Daily Archives: January 19, 2006

Off the plantation

Last night on Fox News’ “Hannity & Colmes,” amidst fulminations against Hillary Clinton’s “the House is run like a plantation” remark, the hapless Alan Colmes repeated asked how it was different from Newt Gingrich’s rather similar 1994 comment (“Since they [the Democrats] think it is their job to run the plantation, it shocks them that I’m actually willing to lead the slave rebellion”). Dick Morris brushed him off with a dismissive accusation of reciting talking points off Hillary’s faxes (which really seemed to get under Colmes’ skin, and I don’t blame him). Larry Elder at least took the question seriously, and stressed that the big difference was Hillary’s line, “And you know what I’m talking about!” which, addressed to a black audience, clearly had an implication of, “The Republicans who run the House are racist bigots.”

At first I thought that Elder was reaching for excuses; now I think that he has a point, but he should have made it better. And he should have been much tougher on his comrades-in-arms on the right who have used plantation metaphors to score political points.

Robert George comments:

First, as a quick aside, the left is really stretching in claiming that Gingrich’s comments are the same as Hillary’s. Not to defend a former boss, but the context here matters: He said those words in the course of a Washington Post profile of the man identified as the likely next Speaker of the House. If the context is about the majority abusing its powers when running a legislative body, then the partisan analogy holds.

But — important difference. He was not speaking to a black audience — or even obliquely referring to one; there was not an implicit racial connotation to his words. Yes, talking about plantations usually conjures up images of American slavery, but referring to oneself as the “leader of the slave rebellion,” one could be referencing Spartacus as much as anything.

Hillary, on the other hand, made a clear — “and you know what I’m talking about” line to a black audience. I’m actually a little surprised that those on the left whose eyes were raised when Ross Perot made reference in 1992 to “you people” when speaking to a Southern black audience, didn’t find Hillary’s implied “you people” just a little it pandering.

But conservatives don’t get a free pass on this. I don’t know who started it — though this was an early entry — but too many on the right have adopted the “plantation” language as a favorite trope in trying to dislodge minority (particularly African American) allegiance to the Democratic Party. It matters little whether those comments have come from black conservatives or white conservatives (or Latino conservatives), it is inherently insulting and counterproductive to the very principle that the writer is advocating.

It’s very difficult to convince someone of the validity of your argument by suggesting that continuing to vote for the other party is evidence of a slave-like mentality. Invite individuals over with the power of your positive arguments, not by trashing the “family” that they have been part of for large segments of their lives. In short, suggesting that blacks have a plantation mentality for continuing to support Democrats — and then expecting them to support Republicans — makes about as much sense as trying to convince a Republican to switch parties because, well, “the GOP are Nazis.”

It’s actually worse really.

The plantation rhetoric is the manipulation and exploitation of American racial tropes that are better of dead and buried. Yes, the left-wing will often use it against black conservatives. (We’ve been down that road before; no need to dredge all THAT fun stuff up again.) But that is hardly an excuse. This country will never move beyond its history until it decides to leave noxious racial references dead and buried — especially on King’s birthday.

I think Robert’s a leetle too easy on Newt; when you’re talking about plantations and slave rebellions, in an American context, it’s pretty clear you’re not talking about Spartacus. But other than that, I think Robert’s comments are right on the money, and I don’t have much to add to this except to say, “Right on!” I will add, though, that the demagoguery of HRC’s speech is amplified by the fact that she made it not only to an African-American audience in Harlem, but also on Martin Luther King Day. In this sense, the analogy to Newt’s comment in the Washington Post interview is a bit thin.


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The left and the wrath of God

As we all know by now, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has apologized for his Martin Luther King Day remarks in which he said that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment to America for “being in Iraq under false pretenses” (among other things), and that the Almighty also wanted New Orleans to be “a majority-African American city” after rebuilding.

In the brouhaha over Mayor Nagin’s foray into Pat Robertson-land, there has been hardly any discussion of the larger issue: the fact that religiously charged rhetoric, even the rhetoric of religoius zealotry, can be found on the left as well as the right, among Democrats as well as Republicans — particularly Democrats speaking to the African-American community, in which politics and faith have traditionally had a close relationship. Think of Jesse Jackson, back in 1992, likening Dan Quayle to King Herod and Mary to a single mother on welfare. Or take a look, for instance, at this October 2004 Washington Post story about John Kerry’s campaign stop at a black church in Miami:

Congregants waved fans emblazoned “People of Faith for Kerry-Edwards.” Kerry smiled after former U.S. representative Carrie Meek (D-Fla.) said he is “fighting against liars and demons.”

Kerry, who has compared Bush to those in the Bible story who ignored the wounded man before the Good Samaritan helped him, joked about the risk of being upstaged by Jackson and Sharpton. He said he didn’t mind because “God’s speaking here today, and we’re going to listen.”

