.

Representatives can pay for the service with their tax-funded office budgets as long as the videos are nonpartisan and issue-oriented, the same standard set for congressional mailings.

Last month, The Washington Post reported:

So far, five members have signed up: Reps. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.), James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), Solomon P. Ortiz (D-Tex.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Heath Shuler (D-N.C.). The service costs two cents per reachable constituent and allows lawmakers to make available about 30 minutes of video at any given time. They are permitted to use their office budgets under Congress's franking rules, because it is not considered partisan or campaign speech.

The first to sign up was Moran, who has big plans for the channel, spokeswoman Emily Blout said. The target audience is the young professional set that makes up 40 percent of his Northern Virginia district, she said.

"In days gone by, you'd send out a newsletter blast to tell people what you've been doing, but a lot of people these days don't read that stuff," she said. "They don't have the time or the inclination to read a pamphlet. This is another means for the congressman to provide services to the community."

Moran's channel contains clips of him explaining his views on several issues. It also includes a biographical video, though you would be forgiven for mistaking it for a campaign commercial.

So, is MiCongress a way of encouraging deliberation and civic participation, or is it a thinly-disguised campaign tool? Or both?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Separation of Powers and Party Politics

Even at times of party polarization, the separation of powers creates tensions between presidents and their partisans on Capitol Hill. Lisa Mascaro reports in The Los Angeles Times:

On the eve of the vote last week, Democratic leaders compiled a complicated $82-billion package of war funding, disaster aid and domestic spending that achieved the seemingly impossible — meeting the president's request while accommodating the needs of its politically diverse members.

Obama responded with a one-word message that sent shudders through his party on the Hill: veto.

In that exchange, the tension between the White House and the president's Democratic allies spilled over.


"The White House needs to be more engaged with the House's agenda," said Rep. Steve Cohen, an antiwar Democrat from Tennessee. "The House is where its friends are."

As Obama turns to these friends in the weeks ahead, he may find it increasingly difficult to persuade them to yield to his remaining legislative priorities.

"I don't give a rip about the administration," said Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Atwater), whose Merced-area district in Central California faces one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. "The administration can decide to be with us or not. I'm all about jobs for my district."

This tension appears in both parties. In 1990, when President George H.W. Bush was trying to get House Republicans to back an unpopular tax increase, Representative Mickey Edwards (R-OK) said: ''We admire the President, and we support the President, but we don't work for the President."

Friday, July 9, 2010

Federal Court Rules Against Defense of Marriage Act

The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA, P.L. 104-199) forbids federal recognition of same-sex marriages and lets individual states decline to recognize such marriages performed in other states. The Boston Globe reports:

A federal district court judge in Boston today struck down the 1996 federal law that defines marriage as a union exclusively between a man and a woman.

Judge Joseph L. Tauro ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage law violates the Constitutional right of married same-sex couples to equal protection under the law and upends the federal government’s long history of allowing states to set their own marriage laws.

"This court has determined that it is clearly within the authority of the Commonwealth to recognize same-sex marriages among its residents, and to afford those individuals in same-sex marriages any benefits, rights, and privileges to which they are entitled by virtue of their marital status," Tauro wrote. "The federal government, by enacting and enforcing DOMA, plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state."

Tauro drew on history in his ruling, writing that the states have set their own marriage since before the American Revolution and that marriage laws were considered "such an essential element of state power" that the subject was even broached at the time of the framing of the Constitution. Tauro noted that laws barring interracial marriage were once at least as contentious as the current battle over gay marriage.

The judge's decision is not binding on other courts, and the issue is very likely to make its way up to the US Supreme Court. One question is whether DOMA is a constitutional exercise of congressional authority under the full faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution. Article IV, section 1 of the Constitution, the Full Faith and Credit Clause, states:

Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State; And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.

Another question, as mentioned above, is whether a refusal to recognize same-sex marriages violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Magazine Alters Photo of the President

In our chapter on mass media, we discuss ways in which technological developments have affected journalism. Because it is now so easy to alter photographs, news organizations now confront photography increasingly presents issues of ethics and accuracy. The New York Times reports:

It was the ideal metaphor for a politically troubled president.
There was President Obama on the cover of the June 19 issue of The Economist, standing alone on a Louisiana beach, head down, looking forlornly at the ground.
The problem was, he was not actually alone. The photograph was just edited to make it look that way.
The unaltered image, shot on May 28 by a Reuters photographer, Larry Downing, shows Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard and Charlotte Randolph, a local parish president, standing alongside the president. But in the image that appeared on The Economist’s cover, Admiral Allen and Ms. Randolph had been scrubbed out, replaced by the blue water of the Gulf of Mexico.

