Customer Feedback, Week 4: Goodbye to Stupid

[Lay impressions on the GOP’s political messaging this week. More information about this series can be found here. Other posts in the series can be found here.]

Benghazi, abortion, recess appointments, reactions to the second inaugural.  A relatively slow news week.

“Stop Being the Stupid Party”

Says Gov. Bobby Jindal.  The Tea Party message is growing up:

Jindal’s speech — and his call to “recalibrate the compass of conservatism” — is the latest shred of a growing amount of evidence that the Louisiana governor is positioning himself to not only run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 but do so in direct (or close to it) opposition to his party in the nation’s capital.

In the speech, Jindal will repeatedly caution that Republicans in Washington have fallen into the “sideshow trap” of debating with Democrats over the proper size of the federal government.

“By obsessing with zeroes on the budget spreadsheet, we send a not-so-subtle signal that the focus of our country is on the phony economy of Washington, instead of the real economy out here in Charlotte, and Shreveport (La.), and Cheyenne (Wyo.),” Jindal is set to say at one point in the speech. At another, he will argue that “Washington has spent a generation trying to bribe our citizens and extort our states,” adding: “As Republicans, it’s time to quit arguing around the edges of that corrupt system.”

I think that’s right.  Our politics does need a “party of no.”  We do need a party who insists on looking at the solvency of government programs, and who reminds us of our founding philosophy of limited government.  But the GOP also needs a constructive component.  Do we want to devolve more functions back to state and local governments?  Yes, but not because doing so will make them smaller or less effective.  Keeping functions local improves democracy, instills more civil virtue and respect for individuals and communities, and is more responsive to local and community needs.  Federalism oughtn’t be regarded as a way to punish the federal government.  And conservatism oughtn’t be just about saying “no.” 

Rep. John Campbell points out that there are 40 million people in California but only 140,000 families pay about 50% of the income taxed, so it doesn’t take a lot of people leaving to mean that the reason income tax increase translates into less tax revenue. Also, many of those people sit on nonprofit boards, school boards, and other community-oriented positions.  Republicans need to make that connection rather than counting on people to sign on to their “low tax” position on pure principle. 

In the meantime, Republicans have an uphill slot working with the president.  Bob Woodward and another member of the panel on Face the Nation last Sunday agreed that Obama does not respect Republicans and looks down his nose at them.  He is not looking to work with Republicans but to punish them.  If Republicans go toe-to-toe in that fight, they’ll lose. 

Benghazi:  “What Difference At This Point Does It Make?”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, soon to resign, will likely hear blowback of her animated retort to Sen. Ron Johnson about what her people knew about Benghazi during and immediately after the attacks.  Is it political theater?  Yeah, mostly.  But frankly, I was pretty much done with this issue before Clinton got all riled up.  The point of her appearing was to answer questions.  One hopes that “what difference does it make?” is not an acceptable response.  And remember Clinton’s “3:00 a.m. phone call”?  She walked right into that one.  If she plans to run in 2016, she’ll be hearing about this for a good while.

No, Says the DC Circuit Court of Appeal, the President Does Not Get to Tell Senate When It’s In Recess

A panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals held President Obama’s use of the Recess Clause in making three NLRB appointments unconstitutional, as the appointments were not made during “the Recess” between sessions as contemplated by the Constitution.  Obama determined that the break in proceedings amounted to a recess, and that the sessions that were held were only “pro forma.”  The court rejected the notion that the president may determine when the recess is or is not in recess, and thus the scope of his own constitutional authority.  “This will not do,” as the court put it. 

John Eastman points out that for the first 80 years of U.S. history, no recess appointments were made other than during the recess between sessions.  During the next 50 years, recess appointments were made just three times during the longer adjournments during a sessions like the month-long August or Christmas recesses.  Most recently, Democrats held “pro forma” sessions to prevent President George W. Bush from making recess appointments.  In President Obama’s case, he sat on appointments for months in order to make recess appointments on the eve of the Christmas recess.  During the so-called “pro forma” session, Senate passed a payroll tax reduction that the president signed into law.  Yet the president then claimed that this same session that had passed a bill he himself signed was not actually in session. 

This is an important victory for proponents of separation of powers.  It also signals a potential problem with the recess appointment of Richard Cordray to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau established by Dodd-Frank.  The director of the CFPB is vested with enormous power with few checks.  Unlike other regulatory agencies, the CFPB is not run by a bipartisan commission or board but by a single director.  The director determines the agency’s budget, funded by Fed earnings, which can be as high as 12% of the Fed’s operating expenses—roughly half a billion dollars based on the Fed’s 2009 Annual Report adjusted for inflation.  Congress is precluded from reviewing the director’s budget. 

Observing Roe v. Wade

This week, we observed the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the nearly 56 million lives lost since then.  Tim Carney reminds that even left-of-center legal thinkers agree that, irrespective of the outcome, the opinion is poorly reasoned.

This piece by Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon this week was bizarre, but also challenging.  In it, Williams admits that “abortion ends life” but that “all life is not equal,” and that a woman’s “life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.”  Pro-choice activists won’t acknowledge this because “We’re so intimidated by the wingnuts” who “believe that if we call a fetus a life they can go down the road of making abortion murder.”  It’s an interesting admission that challenges us to consider that hiding behind labels like fetus and zygote and a “bunch of cells” is a disingenuous dodge.  Williams is certainly wrong that a woman’s “circumstances” “automatically trump” the acknowledged life “always.”  But otherwise, there’s an invitation here to engage the real issue:  What justification is there to end the life, and what justification is there to keep a woman from ending the life inside her?  Is it justified to end a life because the woman’s life is at risk?  What about if she would rather wait a year or two until starting a family?  What if she wanted a boy instead of a girl?  What if medical science makes it possible and even convenient to remove the unwanted life such that it can be incubated and survive without the mother?  Is it her prerogative to kill the life instead of letting it live without her?

