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Can Obama's Health Summit Succeed?

[ Posted Wednesday, February 10th, 2010 – 16:30 PST ]

President Obama has recently announced a health reform summit, to take place across the street from the White House, with the C-SPAN cameras rolling. He's invited Democratic and Republican leaders from Congress to this summit. Many cynics have dismissed the effort already, either pronouncing it less than worthless legislatively, or calling it some form of political Kabuki theater which will do no good even politically. I think these pronunciations (especially the latter one) are a bit premature, to say the least. Because either on a substantive level or a political level, I think there actually is a chance for some limited success for Obama in this exercise.

Now, I'm as weary as everyone else over the length of the battle on how to reform our nation's health system, and sympathize with those who say that so much has already been traded away that it's pointless to even pass what is currently on the table. But, as Obama keeps reminding us in the whole debate, if you consider the alternative -- passing nothing -- it's easy to see that this remains an even worse option for Democrats this year.

But let's concentrate on the summit itself. There are two yardsticks for success, here. The first is to actually get something done, and actually get something passed. The second is to position the Democrats politically for the midterm elections, no matter whether anything gets passed or not. The first one likely won't be achieved in a single day, although the summit could certainly be seen as Obama jumpstarting the process, if it does ultimately happen. The second one is easier to achieve, but may ultimately be rather worthless if Congress doesn't put anything on Obama's desk for him to sign.

To begin the discussion, here is President Obama himself, talking about the summit (which is scheduled for February 25th) during yesterday's visit to the White House press room.

To your question about the 25th, my hope is that this doesn't end up being political theater, as I think some of you have phrased it. I want a substantive discussion. We haven't refined exactly how the agenda is going to go that day. We want to talk with both the Democratic and Republican leaders to find out what they think would be most useful. I do want to make sure that there's some people like the Congressional Budget Office, for example, that are considered non-partisan, who can answer questions.

In this whole health care debate I'm reminded of the story that was told about Senator Moynihan, who was I guess in an argument with one of his colleagues, and his colleague was losing the argument so he got a little flustered and said to Senator Moynihan, "Well, I'm entitled to my own opinion." And Senator Moynihan said, "Well, you're entitled to your own opinion, but you're not entitled to your own facts." I think that's the key to a successful dialogue on the 25th or on health care.

Let's establish some common facts. Let's establish what the issues are, what the problems are, and let's test out in front of the American people what ideas work and what ideas don't. And if we can establish that factual accuracy about how different approaches would work, then I think we can make some progress. And it may be that some of the facts that come up are ones that make my party a little bit uncomfortable. So if it's established that by working seriously on medical malpractice and tort reform that we can reduce some of those costs, I've said from the beginning of this debate I'd be willing to work on that. On the other hand, if I'm told that that is only a fraction of the problem and that is not the biggest driver of health care costs, then I'm also going to insist, okay, let's look at that as one aspect of it, but what else are we willing to do?

And this is where it gets back to the point I was making earlier. Bipartisanship cannot mean simply that Democrats give up everything that they believe in, find the handful of things that Republicans have been advocating for and we do those things, and then we have bipartisanship. That's not how it works in any other realm of life. That's certainly not how it works in my marriage with Michelle, although I usually do give in most of the time. (Laughter.) But the -- there's got to be some give and take, and that's what I'm hoping can be accomplished. And I'm confident that's what the American people are looking for.

Now, allow me to translate (or paraphrase) what message the president is sending to the Republicans by all of this, because Obama puts it so politely that you may have missed what he is really signaling here.

This is not going to be just a forum for political speeches and ideology, by either side. Because, mark my words, we are not going to put up with demagoguery from the Republicans. I have called for Republicans to bring their ideas to the table, but this time we're going to demand they put some numbers on their proposals. We're going to have the C.B.O. sitting in as a referee, to let us know what the facts are when it comes to saving money. Because I am sick and tired of Republicans grandstanding, while at the same time refusing to put their ideas to the same test Democrats have -- getting them scored by the C.B.O. If the Republicans truly believe their ideas will work, then they will have to prove it by putting some real budgetary numbers to their plans, instead of just talking about them. Because I think we've had enough hot air on the issue, and I'd like to talk real, factual numbers with Republicans -- on live television, so the American public can see what is fact and what is fiction.

