Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sotomayor, White Grievance Politics & the Supreme Court

Two of America’s leading sexist bigots, Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich, recently cited a 2001 speech delivered by federal Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor as proof of her racism. As a liberal partisan, my instinctive reaction is disgust at their cynical attempt to exploit white identity grievance politics against the first Hispanic Supreme Court nominee. Conservatives have been singing the same tune since Richard Nixon’s “law and order” campaign in 1968 with enormous destructive impact upon American civic life.

Nonetheless, Sotomayor’s words and conservative critics reaction to her nomination, is instructive about our race/gender biases as well as the false ideal of objectivity in a Supreme Court justice. By now, many of us have read the following passage from Sotomayor’s 2001 speech to the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law:
“Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.”
First, let’s address the argument between Sotomayor and those who believe that competent judges should reach the same conclusions regardless of their backgrounds, while Sotomayor acknowledges the impact of life experience upon her decisions. It happens there is truth in both arguments.

For example, it might surprise many Americans to learn that the Supreme Court with judges as ideologically different as Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg could ever reach a unanimous decision. Yet, it’s not unprecedented for the Supreme Court to announce numerous unanimous decisions early in its term. Indeed, on January 27th of this year, the Supreme Court announced five unanimous decisions with respect to civil rights laws protecting workers against employer retaliation. The rights of workers and employers are often wedges between liberals and conservatives, yet Scalia and Ginsburg voted the same way on five such cases earlier this year.

However, Sotomayor is also correct. As legal scholar and former Supreme Court clerk Christopher Eisgruber, persuasively argues, the Constitution contains too many abstract and vague references such as the Equal Opportunity Clause, for nine individuals to interpret the law without any ideological predisposition. Typically, as Eisgruber pointed out to me in a podcast interview two weeks ago, precedent and text regardless of their judicial philosophies restrain lower court jurists. Even the famous case involving fire fighters in New Haven, Connecticut that have conservative critics frothing at the mouth against Sotomayor was a ruling largely based upon precedent and two of her colleagues voted the same way.

Yet as Eisgruber also noted in our interview, historically, liberals and conservative jurists alike are eventually compelled to be “activists” and intervene through judicial review whenever a clause in the Constitution is simply too vague to provide sufficient guidance. As someone who clerked for conservative U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Patrick E. Higginbortham and liberal Supreme Court justice, John Paul Stevens, Eisgruber knows whereof he speaks.

Most of the time, an appeals court judge can be an “umpire” as Chief Justice John Roberts famously put it during his 2005 confirmation hearings. Much of the time, Supreme Court justices are impartial actors and personalities as different as Ginsburg and Scalia often rule the same way. Sotomayor’s background suggests that when the law and Constitution are clear, she will likely be representative of that tradition.

Nonetheless, history also suggests that the next Supreme Court justice will be confronted with cases during their tenure that transcend the text drafted by America’s founders two centuries ago or feel compelled to overturn the will of congress. For example, future Supreme Courts may preside over cases with respect to civil liberties and the technology of functional magnetic resonance imaging (brain mapping) in which neither the Constitution nor legal precedent are applicable. It also seems inevitable the Supreme Court will eventually preside over a case that transcends the will of state legislatures or congress with respect to gay marriage to ensure equal protection for all citizens.

And that leads to the Sotomayor phrase about "a wise Latina woman” that has some conservatives behaving as if their sphincter muscles are on fire. I largely agree with Sotomayor’s 2001 speech. Even so, I believe her words about “a wise Latina woman” were ill chosen. Nonetheless, this latest conservative “outrage” is a mere distraction taken out of context. Conservatives are longtime practitioners of America’s fear industrial complex and the Sotomayor nomination is merely the latest example.

When it’s one of their presidents they want justices with a reliable predisposition towards conservative activism. If a Democrat is in the White House conservatives emphasize restrained moderation. In fairness, liberal activists also emphasize moderation whenever confronted with nominees such as Roberts and Alito but gear up for a fight to advance our cause when we have a Democratic president. Such is the game of politics and elections do have consequences.

Race/gender absolutely influences our worldview and can’t help but have an impact on a Supreme Court justice. Denying that is disingenuous and we shouldn’t. Nor should we fear it. Rather, a diversity of perspectives on our nation's highest court represents America at its best. Presently, this is an uncomfortable reality for many conservatives who don’t want to relinquish the benefits of “white privilege” and feel insecure about a black Democratic president nominating a female Hispanic judge. Unless of course that justice is pliable to their worldview as Clarence Thomas has been.

