The Lonely Centrist

A place for reasoned debate about the issues of the day.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

The campaign finance "reform" movement has a long history of trying to silence its political critics - and not just in the campaign finance legislation itself. Rather, they attempt to smear and silence anyone who disagrees with them. See e.g., events recounted here. (Scroll down to "Silencing Dissent II.")

Their latest target is Bob Bauer, a prominent Democratic Party lawyer and articulate critic of the "reform" community. Mr. Bauer reprints their efforts, and his response, here.

Harriett Miers Unites Republican Activists

We've commented on, but not taken sides, in the Harriett Miers' dispute. But it seems to the Centerman that two things are being misconstrued.

First, many seem to think that this is a battle between social conservative Republicans and libertarian Republicans, as the Washington Post suggests:

Miers's speeches, which she provided to the Judiciary Committee, prompted a
wary reaction from conservatives. Many conservative organizations have
criticized her selection and several have called on President Bush to withdraw
her name, saying there are other more qualified, conservative legal scholars and
jurists who should be nominated.
In an undated speech given in the spring of 1993 to the Executive Women of
Dallas, Miers appeared to offer a libertarian view of several topics in which
the law and religious beliefs were colliding in court.

It seems to us that this misreads the situation. While Miers continues to be supported by the Republican grassroots, who "trust the President," Republican activists of all stripes are increasingly opposed to her nomination. Opposition has come from social conservatives such as Professor Bainbridge and neo-cons, headed by David Frum, who have formed Americans for Better Justice to oppose her nomination. But libertarian Republicans such as the Cato Institute's Roger Pilon and former Reason Magazine editor Virginia Postrel have also been highly critical. It was Pilon who said, "she's not one of us." Traveling among my conservative friends, whatever their brand of conservativism, there is deep opposition to the nomination. This will soon start to effect the grassroots support for Miers from the "trust the President" folks - indeed, there is evidence that it already has.

The second point is more an observation. I find the methods and modes of argument in Washington to be fascinating. By and large White House defenses of Miers are falling of their own weight - the White House would do better to actually defend Miers' views, rather than merely assert that she is conservative (this is assuming that she has views on constitutional issues). The White House has already been blasted for crude efforts to accuse Miers opponents of sexism, for example. But the one argument that still seems to resonate with rank and file Republicans outside of Washington is the argument that, unlike David Souter, in this case the President really knows Harriett Miers, so conservatives can have confidence in his pick.

But how is this really different from the Souter pick? No, the President didn't know Souter, but John Sununu, his Chief of Staff, a man with longstanding conservative credentials, knew Souter well, and repeatedly vouched for Souter's conservatism. In both cases, conservatives are being asked to rely on one man's judgment. Even when one really trusts that man - as many Republicans do George W. Bush, and as George H.W. Bush did John Sununu - he could be wrong.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Where oh Where will the Corruption End? McCain violates McCain-Feingold - Again.

The Skeptic notes that John McCain has made an illegal fund-raising pitch, in specific violation of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform" law. It's not the first time McCain has been associated with a violation of his own law. Bob Bauer discusses the significance of this violation.

Monday, October 24, 2005

One Cheer for Harriett

As Harriett Miers' nomination looks to be in increasingly troubled waters, we'll offer one cheer for Harriett.

Per the Los Angeles Times:

At one point, Miers described her service on the Dallas City Council in
1989. When the city was sued on allegations that it violated the Voting Rights
Act, she said, "the council had to be sure to comply with the proportional
representation requirement of the Equal Protection Clause."


"That's a terrible answer. There is no proportional representation
requirement under the equal protection clause," said New York University law
professor Burt Neuborne, a voting rights expert. "If a first-year law student
wrote that and submitted it in class, I would send it back and say it was

While it is true that there is no "proportional represention requirement" in the equal protection clause, and while it is true that the Supreme Court has denied that it's interpretation of the Voting Rights Act requires proportional representation, as the Lonely Centrist has noted here, the fact of the matter is that the Court does require some rough degree of proportional representation. No member of the Court more eloquently noted that fact than the woman Miers has been nominated to replace, Sandra Day O'Connor.