The minister, the Rev. Gaston E. Smith, endorsed Kerry, saying, “To bring our country out of despair, despondency and disgust, God has a John Kerry.”

When a conservative minister says this kind of thing about George W. Bush, it’s widely taken as a sign that America is sinking into a Dark Age of religious fanaticism. Somehow, the rhetoric of the “religious left” — aside from an over-the-top rant like Nagin’s — is not met with the same condemnation.


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The assisted suicide ruling

The Supreme Court has ruled, quite properly in my view, that the federal government does not have the authority to block the Oregon state law permitting physician-assisted suicide by prosecuting doctors who prescribe lethal doses of federally controlled drugs (Gonzales v. Oregon).

Much of the discussion of the ruling has focused on the dissent by Antonin Scalia, who wrote:

The prohibition or deterrence of assisted suicide is certainly not among the enumerated powers conferred on the United States by the Constitution, and it is within the realm of public morality (bonos mores) traditionally addressed by the so-called police power of the States. But then, neither is prohibiting the recreational use of drugs or discouraging drug addiction among the enumerated powers. From an early time in our national history, the Federal Government has used its enumerated powers, such as its power to regulate interstate commerce, for the purpose of protecting public morality–for example, by banning the interstate shipment of lottery tickets, or the interstate transport of women for immoral purposes. … Unless we are to repudiate a long and well-established principle of our jurisprudence, using the federal commerce power to prevent assisted suicide is unquestionably permissible. The question before us is not whether Congress can do this, or even whether Congress should do this; but simply whether Congress has done this in the CSA [Controlled Substances Act]. I think there is no doubt that it has. If the term “legitimate medical purpose” has any meaning, it surely excludes the prescription of drugs to produce death.

John Cole, Bill at INDC Journal, and Publius (among others) feel that this is a hypocritical position on Scalia’s part, considering his invocation of federalism and state’s rights and his opposition to Commerce Clause overreach in cases like United States v. Morrison. Baseball Crank at RedState.org disputes this charge:

This misunderstands the role of the Court and the role of enumerated powers. First, as Scalia noted, this is a long-settled doctrine, and nobody in the case was calling to overturn it. Even Justices who think that we may properly revisit long-settled Constitutional doctrines are usually hesitant to do so without any party to the case asking them to. All Scalia was doing here was assuming that Congress legitimately intended to legislate for this purpose, given 100+ years of history saying it could.

More to the point, there is a big difference between saying that Congress (or another branch of government) can go beyond its enumerated powers, and saying that Congress can act within those powers for unenumerated purposes. Here, we have the latter — there is no question that the drugs involved in this case traveled in interstate commerce, and even Scalia is unlikely to sign on, at this late date, to a sufficiently cramped view of the commerce power to find that Congress can’t regulate the use of goods shipped in interstate commerce; that battle was lost 70+ years ago.

As for the VAWA comparison, Crank writes:

… the Court in that case found an absence of proper basis for the commerce power in the first instance – i.e., an insufficient nexus between interstate commerce and domestic violence – rather than creating an affirmative rule repealing the commerce power, even when otherwise applicable, based upon the intended use of that power.

It is worth noting that the other regulated “immoral” activities Scalia cites actually do involve crossing state lines. By contrast, in physician-assisted suicide, the medicines cross state lines at some point, but their use occurs strictly within a single state. Using this kind of logic, one could argue that violence against women was a proper subject for congressional legislation under the Commerce Clause if either the victim or the perpetrator had crossed a state line at some point in their lives.

More to the point, the majority opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy makes a very strong case that the CSA was intended to prohibit the illicit use of drugs related to addiction and recreational use, and not physician-assisted suicide. It may seem odd to describe assisted suicide as “legitimate” medicine, but it seems pretty clear that under the CSA “legitimate” means simply related to a medical purpose (rather than recreation, drug habit, or profit).

Do Scalia’s own moral views influence his perception of what constitutes “legitimate medical purpose” or where the Commerce Clause may be legitimately applied? It’s hard to avoid such a conclusion, considering that Scalia’s opinions are so often colored by his personal views on such issues. Take Scalia’s dissent in Lawrence: unlike Clarence Thomas, he did not simply argue that anti-sodomy laws were constitutionally permissible, but clearly didn’t see anything particularly wrong with such laws.

Meanwhile, Thomas’s separate dissent in Gonzales focuses on the contradiction between the majority opinion in this case and in Raich, the medical marijuana case, in which Thomas was also a dissenter. I agree with Thomas about the court’s inconsistency (surely there is an irony somewhere in the Supreme Court saying that a state can’t legalize medical marijuana but can legalize assisted suicide!), but it’s disappointing that he chose to express his protest by writing an opinion that, in turn, is inconsistent with his own stance in Raich.


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