It happens that I have a measure of empathy for their discomfort. My formative years were in Rockland County, New York and it was largely white bread cookie cutter suburbia when I was a kid. Although I live in Brooklyn, New York, today, I occasionally feel nostalgic about that provincial homogenous existence of my youth. I love the diversity of my adult neighborhood but even a liberal like myself is not above such sentiments.

Nonetheless, white male hegemony domination of the Supreme Court is an anachronism best discarded. Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court is a reflection of our society's maturation and represents progress. As for conservatives and their childish grievances, I say spare the rod and spoil the child.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Investigating Torture: An Interview With Former Federal Prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega

Former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega has recently made news urging that we don’t rush into appointing a special prosecutor to investigate crimes of torture during George W. Bush’s presidency. In a provocative April 20th post entitled “Of Black Holes and Radio Silence,” Ms. de la Vega wrote:
“There is no doubt that sometime in 2002 - if not before - Bush administration officials and their lawyers began orchestrating a torture campaign, which they calculatedly attempted to justify through specious legal memos. They continued to abuse prisoners, and to conceal that mistreatment from Congress and the public, through at least 2008. In all of this conduct, they have committed grave crimes for which they must be held accountable. I believe this to be a national imperative of the highest order.”
However, she also argues that,
“First, the bottom line: From the perspective of anyone who wants Bush and Cheney and their top aides to be held accountable for their crimes, the designation of some sort of independent prosecutor right now would be the worst possible eventuality. It's a move that has so many downsides - and holds so few real benefits - that I would be more inclined to question President Obama's motives if he appointed a special prosecutor than if he did not. There is a reason why former prosecutor Arlen Specter - a Republican senator from Pennsylvania - has voiced support for a special prosecutor, while former prosecutors Patrick Leahy and Sheldon Whitehouse - Democratic senators from Vermont and Rhode Island, respectively - would prefer a public inquiry.”
Please note that Ms. de la Vega’s post was written prior to Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter becoming a Democrat.

Overall, Ms. de la Vega contends that appointing a special prosecutor now would undermine the cause of truth and accountability. It is her contention that transparent and public hearings would facilitate more popular support for prosecuting wrong doers than currently exists. As she wrote on April 20th:
“What we continue to need, in sum, are unwavering spotlights, even more civic education, and, most importantly, an irrefutable and cohesive factual narrative - comprised of direct and circumstantial evidence - that links the highest-level officials and advisers of the Bush administration, ineluctably, to specific instances and victims of torture. What we will surely have, however, if a special prosecutor is named, will be precisely the opposite: The initiation of a federal grand jury investigation right now would be roughly the equivalent of ceremoniously dumping the entire issue of torture into a black hole. There will be nothing to see and we will be listening intently to radio silence, trying to make sense of intermittent static in the form of the occasional unreliable leak. For years. There may never be any charges and we will almost certainly never have the unimpeachable historical narrative that we need.”
On May 10th, she posted a followed up piece entitled “Prosecuting Torture: Is Time Really running Out?”and argued that the statutory clock in section 2340A, otherwise known as the “torture statute” didn’t start ticking until Bush’s presidency ended on January 20, 2009 – when President Obama reversed our policies. Her May 10th post was in response to those who are clamoring for the immediate appointment of a special prosecutor because they claim the statute of limitations for torture crimes that began in 2002 were scheduled to expire in 2010.

Ms. de la Vega’s position stems from her longtime experience as a federal prosecutor. She served as a Justice Department Attorney under Presidents Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II. She is the winner of numerous Attorney General's and community awards, including the prestigious Director's Award for Superior Performance. For over twenty-years, Ms. de la Vega targeted violent gangsters and sophisticated white-collar criminals in Minneapolis where she served as an Assisted United States Attorney and San Jose, where she was Branch Chief and a member of the Organized Crime Strike Force.

Since retiring from government service in 2004, Ms. de la Vega has been among the most vocal in pushing for accountability on a broad range of crimes allegedly committed during the Bush administration. In 2006, her book, the United States vs. George W. Bush, et al was a New York Times best seller. A year ago, Ms. de la Vega wrote an incisive piece supporting Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s thirty-five articles of impeachment against President Bush.

