Monday, August 30, 2010

The Use of Race to De-legitimate Conservatives: Are Predominantly White Events and Institutions Per se Illegitimate?

I have often been uncomfortable with the way in which liberals and the media use race as a de-legitimating tool in disputes with conservatives.  Clive Crook nicely points this out here with respect to the recent Glenn Beck rally.

Are predominantly-white events and institutions per se illegitimate or does the criticism apply only to conservatives?  It strikes me that when liberals use race in this way, they are simply using race cynically and politically.

I am willing to explore the claim that predominantly white events and institutions are not representative of America and therefore have less claim to legitimacy.  But if this is a serious inquiry, it should not be directed selectively against conservatives.  Otherwise, the inquiry is betrayed by its cynical manner in which it is selectively deployed and it is the cause of racial equality that suffers.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

New Elections Might Cause Number of Women in Congress to Decline

The L.A. Times reports that the prospect of Republican successes in this fall's Congressional races will likely reduce the number of women in Congress:

With this fall's midterm elections, the number of women serving in Congress could drop for the first time in a generation — a twist on a political season many had dubbed "the year of the woman."

If large numbers of Democratic incumbents lose in November, as expected, many women could be replaced by men. Female candidates tend to do better in Democratic years, and 2010 is shaping up as a successful year for Republicans.
Women now hold 90 seats in Congress: 69 are Democrats and 21 are Republicans. After the November election, Congress could end up with as many as 10 fewer female members, prognosticators now say, the first backslide in the uninterrupted march of women to Washington since 1978.

...In fact, just four women are among the GOP's 46 "Young Guns," as the party calls its frontline challengers who are considered future leaders.
According to the Wikipedia , only 17 percent of our current Senate is female; remarkably, only 17 percent of our current House is female as well.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Back to Class . . . and Race

The debate over the use of race in public policy is in full swing, at least as far as elite opinion is concerned. I can’t really figure out why. Michael Lind issued the latest salvo yesterday, writing in salon. Unfortunately, as it is often the case with this issue, his essay does little to persuade. The reasons become obvious after reading the first few paragraphs: those who assail racial preferences and those who defend them cannot even agree on a set of basic premises. This is a debate where people are talking past one another.

Monday, August 23, 2010

More on Muslim Cultural Center near Ground Zero

Michael Kinsley has a very nice response to Charles Krauthammer on Krauthammer's opposition the Muslim cultural center near Ground Zero.  I thought Kinsley's analogy to blacks and Jews being asked not to move into a neighborhood because their presence might cause anger among the neighbors is pretty apt.  Another example might be nine black students who enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957 following the Supreme Court's desegregation decision in Brown v. Board.  Should they have encouraged to attend an all-black school because integration was upsetting to the white folks in Arkansas?

This is why I think President Obama was right and courageous to speak out on this issue.  The principle at stake is basic and central to our democracy: heckler's do not have a right to veto the exercise of a person's constitutional right in the public square.  We are not a society where we allow the mob to determine whether individuals' can exercise their constitutional rights in the public square.  That was the issue at stake in the Little Rock Nine case and it is the issue at stake here.  If the President of the United States is unable to stand-up for that principle because he is afraid of the political repercussions, then he is not a person of courage.  But this President demonstrated courage in this case and I applaud him.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The End of Judicial Activism?

I have been thinking a lot lately about Judge Walker’s ruling in California striking down Proposition 8, and Judge Bolton’s ruling on Arizona’s immigration law.  The most obvious response is that these rulings, and the reactions of those who oppose them, lay bare the silliness of the modern debate over judicial activism.  According to their critics, these rulings are exercises in judicial activism by liberal judges hell-bent on destroying everything we hold dear; yet recent rulings on gun rights, campaign finance, and race, to name a few glaring examples, are exercises in judicial restraint and the faithful exercise of judicial responsibilities in enforcing our beloved Constitution. 

This is bunk, obviously; Justice Scalia is no less an activist judge than Justice Marshall.  They just happened to care about different things.  This is true under any definition of activism you can think of, from the invalidation of statutes to the creative and dynamic interpretation of federal laws to the active use of the avoidance canon.  If you need support for this, take a look at the Supreme Court’s most recent pronouncement about the Voting Rights Act, Namudno v. Holder.  Rather than rule on the constitutionality of the Act, as most observers expected, the Court, in an opinion authored by Chief Justice Roberts, “avoided” the constitutional question.  It did so by essentially rewriting the statute to say something the text clearly did not say.  In the coming years, the Court is similarly poised to strike down the special provisions of the Act.  As I have written elsewhere, this is “activism on steroids.”

To focus on the concept of activism is thus to focus on the wrong target.  This is to focus on politics, not law, and to render criticisms of judicial rulings as questions of whose ox is being gored.  No shame in that, of course, but hopelessly unhelpful.

Instead, we should focus on the fact that judges are strategic actors, particularly those who sit at the top of the judicial hierarchy.  This is to say, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court have policy preferences, which are reflected as best as possible in their rulings and votes from the bench.  This is true of all the justices, not only the liberal ones.  The moment we come to accept this truism, the better off we will be. 

