Some Thoughts on Our Republic on Washington’s Birthday

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader is using the “snow event” in which he finds himself to do an update of his blog. Lucky you.

As you have no doubt read, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia has died. He was, as you can imagine, one of your Maximum Leader’s favorite justices. On many many occasions Justice Scalia’s opinions, or dissents, were aligned with your Maximum Leader’s views. He was a towering figure on the court for the past 29 years. In your Maximum Leader’s opinion he will be sorely missed.

Now the spectacle that will be the nomination of a new justice to the bench is upon us. Your Maximum Leader was a young man when Antonin Scalia was appointed to the Supreme Court. As many have memorialized over the past few days, he was approved 98-0 in 1986. Scalia’s nomination and confirmation was the last, and will be the last, Supreme Court nomination to take what your Maximum Leader likes to think of as the “traditional” path to appointing a Supreme Court Justice. That “traditional” path was that the President nominated a brilliant jurist or legal mind who (as much as could be determined) reflected the President’s views and the Senate made sure that the nominee had no serious impediment to him taking a seat on the high court and approved the nomination. (For what it is worth, your Maximum Leader knows that this was not always how the nomination process went, but it was more “normal” than not.)

That all changed with the nomination of Robert Bork in 1987. The Bork nomination saga was the end of the old way of doing Supreme Court nominations and the beginning of the new. Now we must examine everything about the nominee and if a Senator wants to oppose the nominee on political grounds then so be it.

Your Maximum Leader thinks that, by the by, the Republic has suffered because of this. We don’t (often) get the best legal minds going to the Supreme Court because their ideology will keep them from getting confirmed. We wind up with (broadly speaking) qualified but underwhelming nominees. (Sonya Sotomayor leaps immediately to mind. As does (though your Maximum Leader likes his decisions) Clarence Thomas.)

Your Maximum Leader loves the Constitution. And he loves our political process as well. He would like to go back to the time where the President could nominate their pick and that pick would get confirmed (assuming they were properly vetted). But your Maximum Leader knows that those days are gone. They have been gone for nearly 30 years. They are not coming back.

So we find ourselves in 2016 at an impasse over how to fill the open seat on the Supreme Court. Your Maximum Leader is sure that President Obama will make a nomination. And your Maximum Leader is sure that the President’s nomination will be treated exactly as nominations should be treated - as described in 2006 by Senator Obama from Illinois:

As we all know, there has been a lot of discussion in the country about how the Senate should approach this confirmation process. There are some who believe that the President, having won the election, should have complete authority to appoint his nominee and the Senate should only examine whether the Justice is intellectually capable and an all-around good guy; that once you get beyond intellect and personal character, there should be no further question as to whether the judge should be confirmed. I disagree with this view. I believe firmly that the Constitution calls for the Senate to advise and consent. I believe it calls for meaningful advice and consent and that includes an examination of a judge’s philosophy, ideology, and record.

It is your Maximum Leader’s belief that the Senate should accept the President’s nomination for hearings. And then they can schedule the hearings at their leisure. Your Maximum Leader is given to understand that the Senate will be in recess from July to November of this year. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t see how, with the Senate’s tremendous work load (you know - doing the business of budget passing and law-making) it will possibly be able to schedule hearings before the July recess. And then it would be unseemly for the then lame-duck Senate to hold confirmation hearings before the new President is inaugurated. So, your Maximum Leader doesn’t see how the open seat gets filled before February 2017…

Of course, this path is fraught with danger. The first danger lies, of course, in the delay itself. How long can you delay before the people (such as they are) decide too much is too much? Once the people decide too much is too much, the obstructionist party will have to deal with widespread anger. That anger can exact a price at the ballot box. Since the Republicans are the obstructionists in this equation (a reputation they do all they can to develop in every possible way in Washington - by the way) how long do they think they can go? Your Maximum Leader isn’t sure. He is inclined to say that they can make it through the inauguration of the next President. But if they choose this path, they will have to approve the nomination of the next President quickly - and regardless of whom the next President is.

The next possible danger is (for Republicans) is that the Democrats will win the general election in November and either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders will make a nomination. Your Maximum Leader can see either of them nominating none other than Barack Obama himself to sit on the high court. If not Obama, then certainly someone of impeccable liberal credentials, who might be more liberal than whomever President Obama chooses to nominate at this time.

Another possible danger in this process, but a danger for the President, is that he selects a nominee that is very liberal and easy to for Republican paint as an extremist. If Republicans could make the nominee the issue (and not delay on the nomination), then the President torpedoes his own choice. Your Maximum Leader thinks this is rather unlikely. What he thinks is most likely, in fact, is that President Obama nominates a left-of-center judge who is generally not contraversial and then sits back and wait for Republicans to delay. Then make it a huge campaign issue that could turn out people on both sides. If it comes down to turn-out, Republicans lose. They lose the general election and they lose on the nomination.

