Tag Archives: Michael Gerson

The Thirty

Sometime soon we'll have a post up about the "Hack Thirty" at Salon.com.  We were surprised that some made the list (B-list hacks) and that some didn't (Charles Krauthammer?  Seriously).  For that reason we wondered about the methodology and the meaning, in the end, of the term "hack." 

One person who didn't make the list but should have place in the top 15 at least was Michael Gerson, former Bush  43 Speechwriter and promoter of unprovoked defensive war. 

Luckily, his most recent column reads as a damning indictment of that exclusion.  For the tl;dr crowd (how many of you is that?  would you have made it at least to here?) he argues that Obama demonstrates the failure of "liberalism" and that certain liberals–whom he stupidly mentions by name (not even George Will would do that)–refuse to admit that, resorting instead to "conspiracy theories" (example of a "conspiracy theory": all of my enemies are plotting against me, forming a three-point axis–I know–of EVIL).

He begins:

Following two years of poor economic performance and electoral repudiation, liberalism is casting around for narratives to explain its failure – narratives that don't involve the admission of inadequacies in liberalism itself.

In the first place, for serious, how could anyone claim that the Obama administration's (financial, oil, military, etc.) industry-friendly policies constitute "liberalism"?

Second, one cannot maintain that "liberalism" has failed because the Democrats lost one of the two representative bodies–they still hold the Senate, the Presidency (and the liberal media of course). 

Enough preliminaries.  Our point here is that Gerson attempts to make the Willian hollow man move–"liberalism" is the key word usually, or "progressivism" (hey look it up in today's Post!).  It basically goes like this.  Mention the word "liberalism," and do not mention the words of any particular liberal–you're not dialoguing with them (that's critical)–and set up a hollow man.  Then engage hollow man, showing hollow man argument to be foolish, liberals as a consequence to be lazy, dishonest thinkers, etc. 

That's how you do a hollow man.  But Gerson foolishly names his opponents  He writes:

So Matt Yglesias warns the White House to be prepared for "deliberate economic sabotage" from the GOP – as though Chamber of Commerce SWAT teams, no doubt funded by foreigners, are preparing attacks on the electrical grid. Paul Krugman contends that "Republicans want the economy to stay weak as long as there's a Democrat in the White House." Steve Benen explains, "We're talking about a major political party . . . possibly undermining the strength of the country – on purpose, in public, without apology or shame – for no other reason than to give themselves a campaign advantage in 2012." Benen's posting was titled "None Dare Call it Sabotage."

So what is the proof of this charge? It seems to have something to do with Republicans criticizing quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve. And opposing federal spending. And, according to Benen, creating "massive economic uncertainty by vowing to gut the national health care system."

These guys (Benen and Yglesias) have very popular blogs, appear on TV, etc., and can respond to Gerson's hollow man–which is now, on account of its first instance distortion, has become representational version of the straw man.  Benen has responded at length.  Here is a brief snippet:

What's more, I'm fascinated by the notion that I'm describing a "conspiracy" — a word Gerson uses four times in his column. I made no such argument. There's no need for secret meetings in smoke-filled rooms; there's no reason to imagine a powerful cabal pulling strings behind the scenes. The proposition need not be fanciful at all — a stronger economy would improve President Obama's re-election chances, so Republicans are resisting policies and ideas that would lead to this result.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wasn't especially cagey about his intentions: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president…. Our single biggest political goal is to give [the Republican] nominee for president the maximum opportunity to be successful."

Given this, is it really that extraordinary to wonder if this might include rejecting proposals that would make President Obama look more successful on economic policy — especially given the fact that McConnell's approach to the economy appears to be carefully crafted to do the opposite of what's needed? After Gerson's West Wing colleagues effectively accused Democrats of treason in 2005, is it beyond the pale to have a conversation about Republicans' inexplicable motivations?

Read the whole thing here.  In addition to his dishonest representation of the facts, short memory, and general hackishness, Gerson's mistake is naming opponents who can respond (or whose words can be checked).  George Will almost never does that.  It tends to backfire. 

