Saturday, April 17, 2010

HRC for Supreme Court?, My Worst Votes

Why Hillary Would Make a Great Supreme Court Justice and Why It Won't Happen
Supreme Court openings are fun for us political watchers. There are few decisions that a President makes that have as lasting an impact on the country as his Supreme Court picks. Supreme Court appointees serve a lifetime, which can often span 30 or more years, and are basically immune from control or criticism (a Supreme Court justice has never been impeached in our long history.)

The Supreme Court rules on the expanding and contracting definitions of our bill of corporations have free speech? Can the FCC regulate curse words? Does the second amendment prohibit outlawing semi-automatic weapons? Does equal protection require legal gay marriage? Does requiring individuals to purchase health insurance constitute regulation of interstate commerce? And on, and on.

Therefore, properly, the political world zeroes in on potential appointees when an opening occurs. Who would be right to sit on the Supreme Court?

My strong opinion of the best available candidate is Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. This may come as a surprise to regular readers, who know I have been critical of Hillary in the past. But her record speaks for itself. As a Senator, she was a hard-worker, not a celebrity. She bridged tough bi-partisan bridges. She took a pragmatic approach on national security. She was intellectual force without being an overwhelming ego.

As Secretary of State, she has shown many of the same admirable qualities. She has shown no bruised ego over not being selected as VP. She has worked hard, expressed herself clearly, and built the admiration of foreign leaders. She has been a star in Obama's cabinet, but not an overshadowing or self-centered one.

In short, in spite of all the predictions from both the right and many mainstream Democrats, every public job that Mrs. Clinton has held, she has buckled down and gone to work.

She is a lawyer, she is smart as hell and she exercises good judgement. I can't think of a better set of traits for a supreme court nominee.

Alas, it is highly unlikely that it would ever happen.

In the modern era, politicians rarely get named to the Supreme Court. Judicial experience seems value over life experience, so Court of Appeals judges get picked over lawyers who have lived in the real world. The last significant political appointment to the court was Earl Warren, the former Governor of California, who ushered in an era of court activism, so conservatives are very wary of any politician. And politicians have long public records of things people can find to disagree with or criticize.

No, President Obama will probably play it safe with an Elena Kagan or someone of that ilk. Ms. Kagan would likely win confirmation with 65 or 70 votes without a real fight from the right. Hillary would be a dogfight. And I think the President is probably tired of dogfights.

But think for a second -- wouldn't it be great to have at least one pragmatist amongst that great body of judicial theorists?

My Worst Votes
It isn't too often that I regret votes that I cast in elections, but two have come to mind recently that I wish that I had back. Neither candidate won when I voted for them, but both fall into the "what was I thinking?" category.

In 2000, I was a strong advocate for John McCain for President. I donated money to his campaign. I registered as a Republican to vote for him in the primary. I cheered on his pragmatic moderate views, his ripping of the "agents of intolerance" on both sides of the aisle and his appeal to a rational, fair America. I had every intention of voting for him in the general election against Al Gore, if he had won the Republican nomination (as it stood, I wound up voting for Gore, as Bush was a completely unacceptable choice to me.)

That John McCain of 2000 is no more. He started to disappear in 2008, when John McCain started sucking up to the very agents of intolerance that he had derided 8 years prior, including the Rev. Jerry Falwell, an architect of hate if I ever met one. It continued with his choice of Sarah Palin as his Vice Presidential running mate, when everyone knew that the choice of his heart and mind was Senator Joe Lieberman, a moderate, qualified voice.

Then he essentially abandoned his support for comprehensive immigration reform, again caving to the interests of a right wing of the GOP that never supported him anyway. He threw his support behind the Bush tax cuts, cuts he had opposed on his long-held principle that the government should pay its bills before giving money away.

Since President Obama took office, he has completely abandoned his role as a deal-maker between the left and the right, a role he used to play for perfection. I don't begrudge him opposing the stimulus plan or health care reform...he has always been a fiscal conservative and the same reason he originally opposed the Bush tax cuts, that America should pay for what it spends, are fair reasons for opposing those bills. But then he voted against a deficit commission that he had originally helped design, purely out of partisan spite. He supported filibusters against judicial nominees, a practice he had long opposed. He announced that he wouldn't work with the White House on anything the rest of the year, even issues they agree on, purely because his feelings were hurt that he didn't get his way on health care.

What a waste of a man that I used to consider principled. Shame on me for voting for a guy who would sell out his principles so easily.

But my primary vote in 2000 was not my worst vote, not by a long shot. I got it even more wrong in the 2004 primary, when I switched my party registration to vote for John Edwards on the Democratic side.

Out of fairness, I had initially supported Joe Lieberman for the nod in 2004, but Lieberman was out of the race by the time that the primary got to me, leaving me a pretty clear choice between blue-blood John Kerry and populist Edwards.

Still, John Edwards, the man who I would've had become President, has turned out to be about as offensive a human-being as you'll find. It wasn't the politics with Edwards that changed, just my knowledge that he is actually a disgusting human being, worse than the most outrageous accusations from the right would make you believe.

So, all of this is to say, we all get it wrong sometimes. But learning why and how you missed it can help you evaluate future election choices in a reasoned way. I'll keep this all in mind in 2010 and 2012.

Do you have a vote you would really like back? Write me and let me know.

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