Ben Buchwalter

Reality Bites
May 28, 2009, 10:02 pm
Filed under: Race | Tags: ,

Ta-Nehisi Coates adds to the racial debate over Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. He references this article in Time, which states that the nomination is a milestone in the relationship between blacks and Hispanics, who “in the 20th century could be as violently distrustful of each other as blacks and whites were.”

Coates says:

One must be clear about what constituted “violent” distrust “between” blacks and whites in the 20th century. It meant thousands of whites, in Atlanta, in 1906, assembling on the streets to randomly murder black people. In Springfield, Illinois, in 1908,  it meant whites pillaging a Jewish businesses for arms, and then proceeding to the black side of town, attacking black business and black homes, and thousands of black people fleeing for their lives. It meant whites–across the nation–in 1910 assembling in mobs and murdering random black people (On the 4th of July!). The cause? Jack Johnson had the temerity to win the championship. It meant whites in East St. Louis, in 1918, perpetrating  a pogrom against the city’s black population, and killing over 100 black people because, “southern niggers need a lynching.”

I have not known Latinos in the 20th Century to perpetrate a Red Summer. I have not known blacks to lynch Latino veterans, returning from war, in their uniforms. The fact is that there was no violent distrust between blacks and whites in the 20th century. Rather there was a one-sided war waged against black people by white terrorists, which government, in the best cases, failed to prevent, in many cases, stood idly by, and in the worst cases actually aided and abetted. I’m sorry but comparing that to whatever’s happening between blacks and Latinos, is a slander against both those groups, and an amazingly naive take on the history of white America in regards to race.


Sestak In Need of Winning Message
May 28, 2009, 7:05 pm
Filed under: 2010 and 2012

Since Specter switched parties a month or two ago, all-but ruining Congressman Joe Sestak’s chances of winning his seat in 2010, Sestak has been nothing if not media man. He first appeared on the 24-hour cable news networks on any issue imaginable, always ending with a polite, non-committal reply to the inevitable question: “will you challenge Arlen Specter in the 2010 Democratic Primary?”

Sestak has now turned to the netroots. After TPM obtained letters from the congressman to supporters saying that he intends to run in 2010, he has been interviewed by Chris Cillizza of The Fix and Greg Sargent of The Plum Line. To Cillizza, Sestak rightly slams Specter’s Washington ethos and tendency to put petty politics above policy decisions. He also stresses the Senator’s past close connection to President George W. Bush, which continues to be the Achilles heel of longtime Republicans… and guys like Lieberman and Specter.

But Sestak doesn’t really bring it home. In the statement, he said, “It’s someone who was in the military for 30 years versus someone who was in Washington for the past 30 years.”

I’m genuinely happy that a more liberal Democrat has arisen to challenge Specter. But is military experience what we need most right now? No – we need progressive leaders who have extensive experience in economics who know how to steer us out of the economic crisis. It appears that the Sestak campaign will focus on foreign policy, the blockbuster issue before the economy tanked last fall. But at this point, I don’t see a candidate for any office gaining much traction focusing on anything but the economy.

And Sestak has a lot of traction to gain. A recent Quinnipiac poll shows Specter crushing Sestak by 29 points in the primary. And President Obama and PA Governor Rendell – who both have a lot of pull in the state – have pledged to endorse Specter in the primary, and the spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today that both he and VP Biden would support Specter over Sestak.  though Sestak has said that he would not exit the race if asked by the President.

Either way, Sestak’s candidacy is a good thing. It would be fantastic if he gained that traction and became a viable candidate. But if not, it’s important for someone to force Specter to the left. Once again, this could be 2010’s most entertaining.

Racial Terms as Alphabet Soup

I think we can all agree that it’s a little odd how steamed honkies like Pat Buchanan and Rush Limbaugh are getting that President Obama nominated a Hispanic woman to the Supreme Court. As a white man, I can attest that it is terrifying that we not only have a black President, but he wants to increase the representation of women and minorities throughout government! Can you imagine anything worse?

The most frustrating aspect of the racially motivated pushback against Sotomayor is the way that some of these wingnuts define terms like “affirmative action” and “reverse descrimination.”

Today on MSNBC, Pat Buchanan told Norah O’Donnell that the pick amounted to nothing more than affirmative action because the Obama administration hinted throughout the process that they were looking for someone who would make the Court more representative of the country as a whole. See the video:

I guess that brings up the question of how we define affirmative action. And if it was affirmative action, is that a problem? It’s definitely possible, though unlikely, that there were no white men qualified for the Supreme Court. But the overarching fact here is that the Supreme Court, currently with one woman (Ginsburg) and one minority (Thomas) does not represent the American people as a whole. So in my view, adding a female voice is valuable. And adding a Hispanic voice is valuable. And if that is affirmative action, I am fine with that. But I don’t think it is. Sotomayor is a great pick because in addition to being incredibly smart and having a thick resume, her confirmation will bring the Court much closer to being representative of its constituents. That is a qualification, not a crutch.

