Those dirty Democrats and Supreme Court Justices

In a column for the National Review, Victor Davis Hanson lambasts “Golden State Hypocrisy.” He opens with several paragraphs devoted to scandals that,[1] by the way, have cost Democrats their supermajority in the California state legislature[2]:

Currently, three California state senators are either under felony indictment or already have been convicted.

State senator Leland Yee (D., San Francisco) made a political career out of demanding harsher state gun-control laws. Now he is facing several felony charges for attempting to facilitate gun-running. One count alleges that Lee sought to provide banned heavy automatic weapons to Philippines-based Islamic terrorist groups.

State senator Ron Calderon (D., Montebello), who had succeeded one brother, Thomas, in the state assembly and was succeeded by another, Charles, now faces felony charges of wire fraud, bribery, money laundering, and falsification of tax returns.

State senator Roderick Wright (D., Inglewood) originally entered politics as a champion of social justice. Not long ago, the Democratic leaders of the California senate in secretive fashion paid $120,000 in taxpayer funds to settle a sexual-harassment suit against Wright. This time around, not even his fellow senators could save Wright, who was convicted earlier this year on eight felony counts of perjury and voter fraud.[3]

My own suspicion, and it’s only a suspicion, is that we aren’t done. Yee was entangled with a Chinatown hoodlum, Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, who had supposedly reformed and garnered praise from numerous San Francisco politicians, including Senator Dianne Feinstein.[4] Feinstein probably would never have amounted to anything beyond San Francisco supervisor, except that she happened to be president of the Board of Supervisors when fellow-Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were shot by former-Supervisor Dan White (White was aggrieved because Moscone had refused to allow him to withdraw his resignation)[5] and thus succeeded Moscone as mayor, paving the way for her Senatorial career. But her husband has gained substantially from the sale of Postal Service properties, leading her detractors to accuse her of a conflict of interest as the Postal Service withers[6] As Yves Smith puts it,

By way of backstory: the Postal Service is being plundered through the device of a completely fabricated financial crisis. The mail provider has been widely declared to be broke, but that’s utter hogwash. Congress has created the appearance of financial ill health via a 2006 measure which astonishingly makes it prepay retiree benefits 75 years in advance. Yes, you read that right. It has to fund benefits now for workers who haven’t even been hired. The Postal Service is the only agency subject to this absurd requirement. If that were eliminated, and the Post Office charged stopped pricing business mail (meaning all that junk you get) at a loss, the Postal Service would be profitable. The Save the Post Office site sets forth the forces behind the campaign to turn the Post Office into a looting opportunity public-private partnership, including Pitney Bowes, DHL, Federal Express, UPS, and USPS supplier Ursa Major.[7]

So, are San Francisco politicians crooked? Of course they are. And in San Francisco, it’s widely understood that to run as a Republican is a fool’s errand. So it has increasingly become in California—hence the supermajority that was there to be lost. Now Hanson suggests that Democrats are crooks. A few of us might remember Watergate, the Iran-Contra scandal, and some assorted sex scandals that have a Republican imprint. A few of us consider the entire George W. Bush administration a scandal,[8] especially including Blackwater.[9] And it’s certainly possible to argue that neoliberal policies have been a scandal.[10]

My point is certainly not to say Republican politicians are dirtier than Democrats. But rather to point to a premise on which the U.S. Constitution is founded, specifically that a remedy for factionalism is

to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice, will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.[11]

Who might this “chosen body of citizens” be? Colin Woodard describes the ethnosocial part of the country he labels the Tidewater this way:

Tidewater’s gentry embraced classical republicanism, meaning a republic modeled after those of ancient Greece and Rome. . . . [Their] semi-feudal model required a vast and permanent underclass to play the role of serfs, on whose toil the entire system depended. But from the 1670s onward, the gentry had an increasingly difficult time finding enough poor Englishmen willing to take on this role. . . . Slave traders offered a solution to this shortage. . . .[12]

