Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Deep Question of The Day: Can You Use The Other Side's Talking Points?

So much of political debate is about emotions, metaphors and whose-side-are-you-on-hmh?, not about facts at all. Right now I'm having a moment of silence because of all that.

Then onwards and upwards. Ruth Marcus slapped Obama's fingers for pretty much using a conservative talking point:
There was something rather unsettling in President Obama’s preemptive strike on the Supreme Court at Monday’s news conference.
“I’d just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is the biggest problem on the bench is judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint — that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law,” Obama said. “Well, here’s a good example. And I’m pretty confident that this court will recognize that, and not take that step.”
Then she continues by writing about the presumed ideal role of the Supreme Court.

My first reading of that paragraph was all in terms of the political tactics: The president seemed to be saying that the conservatives are always complaining about activist judges. But now they want the judges to be activists, and the framing is changed accordingly.

Within the context of political gaming what Obama said wasn't that "unsettling." What's more unsettling is the way the conservative framing of "activist judges" has been allowed to circulate through the last decades without much of the kind of analysis Marcus gives it here. Or in simpler terms: The American political theater expects temper tantrums and bully pulpits and viciousness from the right, not from the left. We are lulled into accepting that, to a point where a reversal makes us wake up and notice it.

It's not enough to present just the political baseball game or just the pretty ideals about the place of the Supreme Court, of course. The reality is murkier. Sure, the justices on the court are unelected for a good reason, but they are appointed through openly political processes and for openly political reasons, and any open slots on the Court become a part of election fights.

Given that background, I don't think president Obama's comments were that unsettling.