Opinion

The Great Debate

Campaign cash finds its way to the courtroom

By Adam Skaggs and Bert Brandenburg
The opinions expressed are their own.

Attacks on judges who “legislate from the bench” are commonplace in conservative politics, but the current crop of Republican presidential contenders has taken attacking the judiciary to a new level.  New frontrunner Newt Gingrich is the most outspoken — promising that if elected, he would impeach judges, abolish judgeships, and ignore court rulings he doesn’t like.

Gingrich’s plans violate basic constitutional norms and would set off a constitutional crisis.  But, ultimately, they ring hollow:  however effective in motivating the Republican base, the attacks on the courts are not credible policy proposals.

Outside the realm of presidential politics, however, there is a looming — and very serious — threat to our justice system.  Despite all the attention focused on money in politics, few Americans know how much campaign cash is pouring into courts of law, and how it threatens to undermine equal justice for all.

Judges are elected in 39 states, and in recent years, judicial election spending has skyrocketed. In the last decade, spending on state high court elections more than doubled — candidates raised $206.9 million between 2000 and 2009, compared to only $83.3 million in the 1990s.

Now a new report shows that the percentage of outside spending by special interests and political parties nearly doubled in the most recent judicial election cycle, compared with the previous mid-term election. The report — from the Justice at Stake CampaignBrennan Center for Justice, and National Institute on Money in State Politics — shows that  just 10 “Super Spender” groups accounted for nearly $15 million in total spending in 2009-2010 — almost 40 percent of every dollar spent on high court elections.

from Paul Smalera:

How Obama wins the election: the economy, stupid, and everything else

By Paul Smalera
The opinions expressed are his own. 

Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, and the entire Republican presidential field before them, have enjoyed painting Barack Obama as a European-style socialist, an apologizer, an appeaser, a president who is ceding America’s place in the world. Their stump speeches and debate soundbites seem to always end with some variety of the phrase, “when I’m your president, I’ll make America great again.” It would seem the nation is hungry for that kind of leadership; after all, polls now say that Obama’s job approval ratings are worse than Carter’s at the same point in his term. The game clock would seem to be running down on his re-election hopes. But what if it turns out we’ve been reading the scoreboard wrong, and Team Obama already has the lead? What if, by the time Americans get to vote, less than a year from now, America is already great again?

Coming off the heels of a nasty recession and horrible intertwined crises in banking, housing and economic confidence, every decision President Obama and his team made on the country’s way forward has come under intense scrutiny. Inevitably, the left has called some decisions, like the smaller-than-hoped-for size of his stimulus bill, weak sauce. The right has decried everything this administration did, as with health care reform, as lurching us towards socialism. Even Rockefeller Republicans have changed their spots in order to make libertarian arguments, as when Mitt Romney argued in the New York Times that the auto-industry bailout was wrong and Detroit should have been allowed to go broke.

One shouldn’t feel bad for Obama -- this kind of scrutiny comes with the job, after all. But the criticism his administration has endured from all sides has seemed particularly craven, perhaps because the stakes have been so very high these past few years. And yet, the political capital invested in his centrist, negotiated policies are now paying dividends. Perhaps Bill Clinton was a smoother operator, but it’s beginning to look a lot like Obama’s triangulation of policy, politics and the press is working, and that may deliver him to a political comeback and a 1996-style election victory.

Obama’s Ted talk

The president’s new populism comes from Teddy Roosevelt’s new nationalism.

By Michael A. Cohen

The views expressed are his own.


Has there ever been an American President more regularly compared to his predecessors than Barack Obama? Since arriving on the national stage Obama has been weighed against Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Reagan, Kennedy, Truman, Carter and even George W. Bush. But after his remarkably full-throated populist speech yesterday in Osawatomie, Kansas we have to add another one to the list – Theodore Roosevelt.

The choice of Osawatomie for a speech that basically establishes the outlines of Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign was hardly accidental. It was the sight of Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “New Nationalism” speech, a set of remarks that laid the foundation for his 1912 run to recapture the White House and signaled his own ideological break with the conservative wing of his own Republican Party.

In evoking Roosevelt’s century-old rhetoric, his attacks on concentrated wealth, and his call for a more active and engaged federal government, Obama yesterday embraced a grand tradition in American politics — that of the anti-business populist standing with the ordinary American. In doing so, Obama has framed the 2012 election in terms that have been the focus of presidential campaigns since Roosevelt ran for a third term in 1912: what is the proper role of government in the lives of the American people?

Gingrich’s laborious plan to save the youth of America

By Eric Edmonds

The opinions expressed are his own.


Republican Presidential frontrunner Newt Gingrich continues to insist that child labor laws in the U.S. are “truly stupid,” that the poor lack good work habits, and that the former would solve the latter. He hasn’t mentioned any specific policy changes, yet it’s clear that he doesn’t like the way things are done now, and that that he thinks America would be better off if kids worked more. If only the economics agreed.

Gingrich hasn’t been clear about what exactly he wants, but he seems to be advocating two complementary policies. First, he would like to see a reduction in the minimum age of employment. While campaigning in Cambridge, he said, “You go out and talk to people who are really successful in one generation. They all started their first job between 9 and 14 years of age.” Second, he wants to put poor children to work in their schools, because “really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits for working and have nobody around them who work.” Granted, if there really is no proclivity to work, it’s not clear how he will actually get these children to start working.

Nevertheless, let’s imagine Gingrich gets his wish. What would be the practical consequences of a reduction in the minimum age of employment in the U.S.? Most likely, nothing good.

