Friday, August 7, 2009

Sotomayor In, Martinez Out, Health Care Turns Ugly, First 200 Days?, Economic Upturn?

Sotomayor Confirmed
In a vote that held absolutely no drama, the Senate this week voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court by a vote of 68-31. With this vote, she becomes the first ever Latina Supreme Court Justice (and arguably the most powerful Latina in U.S. history) and only the third-ever woman Supreme Court Justice (following Sandra Day O'Connor who was appointed by Reagan and Ruth Bader Ginsberg who was appointed by Clinton.) Her "yea" total of 68 falls short of the 70-75 votes that I had been predicting she would receive and points to a troubling trend in court appointments. Confirmation votes are becoming increasingly partisan, as illustrated by Sotomayor, whose harshest critics would concede is highly qualified to be on the court and whose lower court decisions have been well within the mainstream. When Antonin Scalia, by far the most conservative justice of this generation, was appointed by Reagan, he was confirmed without dissent. Likewise for Ginsberg during the Clinton administration. Sure, Bork was shot down, but he was well outside of the mainstream. Sure, Thomas was only voted in 52-48, but he was very marginally qualified and came with some heavy sexual harrassment baggage. It is really only in the past 10 years that political philosophy alone became a reason to vote against a nominee.

Frankly, it's the fault of the Democrats. Samuel Alito was clearly a strongly qualified nominee whose views, while conservative, were certainly not outside of the mainstream. His confirmation was all but assured. Yet Democrats, including then-Senator Obama, led a stream of "nay" votes to symbolically protest his conservative philosophy. What comes around goes around, as they say.

Not that I forgive members of the GOP, who were somehow outraged by the votes against Alito but had no problem returning the favor to Sotomayor. Shame on you, Sen's Hatch (R-UT), McCain (R-AZ) and Sessions (R-AL). You sold out your principles for cheap political points. At least some members of the GOP showed philosophical consistency on this issue, notably Sen's Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Dick Lugar (R-IN) and departing GOP Sen's Martinez, Gregg (at least we think he is departing) and Bond (moderates Snowe and Collins also voted for confirmation, but I suspect they more or less supported Sotomayor's judicial philosophy to begin with.)

Is this all an acadmeic discussion given that Sotomayor got confirmed? With the same party in control of the Presidency and the Senate, it is for now. But it certainly isn't hard to imagine a situation down the road where those powers are split and it creates an unbreakable gridlock where the Senate refuses to confirm qualified candidates becacuse they don't like their judicial philosophies. That is not a healthy state of affairs.

Martinez to Resign
Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL), who had already announced that he would not seek re-election, has now announced that he will resign his seat early. Some will probably look for a secret plot around this, but I actually think that this is a straight-forward case of a guy tired with his job. His resignation has no real impact on the political situation there -- Gov. Charlie Crist (R) will appoint a "field-filler", a man or woman who will vote Republican but has no designs on running for re-election, maintaining the existing balance of power in the Senate. Crist will still be the overwhelming front-runner to win the seat in 2010. This really has marginal geo-political effect. Good for Sen. Martinez for leaving a job he doesn't like and spending time with his family.

Healthcare Turns Ugly
Town hall meetings crashed by conservative protestors shouting down congressmen, outbursts of violence, nazi imagery? This is all WAY over the top for a debate on the health care system. If conservatives are outraged at greater government involvement in the economy and health care, I'm not sure the best way to convince others is to display violence and hate. GOP leaders need to get out in front of this and condemn the violence. Regrettably, few have and some are attempting to legitimize these strong-arm tactics. My hope is that the public will be smarter and see these people for who they really are -- thoughtless thugs.

We absolutely need to have a debate in this country on the degree of government involvement in health care. This kind of desparate behavior does nothing to advance that debate.

Are we going to have grades every 100 days?
Okay, 100 days has always been a benchmark for a new President. But a set of 200 day report cards? With hostages coming home from North Korea, two wars still going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, a significant and energetic debate over health care and the enviroment going on, do we seriously have time to assign letter grades on every issue, arbitrarily averaged based on whoever happened to be watching CNN and had access to text-messaging during a given 7 minutes? Does this add anything to the discussion?

I refuse to participate. I'll give out grades after President Obama has finished his first year. Giving him a grade on health care or the environment while the crux of his policies are still being debated in congress is just silly.

Okay, I know what you are going to say...I publish a polling update every week or two. I'd love to tell you how that is different, but I have no good explanation.

Signs of Real Recovery?
GDP decline slowed to -1.0% in the second quarter of 2009, unemployment dropped ever-so-slightly in July from 9.5% to 9.4% and Wall Street is surging. I've been saying for a long time that the recession would end this summer, but it's still nice to see some signs it is coming true.
Now is the time that the stimulus bill really needs to get going -- the system is stabilized but unemployment is still high -- getting people back to work needs to be priority #1.

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