Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Building Treehouses with Cuomo

The big story today is that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo allegedly complained about campaigning on Sukkot by saying, referring to Orthodox Jews, "These people and their f***ing tree houses." The quote is anonymous and as yet uncorroborated; Cuomo denies having said it.

In response, Josh Blackman wants to revisit the question of whether Gov. Cuomo's pandemic restrictions, while facially neutral, should be seen as motivated by animus against (Orthodox) Jews. He clearly means this as a gotcha -- "Under TrumpLaw (which may have expired on January 20), this statement would be fair game to understand Cuomo's animus." Of course, under the view Blackman successfully pushed in Trump v. Hawaii -- the actual TrumpLaw -- this statement could not be used to infer animus even for legislative enactments that were explicitly characterized as targeting a given religious group. Hypocrisy cuts both ways. That said, the way the Court has been treating religious animus in the pandemic cases compared to Trump v. Hawaii suggests that TrumpLaw really was just TrumpLaw -- albeit not quite in the way Blackman means. 

But for my part, there is no gotcha: I am perfectly willing to say that, if the statement is accurate, it is absolutely valid evidence that can be used to demonstrate Cuomo has acted with discriminatory animus towards Jews. And I suspect one would be hard pressed to find liberal commentators who'd disagree on this. Certainly, deep and abiding loyalty to Cuomo isn't going to be giving anyone much pause on the principle of the matter.

Speaking of hypocrisy, although the quote is anonymous (and denied) Blackman says flatly at the start of his post that he's making an exception to his general belief that anonymous press accounts sharing negative stories about politicos should be viewed with skepticism. Instead, he comes right out and says that this skepticism extends to quotes about Republican politicians only. "I take far more seriously negative coverage of Democrats in an institution like the Times. The editors would not slip up on a quote like this." This is impressively brazen. For my part, I think major newspapers like the Times are generally professional and so generally can be given a fair amount of credence when they run anonymous quotes like this, no matter who the subject is (though of course that doesn't mean they'll always get everything right). But if one takes a dimmer view of the professionalism of the mainstream media, then I'll just say that if one thinks that folks of the Times' social milieu could not be suckered into running an undersourced quote that reflects badly on Andrew Cuomo because of their latent political sympathies, then one really doesn't understand where New York politics are right now. I'm not saying the Times would run a hit job on Cuomo. I am saying that, if they were the sort of institution prone to running hit jobs, Cuomo very much would be towards to the top of their list.

How to treat a very offensive but also anonymous-and-denied quote also relates to the final note in Blackman's post -- a swipe at the ADL. The ADL "awarded Cuomo the highest honor in June 2020. Yet, as of the close of business, neither ADL nor its President has said a word about Cuomo's remarks." To the extent that the ADL didn't race out with a comment right away, I suspect that is almost assuredly because, unlike Blackman, they are not going to take an unsourced anonymous quote that Cuomo denies as gospel sight unseen, at least not without talking with Cuomo and his office first.

From my vantage, the quote seems plausible -- Jewish "friends" notwithstanding, Cuomo seems like exactly the sort of asshole who'd say something like this and think it's okay because he has many Jewish friends. And as I said, I trust the Times' general professionalism more than Blackman does. But given the close relationship the ADL has with the governor's office in New York, I neither find it weird nor offensive that the ADL is deciding to its own due diligence before commenting. 

Finally, it's hard to read the ADL comment outside of the shadow of Jonathan Greenblatt very publicly calling for Tucker Carlson's firing from Fox for promoting the White Supremacist "Replacement Theory". I've seen some conservatives appallingly cite this as proof of the ADL's liberal bias as opposed to the ADL rightfully calling out an extreme case of White Nationalist thinking embedding itself in mainstream conservative institutions. Blackman concludes by saying that he "will have much more to say about ADL and anti-semitism in due course"; perhaps he will address this then. But I hope in doing so he recognizes that there's simply no comparison between the ADL waiting to verify an anonymous quote compared to calling out Tucker Carlson for openly promoting White Supremacy where everyone can see it on national television.

Monday, April 12, 2021

The National Review's Conservative Case for White Disenfranchisement

"I need to find a New Yorker so I can justify this whole pro-slavery stance I've backed myself into."

I pity The National Review sometimes. Most right-wingers these days don't feel the need to justify their positions; owning the libs is reason enough. But it is the National Review's job is to put a respectable face on contemporary conservative priorities which are in no way respectable. They try their best, but in their brave efforts they end up painting themselves into some pretty cramped ideological corners.

Take, for example, Georgia's new experiments in blatant voter suppression. This initially yielded Kevin Williamson coming flat out and asking "why not fewer voters" -- might it not be good for there to be fewer but "better" voters? Of course, few, if any, of Georgia's proposals to suppress the vote have anything to do with making the rump remaining electorate "better" -- unless, I suppose, the best voters are the ones who can stand in line for three hours without food or water without collapsing or, better still, had the wisdom not to reside in a neighborhood with such long lines to begin with. But Williamson's definition of "better" has nothing to do with being informed and everything to do with "demographically more likely to vote Republican" -- raise the voting age to thirty, not, say, tests of accurate political knowledge.* Remember when William Buckley said "I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the telephone directory than by the Harvard University faculty"? Ah, the memories.

Anyway, despite widespread mockery, the conservative intelligentsia wasn't ready to let this one go without a fight. Their next gambit was to attack the entire idea of majoritarian democracy because, and I kid you not, they claim that under "pure" democracy we had Jim Crow and slavery -- two institutions  that were, shall we say, rather famously not committed to pure democratic enfranchisement. But again, even if we take the argument on its own terms, none of the proposals states like Georgia are putting forward would have done anything to check against the abuses of Jim Crow -- if anything, they'd have helped more firmly entrench it. That's obvious once one remembers that the laws Georgia is pushing today are the spiritual successor to Jim Crow, which also used tightly crafted nets of facially "neutral" laws whose mixture of known and desired disparate impacts and biased "discretionary" enforcement in order to maintain a dominant White majority electorate. If one's argument is that it's justified to limit the franchise in order to prevent a democratic (or "democratic") majority from entrenching White Supremacy, you're not making an argument for voter ID laws or for raising the voting age to 30 or for indirect elections of Senators or anything on the GOP's wishlist. The voters you'd have to stop from voting, in this hypothetical justification, are run-of-the-mill White people.

So, I wonder, is that the National Review's new position (quite a ways distant from the position they took at the time)? That the proper response to White Supremacy in the America in the 1960s (and onwards) is to systematically deprive White people of the franchise?

I'm dubious. But alas, such is the position they've backed themselves into.

* Which, to be clear, would also be a terrible and undemocratic idea. However, the reason that Williamson doesn't back it isn't because it's terrible and undemocratic, but because it's terrible and undemocratic in a way that might hurt the electoral prospects of contemporary Republicans, which is the only actual motivator here.