Miers' reply may have been inelegant and ineloquent, but she at least understands what the Court has done in its Voting Rights Act jurisprudence, which is the first step to reversing it.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Do Centrist Politics Make for Happy Lives?

According to a survey by the market research firm GfK NOP (no idea what that stands for!), the half- dozen countries with the most people who describe themselves as happy are, from the top:

1. Australia
2. United States
3. Egypt
4. India
5. Great Britain, tied with
5. Canada

Now, don't ask the Centrist to explain how Egypt got in there. But I can't help but note that Australia and the United States are two of the more religious countries in the West; and the U.S., Australia, India, Great Britain and even Canada are more conservative, politically, than most of the West European nations - which is really to say that all have rather moderate politics.

As Drudge might say... developing.

Conservative Opposition to Miers Just Keeps Coming

Too much to track or bother linking to - but if you go here, you'll find lots of links.

To the Centerman, it seems that the key to understanding the intensity of conservative opposition to the nomination is to understand that it is not about Miers – or at least not only Miers. Miers is a proxy for conservative frustration over a whole host of issues – spending; the education bill; McCain-Feingold; immigration; steel quotas; the apparent refusal (as some see it) of the administration to articulately defend the war; and even the current polls. It is not helped by Sen. Lindsey Graham’s “just shut up,” remark to conservatives, nor by Ed Gillespie suggesting critics are “sexist.” Conservatives wanted something really tangible, a clear reward for the trust they have put in the President. Instead, they got, “Trust me.”

For the Centerman, there is reason to think Miers could be OK. It will be good to have a corporate attorney on the bench. Read the Court's opinions on corporate law - they have a tentativeness that makes them read as if they should be prefaced with, "How did a nice bunch of corporate law amateurs like us end up here?" There are many important issues decided by the Court besides such hot buttons as abortion, gay marriage, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the like. Miers looks like she may add something when these issues come before the Court.

Meanwhile, some liberals flip out over her apparent religious convictions. The Centerman, on the other hands, sees these convictions as offering another perspective sorely needed on the Court, a perspective shared by millions of Americans yet clearly given short shrift by the Court in recent decades. It is this - not her sex - that is the diversity Miers brings.

This is not an endorsement of Miers. The Centerman is disturbed by the apparent cronyism; disappointed that President apparently felt that the positive perspectives noted above could not be found in a nominee with stronger qualifications; concerned that we don't really have much about Miers to go on - the judgements made in the two preceding paragraphs could turn out to be entirely off base.

But it seems a given that she'll be confirmed if she does not withdraw (would you?), so we may as well look on the bright side.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Trying to Pull the Democrats Back from the Edge

A sad development in American politics over the last few years has been the collapse of influence of the Democratic Leadership Conference and other more centrist Democrats within the party, symbolized by the election of the vitriolic, nasty, "I hate Republicans" Howard Dean as party Chairman, and the vitriolic, nasty Daily Kos as the most popular left wing blogsite. Thus, this article in today's Washington Post caught my eye. William A. Galston and Elaine C. Kamarck, a couple of old Clintonite Intellectuals, argue that the Democratic base - unlike the Republican base - is too small to win elections alone, and that the rising number of Hispanic voters will not change that fact. They urge the party to pull back to more centrist positions. Some key excerpts:

Their basic thesis is that the number of solidly conservative Republican voters is substantially larger that the reliably Democratic liberal voter base. To win, the argument goes, Democrats must make much larger inroads among moderates than the GOP.