Obama also stated that he's not going to just "start over" on the whole process -- that what has already been accomplished by the House and Senate is going to be the starting point. This is good, because of where we currently are, legislatively.

Democrats in the House and Senate are currently playing the old Washington game of "You first..." / "No, no... after you." Both houses have passed a bill. These bills are different. But with 41 Republicans in the Senate, no bill which requires 60 votes to pass is going to have a chance, realistically. So the Senate bill has to be the foundation to build upon, if anything is going to pass. The House could pass the Senate bill unchanged, and it would go straight to the president's desk for his signature. But the House is balking at doing so, since the Senate bill is so flawed.

The obvious answer is to link this bill with what has been described as a "sidecar" bill -- one which fixes the most egregious problems with the Senate bill. The House and the Senate would have to pass this, but the Senate could do so using "reconciliation" rules, which only require 50 Democratic Senators (and Joe Biden) to vote for it. The impasse revolves around who goes first.

The House doesn't want to vote for the Senate bill without assurances that a sidecar will also pass (because once the House passes the Senate bill and the president signs it, it will become law). The Senate doesn't want to pass the sidecar without assurances that the House will pass both bills. So "who goes first" is the game they're currently playing. This -- the scheduling -- is one of the issues it would be fascinating to see resolved in the health summit, although I have to admit I have no idea what the chances are of this happening.

But the Democrats should present a unified front to the Republicans -- if Republicans don't join in honest negotiations, then Democrats should be resolved to passing both the Senate bill (in the House) and the sidecar bill (by reconciliation, in the Senate) -- with no input from Republicans whatsoever. The choice needs to be presented to the Republican leaders: you can either help us "fix" the Senate bill, and any worthwhile ideas you have that can be proven to save money will be included in the sidecar bill... or we are going to go ahead and do it without you.

Republicans should be given the political choice of going back to the voters and saying either: "The Democrats were going to ram this through, so we did the best we could to make it better with good Republican ideas," or to honestly make the case: "We're against doing anything, and the Democrats are the ones who refuse to be bipartisan by letting us write the bill."

That second one may sound like what Republicans want, but Republican leaders (as opposed to the rank and file) know that the "Party of No" label is a dangerous thing to have around their political necks all year. Moderate voters don't want to see total obstructionism, even if it delights the Republican base. And moderate voters are where a lot of elections are won and lost.

Of course, Republicans could gamble that obstructionism is a winning strategy for them this November, in which case they likely won't even show up to the summit in the first place -- because nothing could be gained by them doing so. But Obama should make it clear (as he did repeatedly in his answers to the press) that "bipartisanship" is simply not going to mean "Republicans write the bills," as it has so often in the past. And even if they don't show up, Obama should hold the meeting anyway -- with empty chairs where the Republicans should be, for the television cameras to see.

Republicans already know the danger of them showing up to the meeting is having their ideas proven to be minor reforms, at best. They must know that the numbers aren't going to show that their reform ideas will save more money than what Democrats have already proposed. This is why they're so scared to face the C.B.O. in the first place. And they know that if they propose ideas, and then vote against them when it comes time, that they are going to be seen as playing politics, instead of trying to make things better for the American public.

But no matter whether they show up or not, Obama -- just by proposing the meeting -- has successfully pulled the rug out from three major slogans the Republicans were planning on campaigning on this year -- (1) "Obama keeps saying we have no ideas, or tells us to shut up about them," (2) "Everything the Democrats do is behind closed doors, when Obama said he'd put it on C-SPAN," and (3) "We're the true deficit hawks and our ideas would save billions, if Democrats would only listen to us."

Obama is, in essence, saying to the Republicans: "Put up or shut up," which is quite a different thing. To put it another way, it's a game of "chicken." And Obama has actually shown a recent willingness (post-Massachusetts) to take this fight to the Republicans, and pin them with the obstructionist label. This worries Republicans, since it's always easier to fight against a caricature than someone who is actually fighting back.