Facts and science and argument

The first rule of American political discourse is that you cannot mention the inanity of American political discourse.  Here is Obama:

"Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we're hardwired not to always think clearly when we're scared,” Obama said Saturday evening in remarks at a small Democratic fundraiser Saturday evening. “And the country's scared.”

A thousand examples come to mind.  Just for fun, however, I clicked a link right to the left of this Politico story.  Near the top of the page, this is what it said:

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh on Monday rolled out a new attack on Barack Obama, charging that the president looks "demonic."

Pointing to a recent picture of the president highlighted by the conservative Drudge Report, Limbaugh improbably declared during his show Monday that there are no other photos of "an American president with facial expressions like this."

"These pictures, they look demonic," Limbaugh said, in comments later posted on his website.

"It is strange that these pictures would be released," Limbaugh said of the images, which were taken by a wire service. "It's very, very, very strange."

"An American president has never had facial expressions like this," the conservative insisted. "At least, we've never seen photos of an American president with facial expressions like this."

Facts and science and argument.  Anyway, Here's Michael Gerson's take on Obama's remarks:

Let's unpack these remarks.

Obama clearly believes that his brand of politics represents "facts and science and argument." His opponents, in disturbing contrast, are using the more fearful, primitive portion of their brains. Obama views himself as the neocortical leader — the defender, not just of the stimulus package and health-care reform but also of cognitive reasoning. His critics rely on their lizard brains — the location of reptilian ritual and aggression. Some, presumably Democrats, rise above their evolutionary hard-wiring in times of social stress; others, sadly, do not.

There is a principle in argument, called the principle of charity, which has it that in the absence of the object of one's criticism, one ought to be nice.  This is not nice.  And it's obviously false.  Obama is talking about the state of our political discourse–the discourse where whether he looks like the devil constitutes a noteworthy intervention. 

But don't let me tell you.  Listen to Gerson (a few paragraphs down the page):

There have been several recent attempts to explain Obama's worldview as the result of his post-colonial father or his early socialist mentors — Gnostic attempts to produce the hidden key that unlocks the man. The reality is simpler. In April 2008, Obama described small-town voters to wealthy donors in San Francisco: "It's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them." Now, to wealthy donors in Massachusetts, opponents are "hard-wired not to always think clearly." Interpreting Obama does not require psychoanalysis or the reading of mystic Chicago runes. He is an intellectual snob.

Not only does this reference the kind of off-the-wall crap that constitutes political analysis in certain quarters, but in engages in the kind of silly discourse Obama is criticizing.  Rather than consider Obama's fairly moderate point–I mean seriously, death panels–Gerson turns the discussion to the person.  Perhaps Obama ought to have said: "rather than have a discussion about reality, some, such as Michael Gerson, would like to talk about what a snob I am to make such a demand."

Me and the Devil blues

Sanctimonious Christian moralist and Iraq war salesman Michael Gerson has questions about atheism:

But Christopher Hitchens is weaker on the personal and ethical challenge presented by atheism: Of course we can be good without God, but why the hell bother? If there are no moral lines except the ones we draw ourselves, why not draw and redraw them in places most favorable to our interests? Hitchens parries these concerns instead of answering them: Since all moral rules have exceptions and complications, he said, all moral choices are relative. Peter Hitchens responded, effectively, that any journey becomes difficult when a compass points differently at different times.

One of the neatest things about Philosophy is the way it forces one to think through remarks such as these.  Is it the case that that "good" has no meaning without God?  Whatever would that question mean anyway? 

It seems to me, after all, that's it's not obvious what it means to be good in the first place.  Is it to have the right kind of intentions–as in "when I dreamt up oratory justifying a human rights catastrophe I meant only the best."  That doesn't seem right.  What about this: "when I went along with those with insufficiently skeptical beliefs about the nature of the threat from Iraq and Al Qaeda, I was a sinner with an imperfect, flawed character"?  Well, that doesn't seem right either.  What about this: "no one really can know what the good is, like say invading Iraq, as we are not God, we're sinners and we can't know the future."  That has something going for it.  It just has one problem: it puts you on par with the atheist. 

