SUPREME POLITICS-When Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court in March of 2016, Lee Drutman wrote:
“In picking a Supreme Court nominee, President Obama faced a strategic political choice: Should he nominate a strong progressive, a nominee of color, and/or a woman to mobilize the Democratic base in advance of the 2016 election? Or was it smarter to pick someone more moderate, someone whom some Republicans had already voted for, and try to force uncomfortable divisions within the fissuring Republican Party…
“Obama has clearly decided on the second strategy. And it is surely not a coincidence that Obama made this announcement the day after Trump knocked Rubio out of the presidential race and continued his steady march toward becoming the Republican nominee… Obama’s decision to nominate Garland is an unmistakable Democratic pivot to the center, intended to divide Republicans while taking the base for granted. We are going to see a lot more of this ahead.”
Barack Obama made the wrong choice.
IMHO, the best use of a Back to the Future DeLorean, or a Hot Tub Time Machine, would be to go back to the eve of President Obama’s decision to nominate Merrick Garland, and get him to nominate someone else. The best possible pick would be a woman of color whose career included challenges to gerrymandering and defenses of the Voting Rights Act.
Mitch McConnell would still have refused to do his job. But Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders would have been asked questions about the Supreme Court, and its relationship to Congressional district boundaries, and the provisions of the VRA, gutted by the Roberts Court, that protected voters -- those who have been historically disenfranchised and/or remain marginalized. Both the press and the presidential candidates would have been forced to shine a spotlight on changes to voting laws, and barriers to voting in place in 2016, that were not there in 2008.
A piece on the fact that anyone who didn’t have a state approved voter ID in Michigan needed an affidavit in order to cast a ballot, would have organically led to a piece on the number of Flint residents, under Emergency Management and hit by the water crisis, that were now also likely going to be disenfranchised by the implementation of this new voter ID law. This would have resulted in a decision by both the Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton campaigns to run voter registration, education, and mobilization drives in states with voter ID laws. Such enfranchisement drives in key states like Michigan might have made it possible for the winner of the popular vote and the winner of the Electoral College to be one and the same -- all thanks, in this alternative history’s timeline, to President Obama’s decision to pick a SCOTUS nominee intended to help build the Democratic Party’s base of support.
But I digress.
Unless you’ve been on that plane that’s been missing for years in the show “Manifest,” you know that Mitch McConnell, the Republican from Kentucky, and Senate Majority Leader since 2015, is the notorious public figure credited with the strategy of denying a hearing, and an up or down vote, to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, under the unprecedented claim that no Supreme Court Justice should be seated until after the results of the upcoming election were known. You also know that accusations of hypocrisy and impropriety did not stop McConnell from ensuring that Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing and confirmation vote would take place before the results of this year’s election were known.
But while we’ve been focusing on the undeniable evidence that everything that Donald Trump and the GOP controlled Congress are doing is driven by the desire to undo everything that happened under President Obama, we’ve been ignoring the fact that the score Republicans are settling is much older. For GOP veterans like Mitch McConnell, and George W. Bush who made calls to Republican Senators, including Bush family friend Susan Collins, on behalf of Brett Kavanaugh, this was, is and always will be about Bill and Hillary Clinton.
After he was no longer an occupant of the White House, Bill Clinton, quoting an unnamed friend remarked, “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line.” To be sure, Bill Clinton did everything in his power to become a beloved figure. His popularity rating was 36% when he was inaugurated and peaked at 73% during his second term in office. This wasn’t because Bill Clinton was a principled public figure who earned the respect of a divided American public. This was because he triangulated everything. From “I experimented with marijuana, but I didn’t inhale,” to deciding where the First Family should vacation based on polling data. When Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House in 1995, and sent the “Welfare to Work” bill, and the “Immigrant Responsibility Act,” and “Crime Control Act” to the then-President’s desk, Bill Clinton signed all of them, took credit for them, and ran for reelection on them.
In 1992, he become the first Democrat to win the White House since Jimmy Carter in 1976. In 1996, he won the popular vote and the Electoral College by a margin rivaling Lyndon Baines Johnson’s 1964 landslide. Bill Clinton’s success drove the GOP batshit crazy. George W. Bush called Bill Clinton “a failed governor from a small state.” And that’s the nicest thing that anyone in the GOP ever said about him. This was a candidate from a political party that lost the White House in 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984, and 1988, who survived scandal after scandal when other Democratic politicians, like Gary Hart, saw their careers ended with one photo. There’s a reason why he earned the nickname “Slick Willie.”
