Review: The Heritage

The Heritage by Howard Bryant

What responsibility do black athletes have for representing their communities outside of sports? It’s an obvious question with surprisingly little definition given the power of black-majority professional sports and their primacy in our popular culture. And it’s one that ESPN sports reporter Howard Bryant takes head on in his revelatory book The Heritage: Black Athletes, A Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism. Bryant’s answer is unequivocal: “Black players, politics, and patriotism have always been linked.” That connection is what Bryant calls the Heritage, that “being the Ones Who Made It soon came with the responsibility to speak for the people who had not made it, for whom the road was still blocked.”

Bryant argues that the Heritage is a tradition running through African-American sports heroes past and present—some forgotten, others immortalized. His book draws this historical line from Paul Robeson and Jackie Robinson, to Muhammed Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, all the way through Colin Kaepernick and Lebron James. To differing degrees, each publicly acknowledged the burden borne by black people living in a white society that just wanted them to run, catch, punch, pass, and shoot. Each paid a high cost for speaking out but felt that was cheaper than the price of their silence. It’s a tradition Bryant not only celebrates but defends from critics both white and black. Continue reading

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Voting Rights Must Be Democrats’ Highest Priority

It’s the week after election day, which means we’ve been treated to a healthy serving of narrative-setting takes from the talking heads at every outlet. Was it a disappointing night for Democrats? Or perhaps a repudiation of President Trump? Did the election show that far-left progressivism was defeated? Or was the dramatic increase of Democratic women in congress a troubling trend for the GOP? Was the election a blue wave? Or was it merely a ripple?

For the most part, you can stuff your clean, neat lessons from election day in a sack. The facts are these: Democrats won between 35 and 40 seats in the House of Representatives and limited their losses in the Senate to 1-2 seats while facing the worst senate map in a generation. Turnout for a midterm election was up, as the trends from the 2016 presidential race held fast. Democrats continued to turn formerly Republican, well-educated suburbs blue, wiping out conservatives in the districts surrounding Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. For their part, Republicans continued gaining ground in whiter, rural areas, winning two Minnesota districts taken by Trump two years earlier. The incumbency advantage seemed to succumb to these larger forces, as Democratic Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Joe Donnelly of Indiana lost surprisingly handily. Democrats now control the House—which is no minor thing—but their ascendancy is no more permanent than any previous realignment. The electoral outcome in 2020 is still very much in doubt.

Regardless of 2018’s uncertain meaning on the politics of the future, though, there’s one thing this election has made abundantly clear: protecting and expanding voting rights for all Americans must be Democrats’ highest priority both in the next congress and the years to come. Continue reading

On Healthcare, GOP Hypocrisy is a Preexisting Condition

If there’s one issue that can define the last decade of American politics, it is healthcare. After an historic election victory in 2008, Barack Obama pushed through a massive reorganization of the country’s health insurance system as his top domestic priority, even as the country was still in the depths of the financial crisis. In 2010, Republicans gained an astounding 63 seats in the House of Representatives thanks to the backlash against that law. In 2012, though jobs and the economy were nominally the most important issue, the presidential race was largely framed by Obama’s championing of the ACA and the GOP nominee’s repudiation of his own Romneycare. Four years later, popular confusion about the effects and impact of Obamacare allowed Donald Trump to muddy the waters. Trump promised something no other Republican could (because it was a lie)—better, cheaper healthcare that covered everyone. He also pledged not to cut Social Security or Medicare. Then, after the election, the Trump administration’s primary policy push was an ACA repeal effort which famously came up just one vote short in the Senate.

Now, as we approach the 2018 midterms, healthcare as it at the center of our politics yet again. You wouldn’t know it from listening to the president, his press secretary, or the media who cover them. In that world, the midterms are about whatever emerges from the frayed psyche of our commander in chief after six hours of watching cable news in the presidential residence. But out on the campaign trail, healthcare is dominating the conversation. Democratic congressional candidates are rightly talking about Republicans’ votes for the AHCA, the 2017 bill that if enacted would have eliminated the individual mandate and stripped away protections for people with preexisting conditions. Surprisingly, though, Republicans are talking about healthcare, too. And they sound an awful lot like Democrats in doing so. Continue reading

Mind The (Gender) Gap

Mind the Gap

Following the second round of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings—this one an exhausting, dispiriting display of female deference and male dominance—the identities and backgrounds of our representatives in Congress are receiving scrutiny once again. On the twenty-one-person committee that questioned Kavanaugh, only four are women. And all eleven members of the Republican majority on the committee are white men. This embarrassing lack of representation led the Judiciary Committee GOPers to bring in a woman prosecutor from Phoenix—or as Senator Mitch McConnell referred to her, a “female assistant” ­— to question Kavanaugh’s accuser. They could sense that a group of dusty old white guys grilling a sexual assault survivor for partisan gain was bad “optics,” yet they couldn’t draw the logical conclusion that their carefully cultivated lack of diversity was itself responsible for bad decisions. Republicans demean African-Americans, Hispanics, and women, driving those voters away. That, in turn, leads to less diverse GOP representation, which increases the policy assault and demeaning rhetoric aimed at those voters. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The conventional wisdom about the 2018 midterm elections is that Democratic enthusiasm is being driven by a visceral backlash by women against the policies and personhood of President Trump and his lackeys in Congress. In this case, the conventional wisdom is correct. There is a pink wave coming.