In one of their more potentially controversial findings, the authors argue that the rising numbers and influence of well-educated, socially liberal voters in the Democratic Party are pulling the party further from most Americans

Though not specific in their recommendations, recognizing the reality is always a good start. And it is promising that, according to the Post, the report "was sponsored by Third Way, a group working with Senate Democrats," so perhaps Galston and Kamarck have someone's ear. It would be a very good development for the country if the Democrats were to put forth some reasonable, centrist alternatives to the Bush Administration.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Most Naive Man in America is Back - And We Learn That He's Dishonest, Too

Fred Wertheimer, the Most Naive Man in America, is out with another of those classic Democracy 21 press releases, this one a scathing attack on Don McGahn, whose has apparently been rumored as a possible appointee to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), to replace Brad Smith.

Like most Democracy 21 releases, the release is a mixture of hysterical adjectives, scathing rhetoric, simplistic and internally inconsistent thinking, and so many misleading assertions, half-truths, and outright mistatements of fact that one hardly knows where to begin. Perhaps with some ridicule: Where does Wertheimer find his writers? Did he pull them all from Pravda when the Soviets went under?

Wertheimer begins this latest salvo by taking a McGahn quote out of context to change its meaning, as the Skeptic demonstrates by showing the entire quote. Essentially Wertheimer uses the oldest, cheapest, trick in the book - using an elipsis (that's a ... for we normal folk) to leave out something that changes the meaning of the sentence. Wertheimer quotes McGahn as saying:

''It's not like other agencies because you have...the fox guarding the hen-house.' You gonna appoint your guys to make sure you are taken care of. The original intent was for it to be a glorified Congressional committee. That's the way I see it.''

But here is what McGahn actually said:

It’s not really like other agencies. It’s not an executive branch agency. You have the president who nominates and the Senate confirm, the President appoints. But it’s not like other agencies because you have the charge of the fox guarding the hen-house. You gonna appoint your guys to make sure you are taken care of. The original intent was for it to be a glorified Congressional committee. That’s the way I see it. But over time it has gotten more independent and more money.

In other words, Wertheimer edits the quote to make it sound, first, as if McGahn is not repeating a charge that Wertheimer himself has made, but making the charge (he leaves out McGahn's words, "you have the charge of"). Then he lops off the end of the quote to make it appear that McGahn's words ("That's the way I see it") indicate approval of the description, rather than McGahn noting that that is what he understands the criticism of the Commission to be; and to ignore the fact that McGahn appears to disagree with that description, at least to a degree.

This is flagrant, fundamental dishonesty of the worst kind. One would hope that respectable reporters would take this man off their rolodexes.

But of course, as always with Wertheimer, there is more - indeed, as always, much more. We are told over and over again that McGahn has represented Tom DeLay - apparently this is important because we all know that a) Tom DeLay must be guilty, even if we're still waiting on the trial; and b) any lawyer who represents Mr. DeLay must himself be sleazy and condone the things Wertheimer assumes DeLay has done.

We are told that McGahn was counsel for the National Republican Congressional Committee, because in the fall of 2002, right as McCain-Feingold took effect, the General Counsel to the FEC - which is elsewhere in the release criticized as a totally incompetent agency - suggested that the NRCC had done something illegal - though it had immediately corrected its error. Accusing the NRCC of "attempting to circumvent the new law," Wertheimer ignores the actual findings of the FEC's General Counsel in his "First General Counsel's Report," available here, which are that (see p. 25), "the NRCC appears to have attempted to comply in good faith with at least the spirit of [the law - the report gives the statutory citation]." In other words, a report that finds that while Don McGahn was counsel to the NRCC, the NRCC "appears to have attempted to comply in good faith" with McCain-Feingold is used by Wertheimer to claim that McGahn sought to circumvent the law.

Intentional dishonesty? I'll let you judge. But since Wertheimer's group was one of the groups filing the complaint in the case, we can probably assume he is familiar with what actually happened.

Wertheimer goes on to excoriate McGahn for defending, "questionable" campaign finance practices. Not "illegal" campaign finance practices, mind you, merely "questionable." Well. How dare a lawyer represent someone who has done something - well, not exactly illegal, but "questionable" (questionable to whom? Fred Wertheimer?). Sort of like storing bananas in your refrigerator - it's not illegal, exactly, but you really shouldn't do it.

