E.J. Dionne and defensive conservatives


Washington Post writer E.J. Dionne’s latest column When Liberals Stop Being Wimps is fine, until he gets to the first line of the column: “Conservatives are not accustomed to being on the defensive.”*  Just about every word that comes out of a conservatives’ mouth nowadays is laced with qualifiers, and this is due to the fact that they fear the interpretation (see spin) the media will present to their viewers/readers.  Liberals, on the other hand, are used to having their statements being taken at face value.  Liberals are not used to backing up their statements with explanations.  They’re not used to being called out on their statements, and they’re not accustomed to being on the defensive.

Ask Trent Lott what happens to a conservative when they’re not on the defense 100% of the time.  In 2002, Lott made comments that suggested that the segregationist, Senator Strom Thurmond, “would have made a great president, and the rest of the nation should have followed (Lott’s home state of) Mississippi in voting for (Thurmond) as president.”  This was said as an homage to Thurmond.  Inappropriateness aside for just a moment, Lott made these statements to laud a friend.  Lott’s words were the typical, unthinking statements made by one making a toast to a friend to suggest that that “man of the moment” was a swell feller.

Trent Lott spent the next couple of months issuing a mea culpa to anyone and everyone who would listen.  He admitted that he didn’t think of the ramifications of his words when he made them.  Lott slipped up.  He got caught up in a moment, and he was not speaking from a defensive enough position for one of the few moments in his life.  Even after all of these apologies, Lott’s words were deemed indefensible by the Senate, and he was forced to resign.  One of those who openly called for Lott to resign was Senator Christopher Dodd.

Two years later, in a remarkably similar homage to another Senator, one named Robert Byrd, Senator Dodd claimed that Byrd would’ve made a great leader at any time in our history.  Senator Byrd, you should be reminded, was a Kleagle in the Klu Klux Klan.  In the Senate in June 1964, Mr. Byrd made a 14-hour filibuster speech in an unsuccessful effort to block passage of the Civil Rights Act. Remarkably similar right?  According to then Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle, it was not.

To defend Dodd, Daschle said: “I would think even he (my emphasis) would tell you there’s no parallel (to Trent Lott’s comments).”**

According to Daschle, if we see a similarity between these statements, we are to turn to Dodd to see if they are in fact parallel?  We’re supposed to ask him for an objective view on what he said.  We’re supposed to ask Dodd if his statements were similar to the “racist, unseemly, and you need to resign” comments of Trent Lott?  Dionne’s column implicitly states that Democrats are more accustomed to being on defense, and they can’t provide a better defense than this?

On Monday, 4/2/12, Obama said: “It would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step” for the court to overturn “a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

Regardless what you think of such a statement from a Constitutional scholar, it is not a statement made by a person who is accustomed to being on the defensive.  If a conservative were to utter such a phrase, it would be loaded with qualifiers and politically vague words.  A liberal is not used to having to insert qualifiers, because they are so rarely called out in such a manner.

To defend his president, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney basically said Obama was not accustomed to being on the defensive: “(Obama was) referring to the fact that it would be unprecedented in the modern era of the Supreme Court, since the New Deal era, for the Supreme Court to overturn legislation” on a “matter of national economic importance.”**  Well, that’s not what he said.

If that is what he intended to say, isn’t every bill and law the Congress appropriates a “matter of national economic importance” to one degree or another.  When a farmer exceeds the amount of wheat that is federally allowed, for example, “even though he was producing the excess wheat for his own use and had no intention of selling it” (Wickard vs. Filburn), and that farmer is fined and informed he must destroy his crops. That farmer may be the only individual affected by that ruling in the short term, but in the long-term everyone is affected by this.  In the long-term, if a similar lawsuit is brought against you, this case could be used as a precedent to find against you whether you grow wheat or sell lemonade on a street corner.  Long story short, every law that was passed by “a strong majority of democratically elected Congressmen” can be seen as a “matter of national economic importance.”

When Nancy Pelosi was asked about the Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, she said: “Are you serious?” As a Charles Krauthammer column suggests, Pelosi seemed genuine puzzled by the question.  In other words, she wasn’t used to defending this position on this issue of national economic importance.

