Posts Tagged ‘democracy’
Jodi Jacobson, at RH Reality Check, talks about the disconnect between the public and politicians on abortion, which touches on something I’ve been emphasizing here.
Consistent rejection by actual voters of attempts to give the state control over women’s bodies tells us three things. One, polls that attempt to divide people into neat boxes such as “pro-choice” and “pro-life” or to measure support for hypothetical restrictions on abortion in generic terms do not reflect how people really feel about safe abortion care. In fact, when asked specifically about who should make decisions on how and when to bear children and under what circumstances to terminate a pregnancy, voters make clear they do not want to interfere in the deeply personal decisions they believe belong between a woman, her partner and family, and her medical advisers, even in cases of later abortion. In short, voters do not want legislators playing god or doctor.
I’ve been complaining about the framing of the various “War(s) Against X.” So I thought it worth talking a bit about why.
Listening to political discussions, there seem to be wars everywhere. There’s a war on women, a war on voting, a war on the poor. (The right has their wars too, like the war on Christmas, but I assume ones actually related to policy are meant to be taken more seriously.)
To begin with “War on X” rhetoric seems purely defensive. That is, it is only useful for critiquing Republicans, not for advancing any sort of positive agenda. In addition, it implies status quo was acceptable . It suggests the goal is, for example, to stop SNAP cuts, not to ensure food security, or stop new abortion restrictions, not ensure access. The War Against Voting is about new voting restrictions, but does that mean that only old voting restrictions are acceptable? There’s some implication, maybe, that we are for autonomy, or freedom and equality, or democracy. Implication enough for those who want to find it to hear it, not enough for anyone else to. In reality, I saw innumerable commercials for Terry McAuliffe, and the only thing conveyed was that Ken Cuccinelli was extreme and McAuliffe was in favor of abortion rights in cases of rape and incest.
There must be a better way [than luck egalitarianism] to conceive of the point of equality. To do so it is helpful to recall how egalitarian political movements have historically conceived of their aims. What have been the inegalitarian systems that they have opposed? Inegalitarianism asserted the justice or necessity of basing the social order on a hierarchy of human beings, ranked according to intrinsic worth. Inequality referred not so much to the distributions of goods as to relations between superior and inferior persons. Those of superior rank were thought entitled to inflict violence on inferiors, to exclude or segregate them from social life, to treat them with contempt, to force them to obey, work without reciprocation, and abandon their own cultures. These are what Iris Young has identified as the faces of oppression: marginalization, status hierarchy, domination, exploitation, and cultural imperialism. Such unequal social relations generate, and were thought to justify, inequalities in the distribution of freedoms, resources, and welfare. This is the core of inegalitarian ideologies of racism, sexism, nationalism, caste, class, and eugenics.
Egalitarian political movements oppose such hierarchies.
Elizabeth S. Anderson, What is the Point of Equality? (pdf)
Not long ago, I argued that how poll questions are often framed, and more important, how they are interpreted in the media, worked to reinforce the status quo, specifically on the issue of mass surveillance.
I’ve since ran across an article (h/t Chris Bowers) that addresses this issue and sheds some important light on my point: Samuel J. Best and Monika L. McDermott, Measuring Opinions vs. Non-Opinions – The Case of the USA Patriot Act (pdf). They investigate whether pollsters are manufacturing opinions on subjects where they don’t exist, in response to the pressure to add public opinion to political debates. In essence, they argue that respondents do not know what the Patriot Act (a complex piece of legislation) does, but use clues from the wording of questions to make up for that ignorance. So what appears to be actual opinions about the law (which for the record, shows very different levels of support depending on the question wording) is simply an artifact.
While Republicans are sprinting to take away voting rights in the wake of Shelby (or doubling down, since they were already aggressively pushing voting barriers), you might think that Democrats would be doing the opposite. Sadly, not everyone has gotten the message that the Democrats are the party of lowering voting barriers. From the Oregonian:
Legislation aimed at adding hundreds of thousands of registered voters in Oregon failed by a single vote in the state Senate on Sunday.
Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, joined with all 14 Republicans to defeat a bill that would automatically register eligible voters when they received new or updated driver licenses in Oregon.
I’ve argued here before that blaming voters for bad policy or consumers for things like labor conditions is a cop out. (Here and here for voters, here and here for consumers). The general idea is that social outcomes are not a product of unalloyed aggregated individual choice. Institutions matter, power matters. Elites shape the ideas (or people) that can get a serious hearing, and the structure of the choices people get. They work to suppress information and to coopt efforts to challenge them. They make symbolic moves to demobilize those challenges. They act to influence the preferences people hold. Those who hold positions of power and authority are supposed to do things like follow the law, act morally, represent us, etc. When they fail to, it’s their fault – ‘why did you let me?’ is a ridiculous response to a charge of dereliction of duty.
