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Hawley’s Deplorable (and Dishonest) Attack on KBJ
Plus: Why the alt-right loves Putin.
“You can mediate, but cannot mediate between good & evil.” —Volodymyr Zelensky, March 20, 2022
Before we get to today’s latest imbroglio over SCOTUS, try to wrap your heads around this:
“Ukraine War Has Caused More Than 10 Million to Abandon Homes.” 10 million. In just three weeks.
“Ukrainian officials on Sunday accused Russia of bombing an art school in Mariupol where hundreds of people had been sheltering in recent days, but intense guerrilla warfare across the city hampered efforts to rescue survivors or count the dead under the rubble.”
“If the war in Ukraine settles into a stalemate condition, Russian forces will continue to bomb and bombard Ukrainian cities, devastating them and killing civilians."
SCOTUS: It wasn’t always this way
After the ordeal that begins this week, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is likely to be confirmed on a narrow, possibly party-line vote. There are no scandals, and her credentials stack up impressively against other nominees.
Despite that, she may get only a handful of Republican votes. (Collins? Murkowski? Romney?)
A quick reminder: this is not the way it used to be.
Once upon a time, conservative Antonin Scalia was confirmed by the Senate on a 98-0 vote; RBG was confirmed 96-3. The justice that Judge Jackson will replace, Stephen Breyer was confirmed by a margin of 87-9.
The first woman on the Court, Sandra Day O’Connor was confirmed by 99-0. The first African American on the Court, Thurgood Marshall, received 69 votes when he was confirmed in 1967.
As recently as 2010, Elena Kagan received 63 votes; a year earlier, Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed 68-31.
Some nominations were more contentious. Clarence Thomas received only 52 votes; and Robert Bork was actually rejected on a 42-58 vote.
But for the most part, qualified nominees were once routinely confirmed by overwhelming bipartisan votes. You can see the record here:
Obviously, things have changed, and we’re about to see that play out once again starting this week.
Ketanji Brown Jackson gets the Hawley treatment
There are a lot of substantive and provocative questions that senators should ask KBJ (George Will has a good rundown), but they are likely to be overshadowed by the clickbaity performance of Missouri’s Josh Hawley.
Hawley — of insurrectionist fist-bump fame — has made it clear that he will lead the charge to discredit Jackson.
“I’ve noticed an alarming pattern when it comes to Judge Jackson’s treatment of sex offenders, especially those preying on children,” Hawley tweeted. “I’m concerned that this [is] a record that endangers our children.”
As Politico notes, “the Missourian’s argument is now expected to be a leading Republican critique on Jackson when her hearings begin Monday.”
The Wapo’s Ruth Marcus has unbundled some of the disingenuousness of Hawley’s smear, including his attack on KBJ’s role on the U.S. Sentencing Commission:
Writes Marcus: “This is cleverly phrased. Jackson didn’t argue for eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for child porn. She — and all the other members of the Sentencing Commission, Republican and Democratic — said that the mandatory minimum for receiving child porn should be reviewed, hardly a ‘drastic change.’”
The law distinguishes between possession of child pornography (no mandatory minimum) and receipt of child pornography (five-year minimum). That makes no sense in the current technological universe, in which possession almost always involves receipt, through the Internet.
Consequently, the Sentencing Commission recommended in 2012 “that Congress align the statutory penalties for receipt and possession” of child pornography — and, if it wanted to keep a mandatory minimum, make it less than five years.
But Don Moynihan has a more provocative take, describing Hawley’s focus on child porn as part of the “The QAnoning of our political discourse.”
“Hawley,” writes Moynihan, “sought to tie Brown to a well-defined and increasingly common trope in American conservatism, which is that public institutions are overrun with child predators.”
The point of Hawley’s attack is not to make the charges stick in any substantive way, but to create an association between Brown and this broader trope. And in some immediate sense this worked. Simply by airing the claims, Hawley gave conservative media an excuse to run them…
[He] he casts her as a bit player in a familiar narrative, upholding a system of mass pedophilia. Since he sits on the Senate Judiciary committee that will hold hearings on Brown’s nomination, he will have ample opportunity to push his claims to an even wider audience.
