Responding to Hate

As a civil rights attorney, I have spent over 3 decades using the tools of my trade to respond to hate that has been unleashed upon my clients. However, until recently, society has generally supported victims of hate and vilified the hate mongers. Sadly, the campaign and subsequent election of our president-elect has resulted in something I had hoped I would never see in my lifetime-the legitimization of hate.

Even a casual news observer cannot help but notice the daily occurrences of swastika graffiti, beatings and even killings of Muslims, and shaming of schoolchildren of color. On the Saturday night before this past Halloween, I went to see friends who perform in a local band at a nearby neighborhood club. Many were dressed up in a wide variety of costumes. Before the show, a complete stranger sitting next to me wearing a long Pinocchio nose, apparently thought it was completely ok to tell me a vile anti-semitic joke. Whether he knew I was Jewish does not matter. What was most disturbing was that he felt completely free to spew his hate in public to a total stranger.

Though I consider myself a strong advocate, I was so stunned when that stranger shared his anti-semitism with me that I failed to respond. I have been thinking about this incident ever since to try to understand my failure to respond. Beyond just being in shock, I also did not want to cause a scene at an otherwise festive public affair. But after I posted this incident on Facebook and a number of friends said they would have responded strongly, I realized 2 important things:

  • Never judge how someone responds to a crisis because you never know how you will respond if confronted with the very same crisis; and
  • It is often easier to respond on behalf of someone else than to actually defend yourself.

Sadly, once the election was over, the president-elect moved quickly to make sure the world understood that he would continue to legitimize hate when he appointed a purveyor of hateful prejudice, Steve Bannon, as his Chief Strategist, a position in the White House that has never previously existed. For those who are unaware, Bannon was the editor of Breitbart.com before joining the president-elect’s campaign. In that capacity, he regularly denigrated Jews, Muslims, homosexuals, people of color and women, and he did so in vile and hateful language. Until recently, such a man would not be accepted in civil society, but since the president-elect has normalized hate and prejudice, he has now welcomed it, through Bannon’s appointment, to the highest level of his White House.

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Fortunately, yesterday, I was given a chance to respond belatedly to the anti-semitism I experienced, when a local TV news reporter called me in my role as President of my synagogue, Shaarei Shamayim, to ask if I would be willing to publicly respond to my Congressman Mark Pocan’s call that the president-elect withdraw Bannon’s appointment. I gladly agreed to do so and you can watch my interview at this link.

During this interview, I was able to convey the following in response to Bannon’s appointment and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s acceptance of it:

“Our president-elect has chosen to legitimize hate within his own administration. We had a big Bat Mitzvah this past weekend (and) people are worried. They’re very worried. He has an opportunity – Speaker Ryan – to say directly to the President of the United States – hate does not belong in the White House. I understand that he was just renominated as Speaker of the House, but that’s not leadership to duck a question like that.”

This TV news story not only provide me with the opportunity to delegitimize hate, but as the story has been shared widely, local leaders have approached me to work with them to strategize on an organized local response. I look forward to doing so in the days and weeks to come. Unfortunately, given the results of our recent election, this will just be the first of many battles which good people simply cannot shy away from. The timing and manner of each of our responses to hate will vary, but respond we must.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

Political Blunder-Judicial Crisis

While the U.S. Presidential race gets most of the media attention, one of the biggest political blunders of 2016, and perhaps one of the most historic mistakes ever made by the U.S. Senate appears to have fallen off the radar. Earlier this week U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) returned to her hometown to give a talk to the American Constitution Society’s kick-off event for its new Madison Chapter, in which she presented her concerns about the Senate Republican majority’s decision to refuse to fulfill its Constitutional duty to give advice and consent on President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill the now 7 month old vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced before President Obama nominated Judge Garland that the Senate would neither hold hearings nor vote on any nomination made by the President to fill the vacant seat. His excuse was premised on the argument that the next President should choose the next Supreme Court Justice. Beyond the abdication of the Senate’s Constitutional duty under Article II to provide advice and consent to judicial nominations, McConnell’s blunder was apparently based on the likely mistaken assumption that a Republican would win the Presidential election and the Senate majority would remain with the Republicans. However, it was McConnell’s very blunder that exacerbated the likelihood that neither plan would come to fruition and that the next Supreme Court Justice will likely be nominated by Hillary Clinton and confirmed by a Democratic Senate majority. If that scenario comes true, while the Republicans could have declared a small victory with President Obama’s nomination of the very moderate Judge Garland, Hillary Clinton will be free to nominate a far more progressive Supreme Court justice instead.

