The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The successes of Frances Willard

David Frum argues that anti-abortion organizers have a lot in common with the prohibitionists of the early 20th century—and have similar prospects for long-term success:

The culture war raged most hotly from the ’70s to the next century’s ’20s. It polarized American society, dividing men from women, rural from urban, religious from secular, Anglo-Americans from more recent immigrant groups. At length, but only after a titanic constitutional struggle, the rural and religious side of the culture imposed its will on the urban and secular side. A decisive victory had been won, or so it seemed.

The culture war I’m talking about is the culture war over alcohol prohibition. From the end of Reconstruction to the First World War, probably more state and local elections turned on that one issue than on any other. The long struggle seemingly culminated in 1919, with the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment and enactment by Congress of the National Prohibition Act, or the Volstead Act (as it became known). The amendment and the act together outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States and all its subject territories. Many urban and secular Americans experienced those events with the same feeling of doom as pro-choice Americans may feel today after the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Only, it turns out that the Volstead Act was not the end of the story. As Prohibition became a nationwide reality, Americans rapidly changed their mind about the idea. Support for Prohibition declined, then collapsed. Not only was the Volstead Act repealed, in 1933, but the Constitution was further amended so that nobody could ever try such a thing ever again.

I think his analysis is apt.

One bit of good news

About an hour ago, President Biden signed the first significant gun safety law we've passed in 30 years:

The bill provides grants to states for “red flag” laws, enhances background checks to include juvenile records, and closes the “boyfriend loophole” by keeping guns away from unmarried dating partners convicted of abuse. It will also require enhanced background checks for people ages 18 to 21 and funding for youth mental health services.

The bipartisan gun legislation sped through Congress in the month after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. Democrats unanimously voted in favor of the bill along with more than two dozen Republicans in the House and the Senate, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

"When it seems impossible to get anything done in Washington, we are doing something consequential," Biden said. "If we can reach a compromise on guns, we ought to be able to reach a compromise on other critical issues, from veterans health care to cutting-edge American innovation to so much more."

I don't think the President is quite correct in that conclusion. And while the law doesn't do some things we desperately need to do, like ban military-grade weapons for most civilians (including civilian police forces), it's a start. If you recall how long it took to get car safety rules passed, even incremental steps will help.

The fantasies of the Christianist Right

Mark Thiessen took a victory lap in the Post this afternoon, congratulating himself and his fellow travelers for succeeding in their 50-year project to make abortions illegal in most of the US:

Overturning Roe v. Wade has been the overarching, seemingly impossible goal of the pro-life movement for almost five decades. Now that it has finally been achieved, four words should be on the lips of every pro-life conservative today: Thank you, Donald Trump.

Looking back on Trump’s chaotic presidency, some understandably ask: Was it all worth it for a few conservative justices? To which I answer: Yes. A thousand times, yes.

Every Republican president before Trump failed miserably when it came to Supreme Court picks. In 1970, Richard M. Nixon nominated Harry A. Blackmun, who would go on to be the ignominious author of Roe. Gerald Ford picked only one justice, John Paul Stevens, who became the leader of the court’s liberal bloc. Ronald Reagan had three appointees (Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy), but only Scalia was a consistent conservative vote on the court. George H.W. Bush named one brilliant conservative (Clarence Thomas) and one catastrophic liberal (David Souter).

But as Josh Marshall points out, the reason Republican presidents didn't pick partisan Justices in the past—at least until Thomas—was because they didn't want to corrupt the Court:

Certainly the Warren Court was “liberal” by modern standards. But its creation was fundamentally organic. The justices’ positions didn’t clearly line up with those of the parties’ whose presidents nominated them. Indeed, many of the appointments were surprisingly casual and confirmed in much the same way.

The idea that you would create a political movement, harnessed to one political party, dedicated to building up a pipeline of future judges and justices, often all but created in a test tube to overrule specific decisions, was an innovation of the modern conservative judicial movement with no precedent. It had never happened before. And even as judicial liberals have belatedly reacted to that movement, they haven’t replicated it or really even tried.

And here is something of the catch. Conservatives really did convince themselves that the Warren Court and to an extent the Burger Court were the handiwork of a liberal political elite. As is the case in other instances, what’s actual belief or pretended belief gets murky. They claimed to set out to duplicate or create an opposite version of something that had never really existed. And in so doing they created the politicization of the federal judiciary that had never existed before, not in the same way.

At one level, give them their due. They had a goal. They worked tirelessly for half a century, building organizations, think tanks, chapters at every law school, political alliances and more all to get to this one day. And they got there. But it is a legitimate Court or judicial body as much as Fox News is a real news organization. And that’s no accident since they are the creation of the same political movement, often literally the same people and the same ideology and mindset.