Rush Limbaugh was also (not surprisingly) spewing some crazy Tuesday. On his radio show, Limbaugh called Sotomayor a “hack,” a “racist,” and a “reverse racist.” Matt Yglesias tries to understand Limbaugh’s outrage and apparent confusion about the difference between racism and reverse racism.

Being a “reverse racist” can’t be similar to being a “racist,” it needs to be the reverse of being a racist. Limbaugh clearly just thinks Sotomayor is a racist. She hates white people. For a Latina to hate white people isn’t “reverse” racism, it’s racism. Reverse racism would be if you had a white person who hates white people. It would be like racism, where you hate people of other races, but in reverse.

It seems there is a war brewing over Sotomayor between ultra-conservatives in the Republican party and GOPers who actually want to get something done. It will be interesting to see where the battle lines a drawn and how far this racial rhetoric will go. So far, the media director for the Republican National Committee, who will supposedly be part of the efforts to rebrand the GOP, has enlisted on the ultra-conservative side… through Twitter.

Soaring Toward Confirmation?
May 27, 2009, 2:02 am
Filed under: 2010 and 2012, Republicans, Supreme Court

My first reaction to Obama’s decision to nominate Sonia Sotomayor to fill Justice David Souter’s Supreme Court seat was “this guy has balls.” Conservatives consider her very liberal (though she’s actually not) and she has been on record saying that federal judges make policy, which some could say is a clear indication that she would be an activist judge.

But so far the nomination looks like  a clear win for Team Obama.  Oddly enough, if a white man with the same voting record who had made such comments on the record were up for the spot, he would probably face more opposition. But the GOP is doing so poorly with women and minorities, that they might not be able to risk opposing Sotomayor in fear that those demographics would abandon them entirely in 2010 and 2012.

Brian Beutler notes that none of Obama’s appointments have so far been successfully blocked by Republicans. That reasoning is a little sketchy because even though Daschle and Richardson withdrew for “personal reasons,” it seems pretty well accepted that they would have faced long confirmation battles and damaged Obama’s political momentum. But Brian’s point emphasizes the fact that Obama remains an incredibly popular President who has yet to make a serious mistake. Opposing his nominee would be politically dangerous no matter who it was.

I was definitely gearing up for an all out offensive from the GOP against Obama’s SCOTUS nominee, but it looks like Team Obama made another politically shrewd choice by daring the GOP oppose Sotomayor. It’s also worth noting that seven current Republican Senators voted to confirm Sotomayor when she was nominated by Bill Clinton as a federal judge in 1998.  So if all the Democrats support her in addition to those seven Senators who liked her a decade ago, she would be easily above the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster. So hard-line Conservatives in congress could have little to no sway over Sotomayor’s confirmation.

So unless we learn that Sotomayor once killed a man or is secretly a terrorist, it seems that we will be talking about Justice Sotomayor, the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice, before long.

San Franciscans Protest Prop 8
May 26, 2009, 11:36 pm
Filed under: Civil Rights

In a relatively surprising move, the California Supreme Court ruled today to uphold Proposition 8, the referendum passed by California voters last year to define marriage as between one man and one woman. I was hanging out in San Francisco when my sister texted me and said to get my ass down to the protests. So I popped over to the Civic Center and it was a pretty powerful experience. Click here for more photos.

The demonstration mostly centered on hope. Children of same-sex couples spoke about the importance of being raised by loving parents, not simply heterosexual couples. Recently married men and women spoke of how far marriage equality has come in the past few decades.

But some weren’t so comfortable. Two men with mohawks and leather jackets roamed the crowd yelling “Let’s go to the streets! You are being too nice!” A group of women stood directly behind the crowd with megaphones and harmonicas screaming “I’m not a nice gay!”

The crowd was mixed on Obama’s dedication to gay rights. Some said that his election was the best thing ever to happen to gays in America and insisted that he would eventually become a powerful champion of equality. Others responded to chants of “yes we can” with a chorus of “no he won’t.”

To me, the most powerful speech came from the couple pictured above, who were married very recently. (It also spoke to the ethos of this blog.) The man on the left explained that two steps forward and one step back is still progress. Yes, today was a giant leap back. But 2009 has already been filled with steps, leaps, and skips forward. Look at Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and Maine. The march towards marriage equality has begun and will eventually achieve fruition.

