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E.J. Dionne Jr.
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Monday 9 April 2012
“Obama specifically listed the programs the Ryan-Romney budget would cut back, including student loans, medical and scientific research grants.”

Obama Levels Straight Shots at Supreme Court and Ryan Budget

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Conservatives are not accustomed to being on the defensive.

They have long experience with attacking the evils of the left and the abuses of activist judges. They love to assail “tax-and-spend liberals” without ever discussing who should be taxed or what government money is actually spent on. They expect their progressive opponents to be wimpy and apologetic.

So imagine the shock when President Obama decided last week to speak plainly about what a Supreme Court decision throwing out the health-care law would mean, and then landed straight shots against the Mitt Romney-supported Paul Ryan budget as “a Trojan horse,” “an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country,” and “thinly veiled social Darwinism.”

Obama specifically listed the programs the Ryan-Romney budget would cut back, including student loans, medical and scientific research grants, Head Start, feeding programs for the poor, and possibly even the weather service.

Romney pronounced himself appalled, accusing Obama of having “railed against arguments no one is making” and “criticized policies no one is proposing.” Yet Romney could neither defend the cuts nor deny the president’s list of particulars, based as they were on reasonable assumptions. When it came to the Ryan budget, Romney wanted to fuzz things up. But, as Obama likes to point out, math is math.

And when Obama went after the right’s willingness to use the power of the Supreme Court for ideological purposes, conservatives were aghast — and never mind that conservatives have been castigating activist judges since at least the 1968 presidential campaign.

Thus did a headline on a National Review article by John Fund read: “Obama makes Berkeley liberals look like statesmen.” My, my. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger argued that it appeared to be “unprecedented” for a U.S. president to have “attacked the Supreme Court before it handed down its decision.”

Perhaps conservative pundits couldn’t stand the fact that Obama called them out explicitly. “I’d just remind conservative commentators,” he said, “that for years what we’ve heard is, the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint — that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law. Well, this is a good example.” Yes, it is.

Now it’s true that after Obama spoke, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney placed some limits on the president’s claim that knocking down the Affordable Care Act would be “an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

Carney explained that Obama was “referring to the fact that it would be unprecedented in the modern era of the Supreme Court, since the New Deal era, for the Supreme Court to overturn legislation” on a “matter of national economic importance.”

And that is precisely the point. What’s lost in our discussions of judicial activism is that in the period from the Gilded Age after the Civil War to the middle of the New Deal, it was conservative Supreme Court majorities that nullified progressive laws aimed at regulating the economy and expanding the rights of workers and consumers. The threat now is a return to pre-New Deal conservative judicial activism.

In fact, Obama’s statements are moderate compared with those of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who unsuccessfully sought to add members to the court after it had voided one New Deal law after another.

The Constitution, Roosevelt insisted, is “a layman’s document, not a lawyer’s contract.” Its ambiguities had created “an unending struggle between those who would preserve this original broad concept of the Constitution” and those who “cry ‘unconstitutional’ at every effort to better the condition of our people.”

The United States, FDR insisted, could not afford “to sacrifice each generation in turn while the law catches up with life.” He spoke with a sense of urgency in the midst of the Great Depression. “The millions who are in want,” he said, “will not stand by silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach.”

FDR lost the court-packing fight but won the larger battle over the right of the democratic branches of government to legislate on behalf of the common good.

Progressives would be wildly irresponsible if they sat by quietly while a conservative Supreme Court majority undid 80 years of jurisprudence. Roosevelt wasn’t a wimp, and Obama has decided that he won’t be one, either. Conservatives are unhappy because they prefer passive, intimidated liberals to the fighting kind.

© , Washington Post Writers Group


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ABOUT E.J. Dionne Jr.

E.J. Dionne writes about politics in a twice-weekly column and on the PostPartisan blog. He is also a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, a government professor at Georgetown University and a frequent commentator on politics for National Public Radio, ABC’s “This Week” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Before joining The Post in 1990 as a political reporter, Dionne spent 14 years at the New York Times, where he covered politics and reported from Albany, Washington, Paris, Rome and Beirut. He is the author of four books: “Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith & Politics After the Religious Right” (2008), “Stand Up Fight Back: Republican Toughs, Democratic Wimps, and the Politics of Revenge” (2004), “They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives Will Dominate The Next Political Era” (1996), and “Why Americans Hate Politics” (1991), which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was a National Book Award nominee. Dionne grew up in Fall River, Mass., attended Harvard College and was a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford. He lives in Bethesda, Md., with his wife and three children.

The banksters that own the

The banksters that own the Republicans also own the Democrats. This means this is all theatre. What is desperately needed in politics in America is a party that the banksters do not own which has a focus on acting in the best interests of the people.

It's pretty disgusting that a

It's pretty disgusting that a perfectly serviceable concept like "conservative" could be so corrupted by the right-wing...

Double-Speak personified...

duplicate

duplicate

Obama care is

Obama care is unconstitutional. I mean how can you force people to buy a product? The reason the health industry isn't saying the same thing is because that law is the only thing that will keep them in business. Health insurance is a failed and failing business model, just like the health industry itself. Forcing people to buy private insurance is a windfall for insurance companies.

I hope the law is struck down so we can get on with a single payer system.

So--I don't have to buy car

So--I don't have to buy car insurance? Or homeowner's insurance? Can't wait to cancel those--gosh they're expensive!

The part of O'Romney Care

The part of O'Romney Care that forces people to buy a substandard, in fact dangerously inadequate "product" from large private corporations SHOULD BE "unconstitutional"...