So when Justice Thomas, one of the most partisan jurists ever to sit in the Supreme Court, bemoans the degradation of the institution and its authority, someone tell him to look in a mirror. By creating a partisan, activist Court majority, the Republican Party has won the battle against Roe. But I think historians in the future will look back on this moment as the Christianist-Conservative movement's sinking of the Lusitania.

Thomas and Alito unchained

As everyone expected, the Supreme Court today overturned Roe v Wade, ending Federal protections for abortion rights until we find a political fix to the reactionary Court supermajority. (We will; it'll just take time.) I haven't read the published opinion, which 4 of the partisan Justices joined. Chief Justice Roberts (I) wrote his own concurrence accepting the outcome in this specific case but rejecting the broader reversal.

At first glance, Justice Alito's (R) opinion seems close enough to the draft leaked last month, so I'll move on from that for now. But we should all regard with horror and alarm this line from Justice Thomas's (R) concurrence, in which he expresses just how batshit crazy fundamental Christianist he really is:

[I]n future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell. Because any substantive due process decision is “demonstrably erroneous,” Ramos v. Louisiana, 590 U. S. ___, ___ (2020) (THOMAS, J., concurring in judgment) (slip op., at 7), we have a duty to “correct the error” established in those precedents, Gamble v. United States, 587 U. S. ___, ___ (2019) (THOMAS, J., concurring) (slip op., at 9).

Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization, 587 US __ (2022) (THOMAS, J., citing himself as evidence for his own insane assertions.)

In other words, Thomas wants to return to the halcyon days of the '50s—the 1850s. And isn't it a bit rich that this particular Justice wants to undo so much progress? If only he had the courage of his convictions so he'd resign as the Founders intended.

I think we're in for about 10 years of this kind of crap before people finally have enough, or worse. At least Thomas and Alito no longer make any pretense of impartiality or reason.

Another thing to remember: we need to look at the commercial cases the Court has decided this term. Abortion isn't the prize for the Right; it's the payoff to their supporters. The real money's in the real money. Don't forget that.

A quick dictionary of political terms

Back in February, Tom Nichols published a short primer on what political terms actually mean, in hopes of more reasonable and accurate discussion:

There was a thing, years ago, called The Handbook of Political Science. It’s now out of print, but no one wants to read hundreds of pages of that. Instead, let me offer a quick and dirty version of some of these terms, with a bit of snark and apologies to Ambrose Bierce (wherever he is) for incompetently lifting a Devil’s Dictionary approach.

Some of my fellow political scientists and historians will take issue with what I have here. I say to them: If you want to have long arguments about Juan Linz or Hannah Arendt, let’s do that in our patched elbows over some sherry. For now, I just want informed and engaged citizens to think twice about the kinds of words they’re slinging about a tad too loosely these days.

Liberal Democracy

What it is: A system of government that lets you read cranky articles about politics like the one you’re reading right now.

More specifically, democracies derive a ruling mandate from the free choices of citizens, who are equal before the law and who can freely express their preferences. Liberal democracies enshrine a respect for basic human rights (including the right of old cranks to speak their mind). Rights are, one might say, unalienable: The losers of elections do not have their rights stripped away. All citizens abide by constitutional and legal rules agreed upon in advance of elections and are willing to transfer power back and forth to each other peaceably.

What it isn’t: “The majority always rules.” Getting everything you want every time. Governing without negotiation or compromise. Winning every election. Never living with outcomes that disappoint you. Never running out of toilet paper or cat food.

Democracy, in sum, is not “things you happen to like.”

It turns out, most things, in sum, are not “things you happen to (dis-)like.”

He also has some comforting words about what the end of our democracy will look like to most people. Not very comforting, but, well... "Remember always that the post-Trump Republicans are now, at heart, mostly a kind of venal junta, a claque of avaricious mooks who want to stay in office but who don’t really know why, other than that they like money, power, and being on television. (Also, I firmly agree with George Will that they don’t want to live among their own constituents, who mostly scare the bejeebers out of them.) Most of them have no actual program beyond political survival."

Hottest day in 10 years–almost

Chicago's official temperature last hit 38°C (100°F) on 6 July 2022, almost 10 years ago. As of 4pm O'Hare reported steady at 37°C (98°F) with the likelihood of breaking the record diminishing by the minute. At Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters, we have 37.2°C, still climbing, but leveling off.

In other hotness around the world:

Finally, Florida Fish and Wildlife Officials captured a 95-kilogram, 5.4-meter Burmese python, the largest ever discovered in the state. Apparently it had recently dined on a deer. So far they have found over 15,000 of the snakes, none of them quite so large.