President Obama on the magazine cover  and in the original photograph with Charlotte Randolph, president of a Louisiana parish, and Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard.

At Daily Kos, Jed Lewison is critical:
This isn't the biggest deal in the world, but there's really no excuse for bending facts to support a narrative. Digital image processing can be a great way to make a point, but it's wrong to create a fake image and pass it off as real to an unsuspecting audience. That's the kind of thing we'd expect from the Iranian government -- and they really aren't the guys you want to emulate.

We all live in a Photoshopped century. Unfeigned reality has become a rarity at the upper levels of politics and celebrity. Sometimes it seems like the "authors" of half the books on the nonfiction bestseller list did little more than hire an expensive ghostwriter and grudgingly answer some questions into a tape recorder. Believing in a model political marriage (Al Gore, this carbon offset is for you) is truly the triumph of hope over experience. On cable TV, the political discourse is dominated by hosts (soon to include the disgraced Eliot Spitzer) who exude the kind of ideological certainty about everything that used to be associated only with heavy brainwashing.
White House image-makers would not allow FDR to be photographed in a wheelchair, presidential pictures have almost always been a triumph of stagecraft.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Opposition Research and the Midterm

A Washington Post article points out two themes that we discuss in our book. First, campaigns typically use opposition research to discredit the other side -- a practice that dates back to the Founding era. Second, midterm elections tend to reflect judgments on the president's performance.

Democratic leaders are trying to frame the November midterm elections not as a national referendum on the party in power but as local choices between two candidates.

"We can win the contrast, but not the referendum," Democratic strategist Steve Murphy said. "What is critical in this election cycle is for Democratic candidates to hold Republican candidates accountable for their views."

Republicans see the Democrats' strategy as a sign of weakness.

"When the issues are cutting against you, it is typical for a party in trouble to resort to other means," said Ken Spain, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "With the unemployment rate unacceptably high and President Obama's approval rating falling, they have nothing left to run on other than character assassination."

Democratic officials are advising campaigns to hire trackers to follow their Republican opponents to public events with video cameras, ready to catch any gaffe or misstatement. And the Democratic National Committee last week issued a call to the public to submit any embarrassing audio or video of Republicans, as well as copies of their direct-mail advertisements.

Party officials would not say how many staffers are working on opposition research. Such work used to be farmed out to campaign consultants, but the DCCC brought research operations in-house in 2008 to be more nimble. "It may appear to be more aggressive this cycle because what we're finding on Republicans is so rich," Vogel said.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

American Exceptionalism

John Steele Gordon offers thoughts on American exceptionalism:
Our first piece of luck was the land we occupy and its geopolitical position on the globe. Abundantly endowed with natural resources and with a vast territory, we are a continental power, like Russia or China. But we border on only two other countries, both friendly, so strategically we are also an island power, like Britain or Japan.
Our second piece of luck, even more important, was our mother country. It was in medieval England that the concept of personal liberty — the great gift of the English-speaking peoples to the world — was born. And local control of local matters was the norm in England. So both liberty and self-government came to America with the very first colonists. The United States, more than any other country, was created by individual people, not rulers, so power has always tended to flow from the bottom up, not the top down.
In the early days, that made America exceptional indeed. If today it is less so, it is only because the idea that the locus of political power resides with the governed, not the governors, has spread around the world.
When the American colonies fell out with the mother country in 1776, they did so over differing ideas as to the nature and extent of the liberty that they all held dear. This was a dispute not over political power, but over political philosophy. And the dispute produced an event that was more than exceptional, it was unprecedented in world history: a country that emerged solely out of an abstract but extraordinarily powerful idea that has motivated it ever since. As Abraham Lincoln noted 87 years later, the United States was "born in liberty" and motivated by the idea that government should be "of the people, by the people, and for the people."
Americans wrote the modern world's first written constitutions to limit the power of government and protect the rights of individuals. This exceptional idea, too, has now spread around the world.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Public Opinion: the Declaration and Patriotism

Rasmussen reports:

This Independence Day, Americans overwhelmingly agree with the core ideals instilled in the founding document of the United States.