Right off the bat, I can think of one big improvement on our politics: we won’t have to listen to Senator Sesssions pontificate about the dangers of judicial activism. 

Enough already.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dr. Laura Needs Therapy

Cord Jefferson at The argues that Dr. Laura's use of N---- was not racist.  Ordinarily I would agree with Cord.  Here, I'm more ambivalent.  Dr. Laura was responding to a question by a black caller who wanted advice about getting her white husband to be more sensitive to racial jokes and stereotypes expressed by his friends and family in her presence.  The irony is that this black woman, who is clearly comfortable reaching across the racial divide, instead of getting advice was treated to repeated uses of N---- and got a lecture about black people being to hypersensitive about race. 

I think Dr. Laura thought she could cure us of our hypersensitivity by saying N---- as many times as she could get away with it.  In this context it is not the repeated use of N---- that was troubling, there were other problems.  There was the "my bodyguard is black and he is my dear friend" trope to justify an underlying argument that one can employ racial stereotypes without being racist.  This is reminiscent of the "my best friend is black so I can say whatever I want about black people and you can't say I'm racist" reasoning.  And Dr. Laura's coup de grace is her argument that over 90% of black people voted for President Obama, which I think was offered to show that black stereotypes and generalizations are legitimate because they're true facts.  Of course she forgot that over 90% of black people supported President Clinton.  I wouldn't say that Dr. Laura's a racist, but she clearly has issues with race.

I think Cord is clearly right that black folks need to stop going ballistic everytime someone says N-----.  But, in this context, if a few black people went ballistic against Dr. Laura's repeated use of the word, I can understand why.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The President We've Been Waiting For

President Obama speaks out in favor of the Islam Center near ground zero.  While many of us have criticized this White House for being too cautious, this is a counter-example.  I hope that this is not like the Henry Louis Gates incident where the President spoke out and then had to backtrack.  The President is right to remind us of our values as a country.  If a Democrat cannot defend religious freedom and anti-religious bigotry, then we are really in trouble as a country.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Birthright Citizenship and the 14th Amendment: Part I

It's hard to believe that as midterm elections are slowly coming into view that Republican leaders, particularly those in Congress, have chosen birthright citizenship as the evil of the day, as opposed to the near 10% unemployment rate or anything else of merit to talk about.  I'm also miffed that Lindsey Graham, the Republican Senator from South Carolina is apparently one of this movement's leaders.  I've long regarded Senator Graham as a serious legislator; a Senator who tries hard to find the right mix between a politics of cynicism and principle. I can understand why he may be frustrated by our collective inability to find a legislative compromise of comprehensive immigration reform.  I can understand also why he may feel politically vulnerable.  (Though I cannot understand, if he feels so politically vulnerable, why he would vote to confirm Elena Kagan and make-up for past political transgressions(?) by taking up this birthright citizenship issue.  If you're going to take a stand on principle, then be consistently principled, especially about the things that really matter.)   And like President Obama, perhaps he does not get enough credit for reaching out across the political chasm and for his legislative achievements.  But this?  This?

To better understand what "this" is.  Let me give a little bit of background on the legal cases that have dealt with birthright citizenship.  Other bloggers have focused on the history of the 14th Amendment (see for example the usually insightful Sherrilyn Ifill here).  So, for the benefit of our non-legal readers, I will focus on the cases themselves, starting in this post with the central case.

The most significant case is United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898).  The facts of the  case are fairly simple.  Mr. Wong Kim Ark was born in the United States to parents who were Chinese nationals but legal United States residents. In 1894, he left the U.S. for a brief visit to China and was not allowed back in on the ground that he was not a United States citizen.  This was not the first time he had left the U.S. for a visit to China, but it was the first time he was denied re-entry.

Congress had passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which denied anyone of Chinese descent entry to the United States.  Wong Kim Ark argued that the statute was unconstitutional in violation of the 14th Amendment.    The 14th Amendment provides in relevant part that: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the state wherein they reside."  The United States argued that because Mr. Wong's parents not citizens of the United and therefore "subject to the jurisdiction" of China, Mr. Wong was not a "natural born" citizen as that term is used in the 14th Amendment. Mr. Wong argued that by being born in the United States he was a natural born citizen and the phrase "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" only meant to exclude children of foreign diplomats born in the United States.  Because he was not a child of foreign diplomats, the exclusion did not apply to him.

Thus, the issue to be decided in the case was "whether a child born in the United States, of parents of Chinese descent, who at the time of his birth are subjects of the emperor of China, but have a permanent domicile and residence in the United States . . . and are not employed in any diplomatic or official capacity under the emperor of China, becomes at the time of his birth a citizen of the United States by virtue of the first clause of the fourteenth amendment of the constitution."