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez speaks at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, on August 29, 2012. Archbishop Charles Chaput remarked that the most effective way of pressing the pro-life cause is through women.  As descendants of the Enlightenment, we might hope that ideas would be evaluated on their own merits, but our passions and empathy and biases do still play a very strong role in such questions.  This is probably true with the Republicans’ message in general.  Condoleezza Rice on Sunday talked about the lack of diversity in the Republican Party, when in fact Republican leadership is far more diverse than Democratic leadership.  Republicans are going to depend on the diversity of its leadership to convey their message of opportunity. 

Have a great weekend!

Tim Kowal

Tim Kowal is a husband, father, and attorney in Orange County, California, Vice President of the Orange County Federalist Society, commissioner on the OC Human Relations Commission, and Treasurer of Huntington Beach Tomorrow. The views expressed on this blog are his own. You can follow this blog via RSS, Facebook, or Twitter. Email is welcome at timkowal at


  1. eople are saying she handed it to him on that line; I don’t get it, and I agree with you. Even if I agree with her that it doesn’t matter – and I don’t agree that “it” – what exactly happened, which is actually what she said doesn’t matter – doesn’t matter (I just don’t think that whether the government got right what happened, or even out of political calculation went too-confidently went with the story the intelligence community was sticking with despite contrary evidence, in the days and even weeks afterward matters nearly as much as the Right Wing Machine tried to get it to matter) – nevertheless it still matters to some significant minority of the American people exactly what happened. How does she think that’s a winning soundbite? It’s simply because of standard-issue Clintonian personality cult identification that she thinks that. It just helps her with the people who love to see her talk that way to a pompous, condescending typically clueless powerful man (and in this case a notorious mansplainer) – the people who will make it possible for her to be elected president in four years if that is what she decides she wants.

    Don’t get me wrong, liberals: *I* like seeing that too. I just don’t like seeing it when the substance is the dismissal of questions that, while they may be misguided or mis-focused in this case, nevertheless as a general matter are legitimate questions to ask. Republicans were angry this did not develop into a disqualifying scandal for Obama between Sept 11 and Nov 6. Well, sorry, the timing doesn’t always work like that. Iran Contra took as long as it took and that’s just how things go. But that doesn’t meanyou just say that people’s questions don’t matter once the election is over! I’ve reluctantly concluded that Ron Johnson is a sexist ignoramus, but nevertheless he wasn’t really doing anything but asking, in his condescending way (for the people of my home state, no less), just what happened that day. I mean, that seems legitimate, and the kind of thing Clinton is in a position of having to patiently try t answer to – even if she personally feels it doesn’t matter And again, why does she feel this way? Her point was that you move on and take the right steps going forward. Well, even if you feel like you don’t need to know exactly what happened to be able to do that, that still doesn’t imply that it doesn’t matter. And again, even if you feel that way, others, and not just opposing party senators may not, and you’re their public servant, and it’s a legitimate question.

    It’s disappointing, and yet people think she was actually in the right to say it, just because Ron Johnson is such a clueless, misogynistic, mansplaining, ignorant dick. Lesson to the GOP: don’t be like Ron Johnson.

    • “… nevertheless it still matters to some significant minority of the American people exactly what happened. ”

      No, it doesn’t; those a-holes will have a heavy overlap with Birthers and Obama Fraudsters.
      They don’t want to know what happened; they want to make allegations and use those as ‘facts’.

  2. hiding behind labels like fetus and zygote and a “bunch of cells” is a disingenuous dodge.

    Those aren’t labels; those are accurate terminology and descriptions. It’s using the term “baby” for all of them that’s disingenuous.

    • I think what she’s saying is they’re both stacking the deck: that “bunch of cells” is an undersell and “baby” is an oversell. She’s saying it’s a life, and we need to deal with that with more than rhetoric. I disagree with the way she goes about dealing with it, but I think that’s a sober approach.

  3. Ideally, the recess appointment decision will lead to filibuster reform, the current GOP tactic of filibustering everything being the only reason that gimmicks were required for appointments that would easily result in majority approval.

  4. The recess appointment decision was a good one. The only part I’m dubious about is the rling’s claim that the vacancy has to have occurred during the recess. That surely was the primary purpose of the recess appointment rule, but I’m doubtful it was a limiting purpose.

    I agree with Mike S. about hoping this results in filibuster reform, but I’d phrase it differently. I hope it means Democrats will grow a pair and force Republicans to do real filibusters, and see if they actually have the cojones to shut down Congress over who every little appointment.

    • Your phrasing is superior because that’s exactly what I meant.

  5. In the meantime, Republicans have an uphill slot working with the president. Bob Woodward and another member of the panel on Face the Nation last Sunday agreed that Obama does not respect Republicans and looks down his nose at them. He is not looking to work with Republicans but to punish them. If Republicans go toe-to-toe in that fight, they’ll lose.

    I think that these last three sentences are spot on.

    I think the last two, combined, are a tough nut to swallow for the current GOP-in-residence in Washington.

    Generally, these sorts of “draw your pistolas and die” standoffs wind up about half the time in shootouts where nobody wins. This makes me nervous.

    You’ve got a more full-fledged post in that one paragraph, Mr. Kowal. I’d be interested in reading your more nuanced take on that.

    • This kind of thing always makes me shake my head. “You know the worst thing about that un-American, pro-terrorist, Communist traitors? Even worse than wanting to destroy our way of life? They don’t respect us.”

      • Well the GOP has done so much to make ol’ O want to respect and work with them ya? I suspect he’s still bitter about the bloody pulp they beat his bipartisan hope’n change brand unicorn into after he rode it into DC in 2008.

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