Friday, May 29, 2009

Group Identity Politics: A Shield and a Weapon

The appointment of Judge Sonia Sotomayor is being hailed as a "political masterstroke" by many pundits, but the fact is that the Senate Republicans couldn't block her (technically, they could, today, but the vote is not today), if they wanted to. So what was considered so politically terrific about it? Her "compelling" life story is the conventional narrative. However, that doesn't quite wash, because many Republican Supreme Court appointees have had compelling life stories, but it didn't stop the media and Democrats from critcizing them. White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs gave us an idea of what the real political masterstroke was, when he said this:

"I think it is probably important for anybody involved in this debate to be exceedingly careful with the way in which they've decided to describe different aspects of this impending confirmation." (link)

That's when the latent political strategy behind this appointment became visible. By appointing a Latino woman, her judicial philosophy cannot be challenged, because that philosophy is tied into her "identity" as a member of both of those groups. That is, they will characterize any attack on her judicial philosophy as an attack on her race or gender.

This is another of my problems with identity politics. Whether race, gender, or sexual orientation, some "groups" are just "supposed" to be liberal. It's used as both a weapon and a shield, politically. In this case, the Obama administration is using it as both. Since she is a "safe" appointment numerically, why not try to alienate the GOP from women and minorities, while they're at it?

There is much more going on with her appointment, but "identity politics" were blatantly on that White House statement. Was it necessary to play that card? Or are her statements of judicial philosophy just a minor distraction, hyped by right-wing zealots like me? In my zealous opinion, she has made some praiseworthy rulings in her time on the bench, and is qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. However, political ideology has been established as a further criteria by none other than my own Sen. Schumer, back in 2001:

"It's the dirty little secret of judicial nominations," Schumer said. "Ideology plays a big role, but it's below the radar screen. All I want is for us to be upfront about it. This doesn't mean a nominee's views on issues like abortion should be the sole determinant in voting for or against - it shouldn't - but since it's one of the questions we all talk about behind the scenes, we should expose our thinking so everyone sees it. What I want is honesty." (link)

Now, Republicans "oppose her at their peril," (link) Schumer says about Sotomayor, echoing the White House line. Let's be honest. Liberals are trying to use "group identity politics" as a shield against scrutinizing her ideology, and as a weapon against any Republicans who dare to try it. This will be an interesting political confrontation, and it's only just beginning.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Is Speaker Pelosi "Detached" From Reality?

I'm sorry to say it, but there seems to be a problem with the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Speaker Pelosi has a serious credibility problem, which has been exposed by the recent "torture briefing" scandal. Her public appearances have had a bizarre quality to them, as if she were on a bad SNL skit. I'm no psychiatrist, but if she's not conciously lying, she's mentally "detached" from reality. By this, I mean she didn't hear what she didn't want to hear. Lots of people do this, or just "misremember" things.

Perhaps it could be dismissed so easily, if she had not accused the intelligence community briefers of "misleading" her. Now, that will have to be investigated, because lying to Congress is a criminal offense. Her comparison of it to the intelligence on Iraq doesn't hold up, either: a briefing about our actions on captives is much different than one about a potential foe's strength and strategy. She's grasping at straws, and it's getting worse.

The facts of this are going to have to come out, unless the President intervenes for Speaker Pelosi. Will he risk the political capital to do this? I doubt it. The whole "torture prosecution" idea has blown up in the Dem's faces, and now the Speaker is caught in the middle of it. She is now shining "a bad light" on her party, instead of it's intended target, the GOP. I suspect Obama to "stay above" this battle, leaving the Speaker to hang in the wind.

I don't know any of the "crucial" facts yet, so this is my personal perspective, from the facts I do know, and Speaker Pelosi's incredible public performances. If I'm right, the Dem's have two choices: get her out as soon as possible, to save their losses in the 2010 midterm election, or blame her for the inevitable losses they will have, and oust her afterwards. The Dems may retain a majority, but Pelosi's speakership, which started in the last two years of the Bush administration, will be a major drag on their tickets, nationwide.

She's "circling the wagons," right now, but this is not going away any time soon. We will see what she was "briefed" on during the Bush administration, if the Congress investigates them for "torture" memos. A cynical Dem might say "take them both down," but I suspect the party will try to "move on," perhaps without Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Whither Obama's Agenda?

Democrats in Congress refused to fund the President's proposed shutdown of the Guantanamo Bay prison. There is good reason for this: it's a bad idea, with no plan for where to relocate the detainees. Now that the Dems are on track to have a 60-vote majority in the Senate, look for more opposition to other promises that Obama made during the campaign.

I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but politically, it's realistic. Democrats are responsible for the direction our country goes, and will be held accountable, just as the GOP was over six of the last eight years. What Congressman wants to be blamed for bringing terrorists into our country, possibly to be set free on our streets?

Other Obama initiatives are likely to face a similar fate. "Cap and trade" is almost certainly doomed to failure in the Congress, and his health care initiative also faces an uphill battle. These political battles will be waged on the Democrat side of the Congress, with Republicans united in opposition.

It will be interesting to see how these play out, and whether Dems who oppose them will be "demonized" by the media, as the GOP routinely has been, thus far. Newly minted Democrat Sen. Specter has opposed Obama in two votes already, without much media attention. They weren't crucial votes, unlike some of the larger issues looming on the horizon.

Americans are focused on politics more than they have been in a long time, and they are worried. Issues like "cap and trade" relate directly to how much money they spend on their basic energy needs. Health care is something that most people want everyone to have access to, but nobody wants to foot the bill for. The American people are stretched to their limit, and it's doubtful that President Obama's further huge, costly initiatives will find much popular support, even from his own party.