She has also contributed to numerous print and online publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, Nation magazine, Chicago Sun-Times, Mother Jones, Common Dreams, TomDispatch, Truthout and Alternet.

Ms. de la Vega agreed to a telephone podcast interview with me about her views with respect to investigating torture and support for public transparency. Special thanks to Vern Radul, known in the blogosphere as Edger where he manages for persuading Ms. de la Vega for doing the interview. Our conversation was just under twenty-minutes as I posed numerous devil’s advocate questions. Please refer to the flash media player below.

This interview can also be accessed at no cost via the Itunes store by searching for either “Robert Ellman” or the “Intrepid Liberal Journal.”

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Next Justice: An Interview With Legal Scholar Christopher L. Eisgruber

President Obama will soon announce his nominee to replace retiring Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court. It’s a critical nomination with long-term ramifications for civil liberties, executive power, management-labor relations, the environment and consumer rights. Hence, it is vital the public know whether the judicial philosophy and ideology of any prospective nominee to the court is compatible with their sensibilities and values. Ideally, all nominees would be forthcoming about their philosophy as the senate either confirms or rejects them with full knowledge of the sort of justice they’re likely to be.

Regrettably, that hasn’t occurred since the 1987 Senate confirmation hearings for Robert Bork. At the time, Bork scared the hell out of me and I’m grateful his nomination was not approved. Even so, I always respected how Bork was upfront about his ideology and judicial philosophy. Bork didn’t hide what he was and the American public and the Senate had a clear picture of what sort of justice he would be.

Sadly, since the Bork nomination fight, our Supreme Court appointments process has become a Kabuki dance existing in an alternate reality. Nominees are conditioned to reveal as little as possible about their judicial philosophies or even avoid acknowledging they have one. A pitiful example is Chief Justice John Roberts who famously compared Supreme Court justices with baseball umpires during his 2005 Senate confirmation hearings:
“Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire.”
Contrary to John Roberts’ testimony, a Supreme Court justice has a unique and expansive role in our society. The Constitution contains too many abstract references and clauses for any justice to merely adhere to the rules based on a strict interpretation of the text. An example is the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. As the highly regarded legal scholar, Christopher L. Eisgruber, observes in his 2007 book, The Next Justice: Repairing the Supreme Court Appointments Process (Princeton University Press) the Equal Protection Clause reads,
“’No state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.’

How should judges interpret this clause? Presumably, they must ask what it means for the laws to protect people equally. Yet that question takes judges straight to the nerve center of American ideological controversy. Liberals and conservatives disagree passionately about what it means for the laws to protect groups equally and about when it is appropriate for the laws to treat one group better than another.”
Overall, Eisgruber argues that due to the Constitution’s many vague abstractions, a Supreme Court justice is disproportionately influenced by their individual values and ideology in determining when it’s appropriate for the court to intervene and even overrule our country’s prior laws. How could it be otherwise when the Constitution’s text is frequently subject to broad interpretation as with the Equal Opportunity Clause? Hence, it is imperative the senate determines if the judicial philosophy of a Supreme Court nominee is representative of the country.

Some legal scholars such as Yale law professor Stephen Carter have argued that nominees to the Supreme Court should simply stay home because their testimony has ceased to contribute anything substantive. There is definitely merit to Carter’s point of view. Nominees since Robert Bork typically speak only in vague platitudes about practicing “judicial restraint” and are ultimately voted up or down based upon their reassuring television appeal.

Eisgruber however argues in his book that the senate should ask more open-ended questions of prospective nominees about their judicial philosophies. Too often senators attempt to trap nominees with “gotcha” questions or ask about specific issues such as abortion that that can easily be deflected to “preserve their integrity” prior to joining the Supreme Court. Ultimately, little is learned and unless opposition interest groups get any traction or a scandal emerges, the nominee is likely to sail through without defending or explaining their ideology.

One example of the sort of question Eisgruber suggests asking is,
“The late Chief Justice William Rehinquist wrote that ‘manifold provisions of the Constitution with which judges must deal are by no means crystal clear in their import, and reasonable minds may differ as to which interpretation is proper.’ Could you tell us something about the values and purposes that will guide you when you interpret provisions like the Equal Protection Clause? How do those values and purposes distinguish your approach from those taken by other justices?”
Eisgruber contends this approach has a better chance of determining the sort of justice a nominee is likely to be. He also argues that it will facilitate more moderate nominees and discourage stealth extremists.

