Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Vote with your feet

The disconnect between the electoral spectacle that embodies our formal democracy and life back on earth is becoming more stark by the day. Tunisia has shown us an excellent example of how to run a workable parliamentary system by shortening the campaign season to a few weeks, rather than than the 18 months of relentless abuse we are now subjected to, every bit as exasperating as subway harangues from wheedling beggars and screeching religious nutbags. (Tunisian turnout was an impressive 90 percent.)

But the most annoying part of the Chinese water torture known as election year hasn’t yet begun: the nonstop whining we are about to experience from appendages of the Democratic Party telling us what we ‘must’ do to stave off the greater GOP evil by dutifully lining up with the current team. One of the recurrent themes we will be hearing is that of the crucial importance of controlling nominations to the Supreme Court, which will fall to the K Street lobbyists if Obama does not return.

It’s true Obama’s nominations have been a rare bright spot, and Sotomayor and Kagan are holding the line admirably though without much effect so far. And therein lies the nub: the Supreme Court, being a political institution, is influenced by the currents and overall zeitgeist of the society in which it resides. To date, the radical ideologues put there by the Repubs have had clear sailing to do their will because opposition to their designs on our democracy are so toothless—starting with the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania.

FDR had a notoriously recalcitrant Supreme Court that kaboshed his New Deal innovations one after another. But he had the winds behind him, and eventually (despite or perhaps because of the dust-up over his 1937 court packing scheme) the Court buckled and stopped standing in the way of his reforms.

By contrast, the New York Times Magazine noted in August that Obama hasn’t even bothered to push his appointments to the federal bench, from which Supreme Court appointments usually emerge. Bush placed 13 of his guys on federal appellate courts during his two terms; Obama so far—zero. In fact, Obama has failed to insist on 80 vacancies to federal district and appeals courts, choosing instead to shy away from confirmation fights. Instead of fighting, he waits for his sworn enemies to make nice, and meanwhile we get awful decisions like Citizens United (that made corporations into persons with First Amendment bribery, er, advertising rights legal).

Occupy Wall Street is much more likely to influence the shape of future judicial decision-making than this or that Demo pol boosted into office with obscene sums of Wall Street and K Street cash. We can stand around debating whether people must vote for these jamokes or refuse to do so, and there will be consequences either way. But the actions we need today are not in the polling booth; they’re in the parks, the meeting halls and yes, the police precincts.

P.S. Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism demolishes the latest Obama mortgage relief scheme. She calls the plan ‘yet more proof that this Administration is not about to inconvenience banks to help homeowners and communities. It has tools in its power that would change the incentives for banks and make them far more willing to do what the overwhelming majority of mortgage investors would prefer, which is to provide deep principal mods for viable borrowers, [force] banks to write down seconds, and tak[e] an aggressive stance on foreclosure fraud. . . . But just as the banks and their captured governments in Europe seem intent on grinding down entire economies to extract their pound of flesh, so are banks in the U.S. continuing to operate a doomsday machine that grinds up housing with no regard for the economic and social costs’.

Does anyone seriously think the pushback on this ongoing scandal will come from Washington, rather than the streets?

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