So while seeing real results from the summit may take a while longer than one day, and while actual results are contingent upon Democrats at this point; it's certainly a worthwhile use of Obama's time to try. If Democrats in the House can agree to pass the Senate bill, and if Democrats in the Senate (only 50 of them, meaning the Liebermans and Nelsons would be irrelevant) can agree to fix their bill using reconciliation, then that is a path forward to success in the whole prolonged legislative battle. If Obama lets House members know he won't sign anything without a sidecar to accompany it, and if Obama lets Senate members know that he'll have their political back in defending the use of reconciliation, then he could actually move the process to the finish line.

It's certainly nothing to bet the farm on at this point -- but it's also better than nothing at all, which is now the only alternative. But while the chances for actual legislative success are impossible to predict at this point, the chances for Obama to position both himself and Democrats in a much better place for this year's midterms against the Republicans remains high. If health reform does not pass, the only way Democrats have a shot at avoiding massive losses in this year's congressional elections (short of, that is, the unemployment rate suddenly falling to 6.0 percent) is to paint Republicans as even more despicable then Democrats are to the electorate right now. That's not a very optimistic note to end on (it's actually pretty ugly, I must admit), but it's pretty close to being true. At this point, in other words, there's not a lot for Obama or the Democrats to lose by holding the health summit. Politically -- especially if the Republicans don't even show up -- they may even have something to gain by making the effort.

 

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

-- Chris Weigant

 

17 Comments on “Can Obama's Health Summit Succeed?”

  1. [1] 
    akadjian wrote:

    I think this is a fantastic idea!

    Why it almost looks like the Democrats are going on offense. And it puts Republicans in a bit of a bind, don't show and guess what you look like?

    And I can almost guarantee you that they don't want to show. They'd rather say to the cameras "We want to work together, but they don't invite us to the table" but for the past year they did anything but.

    So call them out!

    This could be good on TV.

    I heard one of the Republican reps on NPR today - forget who it was - and their "new" proposal is the same old proposal, privatize Medicare. Their pitch works something like this: scare people into thinking Medicare is the reason for the deficit and make the argument that we have to privatize it - of course grandfathering in the people already on Medicare so they won't fight against it.

    Makes me laugh when I remember the Tea Partier with the sign that said "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!"

    Just amazing how folks can be so turned around by good propaganda.

    Anyways, Obama ought to know what to expect. I'm sure there will also be a lot of crying by the usual crowd that the process is somehow unfair.

    But this is a good move. Because Republicans say that they want to work with Democrats, but for the past year they've done anything but. And this is a chance to bring this out into the open.

    If they actually meant what they said, then they should be excited about this opportunity. We'll see.

    -David

  2. [2] 
    Moderate wrote:

    I'm actually not surprised to see Obama back down on the "Tort reform will make minimal savings" line because the CBO has revised its earlier figures, projecting that Tort reform could save $54 billion over the next 10 years.

    (In case you think I'm making that up, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/09/AR2009100904271.html, and I actually have the original CBO report to hand too)

    To put that into context, the House Bill, the one that was proposed to be the vastly superior one, saved only $30 billion according to the CBO. As Obama himself said, the CBO is nonpartisan and he values their input in the process.

    As far as I know the Republicans have already said they will show up, or at the very least hinted at it. I think they know it'd be worse not to show up, because that makes the "obstructionist" case for the Democrats easier.

    (They know full well Obama would do just what you suggested he should, have the summit anyway with the empty chairs. Quite rightly too.)

    Having said that, however, I fear this'll be yet another repeat of Obama's speech at the GOP retreat. It feels like a no-lose situation for the Democrats and a no-win one for the Republicans, but maybe I'm just being pessimistic.

    With that recent report from the CBO to back up their argument they're in a better position than they were a week ago, but I just suspect Obama's too clever not to have a plan in mind on how to deal with the Republicans, and one thing he is, no matter what else you say, is a great performer in front of the cameras. He's a sensational orator, so this will be his arena.

    For me this summit won't have any impact on the legislation. Whether it now passes or not entirely depends on the leadership skills of Obama. If, as you say, he can convince both the House and the Senate that he has their back, they can pass this through reconciliation (most of it, anyway) without any Republican support whatsoever. The summit, for me, is about November.

    And like you, I think they have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Credit where it's due, this is yet another political masterstroke by Obama during this second year (the first being the GOP retreat Q & A).