Occupy Wall Street has already beaten the Tea Party

By David Callahan

The views expressed are his own.

Occupy Wall Street protestors are pondering their next steps after police raids this week dismantled more Occupy encampments in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. In some ways, though, the movement has already scored its most important victory: It has changed the “narrative” that frames public debate. Polls show that the Tea Party story – about an America being destroyed by big government – has been pushed aside by the Occupy Wall Street story, which stresses rising inequality and corporate greed.

This is good news for President Obama. While there is little that Obama can do between now and next November to jumpstart the economy, he may have a strong chance at reelection anyway if Americans keep gravitating to a progressive worldview.

In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken earlier this month, 76 percent agreed that the “current economic structure of the country is out of balance and favors a very small proportion of the rich over the rest of the country.” In another recent poll, by The Washington Post/ABC News, respondents were asked: “Do you think the federal government should or should not pursue policies that try to reduce the gap between wealthy and less well-off Americans?” A majority – 60 percent – said the government should pursue such policies.

A new party won’t necessarily be more pure than our existing two

By David Callahan

All views expressed are his own.

One irritating thing about rich people nowadays is their boundless faith that they can solve society’s most daunting problems – whether it’s underperforming schools or the AIDS epidemic. Yet just because someone made a bundle trading stocks or developing software doesn’t mean they’re equally brilliant in other areas.

The latest example is Americans Elect, an ambitious effort by wealthy individuals to circumvent the two-party political system in order to give voters a “centrist” choice in next year’s presidential election. Never mind that we already have a centrist candidate –President Obama, who has repeatedly sold out progressives to cut deals with the GOP. The real problem with Americans Elect is that it exacerbates the biggest flaw in our political system: the dominance of money.

Americans Elect aims to get a nonpartisan candidate on the ballot in all 50 states and has already secured ballot access in 24 states, including Florida and Ohio, by gathering over 2 million signatures.

If only Congress were less ambitious

By David Gordon and Sean West
The opinions expressed are their own.

There’s a good reason that only paid staffers and blood relatives seem to approve of Congress, as Senator John McCain recently quipped. But it is not the simple reason that Congress continues to fail, as witnessed in the implosion of the supercommittee. Rather it’s that Congress continuously promises unachievable historic fixes when it should instead be focused on slow progress.

There’s nothing wrong with small-scale fixes when they are the best achievable outcome. Congress is hyperpolarized and both sides are fighting for a mandate to reform the entire economy in line with their competing visions. As underwhelming as the August debt limit deal was, in the current political environment, saving over $2 trillion one way or another was a positive result. The fact that Congress could agree to something this large this year is actually quite stunning.

Failure – and the ensuing loss of respect in the eyes of voters – is largely due to leaders on both sides pretending that massive overhauls are in reach when they clearly aren’t. The problem is that Congress isn’t content to just do its job — it can’t help itself but to overpromise and then underdeliver.

from David Cay Johnston:

GOP inaction means higher taxes

The author is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Thanks to Republicans who signed Grover Norquist's pledge never to raise taxes, your taxes are automatically scheduled to go up in January -- unless you are a plutocrat.

The law that created the congressional super committee set a target of this week for reducing budget deficits. The committee failed to meet the target.

Republican members were willing to cut programs that benefit millions, but they would not raise taxes on the hundreds of thousands of families whose annual income is in the millions and, in a few cases, billions of dollars.

George W. Bush: The GOP’s forgotten man

The former president has only been mentioned by GOP candidates 19 times in 10 debates. Why?

By Michael Cohen
The opinions expressed are his own.

There are a lot of words you can expect to hear at tonight’s Republican debate in Washington, D.C. – “apologist,” “exceptionalism,” maybe “Uz-beki-beki-stan.” But here are two words you are almost certainly not going to hear – “George Bush.”  Two years and ten months ago a two-term Republican President departed office. Today those seeking his former job are loath to mention him.

I reviewed the transcripts of the first 10 Republican presidential debates and could find only 19 references by a candidate to Bush – four offered tepid applause, five were downright negative and the rest were offered in passing or referenced Bush’s tenure as Governor of Texas and his positions as a candidate in 2000.  Criticisms ran the gamut, from Bush’s support for government bailouts; his hiring of Ben Bernanke to head the Federal Reserve; and his lack of ardor in isolating Iran.

Why Bloomberg evicted Occupy Wall Street

By Joyce Purnick

The views expressed are her own.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has been a headache for mayors around the country. For Michael Bloomberg of New York, the encampment-like protest in a privately-owned park in lower Manhattan was more like a chronic migraine.

It would not go away, and despite some false starts, Bloomberg could not, or would not, stop it for weeks on end. In the interim, his reputation suffered. Even the New York Post, otherwise devoted to Bloomberg, admonished him for his attack of indecision.

What was it about the increasingly annoying and messy protest that got to the normally impatient mayor, stopping him from clearing out Zuccotti Park until this week—two months after the demonstrators took it over? He didn’t want a street riot on his hands, for one. Nor did Bloomberg, who prides himself on protecting free-speech rights, want it to look as though he was cracking down on protesters in the communications capital of the country (especially since he did not agree with them). But the strongest factor behind the delay may well have been what wasn’t happening: Bloomberg was trying to negotiate an agreement, but the OWS protesters were having none of it. Bloomberg can be flexible—as brusque as he is—but you have to play by his rules. The occupants of Zuccotti Park weren’t even playing the same game.

  •