* Scalia is the only justice who can be a pleasure to read. I like anyone who uses the word “argle-bargle” in an opinion. “Legalistic Argle-Bargle” should be carved into the architrave of the Supreme Court building.
* The three most liberal justices—Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan—vote nearly in lockstep. Their opinions tend to be most defensible in terms of the normal standards of legal reasoning, in comparison with the opinions of the other justices. But that’s because they are fighting a rearguard action, trying to preserve some liberal precedents, unlike the conservatives, who seek to change the law. And they will happily hop onto a Kennedy opinion that rockets into the stratosphere.
* Justice Thomas has integrity, but it’s the integrity of a madman. He is the Ron Paul of the Supreme Court.
However, American elites, who help condition the thinking of American leaders, have become spellbound over democratization, humanitarianism and other values-driven enterprises, so that leaders must make excuses for acting geopolitically to a degree they never had to during the Cold War. Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, could justify moving closer to totalitarian China in geopolitical terms, without the risk of embarrassment or the need for excuses. But Obama has been castigated in the media on moral grounds for wanting to improve relations with a far less authoritarian regime in Russia, even though it may make geopolitical sense to do so. It certainly isn’t that Obama is dumber than Nixon, or thinks less in terms of geography than Nixon. It’s more that he is operating in a less serious public policy climate, and that helps make his public explanations less serious.
It was easier for Cold War presidents to explain their actions geopolitically. Nowadays presidents continue to want to act geopolitically and periodically do so, but more often they have to explain their actions solely in moral terms. Thus, by speaking exclusively in moral terms, they, counterintuitively, lack the courage of their convictions. Reagan’s morality was in line with his geopolitics — eject Red Army troops from Central and Eastern Europe in order to end regime-inflicted poverty and tyranny there. Conversely, Obama speaks out against the tyranny of the al Assad regime in Syria while doing relatively little to undermine it, because he does not want the United States to own, even partially, the responsibility for the ground situation there. But Obama rarely speaks honestly about this. Thus, his policy lacks serious purpose.
There’s another reason not to pass it. Sean Trende does a very good job here of explaining why, without Barack Obama on the ballot, conservatives could actually win more elections with greater racial polarization. Imagine there’s no black candidate driving up black turnout, imagine the Hispanic vote splitting the way it does now, but imagine more loyalty from white voters to the GOP—a real trend from 2010 and 2012. Republicans could hold that coalition and win the White House into the 2040s.
“I don’t see any compelling reason why these trends can’t continue,” writes Trende, “and why a Republican couldn’t begin to approach Ronald Reagan’s 30-point win with whites from 1984 in a more neutral environment than Reagan enjoyed. It’s not necessarily the most likely scenario, but it strikes me as more likely than a Democrat winning 90 percent of the Hispanic vote.”
Has there ever been a US president who cost his party the next election (or lost office) by being insufficiently hawkish about some war? By having an attack on his watch? GWB would probably have been an embarrassing one-termer but for Osama bin Laden (whom GWB never caught, incidentally, and this never seemed to be taken for weakness in his campaigns and in the campaigns of his would-be successors).
I’m no scholar of US history, but some of you are. Is it realistic to think that a president who isn’t a big enough hawk will cost his party the next election, or be remembered in history for leaving America vulnerable to the Kaiser/Osama/the Spanish Armada/General Santa Ana/whatever?