For paragraph after paragraph this goes on, typically relying on sweeping and misleading generalities of the state of the law, and quotes from the pages of newspapers who are first fed these arguments by - Fred Wertheimer. Thus, in a clever cycle, Wertheimer feeds gullible editorialists the type of half-truths and outright lies outlined above, which they print, and which Wertheimer then sites as independent "authority" that his group is correct.

If the public is ever to be enlightened on campaign finance; if there is ever to be a serious debate on these issues - somebody in the mainstream press needs to take note of Wertheimer's misrepresentations and lies, and see that he is excluded from debate among respectable people who actually think the truth should matter.

Is the Centerman steamed? You bet. As the masthead on this blog says, we strive for "reasoned debate." I take people such as Wertheimer as a direct affront to that goal.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A GOP Disaster in the Making?

The merits of Harriet Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court have been well debated throughout the blogosphere. I just want to suggest that, leaving aside the merits of the nomination, it is likely to turn into a political debacle for Republicans.

Let's assume that Miers is confirmed, as I think she will be. Most of the Republican base is unhappy with the appointment, seeing it primarily as a squandered opportunity. For six years social conservatives, who make up much of the GOP base, have been trusting Bush to deliver. For them, this was the moment - and Bush's response was, "keep trusting me." They won't oppose Miers, but there is no enthusiasm whatsoever for the pick. As I see it, then, Miers will have less than one year before the 2006 elections, less than 3 years before the 2008 elections, to deliver big and show that the conservatives' trust in Bush was justified. It is by no means certain that the Court will even hear a case on one of the social conservatives hot buttons - gay marriage, abortion, prayer in school, religious displays in public, or affirmative action - in that time. And even if the Court does, will Miers come down on the "right" side - and be part of a majority?

If Miers fails to, or is denied the opportunity to deliver in that brief timespan, I suspect evangelicals and conservative Catholics will not turn out as they did in 2002 and 2004, when their higher than usual turnout and increased Republicanism gave the GOP victories.

A couple of cases that may get to the Court early in Miers' career may actually deepen the problem. In FAIR v. Rumsfeld, she'll be asked to rule on the Constitutionality of the Solomon Amendment, which denies federal funds to colleges and universities that prohibit the military from recruiting on campus (if you don't know this, many of our colleges and universities prohibit military recruiters because of the military's "don't ask/don't tell" policy on homosexuality). This is a no-win case for social conservatives. Either Miers will have to uphold the Solomon Amendment, angering the GOP's libertarian wing (which is also not thrilled by her nomination) and undermining Boy Scouts v. Dale, which allowed the Boy Scouts to exclude gays from membership on the basis of their First Amendment rights to exclude; or she will have to side with gay rights advocates against the military. Either result will disappoint some social conservatives, although upholding the Solomon amendment will probably be reported as a conservative win, with no thought given for its impact on Dale and other right of association cases, which should, and in the past have been, equally important to conservatives.

Also on the Court's docket are two campaign finance cases, Wisconsin Right to Life v. Federal Election Commission, and Vermont Republican Party Central Committee v. Sorrell. Given that the White House has made it a priority for the past 18 months to try to regulate campaign finance more (they think they will "get" George Soros") and given that Miers is the ultimate White House loyalist, she will probably uphold these speech restrictive laws. But the GOP base hates these laws with a passion, and in both cases the losing party would not be George Soros, but a state Republican Party and a GOP-allied, social conservative group.

Many think Bush chose Miers for political reasons. If so, he needs to fire his advisors.

  • The Skeptic
  • Andrew Sullivan
  • Michael Barone
  • The New Republic
  • National Review
  • Democracy Project
  • Bob Bauer
  • Center for Competitive Politics
  • Ryan Sager
  • Going to the Matt
  • Professor Bainbridge
  • Volokh Conspiracy
  • Mystery Pollster
  • Amitai Etzioni
  • Alexander Chrenkoff
  • Middle East Media Research Institute
  • Right Democrat
  • Democrats for Life