It will be interesting, and saddening, to watch how it all will unfold over the rest of the year. No matter how it turns out, it will be bad for the country. Our Republic is faltering. It is faltering because the legislature cannot agree to even minimal legislating. Our debts grow and grow without any plan for repayment or reduction down the path. Our place as the “leader of the free world” (or even a “world leader” in general) is flagging because we cannot craft a foreign policy that advances our interests. We are in a bad spot. The United States has been in that bad spot for about 10-11 years. Your Maximum Leader wonders if there will not be some trigger event soon that will push us over the cliff, or (more optimistically) cause us to rise up. Difficult to see is the future…

Anyhoo…

It is Washington’s Birthday. Or as the kids call it nowadays, “President’s Day.” It seems wrong that if it is President’s Day we should hold in equal esteem the likes of James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce and William Henry Harrison with those of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt. Your Maximum Leader would prefer that we just go back to it being Washington’s Birthday. He would even tolerate Washington & Lincoln Day…

As he has done in years past… Here is your Maximum Leader’s list of the 10 Greatest Presidents of these United States (the list shows movement from the last time he updated the list):

1) George Washington. (No change) The first president, and the overriding shaper of the office. He set down many of the precedents that still function today. He established the cabinet system, and gave shape to the executive branch. He set down the major goals of US foreign policy (shunning entangling alliances) which held until (arguably) the Second World War. He also flexed (for the first time) federal supremacy over the states by putting down rebellions in Pennsylvania.

2) Abraham Lincoln. (No change) He saved the Union.

3) Franklin Roosevelt. (No change) Created the modern presidency (characterized by a strong executive). He also created the modern federal government (characterized by not only supreme federal authority but by an all-intrusive federal government).

4) James Knox Polk. (No change) Your Maximum Leader has always believed in the greatness of James K. Polk (”Young Hickory” as he was known). Polk promised four things would be accomplished during his presidency. 1 - the Indian question in the south would be resolved; 2 - Texas would enter the Union; 3 - California would become part of the US; 4- a northern border with Canada west of the great lakes would be fixed. (He also promised to resolve unsettled tariff policy issues.) Polk said if these four things were not done in his four years, he would not seek another term. During his term he: sent the army in to round up and move the Indians in the south, he faught a war with Mexico and acquired Texas, California, and other western lands. He was (thanks to British/Canadian intransigence) unable to negotiate a northern border with Canada. He refused to run for a second term, and retired. (Your Maximum Leader will also add that he died shortly after leaving office - which your Maximum Leader also thinks is a generally good thing for ex-presidents to do.)

5) Theodore Roosevelt. (Number 6 last year) He started moving the nation towards global superpower status. Started necessary progressive changes and sensible regulation of the American economy that improved and expanded the middle-class.

6) Ronald Reagan. (Number 5 last year) He redefined the role of the modern federal government. (If you don’t think so, look at the administration of Bill Clinton and guess again.) And he won the Cold War. He was dropped by one position from last year due to his over-delegation of leadership in his second term - and the trouble it got him into.

7) Harry Truman. (No change) Had a tough act to follow, but did very well at it. Used the Bomb to end the war. Nationalized the Coal industry to break an illegal strike. Suddenly woke up and smelled the coffee concerning Soviet aggression and started defending US interests against communists.

8 ) Andrew Jackson. (No change) Andrew Jackson deserved credit (or blame - pick ‘em) for the populist streak in American politics. He was the first “outsider” elected President and has a record to prove it. Expanding the franchise (by eliminating the property requirement to voting). Drastically expanding the use of the veto to expand Presidential power. Killing the Bank of the United States (and with it some financial stability in our young nation). His was a very important and consequential Presidency. He doesn’t have many fans nowadays (and perhaps doesn’t deserve many) but his left a great mark on the nation.

9) Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Not listed) A remarkable administrator and manager of world affairs. He oversaw tremendous peacetime prosperity and growth. He preserved American power and prestige and promoted American values around the world while European nations shed their empires. He managed the Cold War and prevented it from getting hot. He is an underrated President worthy of more attention.

10) John Adams & Lyndon B Johnson. (A tie, your Maximum Leader’s first) Although Adams’ presidency is not noteworthy for many reasons; Adams needs to be given credit for stepping aside peacefully when he lost the Election of 1800. Peaceful transition from one office-holder to another is a little-valued tendency in the US, Britain, Canada, Austrailia and Western Democracies. As for LBJ… It is hard to overlook the most consequential application of federal authority over life in America since FDR. Civil Rights. Medicaid. Medicare. The modern welfare state really is the accomplishment of LBJ. That merits a place on the list…

There you have it…

Feel free to tell your Maximum Leader how he’s wrong if you like… Or shower him with your praise of his brilliance… Either will be appreciated.

Carry on.

Follow your Maximum Leader on the Tweety-box.

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