Eisgruber, who previously clerked for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Patrick E. Higginbortham (a conservative) and Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (a liberal), agreed to a podcast interview with me over the telephone about his book. Among the topics discussed were the insights he gained clerking for two ideologically different judges, the importance of justice’s philosophy about judicial review, President Obama’s desire for a justice with “empathy” and whether we might have a justice who did not serve in the appellate courts. I also asked him numerous questions from my liberal perspective, including whether ideological balance on the court would be better served by appointing assertive liberals instead of moderates.

Please refer to the flash media player below.

This interview can also be accessed at no cost via the Itunes store by searching for either the “Intrepid Liberal Journal” or “Robert Ellman.”

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Check This Out!

Frank Rich referenced this YouTube video in his column today showing a 1981 television news report about a gentleman reading the San Francisco Examiner from his home computer. Considering how print journalism is rapidly becoming obsolete this video is bathed in irony.

Callous Mike

Among the many kinds of emails I receive from readers is the assumption that I live in a blue liberal paradise in New York City. Typically, these emails will come from readers living in states like Texas or Alabama who feel alienated from neighbors who talk unabashedly about seceding or openly refer to Obama as “that nigger president.” Thankfully, I’m not exposed to that nonsense living in Brooklyn and working in Manhattan.

Nonetheless, New York City is not a liberal panacea and Mayor Mike Bloomberg's administration is no champion of the poor. On May 9th, the Associated Press reported that city officials are charging homeless families for living in shelters. Hat tip to my Facebook buddy Terri DiMatteo for posting about this. According to the AP:
“The policy applies only to shelter residents who have income from jobs.

They could be expected to pay up to half their earnings.

Some shelter residents say the new rule will ruin their chances of saving enough money to get an apartment.

One single mother living in a Manhattan shelter tells The New York Times [NYT] she got a letter saying she had to give up $336 of the $800 she makes each month as a cashier.

The city says it is only charging people who can afford to pay.

About 2,000 families are expected to be covered by the new rule.”
One obvious flaw with this punitive measure is that it’s a disincentive to remain employed. As it is a working mother may be reluctant to leave her kids alone in a shelter to earn a pay-check. Now the Bloomberg administration is penalizing her for it!

I know many liberals in New York City who support Bloomberg. Whenever I talk to them I’m struck by how clueless they are. Bloomberg’s urbane and he’s been a pioneer in the information economy professionals like them have thrived in and still do even after Wall Street’s meltdown last fall. Also, Bloomberg supports the liberal position with respect to guns, abortion and the environment and the concerns of people living in shelters is not on their radar screen.

Bloomberg is certainly an improvement over his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani. He’s been forward thinking with respect to the environment and transforming New York City to combat global warming. In many ways Bloomberg is an effective technocrat. But this isn’t the first time his administration has been callous towards the most vulnerable in our society. Sadly, he appears poised for a third term coronation this November without a vigorous challenge or critique of his record.

Bloomberg is already spending millions on advertising while candidates such as Comptroller William Thompson are restricted in order to remain compliant with the Campaign Finance Board and receive matching funds. And Bloomberg continues to coast without worrying about serving the needs of wage earners and tenants who can’t afford to live here.

Does anyone care that New York City’s mayor is allowed to be a commissar for plutocrats in a gilded age? Is there anyone who can mount an effective challenge and at least compel Bloomberg to be cognizant of city residents who don't thrive in his world? Will the fact that the working poor living in shelters are being penalized while Bloomberg caters to the rich during the worst economic climate since the Great Depression even be an issue this campaign?

