The illegitimacy of the opposing party

Update, February 23, 2016: An article in The Hill makes a point that Republican senators in “blue” states may feel pressure to at least consider a nominee to the Supreme Court this year.[1] Nonetheless, it is now evident that Republicans in the Senate have decided to accept the risks of obstruction, such as they may be.[2]

On paper, those risks are not insignificant. Democrats only need to win five (four if they also capture the presidency) seats in the Senate to gain control and an estimate from January 2015, that is, well before Justice Antonin Scalia’s death,  suggests that “historical turnout patterns in presidential years (which favor Democrats) and the division within the GOP create enough good opportunities for Democrats to win at least three and as many as six seats.”[3] More recent estimates, compiled since Scalia’s death in the Prospect, list nine “battleground” states, with Republicans currently holding seven of these seats. In addition, there are a number of pending decisions which may now end in a 4-4 tie, allowing lower court decisions, including some that conservatives oppose, to stand. Worst of all, from a Republican perspective, would be if Democrats win both the Senate and the presidency, in which case, with aging Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer leaving, Democrats might “cement a [so-called] liberal majority for at least two or three decades.”[4]

All this certainly raises the price that Republicans might pay for obstruction. However, while Scalia’s death certainly raises the stakes for both parties, I remain convinced that Democratic Party nominee-apparent Hillary Clinton is a profoundly flawed candidate who cannot win the White House,[5] which means that the Senate, regardless of which party controls it, will have to choose a Republican nominee.

The original posting, published February 18, 2016, follows:

For reasons already stated,[6] it is completely unsurprising to me that Republicans are threatening to refuse to consider any nominee to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.[7] And I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that people on the not-so-far right are outraged that the Republican-controlled Senate may refuse to do its job (figure 1).

Fig. 1. Jens Sorensen, February 16, 2016, Truthout, fair use.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said it would be “unprecedented” for the Senate to wait until next year to confirm a new justice.

He added that it would be a “shameful abdication” of the Senate’s responsibility.[8]

Of course, the stakes are high. Of course, everyone is worried about the ideological balance of the Supreme Court.[9]

As an unfortunate citizen of the United States, and thus as one subject to its idiotic, malicious, violent, and oppressive government, I share those concerns. But more fundamentally, given a republican system of government dominated by two often barely-distinguishable political parties, it is also of concern that one party should argue that a president from the other party should abstain from performing his constitutional duty.[10] In essence, what we are seeing, a step beyond what I saw in writing my dissertation, is that Republicans now do not recognize the legitimacy of Democratic presidents. And to my ear at least, they seem hysterical in their rejection.

I’ve previously noted that in the U.S., elections have devolved into contests to see which faction can dominate the other, and to a greater or lesser degree, adherents of the losing faction feel subject to tyranny as a result. We see this with talk of “fascism” during the George W. Bush presidency and the nuttiness about Barack Obama “taking away our guns” and his alleged socialism (he’s a neoconservative, for crying out loud[11]) and his innumerable outrages.

In general, I don’t care much whether Democrats or Republicans are in power. Beginning in about 2005, I noticed that despite having been adopted at a Democratic Party convention, the John Kerry-John Edwards presidential campaign platform of the previous year was, in nearly every detail, a Republican platform. And so I saw that it really was true that we really only have one party. As I wrote in my dissertation proposal,

Discourse about politics in the United States often suggests a distinction between left and right, perhaps on a linear scale, with left equated to the Democratic Party and right equated to the Republican Party, and with views outside the range circumscribed by these poles dismissed as irrelevant. Indeed, Howard Zinn (2005) argues that the function of a two-party system is to limit the possibility of change by limiting the range of discourse to that of two parties which are not really very much different. The differences between these parties, such as they are, have been mocked by Gore Vidal, who has apparently said on multiple occasions that “the United States has only one party—the property party. It’s the party of big corporations, the party of money. It has two right wings; one is Democrat and the other is Republican” (Barsamian, August, 2006). Similarly, Noam Chomsky (1990/2005) once wrote that “there is essentially one political party, the business party, with two factions. Shifting coalitions of investors account for a large part of political history.”[12]

I might see Republican elites as more reprehensible than Democratic elites, but at least I have always known what to expect from Republicans, while I feel betrayed by Democrats. Which is to say that I tend to see both Democrats and Republicans as evil. My studies, however, point to an underlying problem, our authoritarian system of social organization, in which elites (functionalist conservatives) are determined to preserve the status quo with the privileges it accords them over the rest of us by, in part, dividing the rest of us against ourselves,[13] including, one might suspect, into political parties.