Michelle Goldberg noted:
“Many people disliked Hillary Clinton when she first emerged onto the political scene, and many people dislike her now… But over the last two decades, the something that pisses people off has changed… Take, for example, Michael Kelly’s 1993 New York Times Magazine profile mockingly titled ‘Saint Hillary’… Kelly’s piece painted Clinton as a moralist, a meddler, a prig…
Strikingly, the reasons people commonly give for hating [Hillary] Clinton now are almost the exact opposite of the reasons people gave for hating her in the 1990s. Back then, she was a self-righteous ideologue; now she’s a corrupt tool of the establishment. Back then, she was too rigid; now she’s too flexible. Recently, Morning Consult polled people who don’t like [Hillary] Clinton about the reasons for their distaste. Eighty-four percent agreed with the statement ‘She changes her positions when it’s politically convenient’…
In other words, people hated Hillary Clinton for being one sort of person, and in response to that she became another sort of person, who people hated for different reasons… This fits a broader pattern. Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research and the lead researcher on Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In,’ says that women who are successful in areas that are culturally coded as male are typically seen as “abrasive, conniving, not trustworthy, and selfish…”
The misogyny often isn’t subtle. The Republican National Convention seethed with a visceral, highly personalized, and highly sexualized contempt toward [Hillary] Clinton.
Men wore T-shirts that said, ‘Hillary Sucks but Not Like Monica’ on one side and ‘Trump That Bitch’ on the backs. Buttons and bumper stickers read, ‘Life’s a Bitch: Don’t Vote For One.’ One man wore a Hillary mask and sat behind a giant yellow sign saying, ‘Trump vs. Tramp.’ Another, an RNC volunteer, was dressed up like Septa Unella from ‘Game of Thrones’ and held a naked blowup doll with Clinton’s face attached, re-enacting a scene in which Cersei Lannister, a murderous queen, is stripped naked and marched through the streets before jeering throngs. The right-wing fantasy of seeing Clinton degraded and humiliated has rarely been performed so starkly.”
But the point here isn’t that “Lock her up!” became a mainstream GOP rallying cry against Hillary Clinton, or that Donald Trump’s biggest defenders (including Trump himself) always highlight Bill Clinton’s accusers Trump’s admission of sexual assault is brought up. The point here is that whether you’re a “Never Trump” member of the GOP, or a (stolen Ronald Reagan slogan) “Make America Great Again” red hat wearing Trump super fan, the one thing you share as a member of the Republican Party is not fiscal conservatism, or social conservatism; it’s not the pursuit of small government, or the embrace of “family values.” The one thing all GOPers have in common is a full-throated disdain for Bill and Hillary Clinton.
David Brock reminded us of this fact when he wrote:
“Brett [Kavanaugh] makes a cameo appearance in my memoir of my time in the GOP, ‘Blinded By The Right.’ I describe him at a party full of zealous young conservatives gathered to watch President Bill Clinton’s 1998 State of the Union address — just weeks after the story of his affair with a White House intern had broken. When the TV camera panned to Hillary Clinton, I saw Brett — at the time a key lieutenant of Ken Starr, the independent counsel investigating various Clinton scandals — mouth the word ‘bitch’…
Brett had what one could only be called an unhealthy obsession with the Clintons — especially Hillary. While Ted [Olson] was pushing through the Arkansas Project conspiracy theories claiming that Clinton White House lawyer and Hillary friend Vincent Foster was murdered (he committed suicide), Brett was costing taxpayers millions by pedaling the same garbage at Starr’s office.
A detailed analysis of Kavanaugh’s own notes from the Starr Investigation reveals he was cherry-picking random bits of information from the Starr investigation — as well as the multiple previous investigations — attempting vainly to legitimize wild right-wing conspiracies. For years he chased down each one of them without regard to the emotional cost to Foster’s family and friends, or even common decency… Kavanaugh was not a dispassionate finder of fact but rather an engineer of a political smear campaign.”
That’s why it had to be Brett Kavanaugh. Tons of radical right-wing judges could have stepped in and undone the work of those “judicial activists who wrote law from the bench.” Lots of Stone Age jurists would have gladly overturned Roe v Wade, and Plyer v Doe, permanently done away with affirmative action, environmental regulations, the Fair Labor Standards Act, etc. And heaps of neofascist legal scholars would have gladly upheld the Patriot Act and the “imperial presidency,” so that Trump and his cabinet would receive pardons, no matter what. But only one judge embodies the GOP’s hate toward the Clintons.
Writing about Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court in the wake of Donald Trump’s mocking of Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford’s testimony during the remarks he delivered at a rally in Mississippi, John Harris writes:
“Whether Trump knew it or not, his remarks were perfectly pitched to stoke anxieties that have haunted many top Democratic operatives for a generation: the fear that their party loses big power struggles because Republicans are simply tougher, meaner, more cynical and more ruthless than they are.”
Bill and Hillary Clinton were tough enough, mean enough, cynical enough, and ruthless enough to take on the best fighters the Republicans had to offer a generation ago, and win. And in the geriatric U.S. Senate, those wounds inflicted in the 1990s still feel fresh. And because the political is always personal, settling a score counts for a whole hell of a lot.
The GOP has a grudge against Obama. But they have a vendetta against the Clintons. And putting Ken Starr’s attack dog on the Supreme Court is a checkmate that lasts a generation.
That’s why it had to be Brett Kavanaugh.
(Unai Montes-Irueste is a writer whose work appears on Medium and other publications. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.