Thursday, November 21, 2019

Dreadful Debate

On Wednesday night, MSNBC got the debate it wanted. Its moderators were Rachel Maddow, Andrea Mitchell, Kristen Welker, and Ashley Parker. If you noticed that all are women, your are the winner and so is MSNBC, which obviously believed that cleansing the team of hosts from all men would serve whatever commercial purpose it had. The selection of moderators did not arise from an interest in spirited debate which would sharpen and/or illuminate differences among candidates on pressing national issues One issue raised revealed a failure among the Democratic candidates but also in the debate format, and particularly with Rachel Maddow.

Whenever there was a question prompted sharp disagreement among candidates, one of the hosts would end it.  Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden disagreeing with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders on health care; Tulsi Gabbard and Kamala Harris over what Gabbard calls the "rot" in the Democratic Party vs. Harris' reverence for Barack Obama; Gabbard and Buttigieg over having met with murderous thug Bashir Assad (Gabbard) and the idea of USA troops fighting drug lords in northern Mexico (Buttigieg), both bad ideas.

The latter argument was broken up when Bernie Sanders completely changed the subject, because that's what Bernie Sanders does. However, the worst was yet to come  Seasoned politicians are skilled at twisting vague queries to their advantage without responding directly. Yet, Rachel Maddow would ask about abortion in a vague manner as

Welcome back to the MSNBC-Washington Post Democratic candidates debate. Many states, including right here where we are tonight in Georgia, have passed laws that severely limit or outright ban abortion. Right now, Roe v. Wade protects a woman's right to abortion nationwide. But if Roe gets overturned and abortion access disappears in some states, would you intervene as president to try to bring that access back?

Would you intervene as president to try to bring that access back.  "Access" already was a pathetically passive approach when Deanna Paul explained in The Washington Post five months ago

As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fills the judiciary with conservatives, and does so boldly and volubly, Republicans campaign on federal and Supreme Court nominations. Meanwhile, Democrats have been largely passive about the courts, rarely mentioning them, CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin wrote in the New Yorker last week.

“Consider, for example, the Web sites of three leading contenders for the Democratic Presidential nomination: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. Each site has thousands of words outlining the candidates’ positions on the issues — and none of them mentions Supreme Court nominations, much less nominations for lower-court judges,” Toobin wrote....

Republicans have a 20- to 30-year head start building institutions, such as the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, that train and feed right-leaning lawyers on to the bench. McConnell has focused on transforming the judiciary, calling judicial confirmations “a political decision based on who controls the Senate.” His goal, he told a group of conservative and libertarian attorneys in December, was to “confirm as many circuit judges as possible” — an ambition he has achieved, assisting President Trump in pushing more federal judges through the Senate in his first two years than any recent president.

No Democratic presidential candidate opposes a woman's right to choose, or at least none will admit it. Consequently, and with the attack upon reproductive freedom increasingly centered on the courts (video below from March), Maddow could have asked "how will you change the federal judiciary to ensure a woman's right to abortion" (or, alternatively, replacing "abortion" with "control her own body.")?

Instead, Maddow asked about "bring(ing) back access" to that right, and little of interest or importance was elicited from any candidate, and clearly nothing any would disagree about. The Post's Paul continued

By and large, Democratic voters revere the court as an institution, still viewing it from the era where it was a force for progressive change.

“There was complacency, or a non-urgency, and a belief that the court was not an issue that needed to be solved or confronted,” he said.

The confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, Fallon said, was “a milestone moment” that has started to cause a shift in opinion. Democrats have long been motivated by specific issues, but “people are starting to understand the politicization of the institution and support more aggressive responses from politicians on Capitol Hill,” he explained.

If the hearing and approval of Kavanaugh in fact was "a milestone moment," it escaped the attention of Ms. Maddow, as well as every Democratic candidate on the stage in Atlanta. No one said he/she would appoint judges to the federal judiciary- the Supreme Court or lower courts- who have evinced a partiality toward reproductive freedom.

There is no need to suggest a specific "litmus test." But President Trump has chosen two Supreme Court nominees from lists provided him by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, which are extraordinarily unlikely ever to promote a candidate supportive of reproductive rights.  Between the cast of MSNBC and the Democratic presidential candidates, at least one person should understand the rules of the game that is being played.

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