Representative Phil Hare, (D-Ill.) seemed similarly puzzled when he was similarly challenged at a 2010 town hall, his repy: “I don’t worry about the Constitution.”***

The point here is not to list the foibles of Democrat leaders, but to show that they’re not used to being on the defensive.  Whether you agree with conservative positions or not, you do not usually see conservatives without their philosophical ammunition at their side whenever they are questioned by the media.  They, at the very least, appear more ready for dissent of their positions.  They’re used to being grilled by media that is both friendly and unfriendly.

Paul Ryan is an excellent example of this.  Ryan will presumably appear on any news program that will have him, and he does not get tripped up.  Anyone who has seen Ryan on one of these shows knows the fluidity with which Ryan can defend his positions and legislation.  Nancy Pelosi, on the other hand, says things like: “We’ll have to read it to find out what’s in it.”

Dionne says: “What’s lost in our discussions of judicial activism is that in the period from the Gilded Age after the Civil War to the middle of the New Deal, it was conservative Supreme Court majorities that nullified progressive laws aimed at regulating the economy and expanding the rights of workers and consumers. The threat now is a return to pre-New Deal conservative judicial activism.”

Dionne does not discuss the whys or the hows “the progressive laws aimed at regulating the economy and expanding the rights of workers and consumers” were struck down.  He simply asserts that a conservative Supreme Court striking down a progressive law is, in essence, something done by an activist court.  An activist court, as defined by Dionne, is any court that strikes down a law that they disagree with on a political plane, whether or not they successfully argue against its Constitutionality.  He then asserts that the current conservative court striking down Obama’s Affordable Care Act would be a return to this form of judicial activism, because the current conservative court disagrees with it.  In defending his position in the manner he defends it, Dionne shows that he is not used to expressing himself in a defensive manner.  He simply leaves the assumption that the Affordable Care Act is Constitutional, and anyone who thinks otherwise has ulterior motives.

Dionne then provides us with the idea that Obama’s statements against the court aren’t that bad (Moderate) when compared to those of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s.  “Roosevelt sought to add members to the Supreme Court (beyond the nine already there) after they struck down one New Deal law after another.”  In other words, Dionne says, at least Obama hasn’t mentioned that he would like to add Supreme Court justices to get a favorable vote.  I guess what this means is that Obama’s scolding of the court was ok, because it was not as bad as those of the grandfather of the current liberal movement.

Dionne then provides a number of quotes that he summarized with “FDR lost the court-packing fight but won the larger battle over the right of the democratic branches of government to legislate on behalf of the common good.”  He then basically says that FDR set up a theory and philosophy of the manner in which the U.S. government should govern that shouldn’t be undone by a conservative Supreme Court.  There’s no mention of the Constitutionality of FDR’s theories and philosophies in which the government should govern, just that it should remain, and it shouldn’t be overturned.  “Progressives would be wildly irresponsible if they sat by quietly while a conservative Supreme Court majority undid 80 years of jurisprudence. Roosevelt wasn’t a wimp, and Obama has decided that he won’t be one, either. Conservatives are unhappy because they prefer passive, intimidated liberals to the fighting kind.”

The argument that liberals, such as E.J., never refute is that the original intent of the Constitution was to fight against tyranny, and this may be due to the fact they’re not accustomed to being in a defensive position on this issue.  The Constitution did not seek to favor one man over another.  Its original intent was to protect the people from government intervention into our lives.  It sought to protect the minority from government edicts.  If we move to a less Constitutional government “on behalf of the common good” as defined by those who sit in office, we subject our freedoms to the prevailing winds of those who sit in office without a framework.  The question I would love to ask E.J. Dionne is if you don’t want your guy to be required to operate within this framework, what will happen when your guy leaves office and the other team’s guy takes office?  What if other team’s definition of what “helps people” is different than yours?  Will you become more of a Constitutional scholar, or will you try to maintain some consistency on the matter?

If Dionne, and his ilk, were questioned in such a manner more often, perhaps they would be more accustomed to being on defense.  It may help them hone their debate skills beyond the “just because we should” arguments that they lay out in Supreme Court debates, or the “because FDR says so” arguments that Dionne uses when he says that these philosophies and theories need to be defended.  Most conservatives are challenged on a day to day, and case by case manner, and it shows in their efforts to defend their position.  When they do lapse, and they do when they rely to heavily on the “because Ronald Reagan says so” defense, Dionne and his ilk are all over them.

*http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2012/04/09/when_liberals_stop_being_wimps_113767.html

**http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2004/apr/08/20040408-122244-5534r/?page=all

***http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/ct-oped-0409-krauthammer-20120409-14,0,2608681.story

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