Not only is there a historically lopsided gender gap in generic ballot polls, but the number of women candidates is at an all-time high. Continue reading

You’re Not A Real Lawyer, You Just Play One On TV

Rudy Giuliani

In a country that loves true crime drama, the Trump administration is an unending well of entertainment. Every day brings new legal developments in the ever-growing investigations closing in on Trump world. From Paul Manafort’s trials to Michael Cohen’s guilty plea to Michael Flynn’s cooperation agreement to Allen Weisselberg’s immunity to Trump’s obstructions of justice to Inspector General reports, the Trump-Russia penumbra makes the hoopla over O.J., Casey, and Adnan look quaint. In the modern world of 24-7 cable news, it’s a good time to be a telegenic former prosecutor.

But it’s not just the expert commentators that are grabbing air time and making bank. The true innovation of the Russia investigation is how much TV time the investigation’s principals are getting. Active investigation subjects, subpoena targets, civil litigants, and even criminal defendants are speaking to reporters on the record at an alarming rate. And it doesn’t stop with the peripheral clowns, jesters, and showmen like Sam Nunberg and Carter Page. It’s the lawyers to some of the most endangered clients and sensitive witnesses who are blabbing to Chuck Todd and Anderson Cooper about legal strategy on a nightly basis!

The practice has become so prevalent that the public no doubt believes litigating in the court of public opinion is compatible with and more important than doing so in actual courts of law. But it’s not. If you’re talking to the press about your client’s case with a camera in your face, you’re not a real lawyer, you just play one on TV.

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A Norm For A Norm

The confirmation hearings on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court last week have been compelling. Nursing a razor-thin majority and tasked with supporting a compromised nominee, Senate Republicans have put on a parade of obsequious questioners to delve into such pressing matters as—this is not a joke—which of the Judge’s daughters gives better hugs. For their part, Senate Democrats have risen to the occasion, pummeling the nominee on his partisan Republican allegiances and rigidly ideologically views. Most gripping of all, though, has been Kavanaugh’s remarkably poor performance in answering simple questions and avoiding difficult ones. What was thought to be a coronation has instead raised real political consequences for those who would affirm a nominee so clearly tied to a corrupt Republican establishment and so clearly hostile to the civil and reproductive rights of everyday Americans.

What has been so remarkable—and heartening—to witness, however, has been Senate Democrats willingness to play hardball in opposing this nomination. Continue reading

The Manafort Puzzle

Last Tuesday provided a moment of emphasis in the Justice Department’s pursuit of the Trump crime family. After months of speculation following an FBI raid on his office and hotel room, as well as a breakneck privilege review of the materials found there, former Trump Organization attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight counts of tax evasion, bank fraud, and campaign finance violations. It’s the latter charges that have the most national import. During his allocution and as detailed in his criminal information, Cohen admitted that the illicit payments to Karen MacDougal and Stormy Daniels were made “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” a person described in his information as “Individual-1,” who later “had become the President of the United States.” In other words, the Federal Government and Michael Cohen agree that Donald Trump devised a criminal conspiracy to influence the election.

Dramatically, at the exact same time Cohen was pleading guilty in Manhattan, a federal jury in Virginia delivered a guilty verdict against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on eight counts of tax evasion, bank fraud, and filing false tax forms dating to his time working for a Putin-allied Ukrainian strongman through the 2016 campaign. Although the jury hung on ten other related counts due to a solitary holdout, it was a significant blow to Manafort and to Trump. Manafort now faces a decade or more in prison for his convictions, to say nothing of the time he faces for the charges against him in a separate D.C. trial set to begin on September 24 and a potential retrial of the hung counts in the Virginia case. For his part, Trump is now officially responsible for hiring a felon as his campaign manager to serve during the critical months of his campaign during which he secured the GOP nomination and held his convention, and for doing so when Manafort’s compromising ties and illicit conduct was plain to anyone with a morsel of self-preservation or shame. Manafort’s conviction has also spurred Trump to some of his more self-destructive behavior, exacerbating existing obstruction of justice exposure with angry tweets about the unfairness of the proceedings while hinting at the possibility of a Manafort pardon.

While significant, neither development can quite be termed a “turning point” in the Special Counsel investigation. Continue reading

Why Progressives Rightly Despise Joe Lieberman

Joe Lieberman's Wall Street Journal Op Ed endorsing Joe Crowley

Joe Lieberman is at it again. Last month, the former Connecticut Senator penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal pushing the notion that voters in New York’s 14th congressional district should reject the results of the Democratic primary and re-elect Representative Joe Crowley on the Working Families Party line over Democratic nominee Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. His reasoning? “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise primary victory over Rep. Joe Crowley seems likely to hurt Congress, America and the Democratic Party,” he argued, because “the policies Ms. Ocasio-Cortez advocates are so far from the mainstream,” and thus “her election in November would make it harder for Congress to stop fighting and start fixing problems.”

Progressives predictably went nuts. They pointed out that Ocasio-Cortez fits her district both demographically and ideologically. They argued that her platform—a higher minimum wage, Medicare for all, a federal jobs guarantee, and free public college—is broadly popular. And they noted that Lieberman’s cool punditry both lacked concrete evidence and conveniently coincided with his own preferred politics.

But this is the game Lieberman has been playing, with considerable success, all along. Continue reading

Kavanaugh’s Legacy Will Be Partisanship, Not Ideology

Brett Kavanaugh is nominated to the Supreme Court by President Trump.

The last thirty years of Supreme Court confirmation battles have been waged largely on ideology. Dating back to the genesis of the judicial wars—the defeat of Judge Robert Bork’s nomination in 1987—the opposition party has attempted to cast each nominee as an extremist, an activist, and an ideologue. Conversely, the nominee’s defenders have stressed his or her impartiality. This dichotomy has created a distorted picture of judging for public consumption. Good judges call balls and strikes. Bad judges play favorites and seek to advance a specific judicial agenda. In this telling, the confirmation process is simply about sorting the Alitos, Sotomayors, and Gorsuchs into one pile or the other.
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