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Saturday Night Ramblings

I’ve taken a needed break from blogging these past few days. Rather than post a topic oriented essay this evening I just have a few random thoughts rattling in my head:
  • President Obama used his bully pulpit today to promote credit card reform legislation currently making its way through congress. Obama’s YouTube fireside chat contained echoes of Vice President Biden’s Chief Economist Jared Bernstein. How I wish Bernstein had more influence than Tim Geithner and Larry Summers.
  • I concur with New York Times columnist Bob Herbert’s response to the so-called good news of “only” losing half a million jobs in April. I very much fear the corporate media and body politic will become complacent as long as the stock market continues to rally. Obama is too politically savvy to declare “mission accomplished” but his administration is kidding itself if they believe we have turned the corner.
  • Obama’s rhetoric is spot on but his deeds remain Wall Street centric. I have no faith in these so-called stress tests for the banks. My hunch is that the Obama administration is hoping to produce another “bubble” by restoring faith in our financial institutions with fuzzy math. Perhaps Obama is rationalizing that he would use a future bubble responsibly and invest in programs with long term returns for the public such as education, energy, health care and infrastructure. There are two risks with this approach. Risk number one is that the markets expose the fuzzy math just as they revealed the banks balance sheets as phony last year. Should that occur, as Paul Krugman noted in his recent column, Obama’s credibility will be vaporized and so will his ambitious agenda. Risk number two is that the Geithner/Summers plutocratic juggernaut successfully create their phony bubble, we become complacent and have another epic crash.
  • As New Yorkers know by now, Governor David Paterson and Senate Democrats finally agreed to a deal that bails out the MTA without draconian cuts in service and massive far hikes. This was achieved without any Republican votes. In the short term this good for New Yorkers struggling to keep their heads above water in this economy. Long term however there still is no viable plan to reform the MTA’s corrupt cronyism and culture of looting that New Yorkers always end up subsidizing.
  • As for Governor Paterson, he is sadly not ready for prime time. Paterson is reactive and constantly shifting his positions. His hapless performance is taking its toll as polls now show that voters prefer Eliot Spitzer who resigned in disgrace last year. Whereas Paterson navigates Albany’s tough terrain like a baby seal, Spitzer often seemed as if his sphincter muscle was on fire. Paterson is bullied and Spitzer tried to be a bully. Neither demonstrated leadership ability as New York 's chief executive. Hence, not enough has been accomplished since the Democrats retook the governor’s mansion in November 2006. Paterson still has time to turn things around but like most New York Democrats I’m hoping for a primary challenge. I’ve never been a fan of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo but as of now would support him over Paterson.
  • America owes a debt of gratitude to Supreme Court Justice David Souter for not retiring under President George W. Bush. I vividly recall when Souter was nominated by the first President Bush to replace Justice William Brennan in 1990. It was my senior year in college and one of my friends compared him to Robert Bork. Instead Souter turned out to be judicious and sensible. Conservatives chafed that Souter betrayed their cause. In my opinion, Souter presided as a traditional conservative jurist who respected precedent and didn’t overreact to the passions of the moment. Simply put, Souter didn’t betray conservatism. Conservatism’s metamorphosis to radicalism betrayed people like Souter. They wanted Souter to be a radical right wing activist and he opted to respect the Constitution instead.
  • I first became aware of Speaker Nancy Pelosi over a decade ago because of her diligent support of human rights in China over corporate interests. I appreciated her stolid advocacy of human rights in China and have long admired her staunch unapologetic liberalism.
  • Today, the Washington Post reported that a top Pelosi aide attended a briefing in 2003 in which it was made clear that waterboarding and other harsh techniques were used. In recent weeks there have been numerous leaks to the press about what Pelosi knew with respect to "enhanced interrogation" techniques or torture as decent people refer to it. The CIA has apparently targeted Pelosi for damaging leaks just as they previously went after the Bush Administration during the Valerie Plame controversy as well as the who knew what about WMDs in Iraq infighting. One has to wonder if this contributed to Pelosi’s early declaration in 2006 not to investigate the Bush administration, initiate impeachment hearings and her holding back of House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers. Obviously, the Bush administration had plenty of enablers in the Democratic Party for their crimes. If Pelosi was among them she should be held accountable along with other Democratic enablers and we liberal Democrats must insist upon it.
  • Happy Mother's Day to all tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

2009 Chapeau Blog Award Winners

Chapeau announced their 2009 Blog Award winners today. As readers here know this blog nominated as one of two industry finalists for their news category. The winner in my category is an inspirational blog called Ashin Mettacara. Ashin Mettacara is devoted to promoting freedom against oppression in Asia. They deserve the recognition and thanks to the Chapeau competition I have become a regular reader of their site.

Chapeau's overall winner for 2009's Most Brilliant Blog was awarded to the Raymond. CC Tech Blog. Well done!

Thanks to all who encouraged and voted for me. I appreciate the support and was honored to be nominated as an industry finalist. My thanks to Chapeau for promoting the art of blogging with these awards.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

State of the Elephant

America’s center of political gravity is defined by the Republican Party’s intellectual and moral disintegration. Senator Arlen Specter’s recent defection is an example of the American people rejecting the Republican Party like a body discarding a toxic kidney.