Moynihan links Hawley’s gambit to efforts by charlatans like Christopher Rufo who want to weaponize words like “predator” and “grooming” to attack political opponents.
The theme of “grooming” has already begun to spread throughout the right-wing ecosystem, including the charge by Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis’s press secretary Christine Pushaw that anyone who opposes the “Don’t Say Gay” bill is “probably a groomer.”
This brings us back to Hawley and KBJ. Writes Moynihan:
Someone like Hawley will never spell it out but the purpose of raising these vile smears is articulated well by Jesse Kelly.
And through such means a poison in our political culture spreads. It’s McCarthyism on steroids.
Why does the alt-right love Putin?
A weekend piece in the Guardian notes, “Those on the right who loudly praised Putin have now fallen strangely silent.” But there has been little soul-searching, and few, if any apologies. Writes Nick Cohen:
The only attempt at a reckoning I have seen in our rightwing press was by one Eric Kaufmann, a populist professor of politics (if you can picture such a creature) at Birkbeck, University of London. Writing more in sorrow than in anger, that greasiest of styles, he sighs that it is a “real shame for populist conservatism” that Steve Bannon, Trump, Marine Le Pen, Éric Zemmour and Viktor Orbán had “carried water for this killer”. If only they had concentrated on attacking wokeness, crime and immigration, all would have been well.
But, writes Cohen, the Putinphilia was not “an eccentric aberration.”
Trump subverted elections in the US and Orbán all but abolished press freedom in Hungary. Indulgence for Putin on the “alt-right” wasn’t a bug but a feature, because he offered a road to autocracy his western admirers yearned to follow.
Some on the right, he writes, “admired Putin for being a white, muscular Christian leader who opposed the evils of liberalism. Or maybe they hated the EU as much as Putin hated the EU and, in the words of Trump’s sidekick Bannon, “believe that at least Putin is standing up for traditional institutions”.
But the best explanation for the silence is that the complicit find it hard to condemn. There is no clear dividing line between the right and the far right in the 2020s.
MOSCOW—The Russian political philosopher Alexander Dugin is banned from traveling to the United States because his calls for violence helped inspire the pro-Moscow insurgency in eastern Ukraine in 2014.
But if America’s leading ideologue today, Steve Bannon, were to visit Moscow, Dugin, a 55-year-old with a long beard and ultra-conservative views, would gladly sit down and talk with him.
Dugin says he sees Bannon, President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, as his “ideological ally.”
Of course he does.
1. Republican Voters Are Now America’s Foreign Policy Doves
In the latest Yahoo News survey, completed on Monday, the gap between the parties remains wide. Seventy-six percent of Democrats say the U.S. should take Ukraine’s side; only 57 percent of Republicans agree. Eighty percent of Democrats endorse “severe economic sanctions on Russia”; again, only 57 percent of Republicans agree. Two-thirds of Democrats prefer a “full Russian defeat”; only 51 percent of Republicans agree. When respondents are asked whether “It’s in America’s best interests to stop Russia and help Ukraine” or “The conflict is none of America’s business,” 72 percent of Democrats say we should help Ukraine. Fewer than half of Republicans share that view.
2. Expect a Viktor Orbán Win Next Month
H. David Baer, in the Bulwark, writes that the Hungarian prime minister has manipulated his country’s electoral system to his party’s advantage.
Could Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine be the tectonic event that dislodges Orbán? Certainly, it has put Orbán in an embarrassing position. Under his government, Hungary has become highly dependent on Russian energy. In 2014 Orbán crafted a secret agreement with Putin to have Russia expand a Hungarian nuclear power plant near the city of Paks, and beyond that, Orbán has repeatedly negotiated long-term deals with Putin to purchase gas. But whatever one thinks about the wisdom of these decisions, Orban’s energy policies have not differed fundamentally from those pursued by many other countries in Europe over the last decade.
What sets Orbán apart from other Western countries is not his Russia-oriented energy policy but rather his cultivated relationship with Putin. In ways that are hard to understand, Orbán has frequently adopted pro-Russia policies at odds with Western interests.