There are often two response to this claim that raise an important point, and addressing them helps me clarify my argument. First is the idea that I’m saying that people have no responsibility to act at all–that I’m essentially leaving them out of the conversation entirely. Second is the idea that saying they aren’t to blame is saying they have no role. Read the rest of this entry »
At the end of the Supreme Court’s term last year, I noted that when it came to the Affordable Care Act case, every justice agreed with the principle that the Constitution creates a system of enumerated powers at the federal level. But, when it came to the Arizona’s punitive immigration law, those same nine justices all agreed the federal government was endowed with unenumerated powers, resulting from sovereignty, to regulate immigration.
As I said then, “both positions were consistent with past decisions”:
All this illustrates a point I’ve been trying to make–we have to distinguish between claims about what the Court does, from what it does, but both involve talk. Both are consequential, but neither are automatic. The key is not to ignore what the Court says or to take it as truth, but rather to focus on in what contexts certain things are taken for granted (and here we’re not just talking about the Court but also the larger legal community) and how it differs from other contexts.
This term brings a similar example, although this time it involves a smaller number of justices.
[Update: For a sense of legal landscape in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision, read The Way Forward After Shelby County by Joey Fishkin]
The Supreme Court has struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (pdf), rendering Section 5 inoperable until Congress changes Section 4 (assuming Congress can and there is anything Congress could pass that the Supreme Court would allow, which is unclear). I addressed the most fundamental conservative objection to the Voting Rights Act after oral arguments – that it is a “racial entitlement”.
Generally speaking, you should just read Justice Ginsburg’s dissent, which righteously shreds Chief Justice Roberts’, and Jessica Mason Pieklo.
I wanted to address something a little more abstract.
Roberts’ opinion repeatedly references ‘state sovereignty’ as an (unenumerated) constitutional principle that supposedly overrides the enumerated power of Congress to enforce the 15th Amendment through appropriate legislation. Let’s leave aside the issue of enumeration, and of the case law (Ginsburg dispatched that handily). The bigger problem with this is that it’s absurd.
The Constitution makes clear that sovereignty is not vested in governments. It is vested in the people. Neither the states nor the federal government are sovereign. (Yes, don’t miss that second part – and let’s not pretend that a war settles constitutional questions either). From the opening words of the preamble of the original Constitution to it’s final clause, from the beginning to the end of the Bill of Rights, the basic, most fundamental constitutional principle is popular sovereignty. The entire process of ratification, by conventions rather than by state governments, only makes sense if you begin with popular sovereignty.
Literally every other principle we associate with American constitutionalism–separation of powers, federalism, enumerated powers–flows from this basic principle. Read the rest of this entry »
The case is made difficult not because the principles of its decision are obscure but because the flag involved is our own. Nevertheless, we apply the limitations of the Constitution with no fear that freedom to be intellectually and spiritually diverse or even contrary will disintegrate the social organization. To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds. We can have intellectual individualism and the rich cultural diversities that we owe to exceptional minds only at the price of occasional eccentricity and abnormal attitudes. When they are so harmless to others or to the State as those we deal with here, the price is not too great. But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.
If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.
Justice Robert Jackson, West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)
Progressives have forgotten how to think about the constitutional dimensions of economic life. Work, livelihood, and opportunity; material security and insecurity; poverty and dependency; union organizing, collective bargaining, and workplace democracy: for generations of American reformers, the constitutional importance of these subjects was self-evident. Laissez-faire, unchecked corporate power, and the deprivations and inequalities they bred were not just bad public policy—they were constitutional infirmities. Today, with the exception of employment discrimination, such concerns have vanished from progressives’ constitutional landscape.
That has to change.
Today, Matt Dimick called attention Williams Forbath’s piece in Dissent, “Workers’ Rights and the Distributive Constitution” which opens with the above quote. It makes a good follow up to my last post on the role of money in putting deeply unpopular Social Security cuts on the agenda, or more simply, the power of the donor class. Forbath notes that conservatives use constitutional language to advance their agenda, while progressives often respond defensively. But Forbath calls for progressives to recapture a constitutional tradition that would insist that government has not only the power but the duty to push back against the conservative assault on the New Deal and Great Society.