Non-Controversy Controversies: Sotomayor, Gates, and Birthers

Posted in General by TBartine on July 28, 2009 No Comments yet

It appears that despite national crises ranging from the economy, to health care, and to numerous military fronts abroad…the GOP has little to offer us except “non-controversy controversies.“  It’s part of an common political practice and is not limited in its use to Republican interests.  In fact the Democrats have used this tactic many times in the past, when their party was similarly devoid of practical ideas and sensible members.  The saying in Washington seems to have always been, “If you can’t beat their ideas, and you don’t have the votes to stop their ideas…deflect, distract, and disrupt.“  Oh yes, I have three matching examples:

DEFLECT – The Sonia Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings:

  • From the beginning, it was nearly a foregone conclusion…even the Republicans commented that Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation was going to happen.  And now it has: by a vote 13 to 6, Sotomayor has been confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee as the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice.  You only get one guess who the 6 “no” votes were.  Despite having the most extensive and impressive judicial record of any Supreme Court nominee in recent history, and despite having a record which shows little or no judicial activism, and despite a record that is as close to “bias-free” as we are likely to see, and despite having fewer cases reviewed and fewer cases overturned than almost every current Supreme Court Justice…Senate Republicans have tried to deflect attention away from other issues by turning the confirmation hearings into a circus replete with accusations of activism, racism, and liberalism.
  • Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), ranking Republican senator on the committee…voted against Sotomayor.  Why would a man, who failed his own confirmation hearing due to a history of racist statements and actions, condemn Sotomayor?  Sessions said, “I don’t believe that Judge Sotomayor has the deep-rooted convictions necessary to resist the siren call of judicial activism.  She has evoked its mantra too often.” In other words, despite a long record of faithfully upholding precedent, and her statements that she will continue to uphold precedent…Sessions just doesn’t believe her, despite there being NO evidence to support his conclusions.  All I can say is, Jeff…is a good thing Sotomayor doesn’t make decisions the way that you obviously do.
  • Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA)…also voted against Sotomayor.  Grassley said, “It seems to me answers to the questions she gave us about that don’t comport with what she actually said or adequate explanation overcoming doubts about her statements,” and added that he is concerned about her understanding of the functions of Congress and the Supreme Court as well as the Separation of Powers.  In other words…he doesn’t really even HAVE a reason beyond vaguely “not liking her answers”…and he is willing to ignore Sotomayor’s established tendency to follow precedent and rule according to the standing law of the land.
  • Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ)…voted against Sotomayor.  Kyl’s reasoning was even more inane than Grassley’s: “I did not make my decision quickly. But when we finished the session in which she failed to answer my questions regarding the Ricci case, I knew then she had a very big burden to overcome, because she had just blown it as far as I was concerned.“  So…because he didn’t like her answers on one topic, concerning one case, and arguably a very hard case (details regarding the complex issues involved in the case can be found here), and a case where she ruled in favor of following precedent (the Supreme Court’s overturning of her verdict is a clear example of judicial activism)…he’s going to vote against her.  Jon…it’s called “looking for any excuse” and it’s petty politics at its worst.
  • In fact, the only Republican to vote FOR Sotomayor…was Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).  Why?  He said she’s well-qualified…with a mainstream record…has shown she can avoid bias…and that “Her life story … is something that every American should be proud of, and if her selection to the Supreme Court will inspire young women, particularly Latino women, to seek a career in the law, then that is a good thing – and I hope it will.“  That almost redeems him for some of the BIZARRE questions he asked her during the hearings…and of all the Republican senators mentioned, his comments…match up best with the ACTUAL RECORD.

DISTRACT – The Gates Arrest:

  • In a classic example of “distraction,” Republicans have decided to vociferously condemn President Obama’s statement from his recent press conference, where he said the police officers who arrested Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. behaved “stupidly.”  How much has the GOP chosen to overplay this hand?  Representative Thaddeus McCotter, (R-MI.) has put forth a House Resolution, calling for President Obama to apologize to Cambridge Police Sergeant James Crowley, the officer who performed Gates’ arrest.  Really…?  Michigan is currently suffering 15% unemployment, and McCotter thinks his time is best spent offering up resolutions calling for apologies?  This, Representative McCotter, is the number one reason why you guys don’t get re-elected.  The resolution reads:

    Whereas on July 16, 2009, Cambridge, Massachusetts Police Sergeant James M. Crowley responded to a 911 call from a neighbor of Harvard University Professor Henry Louis (“Skip”) Gates, Jr. about a suspected break-in in progress at his residence, which had been broken into on a prior occasion;

    Whereas on July 22, 2009, in responding to a question during a White House press conference President Barack Obama stated: “Skip Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here. I don’t know all of the facts involved in this local police response incident”;

    Whereas President Obama proceeded to state Sergeant Crowley “acted stupidly” for arresting Professor Gates on charges of disorderly conduct;

    Whereas, as a former Constitutional Law Professor, President Obama well understands that all Americans are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, and their actions should not be prejudged prior to being fully and fairly judged by an appropriate and objective authority after due process;

    Whereas, President Obama’s nationally televised remarks may likely detrimentally influence the full and fair judgment by an appropriate and objective authority after due process regarding this local police response incident and, thereby, impair Sergeant Crowley’s legal and professional standing in relation to said incident; and

    Whereas, President Obama appeared at a daily White House Press briefing on July 24, 2009 to address his denouncement of Sergeant Crowley and stated: “I could have calibrated those words differently” but “I continue to believe, based on what I have heard, that there was an overreaction in pulling Professor Gates out of his home to the station.”