Update: Not that I'm complaining, but after holding just under 37°C for three hours, the temperature finally started to drop. At 6pm O'Hare reported 36°C. So no record.

Main battle concluded; mop-up skirmishes continue

A little more than four days after I first noticed Covid-19 symptoms, my body appears to have won the war, with my immune system putting down a few rear-guard actions in my lungs and sinuses quite handily. If I wake up tomorrow without residual coughing or sneezing, I'll be able to partially resume normal life, albeit masked. Good thing Cassie has a few weeks worth of food on hand.

In sum, I should be perfectly healthy to deal with the two crises sure to blow up next week: the final Supreme Court rulings of the term (including Dobbs), and three days in Austin, Texas, where the temperature will hit 39°C every day I'm there.

On Dobbs specifically, and Justice Alito (R) in general, former Jimmy Carter aide Simon Lazarus has some advice for the Democratic Party:

Alito’s intended audience is not elite thinkers or legal scholars but rather lay populations who do not closely follow high-profile legal kerfuffles. Polls indicate that majorities of this huge cohort favor legal abortion, but many do not consider it a top personal or political priority. Alito’s aim is to persuade such people that, whatever the real-world consequences, he is ruling in accord with what he and his colleagues on the right believe—legitimately—the law requires. And on those fronts his simplistic argument could work. In fact, there should be little doubt that it will prove effective—tempering criticism, inducing resigned acquiescence—unless liberals counter with messaging that is trenchant, credible, strategically targeted, and repeated at every opportunity.

Alito has unfurled a legal framework fit for legitimizing campaigns against not only abortion but any right not specified in the Constitution’s text. Liberals must discredit that framework with force and haste. They can no longer rely solely on their preferred tactic of parading the array of real-world horribles that will naturally follow in the wake of decisions that decimate the rights Americans have enjoyed for decades. They must meet their right-wing adversaries on their preferred terrain and successfully mass-market a liberal legal alternative.

In truth, his pitch is antithetical to how the Constitution has been understood from the founding era on.

So where to start? The top-line message point is simple: Fundamental, unenumerated rights—abortion, contraception, LGBTQ liberty, marriage equality, and others—are in fact in the Constitution.

Lazarus' answer? Start with the Ninth Amendment and work out from there.

History shows that the Right usually swings into power when life becomes unsettled, only to hurt so many people that the Left returns to power a few years later. The Right also tend to have better organization and focus, since they don't care as much about policy as they do about power and wealth; but they always, always over-reach and ultimately lose more than they win.

Future generations will look back on ours and shake their heads at Alito and Thomas just as we wonder how the 1830s and 1840s produced such horrible people as John C Calhoun and Jefferson Davis. But we're about to spend a decade or so with the Right finally getting what they've worked to achieve for 40 years. I hope we get through it without a war.

The resolution of constitutional crises

Max Fisher outlines how constitutional crises resolve, and suggests we should look at Latin America, not Europe, for insight into our own potential upheavals:

Such crises, with democracy’s fate left to a handful of officials, rarely resolve purely on legal or constitutional principles, even if those might later be cited as justification.

Rather, their outcome is usually determined by whichever political elites happen to form a quick critical mass in favor of one result. And those officials are left to follow whatever motivation — principle, partisan antipathy, self-interest — happens to move them.

Taken together, the history of modern constitutional crises underscores some hard truths about democracy. Supposedly bedrock norms, like free elections or rule of law, though portrayed as irreversibly cemented into the national foundation, are in truth only as solid as the commitment of those in power. And while a crisis can be an opportunity for leaders to reinforce democratic norms, it can also be an opportunity to revise or outright revoke them.

Presidential democracies [like ours and those in Latin America], by dividing power among competing branches, create more opportunities for rival offices to clash, even to the point of usurping one another’s powers. Such systems also blur questions of who is in charge, forcing their branches to resolve disputes informally, on the fly and at times by force.

I worry.

Day 2 of isolation

Even though I feel like I have a moderate cold (stuffy, sneezy, and an occasional cough), I recognize that Covid-19 poses a real danger to people who haven't gotten vaccinations or who have other comorbidities. So I'm staying home today except to walk Cassie. It's 18°C and perfectly sunny, so Cassie might get a lot of walks.

Meanwhile, I have a couple of things to occupy my time:

Finally, today is the 210th anniversary of the War of 1812 and the 207th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

High temperature record and other hot takes

Chicago's official temperature at O'Hare hit 35°C about two hours ago, tying the record high temperature set in 1994. Currently it's pushing 36°C with another hour of warming likely before it finally cools down overnight. After another 32°C day tomorrow, the forecast Friday looks perfect.

While we bake by the lake today, a lot has gone down elsewhere:

Finally, apparently John Scalzi and I have the same appreciation for Aimee Mann.