Accordingly, I was a little bewildered and disturbed by the political polarization and the antipathy conservatives express toward Barack Obama (and Bill Clinton before him), even when I looked into it for my dissertation.[14] Admittedly, our system is not a democracy. It’s a republic, as James Madison took great pains to explain.[15] But we have a democratic ideology in which we should accept that there can be legitimate opposing views. Instead, it is almost as if Kim Messick could have been—he very clearly wasn’t—writing about more than authoritarian populists when he explained,

In two earlier articles (here and here), I argued that the Republican Party’s extremism can be traced to its increased dependence on an electorate that is largely rural, Southern and white. These voters, who figure prominently in the Tea Party, often decline to interpret political conflict as a struggle among interest groups or a good-faith clash of opinion. Instead, they tend to identify the country as a whole with an idealized version of themselves, and to equate any dissent from their values with disloyalty by alien, “un-American” forces. This paranoid vision of politics, I argued, makes them seek out opportunities for dramatic conflict and to shun negotiation and compromise.[16]

I’ve long felt that this country is beset by irreconcilable differences and needs to break up.[17] There are a bunch of reasons why this is so. But of all those reasons, the impossibility of gaining assent for a central government from more than a bare plurality of participating voters must surely rise to the top.

  1. [1]Alexander Bolton, “Nightmare builds for Senate GOP,” Hill, February 23, 2016,
  2. [2]Alexander Bolton, “GOP Judiciary: No hearing on Obama court nominee,” Hill, February 23, 2016,; Alexander Bolton, “Senate GOP opens new chapter in judicial nomination wars,” Hill, February 23, 2016,
  3. [3]Stuart Rothenberg, “First Look: Can Democrats Win the Senate in 2016?” Congressional Quarterly Roll Call, January 27, 2015,
  4. [4]Peter Dreier, “Nine Battleground States that Could Flip the Senate — and the Supreme Court,” Prospect, February 14, 2016,
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Updated: Damnation by faint praise: Sanders claims to be more electable than Clinton,” Not Housebroken, January 29, 2016,
  6. [6]David Benfell, “Worse than Scalia,” Not Housebroken, February 13, 2016,
  7. [7]Stephen Collinson, “Justice Antonin Scalia’s death quickly sparks political battle,” CNN, February 13, 2016,; Harper Neidig, “McConnell: Don’t replace Scalia until after election,” Hill, February 13, 2016,; Matthew Yglesias, “Ted Cruz and other conservatives are arguing Obama shouldn’t get to replace Justice Scalia,” Vox, February 13, 2016,
  8. [8]Lauren Fox, “Harry Reid To Republicans: You Better Not Block Us From Replacing Scalia,” Talking Points Memo, February 13, 2016,
  9. [9]Marjorie Cohn, “How Scalia’s Absence Will Affect Pending Supreme Court Cases,” Truthout, February 17, 2016,; Stephen Collinson, “Justice Antonin Scalia’s death quickly sparks political battle,” CNN, February 13, 2016,; Jordan Fabian, “What Obama wants in a nominee,” Hill, February 17, 2016,; Rick Hasen, “Justice Scalia’s Death And Implications For The 2016 Election, The Supreme Court And The Nation,” Talking Points Memo, February 13, 2016,; Harold Pollack, “How to Fix the Supreme Court Vacancy Mess,” Politico, February 15, 2016,
  10. [10]Marjorie Cohn, “How Scalia’s Absence Will Affect Pending Supreme Court Cases,” Truthout, February 17, 2016,
  11. [11]David Benfell, “Oy Vey: Paleoconservatives, Neoconservatives, and Alleged Anti-Semitism,” April 1, 2014,
  12. [12]David Benfell, “Dissertation Proposal: Conservative Views on Undocumented Migrants,” November 10, 2014,
  13. [13]David Benfell, “We ‘need to know how it works,'” March 15, 2012,; David Benfell, “‘We have found the enemy, and he is us’ — and our system of social organization,” March 6, 2013,
  14. [14]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2015), doi: 10.13140/RG.2.1.4776.2001
  15. [15]James Madison, “Federalist No. 10,” in The Federalist Papers, ed. Garry Wills (1982; repr., New York: Bantam, 2003).
  16. [16]Kim Messick, “Modern GOP is still the party of Dixie,” Salon, October 12, 2013,
  17. [17]David Benfell, “A national divorce,” Not Housebroken, September 8, 2015,

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