The Declaration of Independence, written primarily by Thomas Jefferson, asserts that “we are all endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 88% of American Adults agree with this phrase. Only six percent (6%) do not.

The following sentence dives deep into the focus of government, stating, “Governments derive their only just powers from the consent of the governed.” Two-thirds (68%) agree with this statement while 13% disagree and 19% are not sure.

However, one of the most depressing realities in today’s world is that only 21% of voters nationwide believe that the federal government now enjoys the consent of the governed.

Another statement from the Declaration, “all men are created equal,” is supported by 84%. Just 13% disagree with it.

Gallup reports:

One in three Americans (32%) now say they are "extremely patriotic," up from 26% in 2005 and 19% in 1999.

These findings are from a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted June 11-13, 2010, Gallup's first update of this question since 2005. The overall percentage of Americans describing themselves as "extremely patriotic" is now measurably higher than at any point in this Gallup trend, including in the months after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The difference between "extremely" and "very" patriotic is left to respondents to interpret.

At least 7 in 10 Americans since 2002 have consistently said they are "extremely" or "very" patriotic; 74% say so this year. This is up slightly since the 1990s.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Signers

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette mentions an item that we discuss in a "Myths and Misinformation" box.

A popular e-mail that has circulated more than a decade on the Internet, often titled “The Price They Paid,” seeks to explain “what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence.” Unfortunately, much of the information is wrong, exaggerated or misleading.

For example, the e-mail states that “9 of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.” In actuality, according to, which researches the veracity of Web rumors, although nine signers did die during the war, none died from wounds or hardships inflicted by the British. One, Button Gwinnett of Georgia, died in a duel with a fellow U.S. officer.


Our text has a photo essay on the Podesta family, prominent in the interest group community. A June 2 post described Heather Podesta's lobbying for a nonprofit. The New York Times recently profiled her husband, lobbyist Tony Podesta:

Mr. Podesta, a garrulous, gravelly voiced man known for his bold neckwear, is part of the elite group of lobbyists atop the industry who move easily between black-tie fund-raisers on Embassy Row and closed meetings on Capitol Hill. Despite the recession, lobbying scandals and frequent denunciation from President Obama about their outsize influence, lobbyists are more in demand than ever.

“The irony of it is that every time the president says we lobbyists have all this influence, people who don’t have a lobbyist want one,” Mr. Podesta said in an interview. “He exaggerates our power, but he increases demand for our services.”


Despite the popular conception of his trade, Mr. Podesta says he sees his main role as giving information to lawmakers rather than wielding influence.

“Members want to understand what they’re doing,” he said. “It improves decision making for people to understand the consequences of what they’re about to do. People draft language all the time and don’t think about how it applies in different situations.”

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Arrival, Aspiration, Achievement

At The American, Henry Olson reflects on immigrant groups gaining acceptance in the United States:

This process seems so natural that it’s worth recalling just how exceptional it is. European nations, based as they are on a community of blood rather than one of ideas, find it difficult to make immigrants full citizens. It’s impossible to think of a German of Turkish descent or a Swede from Bosnia or Kurdistan becoming prime minister. Even France, a nation that proclaims its fidelity to the international ideals of liberté, égalité, fraternité, finds it difficult to make immigrants full citizens. When Nicolas Sarkozy ran for president of France, the fact that he is descended from Hungarian immigrants was an issue; was he truly French?

The recent gubernatorial nomination of Nikki Haley, daughter of Indian Sikhs, in South Carolina shows that this American phenomenon of arrival, aspiration, and achievement continues apace. As we celebrate our nation and our republic this weekend, let us also celebrate the political miracle that our revolution has wrought. And let us celebrate the foundation of American citizenship that makes that miracle possible, the principle of individual freedom that flows from the Declaration’s assertion “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” and that “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Friday, July 2, 2010

Kagan and Natural Rights

At her confirmation hearing, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan had a revealing exchange with Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK):


Senator Coburn, I very much appreciate how deeply important the right to bear arms is to millions and millions of Americans. And I accept Heller, which made clear that the Second Amendment conferred that right upon individuals, and not simply collectively.