  3. [3] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Michale,

    Obama might also surprise. What if the summit were really a chance to actually work on healthcare reform?

    Without all the political theater. Now if he could convince both Republicans and Democrats to actually work on this, for the good of the country, that would be the true masterstroke.

    I think it's odd that you see this as a "no win" for Republicans, Michale. Why? Because they can't continue obstructing? Because they might have to actually do what they say they've wanted to do and sit down at the table and work on this?

    I'm really not sure I understand. Unless you think working together is "losing".

    Imagine if the parties could actually work together and put country first - instead of all the back and forth garbage. Isn't that what just about everyone wants?

    Maybe it can be more than political theater. That's my true hope.

    -David

  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    David -

    Watch those names, there's a new commenter in town...

    :-)

    Moderate -

    OK, so tort reform saving $54b over ten years is $5.4b/yr. Heath care in the US is a $2.3 trillion a year industry. So the savings will be around one-forth of one percent.

    I had earlier heard the CBO pegged it at perhaps 2 percent.

    Either way, while any savings is good, this kind of proves Obama's point about it not being enough. The Senate bill will trim $130b in the first ten years, and over $1 trillion the second ten years. Which, again, is what Obama is speaking when he says "if I'm told that that is only a fraction of the problem and that is not the biggest driver of health care costs, then I'm also going to insist, okay, let's look at that as one aspect of it, but what else are we willing to do?"

    Obama's never been completely against tort reform, there's even a pilot tort reform program already IN the Senate bill. There's a lot of pilot programs, to see what saves money in the long run.

    I kind of agree that it seems to be a no-win situation for Republicans, because they see any political victory for Obama on HCR as a "lose" for them. Instead of a "win" for the American people -- another point Obama keeps making.

    -CW

  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    Obama keeps reminding us in the whole debate, if you consider the alternative -- passing nothing -- it's easy to see that this remains an even worse option for Democrats this year.

    Passing nothing may be the worst option for Democrats, but it's the BEST option for the country..

    Obama also stated that he's not going to just "start over" on the whole process -- that what has already been accomplished by the House and Senate is going to be the starting point. This is good, because of where we currently are, legislatively.

    This is NOT good..

    Why start with a failed plan??

    Think about it.. The current plan is so fraked up, it couldn't even pass with a Democrat SUPER-Majority. Democrats had the lock on EVERY aspect of government and they could not pass CrapCare.

    And THAT is the place to start?? Seriously??

    I don't mean to sound rude or condescending but it seems to me that making CrapCare the STARTING point is ending negotiations before they even start.

    If Obama and the Democrats are REALLY serious about a TRUE bi-partisan negotiation, then the ONLY thing that makes sense is to scrap it all and start from square one.

    Anything less is just political theater..

    Michale.....

  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    CW

    David -

    Watch those names, there's a new commenter in town...

    :-)

    Tell me about it!!

    I was freaking out, thinking that David had addressed my post even before I had written it!!!

    ARRGGGHHHH!!!! GET OUT OF MY HEAD!!!!!

    :D hehehehehehehe

    Michale.....

  7. [7] 
    Moderate wrote:

    David,

    Hey! Much as I like Michale, I'm not he.

    To address your point, I don't see it being anything more than political theatre, which is why I see it as a no-win for the Republicans. If, however, it's about a truly bipartisan approach, that'll be good for both parties.

    Chris,

    I was comparing it to the House Bill (let's be fair here; that's the one that the Demorats would pass if they could). Not seen the CBO figures for the Senate Bill, but if your figures are right, and I accept they probably are, then that is still no reason to ignore Tort reform entirely.

    My problem with the way the Senate Bill approaches both Tort reform and interstate trade of insurance is that the scheme are, as far as I know, entirely voluntary for the states to choose to enter into. That's really no different to what's currently in place; all it does is incentivize more states to re-consider policies that they've already rejected before.

    I kind of agree that it seems to be a no-win situation for Republicans, because they see any political victory for Obama on HCR as a "lose" for them. Instead of a "win" for the American people -- another point Obama keeps making.