It is important to note that McConnell’s political blunder would never have been sanctioned by our founding fathers. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist Papers No. 76, by vesting the appointment power in the President, rather than Congress, the founders sought to avoid having appointments determined by,

the private and party likings and dislikes, partialities and antipathies, attachments and animosities, which are felt by those who compose the assembly.

He went on to say that in assigning the Senate the more limited role of advice and consent to presidential nominations, the founders believed that it was,

not likely that [the Senate’s] sanction would often be refused, where there were not special and strong reasons for the refusal. [Those] special and strong reasons [included] the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment or from a view to popularity.

Of course, none of these reasons apply to the highly respected Judge Garland, and it is worth noting that Sen. McConnell made clear that it did not matter whom President Obama nominated. The Republican obstruction would be total and complete regardless of the merits of the nomination.

Sen. Baldwin pointed out that the Republican obstruction of President Obama’s judicial appointments goes much further than one crucial nomination to the Supreme Court. Close to home, she pointed out that President Obama’s nomination of Don Schott to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has also been obstructed despite being vacant since January 2010. As of now, 77 of 673 U.S. District Court judgeships (11%) are vacant, twice as many as under President George W. Bush at this point in his presidency and 50% more than under President Clinton and President George H.W. Bush at the same point in their presidencies.

As this chart points out, the  Senate Republican obstruction of President Obama’s appointments is extreme and unprecedented.

Number of Judicial Confirmations During Final 2 Years in Office

  • President Ronald Reagan: 85
  • President George H.W. Bush: 122
  • President Bill Clinton: 73
  • President George W. Bush: 68
  • President Brach Obama: 20

In Chief Justice Roberts 2010 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, he made clear that,

a persistent problem has developed in the process of filling judicial vacancies…This has created acute difficulties for some judicial districts. Sitting judges in those districts have been burdened with extraordinary caseloads….[There is] an urgent need for the political branches to find a long-term solution to this recurring problem.

A tie vote on the Supreme Court means the lower court decision is upheld and is a monumental waste of time and money for the parties attorneys and Supreme Court justices. Important issues such as public unions and immigration have been stalled due to tie votes due the Senate Republican refusal to fill the empty seat and more ties may occur in the current October session of the Supreme Court.

History will be the ultimate judge, but thus far, it appears that Senator McConnell and his Republican Senate colleagues may have made one of the biggest political blunders in history, and in the mean time denied justice to thousands of Americans waiting for their day in court.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Is the Tea Party really Advocating Anarchy?

While nobody in the Tea Party is likely to admit that their goal is anarchy, it is worth taking a closer look at the meaning of anarchy and the goals of those who wish to force a government shut down.  The dictionary definition of anarchy is:

absence of government.

It is not surprising then, that the next definition given by Merriam-Webster is:

a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority.

Grover Norquist has been actively involved in promoting the Tea Party and believes that it should serves as the “exoskeleton” that protects newly elected Republicans against the pressures bound to be imposed on newly elected officials by “the spending interests.”  His most famous quote is that:

Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.

The irony of this radical position advocating what amounts to anarchy, is that both Grover Norquist and every single Tea Party member enjoy the fruits of government on a daily basis.  They drive on government built and maintained roads.  They call the police and fire department and expect prompt service when necessary.  They collect Social Security and Medicare when they retire.  They expect our military to defend our nation when called upon.

So, if the Tea Party and Grover Norquist are not really advocating for anarchy, why does the Republican led U.S. House of Representatives pass a Continuing Budget Resolution that it knows will result in a government shut down?  Why does Senator Ted Cruz make a mockery of the Senate by engaging in a fruitless filibuster, including reading Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, that even his own party’s Senate leadership disavows?

The clear hypocrisy of Norquist and Cruz and their minions can only mean one thing.  What  they really want is the power to control where government spends its money.  The best example of this is the Tea Party’s advocacy for private school vouchers.  This advocacy does not really shrink government spending.  It just shifts it to private interests who are free to discriminate against children with disabilities, as I wrote about previously.

In fact, the Tea Party’s blog says quite clearly,

Because Freedom isn’t Free.