I'm not asking you about your judicial. I'm asking you, Elena Kagan, do you personally believe there is a fundamental right in this area? Do you agree with Blackstone that the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, the right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defense? He didn't -- he didn't say that was a constitutional right. He said that's a natural right. And what I'm asking you is do -- do you agree with that?


Senator Coburn, to be honest with you, I --I don't have a view of what are natural rights independent of the Constitution, and my job as a justice will be to enforce and defend the Constitution and other laws of the United States.


So -- so you wouldn't embrace what the Declaration of Independence says, that we have certain God-given, inalienable rights that aren't given in the Constitution, that they're ours, ours alone, and that the government doesn't give those to us?


Senator Coburn, I believe that the Constitution is an extraordinary document, and I'm not saying I do not believe that there are rights pre-existing the Constitution and the laws, but my job as a justice is to enforce the Constitution and the laws.


Well, I understand that. Well, I'm not talking about as a justice. I'm talking about Elena Kagan. What do you believe? Are there inalienable rights for us? Do you believe that?


Senator Coburn, I -- I think that the question of what I believe as to what people's rights are outside the Constitution and the laws, that you should not want me to act in any way on the basis of such a belief, if I had one or...


I -- I would want you to always act on the basis of a belief of what our Declaration of Independence says.


I -- I think you should want me to act on the basis of law, and -- and that is what I have upheld to do, if I'm fortunate enough to be concerned -- to be confirmed, is to act on the basis of haw, which is the Constitutions and the statutes of the United States.

Tea Party Demographics

USA Today notes that the "tea party" is a not a single organized entity.
The "Tea Party" is less a classic political movement than a frustrated state of mind.

A year and a half after the idea of a Tea Party burst into view, three of 10 Americans describe themselves in the USA TODAY/Gallup Poll as Tea Party supporters — equal to the number who call themselves Republicans — though many of them acknowledge they aren't exactly sure what that allegiance means.


"It's a party opposed to the idea of parties," says Jill Lepore, a Harvard historian whose book about the movement, The Whites of Their Eyes, is scheduled to be published in October. The Tea Party reminds her more of a religious revival than a political movement. She compares it to the Second Great Awakening in the 1830s, a religious resurgence that helped fuel temperance and abolitionism.


Their faith in the Founding Fathers is a signature of the movement. Citing links to the Revolution has been a mainstay of American politics since the nation's beginnings, Lepore says, but the way the Tea Party uses those symbols and language is original. "It is a fundamentalist way of thinking of the past: The founding documents are gospel; they come alive for us," she says.

For Rick Barber, a Tea-Party-backed congressional contender in Alabama, the Founding Fathers literally come to life. One video on his campaign website shows him talking to a character dressed as Abraham Lincoln as he likens taxation to pay for bailouts and health care as "slavery." Another features him sitting at a table in a tavern, talking to characters dressed as Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams and George Washington.

After Barber describes the progressive income tax and health care bill as "tyrannical," an angry George Washington growls, "Gather your armies."

Many Tea Party supporters speak of the Founders in familiar terms.

"We've been running deficits for years, and we've been saying we're doing it to win the Cold War or to fight terrorism and fight poverty," says Michael Towns, 33, a linguist from Tallahassee who was among those surveyed. "I think our Founding Fathers are rolling in their graves because they never would conceive that we would do this."

"This country was actually founded that we worked to be represented without taxation," says Charlene Barber, 62, a nurse from West Blocton, Ala., who is pursuing a psychology degree. "I'd love to hear what the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and Constitution would have to say about this health care bill."


Who they are

Seven demographic characteristics of Tea Party supporters:

78% are Republicans or independents who lean Republican.

77% are non-Hispanic whites.

69% are conservatives.

62% are married.

56% are men.

47% are 55 or older.

23% are under 35.

What they believe

Seven defining attitudes of Tea Party supporters:

92% believe the federal government debt is a very serious/extremely serious threat to the nation's future well-being.

90% believe terrorism is a very/extremely serious threat to the nation's future well-being.

90% are dissatisfied with the way things are going in this country.

87% disapprove of the job congressional Democrats are doing.

85% believe the size and power of the federal government are a very/extremely serious threat to the nation's future well-being.

83% say most members of Congress don't deserve re-election.

83% say President Obama doesn't deserve re-election.

Source: USA TODAY/Gallup Polls taken May 24-25 and June 11-13 of 697 Tea Party supporters. Margin of error +/-5 percentage points. Analysis by Jim Norman.