Well, at least he tried

Former Bush '43 Speechwriter Michael Gerson, now tenured at the Washington Post, rarely favors readers with cogent arguments.  Today is somewhat of an exception, as he at least tries to do the right kind of thing.  In particular, he tries to field an objecion to his hackish point about hating and loving "Washington." 

The argument goes something like this.  Lately a lot of Obama types have been complaining about "Washington."  I put that in quotes because of course it's not really Washington the city or anything like that.  It's actually meant by those people to be the dirty business of making laws with a bunch of self-interested parties.  Everyone complains about that.  I remember a young George W. Bush promising to "change the tone" in Washington.  He didn't.  Nor did he ever intend to I'm sure. 

So it's really vacuous, I think, to even bother to point this out about anyone.  That doesn't stop Gerson. 

Not, presumably, for the actual place of schools and neighborhoods and monuments but for the conceptual Washington, the symbolic city. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, with typical delicacy, calls it "[expletive]-nutsville," a judgment that earthier Tea Party activists might share. Senior adviser David Axelrod has announced his spring departure. "I think he's not having fun," says a White House colleague. A recent profile claims that Axelrod's idealism was disappointed by "a ferociously stubborn, possibly irredeemable system." And Barack Obama himself constantly complains about the "politicking" and obstructionism of the capital city, where they "talk about me like a dog." Much of the White House senior staff seems to long for a purer, simpler, more wholesome kind of politics . . . in Chicago.

The tension here is obvious. Even while depicting Washington as a flawed, fractured, hopeless mess, the Obama administration has sought to increase the influence of Washington over America's economy and health-care system. In the Obama era, Washington helps run auto companies, oversees some corporate salaries, imposes an individual mandate to purchase health insurance, and seeks to rationalize the health-care system with a profusion of new boards, offices, agencies and commissions — estimates vary from 47 to 159 new bureaucratic entities.

In case however you're ready to say, "I think 'Washington' is used in two distinct senses here," Gerson is right on it:

Progressives would object that it is political Washington — the paralyzed structure of legislators and special interests — that is broken, not bureaucratic Washington, which needs more authority. But it is not easy to argue that citizens aggregated in a legislature are self-interested, corrupt and incompetent while citizens aggregated in a government agency are public-spirited, wise and effective. And it is not much of a communications strategy to feed disdain for politics while proposing an expanded role for government.

It's very refreshing to see the phrase "x would object" in this context.  A round of applause for him.  It seems like an honest attempt to engage with his interlocutor.  However, I think the progressive (or the conservative who could be caught in the same alleged rhetorical trap) would object to "Washington" being used in the second sense at all.

And it smacks of too much cleverness, I think, to suggest that one cannot avail onself of the usual tropes ("Washington sucks," for example, by which I mean, "my opponents in Washington"), without being guilty of some kind of logical or rhetorical inconsistency.  And besides, I think Obama and his team can rightly complain about some of the process ("death panels" anyone?). 

Having said that, Gerson does have a point.  No one likes a whiner–even when she or he has every right.  Well, let me rephrase.  No one likes a whiner, when they're a Democrat.

The mosque of pain

I've had nothing good to say about former Bush 43 speechwriter Michael Gerson's work in the Washington Post.  Every day is a new day, however, so today a little kudos for an argument well argued.  Not, of course, just because I agree with the conclusion (which I do, but that does not a good argument always make, trust me), rather because I think he's lined up the right sort of reasons for it (truth be told, I don't like some of them).

In this debate, grace is in short supply but irony abounds. The Christian fundamentalist view of Islam bears a striking resemblance to the New York Times' view of Christian fundamentalism — a simplistic emphasis on the worst elements of a complex religious tradition. Both create a caricature, then assert that the Constitution is under assault by an army of straw men. The debates within Islam on the nature and application of sharia law, for example, are at least as complex as the debates among Christian theologians on the nature of social justice. And the political application of Islam differs so greatly — from Saudi Arabia to Mali to Morocco to Bosnia to Tanzania to Detroit — that it defies easy summary.

