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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Tuesday, April 05, 2005


playing defense on Cornyn

posted by Aziz P. at Tuesday, April 05, 2005 permalink View blog reactions
Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) lowers the level of discourse:

I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. Certainly nothing new, but we seem to have run through a spate of courthouse violence recently that's been on the news and I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in -- engage in violence. Certainly without any justification but a concern that I have that I wanted to share.

Faced with deserved and widespread outrage over what Joshua does not shy from acknowledging was "not a terribly bright thing for the Senator to say", the response from Republicans is to try and change the subject:


The broader lesson here is not that John Cornyn occasionally says unfortunate things. This much has been evident for some time; equally evident is that he's no threat to Constitutional governance, to say nothing of the idiot fantasies of him as a terror apologist. The true broader lesson lies in what we see here of the modern machinery of the Democratic grassroots: armed and proficient with the high-speed social feedback mechanisms of modern technology, it is fast; it is coalescing; it is on message; it is paranoid; and it is not very bright.

One might argue that the broader lesson is that the fresh face of the Republican party is prone to saying "unfortunate" things. Then again, so too did the old face of the party (Trent Lott comes to mind). I choose not to argue this point, however, and I largely agree with Josh's assessment that Cornyn in no threat to Constitutional governance. On the balance, Cornyn's comments were far worse than Howard Dean's widely-mischaracterized comments about hating Republicans, but still harmless - in the vacuum of their isolation.

Where such comments do have negative consequences is in validation of the extremes. Dean made his comments to a select audience in a specific context; were it not for the gotcha! atmosphere, they would never have even been reported to his more intemperate supporters. Those, we can safely assume, hate Republicans anyway.

However, Cornyn's coments were in fact intended for widespread delivery. They were received, and heard, and will contribute to an atmosphere of hatred towards the system which threatens it. That Joshua is more concerned with shielding his party from a mini-scandal than the long-term negative effects of such rhetoric - as damaging with repetition as the hatred broadcast daily against Jews from Wahabbi minarets - is a sad cautionary tale to all of us of the blinding nature of partisanship. And make no mistake - this is not some isolated case of a single Senator spouting off. This hostility is becoming dogma:

Mark R. Levin's Men in Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America was ranked eighth on the New York Times list this week; it's been on that list for six weeks now, and seems to be leaping off the bookshelves... It's selling, it seems, almost entirely due to endorsements by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Fox News.

But the maddening question here is why Levin, Limbaugh, and—as of yesterday, Tom DeLay—have stopped threatening just "liberal activist" judges and have started threatening the judiciary as a whole. Levin, recall, is excoriating a court composed of seven Republican appointees. He's trashing the body that's done more to restore the primacy of states' rights, re-inject religion into public life, and limit the rights of criminal defendants than any court in decades. He seems not to have noticed that the Rehnquist court is a pretty reliably conservative entity. Reading his hysterical attacks on Justices O'Connor and Kennedy, you'd forget they are largely on his side and substantially different creatures from the court's true liberals. But Levin seems as incapable of distinguishing between jurists as he is incapable of differentiating between cases or doctrine. He's happy to decimate the court as a whole.

Consider Tom DeLay's similarly broad comments from yesterday, following the death of Terri Schiavo: "This loss happened because our legal system did not protect the people who need protection most, and that will change," DeLay warned. "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior," he said. In addition to sharing Levin's unfortunate tendency to label all federal judges as "men," DeLay is now attacking all the judges involved in Schiavo—Republicans, devout Christians, and strict constructionists among them—for failing to interpret the law to suit him. This is not just an attack on some renegade liberal jurists. Levin, Limbaugh, and DeLay have subtly shifted their attack to encompass the entire judiciary.

Levin pays some lip service to the idea that the federal bench needs to be stacked with right-wing ideologues in his penultimate chapter. But he betrays early on his fear that even the staunchest conservative jurist is all-too-often "seduced by the liberal establishment once they move inside the Beltway." Thus, his real fixes for the problem of judicial overreaching go further than manipulating the appointments process. He wants to cut all judges off at the knees: He'd like to give force to the impeachment rules, put legislative limits on the kinds of constitutional questions courts may review, and institute judicial term limits. He'd also amend the Constitution to give congress a veto over the court's decisions. Each of which imperils the notion of an independent judiciary and of three separate, co-equal branches of government. But the Levins of the world are not interested in a co-equal judiciary. They seem to want to see it burn.

The rantings of a wingnut like Levin are no longer fringe when they get play to tens of millions of Americans on conservative radio. That position on the NYT best-seller list is no fluke.

Politics should stop at the water's edge - and at the system's edge. Cornyn has no right to make the Constitution a partisan wedge, and should be roundly castigated from both sides for his ill-advised opportunism. Failure to do so will let the rise of this dangerous idea that "checks and balances" are an antiquated concept go unopposed - with disastrous consequences in the long term.

Cornyn is a creature of the establishment and would likely fight to the death to protect it in the face of an actual threat. But in his quest for short-term political advantage, he has cut his nose to spite his face. Republicans, and Democrats, are well-advised to remember the common ideals and rule of law that shields them both, and keep it in sanctity outside the ugly reach of the American political process.

BTW, the best response to Josh's post came from amos in comments:

Let's state the obvious.

Cornyn is either dumb as a rock, or he decided to make political hay out of recent murders in Chicago and Florida by using them as an excuse to repeat the "activist judges" line. I will leave aside the question of whether any expression of sympathy for the murderers was intended. In any case, historical precedents of threats against the judiciary notwithstanding (or, rather, perhaps especially in the light of same), Cornyn's remarks were irresponsible, and perhaps also cynically and callously opportunistic.

Your post is a nice attempt to make this all about the reaction in the left-leaning commentary. Guess what? Nothing in any of the articles you link to approaches the idiocy, whether intellectual or moral, of Cornyn's comments.

Cornyn's comments weren't unfortunate. They were stupid, foolish, and irresponsible. Rather than wasting time playing he said/she said with the punditocracy, you'd do well to simply acknowledge that simple fact, disavow them, and move on.

well said. Is such a disavowal forthcoming? Unfortunately, principles are often compromised by partisanship. This is no different.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.