Why hasn’t the left been able to rally support around opposition to domestic spying?
Tea Party candidates on the right have been able to generate excitement among GOP base voters with their calls to end the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program. Senator Rand Paul appears to have staked his entire potential presidential campaign on a brash defense of personal privacy (except when it comes to abortion). Libertarian-leaning Republicans in the House have been unapologetic in their criticism of the program, their own energy magnified by near-unanimous support from conservative talk radio and bloggers.
Those advocates of civil liberties (some of them quite new to the cause) have a convenient explanation for why Democrats have been less vocal and slower to criticize the collection of metadata from everyday American citizens: slavish devotion to President Obama, whatever policies he might champion.
This is an easy argument to make – and it goes both ways. Polling among Democratic and Republican voters shows a mirror-image of approval for Obama’s use of the tactic to Bush’s use of it. Since 2002, the number of Democrats who approved monitoring online activities has increased 12 points; among Republicans it has decreased 13 points. Since 2006, the number of Republicans who say the government should prioritize privacy over hunting terrorists has risen 22 points; Democrats who say the government should prioritize preventing terrorism over privacy has gone up 18 points.
The neatness of these changes in position is almost disturbing. It suggests that advocacy for civil liberties is a zero-sum game: there’s only so much libertarianism to be had at any given historical moment, there’s a ceiling on Americans’ ability to believe that the right to privacy is paramount. Indeed, as you might suspect from the numbers above, polling among all Americans on the balance of national security to privacy has neatly flipped as well. The percentage of voters that worry that the US will go “too far” in violating privacy rights in pursuit of terrorists versus “not going far enough” is now 56% percent versus 36%. In 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, it was 31% versus 55%.
It’s these numbers, rather than the occupant of the White House, that explains Democrats’ reluctance to move very aggressively in championing personal privacy – or, at least, it explains the difficulty in creating a lasting coalition around it. If at best, you will only get half the country to agree with you – and what’s more, different phrasing of the question or current events context shows inherent wobbliness on the issue – what politician will stick out his (or her) neck over it?
By Matthew Yglesias
Posted Friday, Aug. 2, 2013
Henry Blodget says he hates labor unions, but unless companies start raising wages we’re going to need them.
I would put this another way. If you turn back 30 or 40 years, the policy rationale for crushing labor union influence went something like this: In the short-term crushing private sector labor unions is going to lead to a surge in corporate profits, but profits are the fuel of investment and long-term economic growth. Companies with high profits have the capital necessary to invest. And the existence of large profit margins means there are profit opportunities to be exploited with new investment. It makes perfect sense. But it hasn’t happened, and profits have soared far in excess of investment.
You can look at this in different ways, but here’s corporate profits after tax minus net private investment:
By Ian Millhiser
on August 2, 2013
More than three-quarters of the Senate Republican caucus signed onto legislation introduced Wednesday by Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Rand Paul (R-KY) that could render it virtually impossible for Congress to enact any legislation intended to improve working conditions or otherwise regulate the workplace. Had their bill been in effect during the Twentieth Century, for example, there would likely be no nationwide minimum wage, no national ban on workplace discrimination, no national labor law and no overtime in most industries.
Like many Tea Party proposals to neuter the federal government, Coburn and Paul’s bill is marketed as an effort to bring America back in line with a long-ago discarded vision of the Constitution. It’s named the “Enumerated Powers Act of 2013,” a reference to the provisions of the Constitution outlining Congress’ specific powers, and it claims to require all federal legislation to “’contain a concise explanation of the specific authority in the Constitution’ that is the basis for its enactment.”
The key provision in this bill, however, would revive a discredited interpretation of the Constitution that America abandoned nearly eight decades ago. Although the text of the bill is not yet available online, a press release from Coburn’s office explains that it “[p]rohibits the use of the Commerce Clause, except for ‘the regulation of the buying and selling of goods or services, or the transporting for those purposes, across boundaries with foreign nations, across State lines, or with Indian tribes.’”
To translate this language a bit, in the late 19th Century, the Supreme Court embraced an unusually narrow interpretation of the Constitution’s provision enabling Congress to “regulate commerce . . . among the several states.” Under this narrow reading, which lasted less than half a century, the justices said that they would only permit federal laws that regulated the transport of goods for sale or a sale itself. Manufacturing, mining, production and agriculture were all held to be beyond federal regulation. This theory was the basis for several decisions striking down basic labor protections, including a 1918 decision declaring a child labor law unconstitutional.