On the Kavanaugh nomination battle and partisanship

The last post I wrote was from a Republican partisan perspective. And it told a story about Trump remaking the party in his image. I will have more to say about that later from a non-partisan view. But, right now, I want to focus on partisanship and why that favours Republicans in the Senate and Democrats in the House for the mid-term election.

Kavanaugh’s lies

I think it’s fair to say that Brett Kavanaugh lied repeatedly in his testimony before Congress and in his interview on Fox. What’s more is that, during his Supreme Court nomination process, lies he told during his nomination to the District Court were uncovered. And many of these lies are documented here in a post titled “the lies that should have sunk Brett Kavanaugh”.

So why didn’t those lies sink Kavanaugh? The answer, of course, is partisanship. The quote that best sums up what partisanship means in practice comes from Oscar Benavides, President of Peru from 1933 to 1939: “For my friends everything, for my enemies the law”. For Republican partisans, it doesn’t matter if Kavanaugh lies because those lies serve a larger purpose, namely getting a conservative on the Supreme Court.

Now, you could argue that this reveals a lack of a moral compass in Republican partisans in a time where the poem by German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller comes to mind. But, while Mitch McConnell may be taking an ‘ends justifies the means’  approach, the Republican base isn’t necessarily doing so. They may not even recognize that Kavanaugh told lies because of confirmation bias.

Psychologists have shown that people have a very, very strong, robust confirmation bias. What this means is that when they have an idea, and they start to reason about that idea, they are going to mostly find arguments for their own idea. They’re going to come up with reasons why they’re right, they’re going to come up with justifications for their decisions. They’re not going to challenge themselves…

The Argumentative Theory: A Conversation with Hugo Mercier

So, if you’re predisposed to believing a conservative Supreme Court nominee, with an impressive academic pedigree and longtime service to the Republican party, and picked by a Republican president for the court, then you’re going to give him a pass on a lot of stuff. In fact, you might even think — especially since the allegations against him came at the last minute — that there was a conspiracy against him perpetrated by your Republicans’ ideological enemies. That’s confirmation bias in action.

And the problem with the confirmation bias is that it leads people to make very bad decisions and to arrive at crazy beliefs. And it’s weird, when you think of it, that humans should be endowed with a confirmation bias. If the goal of reasoning were to help us arrive at better beliefs and make better decisions, then there should be no bias. The confirmation bias should really not exist at all…

But…confirmation bias is not a flaw of reasoning, it’s actually a feature. It is something that is built into reasoning; not because reasoning is flawed or because people are stupid, but because actually people are very good at reasoning — but they’re very good at reasoning for arguing.

The Argumentative Theory: A Conversation with Hugo Mercier

So when someone writes in the Federalist, “Brett Kavanaugh Should Sue Christine Blasey Ford And The WaPo For Defamation“, Republican partisans will see the logic.

Mitch McConnell’s ends justifies the means approach

Above, I was talking about the Republican base, not Republican politicians. The politicians like Mitch McConnell know exactly what they’re doing.

“I think there’s no question that the tactics have energized our base like we were unable to do before this,” McConnell said. “Not only the tactics of the Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, but then those who literally have our members under assault I mean — they’ve come to our homes, they’ve you know basically brushed up against members.”

McConnell said that especially in red states that voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, the message about the importance of Senate control was showing signs of resonating.

“The tactics have been extremely helpful in unifying my team in support of justice-to-be Kavanaugh. In addition to that, it’s an election issue now,” McConnell said.

Base ‘on fire’

“The base is on fire. I was talking to several of my political advisers yesterday about what we’re seeing out in the red states is a dramatically rising interest,” McConnell said.

McConnell’s view: The Republicans have every right to nominate and confirm a Supreme Court justice if there is a vacancy in 2020. Why? Put simply: “For my friends everything, for my enemies the law”.

And McConnell’s right about the mood as far as the Senate goes. Take a look at what’s happening in America’s heartland with embattled Democratic Senators like Heidi Heitkamp. The Republican base may well defeat her. That’s why West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin voted to confirm Kavanaugh.

The house is another story. There, Republicans are more vulnerable. And the Democrats will definitely take the house after the midterm elections.

But, as we saw with the Kavanaugh nomination, the Senate matters more. And the Republicans have a big advantage there because the bigger, but less populated states of America’s heartland are predominantly Republican. Wyoming, for example, has 1.4% of California’s population. But, for Supreme Court justices, that state gets the same number of  senators as California. That gives the Republican party a huge advantage in stacking the court.

The result?

From an economic perspective, all of this is significant because Republicans want less government, less regulation and lower taxes, allowing the Jeff Bezoses of the world to keep more of their money, and giving them a freer hand to do as they please without government oversight.

Here’s how the Washington Post framed the sway Republicans have right now:

Republicans face a difficult 2018 midterm election in about one month’s time. But on its eve, the GOP just secured its greatest amount of political power and leverage since at least the Great Depression.

The new, clear-cut 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court replaces a more nominal 5-4 court, in which Republican appointee Anthony M. Kennedy served as a swing vote and sometimes sided with the court’s more liberal justices. Things can always change, but Kavanaugh is expected to be a much more reliable vote for conservative issues.

Assuming the court is more tilted toward the GOP going forward, that delivers the GOP the last vestige of power in Washington that had thus far eluded it. While justices are technically nonpartisan, experts say this is shaping up to be the first reliably conservative Supreme Court since at least the New Deal era more than 75 years ago.

So, expect more cases like “Citizens United”. I think that will ultimately mean greater partisanship in the US and higher income inequality. Think of the US as becoming more of a Latin American-style democracy, with the levers of power controlled by the very few and special interests dominate the political process. For me, the test will be the next recession because that’s when we will see how solid the Trump base of support is.

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