Unfortunately, in order to cover their asses and avoid culpability, Congress and the Executive have allowed papal...uh, the Court's "infallibility" to be assumed when it comes time to knock down anything that might help the people or to keep us from curbing corporate crimes and dominance...

Its about damn time our

Its about damn time our president stood up and fought for SOMETHING!! ANYTHING!! WE, the People have been waiting for this for three long years, now. Mr. President really needs to step up and lead the charge, as he should have done since day one. WE knew it was fruitless to try to work with the repugnants, he, evidently did not realize it until now. Finally! He needs to call a spade a spade!

The only thing I disagree

The only thing I disagree with is calling it “thinly veiled social Darwinism.” I studied sociology and know something about 19th and early 20th century social theory. The current Republican budget is the most clearly social Darwinian thinking this country has seen since the 1890s.

Funny how the republicans are

Funny how the republicans are so all fired sure of what the framers of the constitution intended, even in light of questions such as health care. I have a hard time remembering exactly what the argument against HMOs was during the 1700's...Let's just face the facts - an organization receiving their lifeblood money from the wealthy and powerful is not about to spend 10 seconds considering the plight of those it holds as an encumbrance . The MAIN assertion of the constitution - LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS seems to be forever lost to the republican party - the wealthy already have theirs and that's all that counts. Damn the majority. It used to be a proud point that the minority still had rights, even with majority rule. Republicans are just fine with the minority rules in every venue.God help us all - Democracy will not survive this selfishness.

Paul Ryan should be brought

Paul Ryan should be brought up on charges of treason against the country and its people he was elected to support. We should force Congress to tax the wealthy, not only the working man. We need Tax Reform more than ever to get this great country moving back to Greatness. We need to follow in the footsteps of the great leaders of the past. In 1938 we had 33 tax brackets in order to tax every class of income in this great country. These brackets ranged from 4% for all income up to $64,000.(adjusted to todays money), all the way up to 79% for income over $79,Million. This is how this country was formed and built. We have always had a "Progressive Tax System". For decades we have always had over 20 or 30 tax brackets that went all the way up to $50,000,000. or more. The 6 brackets we have today doesn't even reach the Rich or Super Rich. $380,000. is only upper middle class. Congress doesn't even tax the rich, when the brackets don't reach into the $millions. Paul Ryan reminds me of Rush Limbaugh. They both talk a lot, but they don't say shit. Then again maybe that is all they are saying. God Bless the 99%. Lets get everyone back to work. The way to do it is;"Tax Em Like 1938".

Norman Allen's picture

CONservatives, liberals,

CONservatives, liberals, whatever.... Bottom line is that the government has become one of the corporations by corporations and for corporations... Citizens are just food/fuel for corporations....SLAVES with very limited, if any rights except to work (if they are lucky to find it) and pay taxes to a government which is not representing nor protecting their interests.

I hope your assignment of a

I hope your assignment of a new testicular fortitude to the president indeed plays out to be more than just opportunistic political rhetoric. I would like to believe that it signals the tone of a new narrative with authentic execution for the president's second term. But am cautious. I have been repeatedly disappointed by the gap between words and action with President Obama. I support the president, but unlike in 2008, I do so with a vote that would be against Romney because with Obama, I still don't know who or what I'm voting for. Let's see if the street fight ahead of him from now till November steels a new character. One that is not only verbally articulate about what's at stake for the quality of life in America, but if re-elected is willing do genuinely do something about it.

Tone down the hysteria, Gina.

Tone down the hysteria, Gina. Yes, he did say that and, yes, they most likely will act strictly on party lines - exactly as they have done over and over. Don't you find it kind of odd that Clarence Thomas said he has already made up his mind before hearing any arguments? How do you defend that? The conservatives have made it clear that, while they piss and moan about activist judges, they want them. They just want them to do their bidding. How many times have Southern conservatives made it clear that candidates for the bench must come with a clear disdain for Roe v. Wade and a desire to undo it. Alito wrote in 1985 how to systematically undo this law, which is precisely why they wanted this guy on the bench.

I hope your assignment of a

I hope your assignment of a new testicular fortitude to the president indeed plays out to be more than just opportunistic political rhetoric. I would like to believe that it signals the tone of a new narrative with authentic execution for the president's second term. But am cautious. I have been repeatedly disappointed by the gap between words and action with President Obama. I support the president, but unlike in 2008, I do so with a vote that would be against Romney because with Obama, I still don't know who or what I'm voting for. Let's see if the street fight ahead of him from now till November steels a new character. One that is not only verbally articulate about what's at stake for the quality of life in America, but if re-elected is willing to genuinely fight to do something about it.

You're joking, right? You're

You're joking, right? You're portraying what Obama said as accusing the Supreme Court of suggesting they'd use their power for ideological purposes? You WERE listening, weren't you? He suggested that an unelected court lacked the POWER to countermand laws of an elected Congress and strike down UNCONSTITUTIONAL laws, which is what they are there to do; balance power, decide on issues of constitutionality. So basically you're saying the Court no longer has any power, and that there is no more balance. So whatever the majority rules, goes? We may as well do away with the Supreme Court in your eyes? This is a sad, sad time. And strong majority? Had THREE people voted the other way, it would not have passed.

In spite of their own egos,

In spite of their own egos, the Court's alleged infallibility regarding the Constitution is still in question...

And their recently egregiously anti-humane rulings have indicated that the pendulum has swung WAY to far in the reactionary direction...

So, it's damn well about time for them to be reined in...

could be the conservatives

could be the conservatives have been lying so long they don't remember truth can sometimes be told. My question is why it took so long?

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