    Actually Chris, I disagree with you. I think if HCR passes with the Republican Party on board, that's a political victory for the GOP, not Obama. What would be a a "lose" is if the summit is just posturing (which I think it is) and Obama passes HCR through reconciliation. I suspect the Democrats are just looking for a justification for using reconciliation, so it looks less "shady"

    Yes, I know the GOP used it plenty of times, but it never got the same level of coverage this is getting. A lot of people who don't understand it think it's some sort of "cheat" (it isn't), so if Obama can say "Look, they forced us to do it because they're obstructionist for the sake of it" then it's a win for him.

    Michale,

    Not sure passing nothing IS the best option for the country. Passing what's on the table at the moment, however, the Democratic proposal for reform? That's what's bad for the country. Reform is needed, I don't argue with that, but the Democrats approach to it is over-broad and overly expansive.

    It's actually worse than you think. The House Bill, which isn't even on the table at the moment as it won't pass the Senate, couldn't pass the Senate with the Supermajority. But the Senate Bill, which is where the Democrats think the summit negotiations should begin, can't even pass in the House, where the Democrats STILL hold enough votes to pass it.

    Even the Democrats don't think the Senate Bill is any good and yet they're still insisting it's the starting point. Hence, as I say, why I think the summit will be nothing more than an Obama sales pitch to the American people.

    It's not about bipartisanship. Obama hasn't wanted it, and never wanted it.

  8. [8] 
    Moderate wrote:

    Bah. So many typos. Obviously that's meant to be "schemes". But worse, I was supposed to put quotes around:

    "I kind of agree that it seems to be a no-win situation for Republicans, because they see any political victory for Obama on HCR as a "lose" for them. Instead of a "win" for the American people -- another point Obama keeps making."

    I'd hate for anyone to think I actually agree with that stance ;-)

  9. [9] 
    Michale wrote:

    Not sure passing nothing IS the best option for the country. Passing what's on the table at the moment, however, the Democratic proposal for reform? That's what's bad for the country. Reform is needed, I don't argue with that, but the Democrats approach to it is over-broad and overly expansive

    I should have clarified..

    If the choices are passing DunselCare AKA CrapCare and doing nothing, then the best choice for the country is doing nothing.

    Reform is needed, I don't argue with that, but the Democrats approach to it is over-broad and overly expansive.

    Even the Democrats don't think the Senate Bill is any good and yet they're still insisting it's the starting point. Hence, as I say, why I think the summit will be nothing more than an Obama sales pitch to the American people.

    That was my point exactly..

    Democrats couldn't pass this bill, even with a so-called SUPER-Majority.

    Why on earth could this un-passable and utter failure of a bill be construed as a good starting point?

    Like I said above. If Obama and Democrats are serious about a bi-partisan approach, the ONLY logical solution is to start over.

    Michale.....
    1000% in agreement.

    By far...

  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:

    But worse, I was supposed to put quotes around:

    I use the italics and bold attributes. I makes things a lot clearer, at least IMNSHO.. :D

    But use the 'greater than' and 'less than' symbols instead of the [ ]...

    IE 'greater than' I 'less than' for italics instead of [I] etc etc etc..

    Michale.....

  11. [11] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Moderate, Michale - my apologies. There are some evenings when I should probably just go to bed :)

    -David

  12. [12] 
    Moderate wrote:

    If you're ever in need of something to put you to sleep, see the long winding argument between myself and LewDan had over on the Citizens United post.

    A word of advice though; make a snack before you start. ;-)

    Michale, thanks for the tip. I've given it a try, I'll see how that works out.

  13. [13] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Heheh. I started to read and my ADD kicked in.

    I just think it's funny when people try to say that they're trying to interpret the meaning of a document (like the Constitution) at the time it was written.

    The reason I think this is funny is that it's just as much an interpretation as an interpretation that sees the Constitution as a document written to adapt to the times. Who is someone like Scalia to think that he can say what was originally meant by the Constitution?

    And would we really want the Constitution of the late 1700s anyways?

    It reminds me of folks trying to literally interpret the bible according to what the authors "meant." As if somehow they have special insight into what they meant.

    As I've always said, "I have no problem with God, just the people who think that God is talking to them."

    This is about all the late night legal reasoning I can muster.

