Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Greenwald Is Wrong On Alito

I can’t help but think that Glenn Greenwald has Alitogate totally backward. He writes, referring first to the “You Lie” outburst:

Wilson and Obama are both political actors, it occurred in the middle of a political speech about a highly political dispute, and while the outburst was indecorous and impolite, Obama is not entitled to be treated as royalty.  That was all much ado about nothing.  By contrast, the behavior of Justice Alito at last night’s State of the Union address — visibly shaking his head and mouthing the words “not true” when Obama warned of the dangers of the Court’s Citizens United ruling — was a serious and substantive breach of protocol that reflects very poorly on Alito and only further undermines the credibility of the Court.

Somehow this gets me thinking both to the end of the Sopranos*—where there was rampant talk of how fiction “makes its own rules”—and of the end-the-filibuster movement, which stresses that the filibuster is a creation of the same group it undermines. Wilson’s outburst was worse than Alito’s non-outburst because for the exact reason Greenwald cites: Obama and Wilson are both political actors, and Wilson effectively broke character. He signed up to play by those rules and he deliberately and unmistakably broke protocol.

Alito, on the other hand, didn’t say anything. Greenwald writes:

Justice Alito’s flamboyantly insinuating himself into a pure political event, in a highly politicized manner, will only hasten that decline.  […] Alito is now a political (rather than judicial) hero to Republicans and a political enemy of Democrats, which is exactly the role a Supreme Court Justice should not occupy.

First, to say that Alito acted “flamboyantly” is so disingenuous that it’s absurd: He mouthed some words. Unlike Joe Wilson, whose job it is, at least partially, to maintain composure in this hyper-public setting, more than 99 percent of Alito’s job has nothing to do with maintaining some sort of stony composure in public. His job is to be the best Supreme Court Justice he can be. Is he partisan? Probably, but this doesn’t make him any more or less of a Republican hero than he was before. Republicans love the decision, and Obama didn’t like it. It’s not like Alito told us anything we didn’t know about where he stands on the issue, nor was he technically wrong. Nor should he have mouthed those words. It was, if not a startling breach of protocol, certainly bad form.

But Joe Wilson’s outburst was much worse. He flagrantly and obviously violated the terms of the arrangement for which he specifically signed up. I don’t want Sam Alito on the court any more than you do, but I don’t give a crap about this. Mouthed words or not, we know what side he’s on.

* To draw out the Sopranos analogy, many people, including myself, initially made “Tony is Dead” arguments based clues we erroneously believed were inserted into previous episodes. Something on the order of “Once it’s over, it’s just black,” or something. I don’t remember exactly what we thought was said, but it wasn’t. Without that clue, any argument other than “it’s ambiguous” fell apart completely. The only justification for truly “proving” he was dead was built upon any rules that this particular fiction had created for itself.

My stray SOTU thoughts

Here are the SOTU thoughts I’ve recovered from my cortices:

The Tone. At first, the tone threw me. When Obama super-casually asked why the Republicans weren’t applauding an applause line directed at them, it was the first time I had seen him break Super Orator character. I think the shift in tone worked: It got away from Obama as speechmaker and moved him into Obama as problem solver. This is the Chicago Obama, not the Harvard one, and this is the one better equipped to be President.

The GOP. Man, they don’t stand for much, do they? They seem so petulant. As I’ve written before, and said before, I have no problem with conservative values, but the party is a joke, especially when it acts like a bunch of spoiled kids who realize that banding together under their High School Republicans platform makes them look tough. They didn’t applaud when Obama said he would knock $1 trillion off the deficit. What on Earth were they thinking?

The Juggler. This is related the the first point. I don’t think we had gotten the image of Obama as President until last night. Those who criticized him for doing too much were making the implicit criticism that Obama couldn’t do all these things at once and successfully divide his attention. Last night he came across as the one guy who had his eye on all the balls in the air, and that Republicans challenge his competence at their own risk. He certainly knows why he’s doing what he’s doing, and I think the sense that he’s gasping for air has been extinguished completely.

• The Response. The “Mini State of the Union” was a nice set-up for the Republican response. Many are criticizing the demographic choices of the people directly behind Bob McDonnell, in that the ribben of people from different races didn’t accurately represent the GOP. That’s politics, the same way Obama’s spending freeze is designed to earn him points with swing voters, only he can’t say as much. FWIW, I think he did a terrible job of explaining that last night, as I think it’s impossible for him to honestly explain, especially in the face of near-unanimous criticism. I don’t support it as much as I think I know why he did it, but we’re going to have to wait for his memoir to know for sure. He’s just getting blistered on it now.

• The Supreme Court. Great moment with the Court, seated directly in front of the President, getting called out by him as most of the chamber stood to applaud. It was something right out of the WWE. Obama vs. Roberts at the Royal Rumble. Or something.

• The Length. Dear God, it was long. I have no problem with Obama waiting 32 minutes to get to health care. Everyone knew it was coming, and no one was tuning out before it came up. Not that he really said much that hadn’t been said, or that his words will have that much of an effect. The die has basically been cast, and now it’s time to pass the thing. Obama’s fortunes are already tied to this bill even if it’s largely out of his hands, like the quarterback who leads his team near victory and needs his defense to seal the deal: Whatever happens, it will ultimately be heaped on his shoulders. For all that we remember about Bush, it really comes down to Iraq and Katrina—while there were many, many other things for Obama to walk back, those are shorthand for his Presidency. Health care is it for Obama. It needs to pass or the narrative of him as ineffective will pick up steam and lead wherever it leads. Republicans would be wise to try to kill it altogether in the short term, but in the long term they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Democrats need to make it happen to forcefully overturn the Republican majority/minority, if only once.

• Sorry again about the post. This was supposed to wrap up nicely, but I’m trying to recover it from memory. Imagine some really clever line to take you out of here. I know you can do it.

Snap Take on SOTU

Sorry, I just wrote a long post that WordPress just ate. I don’t think I have it in me to reproduce it right now. I have an issue for work due tomorrow and the thought of retyping 1,000 words just isn’t appealing. The snap-take aspect is gone.

You can see how happy I am about this.