Many Christian fundamentalists seem oblivious to the similarity of their own legal and cultural peril. In portions of America — say San Francisco or Vermont — conservative Christians are sometimes also viewed as suspicious, illiberal outsiders. Their opinions on gender roles, homosexuality and public morality are viewed as an attack on constitutional values — much as fundamentalists view the threat from Islam. Some secular critics of Islam — Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens come to mind — explicitly argue that the real threat to freedom comes from the oppressive moralism of the entire Abrahamic tradition — Jewish, Christian and Muslim.

Christian fundamentalists who undermine religious liberty in order to target Muslims are playing a game of intolerance roulette. That First Amendment might come in handy someday.  

Ok, I think he's wrong about the New York Times, and I think his appeal to Christian fundamentalists here is a bit disturbing (you're both oppressive moralists!), though perhaps not incorrect.  Many Muslims are cultural if not fiscal and political conservatives.  Alientating them is bad politics.

The more interesting reason comes at the end: "That First Amendment might come in handy someday."  Or put in another way: "you'd be singing a different tune if the shoe were on the other foot."  And here we have, I think, another interesting of the subjunctive (or hypthetical) tu quoque.  Discussed also here.

The argument is clearly of the ad hominem variety.  Not the fallacious kind.  It points out a pragmatic inconsistency in this particular Mosque-opposer's hypothetical argument.  The practical inconsistency is driven, I think, by the analogy with similar circumstances.  So question: is the subjunctive tu quoque burden met by an argument from analogy?  I ask this because many posts ago Scott wondered what the burden was for such arguments (when they're non fallacious).  Perhaps this is one possibility.

The ugly party

A brief follow up to yesterday's post on Michael Gerson.  He laments the harsh words used in private correspodence for (ugly) people.  If that wasn't dumb enough already (and hypocritical, as Aaron in comments points out–see here) what's funny is his vision of the alternative.  Here is how he describes it:

The alternative to the Ugly Party is the Grown-Up Party — less edgy and less hip. It is sometimes depicted on the left and on the right as an all-powerful media establishment, stifling creativity, freedom and dissent. The Grown-Up Party, in my experience, is more like a seminar at the Aspen Institute — presentation by David Broder, responses from E.J. Dionne Jr. and David Brooks — on the electoral implications of the energy debate. I am more comfortable in this party for a few reasons: because it is more responsible, more reliable and less likely to wish its opponents would die.

The grown up party isn't engaged in the same kind of discussion as the "ugly party."  For all its faults, the ugly party is at least doing what one ought to be doing in politics–i.e., arguing about stuff.  Some of them may be doing it badly, and I suppose that this is the point of our whole web empire here at TheNonSequitur, but at least they're doing it.  By contrast, by Gerson's description, the grown up party isn't really doing argument–they're doing analysis.  The electoral implications of the engery policy debate might be interesting, but they don't resolve what the policy ought to be.  As Gerson has it, that is a question for the Ugly party, and I say, therefore, I think I want to be a member of the Ugly party. 

Go do unto yourself*

If we had a category called "what substance has he or she been smoking or taking?" I would suggest that we put this column by Michael Gerson in it.  For in it he complains about the uglification of recent American political discourse–a worthy aim–but, where's he been at? one might wonder.  He writes:

My political friendships and sympathies are increasingly determined not by ideology but by methodology. One of the most significant divisions in American public life is not between the Democrats and the Republicans; it is between the Ugly Party and the Grown-Up Party.

This distinction came to mind in the case of Washington Post blogger David Weigel, who resigned last week after the leak of messages he wrote disparaging figures he covered. Weigel is, by most accounts, a bright, hardworking young man whose private communications should have been kept private. But the tone of the e-mails he posted on a liberal e-mail list is instructive. When Rush Limbaugh went to the hospital with chest pain, Weigel wrote, "I hope he fails." Matt Drudge is an "amoral shut-in" who should "set himself on fire." Opponents are referred to as "ratf — -ers" and "[expletive] moronic."

This type of discourse is an odd combination between the snideness of the cool, mean kids in high school and the pettiness of Richard Nixon rambling on his tapes. Weigel did not intend his words to be public. But they display the defining characteristic of ugly politics — the dehumanization of political opponents.