    -David

  14. [14] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    New pattern: Obama forcing a showdown on his terms, Reid rejecting the Baucus jobs bill, Pelosi holding symbolic votes to beat Republicans over the head.

    Meanwhile, Parker Griffith is probably not going to make it through his primary. Behold, the teabag terror!

    PS Chris, did you see this unauthorized look at the Tea Party Convention?

  15. [15] 
    Moderate wrote:

    Heh, David. Don't blame you, I have mild ADD...getting through Law School, all those long cases to read, all those big heavy textbooks...was an utter bitch.

    I'm much more focussed when I'm arguing a point. Incidentally my ADD is largely why I spend so much time here when I should be working. Don't tell my boss ;-).

    I just think it's funny when people try to say that they're trying to interpret the meaning of a document (like the Constitution) at the time it was written.

    Original Intent is a dodgy approach. I tend to go with an approach of "follow what the text actually says, unless doing so is so utterly repellant that some level of interpretation and "modernisation" is required".

    So on most things I follow precisely what the text says, but things like Civil Rights (passed under the Commerce Clause even though it wasn't really commercial law), abortion (there's no privacy right, and I still believe there isn't, but to me it's clear that autonomy over one's body is an implicit right in the Bill of Rights) and gun control (the second amendment was written in the aftermath of a war against an oppressive government; it's hard to argue that the same applies today) require some "contextualisation" in a modern setting.

    The reason I think this is funny is that it's just as much an interpretation as an interpretation that sees the Constitution as a document written to adapt to the times. Who is someone like Scalia to think that he can say what was originally meant by the Constitution?

    Exactly. Scalia's a legal genius (seriously, his opinions read like nothing else; they are almost good enough to read purely for pleasure) but he no more knows what the founding fathers intended than he does next week's lottery numbers. Besides, arguing that "interpretation is wrong" and then using an Original Intent analysis is simply, as you say, interpretation by another name. It smacks of hypocrisy.

    (Incidentally, it's rare indeed when I agree with Scalia's reasoning on a case. I may agree with his holding, but rarely the reason why. Thomas isn't much better.)

    And would we really want the Constitution of the late 1700s anyways?

    And that is precisely why a "modernisation" approach is the right one. I still think strict interpretation is the ideal standard, but there are times that a law written in the 18th century needs to be brought into the 21st. America is not the same as it was when it was founded. It's better in some ways, worse in others, but no matter what, it's different. Its constitution must be different too, or it becomes useless.

    It reminds me of folks trying to literally interpret the bible according to what the authors "meant." As if somehow they have special insight into what they meant.

    Actually, I contextualise the bible all the time (I'm not a Christian). That's why I think that the ban on homosexuality, for example, was probably a response to social factors. Not sure what they were, could be anything from trying to boost population (so encourage heterosexuality) to people dying from sexual disease combined with a presumption it was caused by homosexuality not just sex (we laboured under that misconception back in the 80s, remember?) of any kind.

    I am sure, however, that God, if he exists, doesn't hate Gays.

    What scares me is the whole WWJD movement. Like anyone can know what Jesus would do if he were here, as if anyone makes decisions in a vacuum. Even Jesus would surely have to see what the situation was, weigh things up, then decide.

    Again, I'm in favour of modernising a book written that long ago. I'm not in favour of moving society backwards to the time the book was written. Why would anyone want to regress back to that? Society has moved on, we've progressed.

    As I've always said, "I have no problem with God, just the people who think that God is talking to them."

    I've no problem with people thinking God's talking to them, as long as he's telling them to love. I mean, if someone says they heard God and God told them to feed the hungry, I'd have no problem with that. If someone built a hospital because of God speaking to them, likewise, that's not a bad thing. But if someone says God tells them to hate Gays, or Jews, or Blacks, or whatever, then that's clearly wrong.

    What kind of God would preach a message like that? None that I'd want anything to do with (full disclosure: I'm agnostic, so, technically, I wouldn't want anything to do with any God, but that's somewhat besides the point). Religious people tell us that God is benevolent, so it seems entirely contradictory to use God to justify hatred.

    Osborne, Parker's fate doesn't surprise me. When a guy says he's a lifelong Democrat back in 2006 and switches to the Republicans just three years on, he's not a loyal guy. Republicans don't trust him not to switch back. Besides, his voting record isn't really all that conservative. He voted with Pelosi 85% of the time before his switch. Yeah, that's a real Republican right there.