So, House Republicans and Senator Cruz, get off your high horses and stop advocating anarchy, because as the Tea Party states quite clearly: Freedom isn’t free.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

In Search of Statesmanship

Perhaps the greatest loss in the current fire & brimstone version of American politics is the virtually complete absence of genuine statesmanship.  The dictionary definition of “statesman,” is:

a wise, skillful, and respected political leader.

Note that there is no reference to political party or partisanship in this definition because a true statesman has the wisdom and skills to lead and not just the crass skill to win elections.

While there has been a long term American trend minimizing the value of statesmanship, the trend worsened after the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United in which the majority held that under the First Amendment corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited.  This decision unleashed a torrent of campaign spending such as the nation has never seen before in which corporate interests spend as they please to buy the politicians that serve their interests.  Such an atmosphere makes principled statesmanship extremely challenging.

Fortunately, there are a few statesmen left, although at the federal level, one statesman who stands out has wisely chosen to stay out of electoral politics, perhaps to preserve his ability to be a statesman. Retired Gen. Colin Powell served as Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, and yet due to his statesmanship, despite being considered as a possible Vice-Presidential running mate for Presidential candidate John McCain, shortly before the 2008 election, he endorsed Barack Obama during a Meet the Press interview, citing “his ability to inspire, because of the inclusive nature of his campaign, because he is reaching out all across America, because of who he is and his rhetorical abilities,” in addition to his “style and substance.” He additionally referred to Obama as a “transformational figure“.  Crossing party lines is a true marker of statesmanship.

At the local level, Wisconsin State Senator Dale Schultz, a long time Republican, has also shown that he is a statesman.  He has been in the Wisconsin legislature since 1982, and  his overall voting record is generally that of a conservative Republican, earning him high marks from Right to Life groups, the NRA and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.  But ever since 2011, when he voted against his party’s budget proposal to strip union collective bargaining rights, as well as against a bill that would fast track mining in Wisconsin, he has earned the ire of many in his party and may well face a challenging primary if he chooses to run for re-election.  I worked closely with him in helping to kill and ALEC sponsored special needs voucher bill in 2012.

Wisconsin is a better place because of statesmen like Dale Schultz, and America is a better country because of statesmen like Colin Powell.  The national challenge is to make our political environment more conducive for more statesmen to practice their skillful craft.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

The Battle for the Soul of the Republican Party is On

Perhaps not since Teddy Roosevelt split from the Republican Party to create the Progressive Party in 1912, has the Republican Party faced the kind of fight in which it is now engaged for its very soul.  Although the Tea Party has not actually created a separate political party and run outside the Republican party to challenge Republicans, the fact that it has frequently run candidates against established Republican moderate incumbents demonstrates its intent to take over the Republican Party.

But the real question for the Republican Party is not whether candidates who affiliate themselves with the Tea Party end up controlling the party.  The much more important issue is whether the ALEC driven agenda becomes the driving force of the party, regardless of the status of the Tea Party.

At the federal level, we have recently seen Bob Dole’s televised regrets that the Republican Party,

“can’t get together on a budget or legislation”

and that his party should hang a

“closed for repairs”

sign on its doors until it comes up with a few new ideas.

At the state level, it may not be a lack of ideas that is exacerbating the battle for the soul of the Republican Party.  Rather, it is ALEC sponsored ideas such as private school voucher expansion that has pushed this battle to the forefront.

Wisconsin is demonstrating this perfect storm in the battle over its budget, where Gov. Walker chose to insert ALEC inspired private school voucher expansion into the budget.  While one would normally expect this to easily pass due to Republican control of both the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate, it is not playing out that way. Although voucher expansion would easily pass the Wisconsin Assembly, a revolt by moderate non-Tea Party Republican Senators is blocking the massive expansion sought by Gov. Walker.

This story is playing out all over the country and while many may make predictions about its outcome, just as Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party likely resulted in electing Woodrow Wilson, the Democrat, as President, the question on the other side of the aisle today is whether Democrats can seize the opportunity which the internal Republican battle presents.  President Obama likes to claim that he has already done so, but given that he still faces a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and Republicans hold 30 of the states’ governorships, the Democrats have clearly failed to set forth a sufficiently clear and attractive vision to take advantage of the opportunity which the Republicans have presented to them.

The Chinese curse may say it best:

May you live in interesting times.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.