Gerson says twice that Weigel's private sentiments should not have been made public.  Why were they?  Well, I blame ugly politics, a politics that tries to make everything about people's character and private life and not about what they do or say publicly.  Anyway, he then bafflingly suggests that these private words "display the defining characteristics of ugly politics."  Well, not really, I would say the defining characteristic of ugly politics is saying those things in a public forum to achieve a political effect.  Venting to your alleged friends does not count.

A more foundational characteristic of ugly politics, I think, is twisting facts or distorting words for poltiical advantage.  Here is what Weigel is alleged to have said (via the Daily Caller):

“There’s also the fact that neither the pundits, nor possibly the Republicans, will be punished for their crazy outbursts of racism. Newt Gingrich is an amoral blowhard who resigned in disgrace, and Pat Buchanan is an anti-Semite who was drummed out of the movement by William F. Buckley. Both are now polluting my inbox and TV with their bellowing and minority-bashing. They’re never going to go away or be deprived of their soapboxes,” Weigel wrote.

Of Matt Drudge, Weigel remarked,  “It’s really a disgrace that an amoral shut-in like Drudge maintains the influence he does on the news cycle while gay-baiting, lying, and flubbing facts to this degree.”

In April, Weigel wrote that the problem with the mainstream media is “this need to give equal/extra time to ‘real American’ views, no matter how fucking moronic, which just so happen to be the views of the conglomerates that run the media and/or buy up ads.”

When Obama’s “green jobs czar” Van Jones resigned after it was revealed he signed a 9/11 “truther” petition, alleging the government may have conspired to allow terrorists to kill 3,000 civilians, Weigel highlighted the alleged racism of Glenn Beck – Jones’s top critic.

Notice that Weigel is complaining primarily (and again privately) about the ugly crap that gets cast as serious political discourse.  This demonstrates again, however, that however ugly Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Pat Buchanan, etc., get, the rules of our discourse prohibit you from pointing that out.  For if you do, even in private, you're fired.

*The actual quote is "Go fuck yourself" and Dick Cheney said it (to Patrick Leahy on the floor of the Senate). 


Former George W.Bush speechwriter ("axis of evil….") and some kind of fervent Christian Michael Gerson alleges that Al Franken, former writer for Saturday NIght Live and current Senator from Minnesota, is not to be taken seriously.  He writes:

One problem with a political landslide of the kind that Republicans now contemplate in November is that it may also sweep into office various ideologues who become embarrassments — candidates such as J.D. Hayworth and Rand Paul. Democrats are familiar with this possibility, because they have Sen. Al Franken.

In the months since his election, the author of "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot," who has referred to opponents as "human filth" and who once accused Ronald Reagan of supporting the torture and rape of nuns, has tried to control his bile addiction, at least in public. Speaking last week to the American Constitution Society, he relapsed.

Most of the traditional elements of a Franken rant were employed against Chief Justice John Roberts and conservatives on the Supreme Court. The attack on motives: The "Roberts court has consistently and intentionally protected and promoted the interests of the powerful over those of individual Americans." The silly hyperbole: "What individual rights are so basic and so important that they should be protected above a corporation's right to profit? And their preferred answer is: None. Zero." The sloppy, malicious mixed metaphor: The Roberts court is putting not a "thumb" but "a fist with brass knuckles" on the "scale" of justice. Franken was clearly summoning all his remaining resources of senatorial dignity not to say something like Roberts is a "lying liar who lies along with his lying lackeys for his lying corporate lying masters."

You would never suspect from Franken's speech that the Roberts court, in key cases, has sided with employees who allege discrimination and against corporations. It is never enough for Franken's opponents to be misguided or mistaken; they must want women to be sexually harassed in underpaid jobs while their children die of lead poisoning.