    The situation with someone like Rodney Alexander was very different, as he was always a conservative Democrat, and it was the selection of John Kerry, a man who makes Obama seem positively right wing by comparison, which pushed him to switch. Besides, the Republicans had the majority in both of the houses in 2004. At the moment the Democrats dominate both houses.

    In a state that's usually red anyway, Griffiths' switch probably only made it easier for Brooks, as I suspect Brooks would've lost in a general election to an incumbent (and Democratic) Griffiths. Oh well. Guess he's wishing he'd listened to all the people who told him it was political suicide to switch.

  16. [16] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Moderate,

    I have to admit I find Scalia pretty sharp as well. And Chief Justice Roberts seems even more impressive. Though I disagree with much of their approach, the way they are able to argue it is quite well done.

    I tend to lean much more towards "contextualization" as you call it. The "living document" approach. You might be talking about something different so feel free to tell me to go take a leap if that's not what you mean. I will admit I'm not a lawyer and just find this conversation quite interesting. Because I don't think this is "legislating from the bench" as Republicans typically phrase it.

    It's great framing. But I believe misleading.

    When it comes to God, I will also admit that I'm agnostic. I don't hold anything against those who are religious so long as they don't try to impose their beliefs on others. The comment about those who believe God is talking to them is more of a semi-serious joke because you can never be sure what God is going to "say" to them.

    I've spoken with several "literalist" Bible interpreters who have sworn up and down to me that the bible was written in English. I asked them if they'd ever looked at some of the different versions of the Bible and they insisted there was only one. And it was written in English. When I said it was originally written in Hebrew they looked at me as if I were mad. I find this a bit scary, not to mention sad as the King James version is a fantastic work of literature - almost poetic.

    -David

  17. [17] 
    Moderate wrote:

    Oh it's not legislating from the bench at all. I wouldn't describe my position as quite being the "living document" approach; I begin from a textualist base, but there are times when a strict textualism approach would lead to injustice.

    For example, if one were to apply the first amendment strictly, one could make a case that whilst Congress cannot make a law prohibiting the free exercise of religion, the President could by executive order. That would clearly be a crazy conclusion to draw (especially as Congress, if it tried passing a law to change that, may fall foul of the establishment clause)

    The only reason I draw the distinction between my approach and a "living document" approach is that as I feel that decisions like Griswold were just plain wrong. I don't see the concept of privacy anywhere in the text. There isn't even a hint or implication of it; the SCOTUS Justices just conjured it up.

    Whereas there are, for example, references to one's body (habeus corpus, or "be secure in their persons" in the fourth amendment, for example). These could constitute grounds for a right to be secure in one's body (autonomy over one's body). This right is far narrower than the "privacy right" and yet would still cover things like abortion. It wouldn't have covered the law in Griswold, but then I agree with Potter Stewart; the ban on contraception, whilst incredibly silly, was still constitutional as a matter of law.

    When it comes to God, I will also admit that I'm agnostic. I don't hold anything against those who are religious so long as they don't try to impose their beliefs on others.

    Precisely, I'm all about "live and let live".

    The comment about those who believe God is talking to them is more of a semi-serious joke because you can never be sure what God is going to "say" to them.

    Heh, yeah, I got it. It's dangerous territory and clearly there's not much one can say to distinguish hearing God (which we're told is religious) to hearing the Devil (which we're told is schizophrenia).

    "I've spoken with several "literalist" Bible interpreters who have sworn up and down to me that the bible was written in English."

    Heh. And how did they react when you told then Jesus was a Jew?

    "I find this a bit scary, not to mention sad as the King James version is a fantastic work of literature - almost poetic."

    Yep. I have a copy myself and it's actually an enjoyable read. In case you're wondering why I own a copy, because we're a Christian country (unlike the US we do have an established religion, which is precisely why the founding fathers wrote the establishment clause), we got taught all about Christianity at school when I was younger. At about age 12 they began to expand the curriculum to cover all major religions.

    I actually think teaching religion in schools, so long as it's all of them, can be a great thing. It's likely to breed more tolerance in society.

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