    Whereas, President Obama’s refusal to retract his initial public remarks and apologize to Sergeant Crowley and, instead, reiterate his accusation impugning Sergeant Crowley’s professional conduct in the performance of his duties;

    Now therefore be it

    Resolved, That the House of Representatives–

    Calls upon President Obama to retract his initial public remarks and apologize to Cambridge, Massachusetts Police Sergeant James M. Crowley for having unfairly impugned and prejudged his professional conduct in this local police response incident.

  • What makes this “controversy” even more unnecessary…is that President Obama was right.  First of all, we have to set aside the allegations that the police made their decision based on race, simply because there has been no evidence of any kind to substantiate this claim.  So evaluating the arrest on its merits (or lack thereof), here’s the timeline of events, according to the Cambridge police and Sergeant Crowley’s own report:  a 911 call comes in, and the caller mentions that it appears people might be breaking into the Gates residence, or that it might be the home’s occupants…police respond…Crowley radios in that he is talking to “a gentleman, says he resides here” who is being “uncooperative“…Crowley views Gates’ ID, confirms that Gates lives in the house…minutes later Gates is arrested for “disorderly conduct” for what Crowley writes in his report was “yelling.”  What makes Crowley’s decision go beyond simply being “unnecessary” and into the realm of “stupid?“  In Massachusetts…there have been a number of court cases clearly establishing that simply “yelling” at police DOES NOT constitute disorderly conduct.   For example, Commonwealth v. Lopiano, a 2004 decision, and Commonwealth v. Mallahan, a decision from last year, both involved similar incidents.  As the author of this commentary points out, “Arresting someone for doing something that isn’t illegal is pretty stupid.“  Yes, it is.
  • Bill Maher was asked on CNN what he thought of the situation.  Here’s the clip (they address the Gates “controversy” after the discussion about the general intelligence level in America):

  • On a happier note: President Obama, Professor Gates, and Sergeant Crowley are going to sit down, drink a beer, and discuss the matter.  I love this.  People…all people…even police, professors, and presidents, MAKE MISTAKES.  All people have disagreements and misunderstandings.  BUT…if people can sit down at a table over a round of beers (or tea, or coffee, or fruit smoothies…whatever your preference) and discuss the issues…then there is continued hope for an improved level of human dialogue, with more compassion, more civility, and more decency.

DISRUPT – The “Birther” Theorists:

  • You’ve all heard the ridiculous conspiracy theory by now.  Despite both the short form and long form Birth Certificates being made available, the birth announcement in the local paper, and the verification by the Hawaii governor and the Board of Health of said documents, as well as the doctors’ records of the birth…there are still some people out there who are crying, “Why doesn’t Obama just show us the documents?  He’s not an American citizen!“  And because these people are generally right-wing, fringe conservatives…many Republican legislators want to keep this ridiculous idea alive.  Oh…but most of them don’t want to be interviewed about it, because they know just how ridiculous it makes them look.  FireDogLake managed to catch this on film:

  • Some other legislators…are much more shameless and don’t mind publicly stating their support of the conspiracy.  Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said of the birthers, “They have a point…I don’t discourage it.Sigh
  • However, a clearly disproven conspiracy is beneath even some of Obama’s most strident opponents.  Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) has been extremely outspoken in his opposition to the President’s health care reform plan…but on the subject of the birthers: “I may have disagreements with [the president] on issues, but he is my president, he deserves our respect, and we need forget that nonsense…He is not only a citizen, he is our president.
  • Even BILL O’REILLY admits the rumor is “bogus“…oh, but he defends Lou Dobbs of CNN for discussing the theory and giving it a sense of legitimacy.

  • Of course…the GOP are not the only ones given to ridiculous grandstanding over petty squabbles:  In response to the GOP led resolution to require that all future presidential candidates provide proof of citizenship before running for the office…the Democrats have sponsored their OWN HOUSE RESOLUTION to declare Hawaii as Obama’s “official birthplace.”  Ummm…Dems?  Don’t stoop to their level – just sit back and watch.

Again, I fault Republicans for playing this game NOW, when there are so many pressing issues that require immediate remedy.  Now, more than ever, it would serve the American public best if they were contributing practical and thoughtful solutions, or even if they would simply contribute sound ideas to improve the Democrats’ solutions.  But as I said…when the necessary leadership, creativity, and dare I say, maturity just aren’t to be found: sometimes the “Three D’s” are the only tools available to keep people from realizing that your political party has lost its way.