Another speaker reminded the crowd that even though the Supreme Court decided that that Prop 8 was legal, it did not mean that it was right. Prop 8 passed because a group of voters convened and orchestrated a massive get out the vote campaign. Marriage equality can be restored in 2010 or 2012 if progressives come together to do the same.

Even though I have faith that this will happen, today’s ruling troubles me.  As the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s politics blog notes, the state Supreme Court would clearly have ruled differently if the issue was interracial marriage. And before that was legal, opponents said it was unnatural, nontraditional, and would lead us down a dangerous road to same-sex marriage and unions between people and animals. In other words, they made the same arguments as anti-gay activists make today.

See more from the SFBG blog for great reporting and photos from the day.

Live long and prosper.

Political Capital and SCOTUS Nominees
May 8, 2009, 12:53 pm
Filed under: Supreme Court | Tags: , ,

Ezra Klein:

I never understand the fuss over Supreme Court nominations. The president holds all the power. That’s even more true if his party controls the Senate. So when conservative groups “concede that they have little chance of derailing Obama’s choice, barring a scandal,” what does it mean? If they derail Obama’s choice, he’ll just make another choice. It’s not like defeating his first nominee would make him lose a turn, or let Mitch McConnell choose the next candidate. Bush, for instance, got beat on Harriett Miers, and then nominated a more conservative justice in her stead. The hubbub is baffling. The opposition can’t win. They can only delay losing.

I think Klein is choosing to ignore a large portion of the politics behind a Supreme Court nomination. His best point is that Harriett Miers was replaced by even more conservative justices. But – if I remember correctly – people did not oppose to Miers because she was a conservative. They opposed her because she had no relevant experience besides as a Bush lackey. And I think most people agree that Roberts and Alito, though very conservative, both adhere to a clear judicial philosophy.

Obama remains very popular. And he needs to be popular to accomplish his ambitious agenda, which includes health care reform, cracking down on offshore tax havens, and closing Gitmo. It would be a serious shame to waste that political capital on a long drawn out confirmation battle.

I’m not saying that Obama should choose a nominee based on how easily he or she will be confirmed. I’m also not saying that the crazy MSM coverage of potential nominees is justified. But his vetting team should keep in mind that the Democrats really only need a few moderate votes in order to pass the 60 vote margin that would basically guarantee the nominee’s confirmation.

So appoint an exciting nominee that will breathe some life into the Constitution and preserve  much-needed rights for women and minorities. But Obama should not be flippant in the pursuit of this candidate. Sure, Obama would get another chance if conservatives cut down his first choice. But the political impact of this will extend much past the Supreme Court confirmation battle. It could seriously impact the level of political capital that Obama carries through the year hoping to implement other essential policies.

Half-Assing the Electoral College Phase Out
May 7, 2009, 4:46 pm
Filed under: 2010 and 2012, General Politics | Tags: , ,

I just saw this post by Hendrik Herzelberg.

News flash: Last Tuesday, Governor Chris Gregoire of Washington State signedthe National Popular Vote bill, making her state the fifth to officially commit itself to the revolutionary idea of electing Presidents the way we elect other important holders of public office.

With Washington’s eleven electoral votes added to the fifty of Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois, and Hawaii, we’re now between a fifth and a quarter of the way to the 270 needed to make living, breathing human beings (rather than “artificial entities,” as Alexander Hamilton called states), the relevant unit in Presidential elections, just as they are in gubernatorial, congressional, mayoral, and dogcatcheral elections.

This is cool! And I think that all states need to move toward abolishing the electoral college system. BUT this doesn’t seem like the right way to do it. If I vote in Washington for a Democrat, and the Democrat wins in WA, but most of the rest of the country votes for a Republican, I don’t want my electoral votes going to the other guy. And look at the states that have the law – Washington, Maryland, Hawaii, New Jersey and Illinois – all states that reliably send all their electoral votes to the Democrat. 

That said, I don’t think that the winner of the national popular vote should ever lose an election. But even in the cases of 2000 and 2004, there is value in showing accurate numbers of who won the election and how close the other guy was. 

In 2004, for example, George W. Bush won 286 electoral votes (only 16 more than the 270 needed to win) and John Kerry won 251, only 19 shy of the magic number. If this law had been in effect, it would have been an electoral landslide, Bush: 347 to Kerry: 190. (well, not as much of a landslide as 2008.)

This just seems like an all or nothing deal. Either we get rid of the electoral college system altogether, or adhere to the rules that we’ve used for more than two centuries.