The Court agreed with Mr. Wong and rejected the United States' argument.  Surveying English common law, European law, and domestic statutes, the Court concluded that the prevailing understanding at the time that the 14th Amendment was adopted was that "all children, born within the dominion of the United States, of foreign parents holding no diplomatic office, became citizens at the time of their birth."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

NY Times #Fail--Foreign-Born Doctors

Contrast the New York Times reporting, with the actual abstract of the study:

Foreign-Born Doctors Give Equal Care in U.S.
Published: August 3, 2010
Patients treated by foreign-born doctors who trained in other countries fare just as well as people treated by doctors educated in the United States, a new study has found.
But the results are not as good when the doctor is an American who went to medical school overseas and then returns to practice, the researchers determined. In that situation, patients with heart disease have longer hospital stays and slightly higher death rates.
Actual abstract of the study:

[P]atients of doctors who graduated from international medical schools and were not U.S. citizens at the time they entered medical school had significantly lower mortality rates than patients cared for by doctors who graduated from U.S. medical schools or who were U.S. citizens and received their degrees abroad. 
The Times reports that foreign-born doctors provided equal care with U.S.-trained doctors, while the study actually reports that they were superior--at least in achieving lower mortality rates.

The Times own reporting contradicts both its headline and its lead:

The patients of foreign-born international graduates had the lowest death rate, 5 percent, and the patients of American doctors trained overseas had the highest death rate, 5.8 percent. Patients of the American born-and-trained doctors fell in the middle, with 5.5 percent.
Perhaps I'm missing something--such as comparisons on the length of hospital stays--but I would have thought living and dying would have been far more important to most patients.

NYC Mosque Stupidity

There is lots of stupid floating around the opposition to the proposed mosque and community center a few blocks away from Ground Zero. This excellent speech by Mayor Bloomberg highlights just a few of the most salient points. Here's an excerpt:

The simple fact is, this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship, and the government has no right whatsoever to deny that right. And if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.

Go read the whole thing, which includes a very moving account of the history of religious freedom in New York. It speaks to what is best in us, as Americans. I chose this particular excerpt, because it highlights just a few of the strange contradictions in the opposition to the mosque, particularly insofar as that opposition is primarily (but clearly not exclusively, as the ADL's position demonstrates) concentrated on the political right.

(1) Private property rights -- conservatives usually think you are entitled to do what you want with your private property and are not normally sympathetic to the use of tools like historic preservation laws to block development. Yet, in this case, they have been looking for any tool to block these private owners from building a center on their private land. How long before they call for the city to use eminent domain power to block the construction of the Mosque?

(2) Our constitution protects religious exercise. Gathering and worship are core elements of that right. Conservatives have been pretty adamant in recent years about protecting the autonomy of religious groups. Although the First Amendment doesn't guarantee you the right to get land use approval to build a place of worship, it clearly protects you from having adverse land use decisions made just because the majority does not like your religion. (See, e.g., Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah) Conservatives by and large supported the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), a federal statute that arguably provides religious organizations with a huge leg up in the land use process, particularly when it comes to the construction of places of worship. And yet, in this case, these commitments have been thrown to the wayside by a number of leading conservative figures.

(3) Localism -- Conservatives have often argued that land use questions are primarily matters of local concern. They have been at the forefront of opposing federal (and even state) interventions into the land use arena, particularly when federal or state governments have done so in an effort to protect the environment or mandate inclusionary land use policies. At its worst, this defense of localism has been a proxy for discussions about race and class. But, at its best, it has been built around a defense of localism as an affirmative conservative value rooted in questions of associational freedom and subsidiarity. In this case, however, the local community (NYC and, more specifically, the residents of lower Manhattan) has embraced the proposed development while the voices opposing the construction of the mosque and community center have disproportionately been from outside NYC and even outside the region.

At the end of the day, I'm not sure what to make of this entire issue. I suppose if opposition to the mosque were limited to the fringe of the far religious right, I'd chalk it up as a fairly unsurprising manifestation of that group's unfortunate authoritarian and theocratic tendencies. But many of the voices raised in opposition to the mosque (Giuliani, Gingrich, Limbaugh, etc.) are not people I particularly associate with religious conservatism. I'm sure this will sound like concern trolling coming from me, but I think this mosque episode goes to the heart of what's troubling about the contemporary political landscape on the right. The rise of a kind of visceral, racialized identity politics on the right, even among seemingly mainstream conservative figures (or at least people treated as such by the media, such as Gingrich and Guiliani), is more than a little frightening. And there seems to be no core conservative principle that is not subject to being jettisoned to rile up the base or gain some short-term political advantage. I have no idea where all this is headed, but it doesn't seem like it's going to have a happy ending. I feel like all I can do is watch and worry.

Insightful Observations on Race

Nate Sliver at the fivethirtyeight blog made two insightful comments about race in a post in which he sought to understand who in the media has been driving the "conversations" on race that we've been having lately.  For the curious the answer is both conservatives and liberals have been pushing race as a story.  The insights come in the last paragraph in which Nate observes:
It seems to me that much of the "conversation" about race -- most of which is taking place between white liberal elites and white conservative elites -- really isn't about at race all. Instead, the issue has simply become another front in the banal, day-to-day struggle for traffic and eyeballs and ratings points, something used on slow news days to give babble an air of gravitas, and name-calling the air of moral authority.
The insights are that (a) the conversation about race is mostly a conversation between white elites and (b) they are not serious about racial equality.  My own view is that Nate is totally right.

I'll have more to say about this, but I wanted to bring it to your attention and see what you all think.