Whenever I begin to lose hope that people who disagree can have a heated but civil discussion on the very thing they disagree about, I read and listen to Supreme Court Justices. They are brilliant, respectful, and are something like real friends behind all the legal babble. Here’s an example of Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer talking about their different approaches to interpreting the constitution.
Scalia is an originalist, believing the constitution is a dead (or as he calls it “enduring”) document. Breyer, on the opposite end, is a non-originalist who believes the constitution to be a living document in that its meaning evolves along with the times. I learned that the division between these two men and other legal thinkers is not so much on political lines, but on the strictness with which they interpret the text of the constitution.
I read about 30 pages of Scalia’s latest book on Reading Law (it’s too dense for my tastes) and I find his appreciation of the enduring nature of meaning in text very appealing, though I still disagree with the notion that a constitution needs to be amended in order to rule on cases involving modern technology.
My favorite of his ideas that he uses as a defense for originalism is similar to the Churchill quote of “democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried”. Scalia says that his burden is not to show that originalism is perfect, but to show that it is better than the alternative. We have to remember that idea when we argue about policy, because it’s rare that anything in political life will not have significant drawbacks hidden away in the poorly-lit corner of our collective consciousness.
The “economy” has been widely hailed as the main concern on the minds of the American people. Unfortunately, the simple truth of the presidency (according to the constitution and according to modern reality) is that the president has very little power to affect the economy. His power in this domain almost exclusively rests with the bully pulpit: the persuasive power of the loudest megaphone in Washington DC.
The following are the powers and roles of the president as I see it, and how that effects who I’ll vote for tomorrow (Tuesday, November 6, 2012):
Nominate Supreme Court justices. To me, this is the biggest reason not to mess around with your vote and choose the party that best represents your views on policy, domestic and foreign. In the next four years, it’s possible that we will see 4 justices retire. Ginsburg is 79, Scalia is 76, Kennedy is 75, and Breyer is 74. Gibsburg and Breyer are left-leaning on most issues, Scalia is famously right-leaning, and Kennedy is often the swing vote.
Start wars without declaring them. On at least 125 occasions the president (throughout U.S. history) has deployed troops without authorization from Congress. In my book, this is where Obama’s cool and collected approach is very important. I hope, that if Romney wins, he has a similar approach. Even if I disagree with the decision, I hope the decision is made through a careful deliberation process that’s influenced by balanced reason and not blind ideology.
Bully pulpit: Really, most of the president’s power lies in the fact that we all pretend that he is important (because the media pretends he is important) and thus give him “power” by listening to him. He can use his giant megaphone to influence Congress, public opinion, and international relations. What’s very important to remember, however, is that this power of persuasion grows exponentially in a time of real crisis (such as a terrorist attack or a natural disaster). At those times, we tend to take off our partisan hats and follow the words of the commander and chief with loyalty and unwavering determination. Hence, we want to pick a president who is best in a time of crisis.
I have many friends who are voting for Obama and many who are voting for Romney (though I’m not speaking to them this week for fear of mutual destruction). I even have one friend who is voting for Gary Johnson, who despite being the goofiest politician I’ve ever heard, is quite brilliant. I’m personally voting for Obama, despite many of my objections to what I saw in the last four years, because:
I want to maintain a balance of left and right on the Supreme court.
I want less undeclared wars not more, even though both candidates I believe will be far more hawkish than I would like.
I want a president that the rest of the world likes, respects, and wants to work with. In poll after poll, Obama beats Romney about 80% to 20% in the rest of the World. The gap is biggest in countries that our close allies, except Israel which is one of the only countries where Romney leads (with a whopping 57% to 22%).
As a scientist, I am depressed at the blatant disrespect towards science in the Republican party. I’m not talking about global warming or stem cell research or evolution. I’m talking about fundamental scientific research. I wish this wasn’t so, but it certainly makes me lean heavily to the left on this issue, where science is rightful seen as the main force of progress and economic growth that made this country what it has come to be throughout the 20th century.
I try not to grow cynical about politics, but it’s damn hard… Please make sure you vote tomorrow, not for any reason, but because it may help spark a conversation with a friend about a political issue you both care about. Who knows, that spark might start a fire.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of the new health care law’s individual mandate today (hear the arguments on C-SPAN). The individual mandate requires that everyone in America purchase health insurance.
The debate over the morality and fiscal potency of the health care law very interesting, but that’s not what the Supreme Court court is deliberating. They’re simply trying to figure if the federal government has the power to mandate that you buy something, overriding state’s rights. It’s really a debate about the relative power of the federal government relative to state governments.
The constitutional opponents of the law believe that allowing a mandate would remove any identifiable limiting principle. This means that the government can next force you to do anything else because it’s “good for you”.
The best question (in my mind) asked by the proponents of the law (such as myself) is: what happens when an uninsured person shows up at the hospital and can’t pay out of pocket even a small fraction of the cost? In fact, no one is really asking this question fully. It seems everyone assumes that of course we treat the person to the best of our abilities and then the taxpayer has to flip the bill. It seems that the people that are demanding their personal liberty be protected are really operating on the assumption that they will not get sick or will be able to save enough to cover the costs. In their minds, they can do a better job at fighting off sickness than their less-clever neighbor. That assumption reminds of the assumption folks have when they recite the wedding vows. You can’t base a policy that determines the well being of millions on hope.
Just to be clear, whether the health care law is deemed constitutional or not, to me, is much less important than the fact that our current health care system is broken and this law is one of the possible fixes. If it’s not constitutional, then we need to do something else that is, but we can’t afford (literally) to do nothing.
As a side note, I discovered that there are services out there that allow you to hire a person to stand in line for you. The rate I saw was $36 per hour. This came up because people stood in line for days to be able to get one of the 60 seats open to the public for individual mandate hearing.
Main point: Either we have to be willing to watch a poor man die or we have to force that man to pay for insurance throughout his life.
Suppose a man is lying in the street, bleeding to death. He has no money, no insurance, but a simple procedure would save his life. The libertarian argument is that this is the cold moment when a man must take responsibility for the decisions he has made in the past and the cruel turn of luck that has led to his current circumstance.
It seems to me that we don’t live in a society that is willing to let such a man die. The alternative is to force the healthy and the fortunate to pay for the sick and the unfortunate. So until we are willing to turn a bleeding man away, I see no other option but to let government step in and force us to be responsible. I purposely phrase it in a way that seems like a contradiction, but one that’s no worse than the contradiction of our moral system.
By the way, the Supreme Court is scheduled (next year) to hear the case of whether Obama’s healthcare overhaul is constitutional:
This case is not as philosophically interesting as at first may seem, but unfortunately it will likely be politicized to a point where it may influence the decision of the judges.