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But particularly in the midst of this life-altering pandemic and after the democracy-altering Trump era — which might not be over — it’s worth looking back at what felt like it really mattered in the past, and what it means today.
Listen to David Axelrod’s Axe Files podcast interview with Monica Lewinsky, who after decades being known as the intern who had the affair with the President has solidly taken control of her story.
She’s involved in the new FX miniseries about it, but Lewinsky has also emerged as an activist against bullying and cyberbullying.
It’s not inconceivable that younger generations will know her just as much if not more for her activism than for the sensational coverage of her affair with Bill Clinton decades ago.
It’s hard to believe that a male politician like Clinton could survive his affair and his lying about it in this #MeToo era. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was forced out by allegations of harassment, after all. And he had begun his tenure with the support of activists organized under the Time’s Up banner, although that support did not age well.
Have things changed? Axelrod asked Lewinsky if she thought Clinton’s behavior would be accepted today.
“I would hope not,” she said. “I’m not as sure that we’re quite as far form that if it were a handsome young Democratic president who was quote unquote good to women.”
The Clinton example is unlike that of former President Donald Trump, who was accused of harassment but won anyway in 2016 against Hillary Clinton.
Bill Clinton was an avowed defender of women’s rights and man in a supreme position of power compromised by his treatment of a young woman. Lewinsky was caught in the middle.
“I was not supported by the left. I was not supported by the right. It was a very painful and terrifying place to be,” she said.
After listening to the Lewinsky episode of Axelrod’s podcast, I noticed another blast from the sensational past in CNN’s excellent Total Recall podcast, in which Dana Bash revisits the rise of Arnold Schwarzenegger as California’s governor.
This is evidence that scandals fade over time. I recall his governorship and the recall election that put him there. I recall his time in office as a moderate Republican, a model for the party before it embraced Trumpism.
I had actually forgotten that in he final days of that 2003 recall election, Schwarzenegger too faced allegations of groping and sexual harassment.
He denied most of the allegations, apologized “if I offended anyone,” and won anyway.
Politicians come and go. Justices stick around for life.
There’s been a raft of speeches and books from Supreme Court justices recently and they do not paint a picture of a court in harmony.
“There is going to be a lot of disappointment in the law, a huge amount,” liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Wednesday at an event hosted by the American Bar Association. “Look at me, look at my dissents.” Here’s the full story on her remarks.
Coming days before a new court term in which Roe v. Wade could be overturned, Sotomayor said people need to change laws they don’t like and react to court decisions they disagree with. “You know, I can’t change Texas’ law,” Sotomayor said, referring to the abortion law the Court allowed to go into effect despite her blistering dissent. “But you can and everyone else who may or may not like it can go out there and be lobbying forces in changing laws that you don’t like.”
Counterargument: ‘The court is not a cabal.’ Conservative Justice Samuel Alito, who favored letting the Texas law take effect before its dubious constitutionality is reviewed, told an audience at Notre Dame Thursday that there is no secret agenda in the court’s new and likely long-lasting conservative majority.
He said his goal was to “dispel some imaginary shadows” and reject the idea it is acting in a way that is “sneaky or dangerous.”
He complained that criticism of the court is put forward to incorrectly imply “that a dangerous cabal is deciding important issues in a novel, secretive, improper way, in the middle of the night, hidden from public view.” Read more.
Another argument: The court is not ‘a bunch of partisan hacks.’ Alito’s defense of the Court is in line with the newest justice, Amy Coney Barrett, who tried to convince an audience in Louisville this month that the court is driven by judicial philosophy.
(Court defenders always say this, and I’m sure justices don’t seem themselves as partisan. The problem is that on both sides they generally, with notable exceptions, vote in extremely predictable ways that reinforce the objectives of the political party that nominated them).
Agreement from the left. Justice Stephen Breyer, a liberal justice, said he and his colleagues aren’t “junior varsity politicians.”
He said the court will adjust to the times, it just takes time. “”If you go back into history, you know the court has had many ups and downs,” he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria as part of a book tour. He has rejected the call by some Democrats that he resign in time for Biden to nominate a younger liberal before Republicans win back the Senate, and he opposes efforts to expand the court and dilute the power of the conservative majority.
“If you go back into history, you know the court has had many ups and downs,” Breyer said.
Agreement from the right. Justice Clarence Thomas said something similar in September when he argued for the importance of institutions in society.
“I think the media makes it sound as though you are just always going right to your personal preference,” Thomas said. “So if they think you are anti-abortion,” they think “that is the way you will always come out.”
“That is a problem,” Thomas said. “You are going to jeopardize any faith in the legal institutions.”
Final counterargument. Now that there’s a very strong conservative majority of justices likely to control the court for decades even as the country inches to the left, particularly on social issues, that means the court’s “judicial philosophy” could become increasingly out of whack with what most people want.
The proof of partisan hackery is in the political effect of the decisions. It doesn’t really matter if they’re partisan hacks. The simple fact is that Roe v. Wade has a very strong chance of being overturned. Voting laws have a very strong chance of being further gutted. And so on.
Shutdown averted for now
Lawmakers checked one essential box off their difficult to-do list Thursday: They passed a bill to fund the government. But it’s a temporary reprieve and will keep the government open only until December 3.
The coming months will also see them tackle the thornier issues of raising the debt limit, figuring out if there’s enough support to pass infrastructure bills — there’s both a bipartisan version and a more sweeping Democratic add-on.
Democrats want to pass the longer-term funding bill in conjunction with their effort to raise the debt limit, but Republicans, who can block most legislation in the Senate, have formed a blockade against it.
One-party control is not enough to govern. It used to be rare for a government controlled by one party — in this case Democrats — to be struggling to avert shutdown. But it happened under President Donald Trump. Now President Biden is going to have to figure it out how to avoid the same fate.
Read more in CNN’s report.