In all fairness, which is a kind of Christian attitude by the way–or so the nuns taught me–"Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot" is ironic satire, about a fellow whose main mode of argument is the abusive ad hominem.  The same goes for the "human filth" remark about the vitriolic Karl Rove.  Now Reagan, in all honesty, did support regimes that raped and tortured nuns (I mean communists).  Now the point of bringing all of this up of course is to discredit Franken without considering Franken's particular argument (in this case).  It's the tactic of a big fat idiot, or human filth, to denigrate our discourse in this manner.  THAT LAST SENTENCE WAS SATIRE.  What's worse, however, is that Gerson has run out of misunderstandings to blame on Franken, so he resorts to making stuff up.  You can watch Franken's comments for yourself here
Franken doesn't say the "lying liars" quotation above.  That's pure invention.  If Franken had such a habit of bile, you'd think Gerson wouldn't need to resort to making crap up.  But he continues–and attributes more false intentions to Franken.  It is never enough for Gerson that his opponent is wrong or misguided, but apparently he must have some kind of warped personality and (as this dreary pieces goes on to fail more and more) and be a big fat idiot.  But maybe I'll talk about that tomorrow.

A statement like this should not be taken out of context

Michael Gerson worries about taking Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg out of context, merely in order to take her out of context.  Here's what he says:

There was a scandal this week concerning the Supreme Court, though it didn't concern the nomination of its newest member.

The New York Times Magazine printed a candid interview with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, including this portion:

Q: "Are you talking about the distances women have to travel because in parts of the country, abortion is essentially unavailable, because there are so few doctors and clinics that do the procedure? And also, the lack of Medicaid abortions for poor women?"

Clearly that question refers to some amount of previous discussion, so Gerson writes:

Justice Ginsburg: "Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae — in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion."

A statement like this should not be taken out of context. The context surrounding this passage is a simplistic, pro-choice rant. Abortion, in Ginsburg's view, is an essential part of sexual equality, thus ending all ethical debate. "There will never be a woman of means without choice anymore. That just seems to be so obvious," she explains. "So we have a policy that affects only poor women, and it can never be otherwise, and I don't know why this hasn't been said more often." Of pro-lifers, she declares, "They're fighting a losing battle" — which must come as discouraging news to litigants in future abortion cases that come before the high court.

Given this context, can it be argued that Ginsburg — referring to "populations that we don't want to have too many of" — was merely summarizing the views of others and describing the attitudes of the country when Roe v. Wade was decided? It can be argued — but it is not bloody likely. Who, in Ginsburg's statement, is the "we"? And who, in 1973, was arguing for the eugenic purposes of abortion?

No, it's obvious from the actual context (which is actually linked in the online version of this article) that this is what Ginsburg is talking about.  Here is what she says.  

Q: Let me ask you about the fight you waged for the courts to understand that pregnancy discrimination is a form of sex discrimination.

JUSTICE GINSBURG: I wrote about it a number of times. I litigated Captain Struck’s case about reproductive choice. [In 1972, Ginsburg represented Capt. Susan Struck, who became pregnant during her service in the Air Force. At the time, the Air Force automatically discharged any woman who became pregnant and told Captain Struck that she should have an abortion if she wanted to keep her job. The government changed the regulation before the Supreme Court could decide the case.] If the court could have seen Susan Struck’s case — this was the U.S. government, a U.S. Air Force post, offering abortions, in 1971, two years before Roe.

Q: And suggesting an abortion as the solution to Struck’s problem.

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Yes. Not only that, but it was available to her on the base.

Q: The case ties together themes of women’s equality and reproductive freedom. The court split those themes apart in Roe v. Wade. Do you see, as part of a future feminist legal wish list, repositioning Roe so that the right to abortion is rooted in the constitutional promise of sex equality?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Oh, yes. I think it will be.

Q: If you were a lawyer again, what would you want to accomplish as a future feminist legal agenda?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Reproductive choice has to be straightened out. There will never be a woman of means without choice anymore. That just seems to me so obvious. The states that had changed their abortion laws before Roe [to make abortion legal] are not going to change back. So we have a policy that affects only poor women, and it can never be otherwise, and I don’t know why this hasn’t been said more often.

Q: Are you talking about the distances women have to travel because in parts of the country, abortion is essentially unavailable, because there are so few doctors and clinics that do the procedure? And also, the lack of Medicaid for abortions for poor women?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae — in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. Which some people felt would risk coercing women into having abortions when they didn’t really want them. But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong.