Partisan Democrats are understandably enjoying the GOP’s self-destruction as President Obama and his congressional majority implements an ambitious agenda. As a liberal Democrat and devoted activist, I appreciate the sentiment. While in power Republicans not only demonstrated contempt for the rule of law but even waged war against the unique American ideal of a meritocracy. Hence, one of my early posts as a blogger was entitled “Brezhnev Republicans” in January 2006. Republicans have earned the contempt and derision of patriotic citizens for their insipid indecency.

Yet I am neither gleeful nor triumphal about the Republican Party’s self-destruction because America’s winner-take all political system favors two dominant parties. Independents and third party candidates may sometimes break through or influence the outcome of elections. We’ve seen examples of this with the Libertarian and Green parties in recent years. Nonetheless, a two party duopoly will likely maintain its stranglehold on America’s body politic.

As I do not regard the Democratic Party as a panacea my preference is for both parties to be healthy, mature, honorable and intelligent. I say that even as I am devoted to working (and agitating) within the Democratic Party to facilitate peace and economic and social justice. The ideals I espouse can’t be achieved without a credible and decent minded opposition party. Vigorous competition in the marketplace of ideas is an essential component of any healthy democracy.

There is an opening to be seized in the idea marketplace either by the Republican Party or another party able to fill the void as an organized opposition. That void is to provide a counterweight to the pervasive influence of Wall Street and the financial services sector. Just as there was more to this country than George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney there is also more to America than plutocrats such as Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers.

President Obama has spoken eloquently about the need to promote sectors of the economy other than banking and financial services. He reiterated that theme again in his recent interview with economist David Leonhardt:
“We don’t want every single college grad with mathematical aptitude to become a derivative trader. We want some of them to go into engineering, we want some of them going into computer design.”
Yet the policies designed by his chief economic advisers Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers are excessively Wall Street centric. Americans across the political spectrum are hungering for an economic vision that transcends hyper-sized banks and multinational corporations at the expense of local communities, entrepreneurial small business owners and hard working wage earners.

Big government is needed to facilitate universal health care, ensure compliance with new environmental regulations that reduce carbon emissions and help workers retool during this period of economic calamity. Government however should not be empowering big banks and multinational corporations. My visceral sense is a majority consensus has emerged that while we need an activist government we should not be subsidizing big corporations.

Obama’s rhetoric notwithstanding, his administration continues to promote the Wall Street economy that contributes nothing tangible to our society. I support much of President Obama’s domestic agenda with respect to health care, the environment, education and infrastructure. But I would welcome a viable opposition party that provides a counterweight to the Geithner/Summers vision of reforming the Wall Street economy the way Gorbachev tried to reform communism.

The Republican Party has neither the intellectual firepower nor temperament to provide that counterweight. Indeed, it was the Republican conservative ideology of deregulation at the behest of Wall Street that created the mess we’re in today. Hopefully, a new political class of technocratic populists can emerge that replaces the Republican Party and raises the bar of governing performance for Democrats.

Two centuries ago, farsighted leaders such as Abraham Lincoln abandoned the Whig Party when it imploded over the issue of slavery. The Whigs had a proud tradition that included leaders such as Speaker Henry Clay. But when it was no longer able to meet the challenges of its era, Lincoln’s Republican Party replaced it.

Similarly, the Republican Party had its day and boasted high caliber leaders such as President Dwight Eisenhower. It was also Republican Senate leader Ervin Dickerson that enabled President Lyndon Johnson to pass civil rights in the 1960s. Although I strongly disagreed with his zealous promotion of supply side economics, I admired Republican Jack Kemp who sincerely worked to make his party and America more inclusive. Kemp, who just died of cancer at 73, had his heart in the right place. Tragically, he was one of the few Republicans who did.

As of now, the big elephant is deranged and not capable of providing the credible opposition our democracy needs and deserves. It would not shock me if Democrats screwed up sufficiently to eventually merit being out of power. America would be better served if an opposition party of decent and intelligent people existed as an alternative. Presently, we don’t have one.

History however abhors a vacuum. If a coherent leadership class doesn’t emerge in the Republican Party soon, that vacuum will be filled by something else. Who knows, perhaps the Whigs will make a comeback.