In short, Tidewater, which includes portions of Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, and Delaware, is where many of the founding fathers came from.[13] The Constitution they wrote was designed to protect minority rights—not the minority rights of any subaltern group, but rather the property rights of the wealthy—from a “mob” that would surely confiscate (or, in more modern parlance, redistribute) wealth.[14] It is a constitution that ensures the role of the masses in supporting the rich. It is a constitution that intentionally confounds wealth with moral superiority, because only the wealthy can afford the price of admission, that is, the costs of running a political campaign, to political office. It is, by the way, a constitution that Russell Kirk, a traditionalist conservative with no love for democracy, who waxes eloquently on the social order of the squire, praises for having “[tolerably secured] the basis of any conservative order, religious sanction.”[15]

Now I understand a great many people are upset about the McCutcheon and Citizens United decisions.[16] But this is the system we’ve got, because we bought into a Protestant Reformation notion that material success is a sign of being among the “elect,” bound for Heaven.[17] And if you want to change it, you need to rethink a few things, at a rather more fundamental level than I’ve seen come up for discussion.

  1. [1]Victor Davis Hanson, “Golden State Hypocrisy,” National Review, April 3, 2014,
  2. [2]Jessica Calefati, “Scandals cost California Democrats supermajority in Senate,” San Jose Mercury News, March 4, 2014,
  3. [3]Victor Davis Hanson, “Golden State Hypocrisy,” National Review, April 3, 2014,
  4. [4]Joe Mozingo, “In Yee case, a figure of many faces,” Los Angeles Times, March 27, 2014,
  5. [5]Robert Lindsey, “Dan White, Killer of San Francisco Mayor, a Suicide,” New York Times, October 22, 1985,
  6. [6]Peter Byrne, “Going Postal,” East Bay Express, September 18, 2013,; Peter Byrne, “Privatization Nightmare: Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Husband Selling Post Offices to His Friends, Cheap,” Alternet, October 30, 2013,; Yves Smith, “Senator Diane Feinstein’s Husband Selling Post Offices to Cronies on the Cheap,” Naked Capitalism, September 20, 2013,
  7. [7]Yves Smith, “Senator Diane Feinstein’s Husband Selling Post Offices to Cronies on the Cheap,” Naked Capitalism, September 20, 2013,
  8. [8]Dennis Loo and Peter Phillips, eds., Impeach the President: The Case Against Bush and Cheney (New York: Seven Stories, 2006).
  9. [9]Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army (New York: Nation, 2007).
  10. [10]Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010).
  11. [11]James Madison, “Federalist No. 10,” in The Federalist Papers, ed. Garry Wills (1982; repr., New York: Bantam, 2003), 55.
  12. [12]Colin Woodard, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (New York: Penguin, 2011), 54, 56.
  13. [13]Colin Woodard, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (New York: Penguin, 2011).
  14. [14]James Madison, “Federalist No. 10,” in The Federalist Papers, ed. Garry Wills (1982; repr., New York: Bantam, 2003).
  15. [15]Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, 7th ed. (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2001), 459.
  16. [16]Matt Bai, “How Much Has Citizens United Changed the Political Game?” New York Times, July 17, 2012,; Eliza Newlin Carney, “Court’s Conservatives Maintain Skepticism of Campaign Money Limits,” Congressional Quarterly Roll Call, October 8, 2013,; Gail Collins, “Surprise! The Rich Won One,” New York Times, April 2, 2014,; Democracy Now! “Citizens United Backlash Grows from Cali. to NYC Urging Congress to Overturn Corporate Personhood,” January 5, 2012,; Charles Fried, “It’s Not Citizens United,” New York Times, October 1, 2013,; Stephen Dinan, “Justice says Supreme Court should revisit campaign finance,” Washington Times, February 17, 2012,; Adam Liptak, “Court Declines to Revisit Its Citizens United Decision,” New York Times, June 25, 2012,; Adam Liptak, “Justices to Weigh Key Limit on Political Donors,” New York Times, October 1, 2013,; Adam Liptak, “Supreme Court Strikes Down Overall Political Donation Cap,” New York Times, April 2, 2014,; Jeff Milchen, “Saying No To Corruption: Why Montana is Fighting the U.S. Supreme Court,” Alternet, March 8, 2012,; David G. Savage, “Supreme Court rebuffs Montana on corporate election spending,” Los Angeles Times, February 17, 2012,; Alex Seitz-Wald, “Report: SCOTUS naive on super PACs,” Salon, March 5, 2013,; James Trimarco, “Delaware Is 15th State to Seek Overrule of Citizens United,” Yes!, June 11, 2013,
  17. [17]Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View (New York: Harmony, 1991).

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