It's clear that Ginsburg is not talking about her own personal position, as Gerson suggests, but rather the position of public opinion and the court at that time.  She even admits that her perception of that was wrong, not her personal view. 

Her argument, as is obvious, is that abortion law (as it stands) discriminates against women who cannot afford it.  And she makes the observation, not the assertion of an ethical absolute as Gerson dishonestly suggests, that rich women will always have the choice, since they have the means to travel or to afford that choice.  

Gerson's dishonest version of Ginsburg's interview isn't even close–perhaps the sign of that is the odd formulation: a statement like this should not be taken out of context.  I wonder, which statements should be taken out of context?


When you don't have an argument, you can always just beg the question:

As a young senator involved in judicial nomination debates, Obama showed no deference to presidential choices. Instead, he developed a theory that Supreme Court justices should favor socially unfavored groups. He opposed John Roberts for using his skills "on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak." He criticized Samuel Alito for siding with "the powerful against the powerless." Obama made these distinguished judges sound monstrous because they stood for the impartial application of the law.

That's Michael Gerson.  The jeune Obama has obviously alleged that the judges were "partial" to the interests of the powerful.  Obama is not, in fact, referring to Roberts's behavior as a judge.  But that's another point.  If one reads the whole passage (and not just the heavily elided selection featured on right-wing blogs), Obama addresses Gerson's "impartial application of the law" objection:

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind Judge Roberts is qualified to sit on the highest court in the land. Moreover, he seems to have the comportment and the temperament that makes for a good judge. He is humble, he is personally decent, and he appears to be respectful of different points of view. It is absolutely clear to me that Judge Roberts truly loves the law. He couldn't have achieved his excellent record as an advocate before the Supreme Court without that passion for the law, and it became apparent to me in our conversation that he does, in fact, deeply respect the basic precepts that go into deciding 95 percent of the cases that come before the Federal court — adherence to precedence, a certain modesty in reading statutes and constitutional text, a respect for procedural regularity, and an impartiality in presiding over the adversarial system. All of these characteristics make me want to vote for Judge Roberts. 

The problem I face — a problem that has been voiced by some of my other colleagues, both those who are voting for Mr. Roberts and those who are voting against Mr. Roberts — is that while adherence to legal precedent and rules of statutory or constitutional construction will dispose of 95 percent of the cases that come before a court, so that both a Scalia and a Ginsburg will arrive at the same place most of the time on those 95 percent of the cases — what matters on the Supreme Court is those 5 percent of cases that are truly difficult. In those cases, adherence to precedent and rules of construction and interpretation will only get you through the 25th mile of the marathon. That last mile can only be determined on the basis of one's deepest values, one's core concerns, one's broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one's empathy.

In those 5 percent of hard cases, the constitutional text will not be directly on point. The language of the statute will not be perfectly clear. Legal process alone will not lead you to a rule of decision. In those circumstances, your decisions about whether affirmative action is an appropriate response to the history of discrimination in this country or whether a general right of privacy encompasses a more specific right of women to control their reproductive decisions or whether the commerce clause empowers Congress to speak on those issues of broad national concern that may be only tangentially related to what is easily defined as interstate commerce, whether a person who is disabled has the right to be accommodated so they can work alongside those who are nondisabled — in those difficult cases, the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge's heart.

I talked to Judge Roberts about this. Judge Roberts confessed that, unlike maybe professional politicians, it is not easy for him to talk about his values and his deeper feelings. That is not how he is trained. He did say he doesn't like bullies and has always viewed the law as a way of evening out the playing field between the strong and the weak.

I was impressed with that statement because I view the law in much the same way. The problem I had is that when I examined Judge Roberts' record and history of public service, it is my personal estimation that he has far more often used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak. In his work in the White House and the Solicitor General's Office, he seemed to have consistently sided with those who were dismissive of efforts to eradicate the remnants of racial discrimination in our political process. In these same positions, he seemed dismissive of the concerns that it is harder to make it in this world and in this economy when you are a woman rather than a man.

As I tell my Critical Thinking class, it's just not that hard.  I just don't understand why Gerson can't do what every phil 101 student must do in order to earn a C.