Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Where There's a Will, There's a ... Disagreement

Most of you are probably familiar with conservative commentator George Will. Say what you will about him (and I often have), he's a man who knows his mind and isn't afraid to speak it. I sometimes agree with him*; other times, I think he's in a class with other odious buffoons like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, and the rest of the wingnuts, just with a little more intellectual polish.

This past Sunday, he published an opinion piece in the Washington Post titled Questions for Attorney General Nominee Loretta Lynch. He described Ms Lynch as "... a talented lawyer and seasoned U.S. attorney, (who) should be confirmed as attorney general."** He went on to state that "Her (confirmation) hearing ... should not be perfunctory," and suggested a number of questions that he believed should be put to her, presumably to smoke out any hints that she might be overly supportive of the positions and philosophies of the administration that nominated her for the job.

I think all of his questions are reasonable, although some are couched in unnecessarily inflammatory terms (for instance, "Do you agree that this practice (civil forfeiture) often is indistinguishable from robbery?"***). And most are, in my humble opinion, not properly thought through or asked of the right person****. Here are my major quibbles:

One question deals with the issue of voter identification. Mr Will writes, "Many progressives say that the 34 states that have passed laws requiring voters to have a government-issued photo ID are practicing 'vote suppression.' Does requiring a photo ID at airports constitute 'travel suppression'? Visitors to the Justice Department are required to present photo IDs. Will you — we will be watching with a fine-toothed comb — plan to end this 'visit suppression'? Positive voter identification and the belief that there is rampant vote fraud (always on the part of the liberal left) are key conservative themes. But comparing the political requirement for a photo ID for voters to the security requirement for a photo ID for air travelers and visitors to government facilities is an apples-to-oranges issue. I firmly believe that a voter should be required to properly identify him or her self at the polls; the onus is, however, on the government to make sure that the requirements for identification are clearly spelled out, reasonable, and able to be met by the voting public. Identification requirements in and of themselves do not constitute "vote suppression" ... but identification requirements that voters cannot meet do. What have Democratic and Republican legislators at the federal, state, and local levels done to come up with a standardized identification requirement that all voters can meet?

Mr Will writes that "The number of drug offenders in federal prisons is 20 times the number in 1980 and accounts for more than half of our federal mass incarceration. The 'war on drugs' is horrendously expensive (in money and shattered lives) and hardly effective (drug prices fall as quality rises). Is it time to consider decriminalizing some controlled substances?" The issue of decriminalizing some substances (such as marijuana) has long been part of the liberal agenda, fiercely opposed by social and political conservatives. Does Mr Will believe that such a move will be supported by the conservative right if proposed by a liberal administration? If he does, I think he may be using the very substances he's talking about.

Mr Will also addresses the issue of incarceration rates in this country, noting that "The U.S. incarceration rate is nearly five times Wales and England’s, nine times Germany’s, 14 times Japan’s. In 2010, more than 200,000 inmates - approximately the nation’s total number of prisoners in 1970 - were over the age of 50. How can this be necessary?" The rates of incarceration in this country are, indeed, scandalous. They are, however, a result of the enforcement of laws passed by the federal, state, and local governments ... particularly the so-called "three strikes and you're out" laws passed by some states (and mentioned in another of Mr Will's questions for Ms Lynch). Conservatives tend to strongly support strict law enforcement, which - oddly enough - tends to result in the incarceration of people convicted of crimes under existing laws. What laws and penalties do Mr Will and his conservative allies support rescinding or relaxing in order to bring down the incarceration rate?+

I could go on, but these few examples should do for now. There's nothing wrong with asking tough questions, as long as we're asking them of the right people. I believe that many of the issues Mr Will recommends asking the Attorney General nominee about are more properly addressed to Congress, state legislatures, and local governments ... and the responsibility for many of the issues he is upset about is shared by the right and the left.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Believe it or not!

** Believe it or not!

*** For the record, I think in many cases it isn't.

**** See my post from January 5th titled "So, What are You Going to Do?" for another look at this issue.

+ You may recall that House Speaker John Boehner wants to sue the President for not enforcing the law. It seems that someone is doing a lot of law enforcing to generate these incarceration rates!


eViL pOp TaRt said...

You raise a lot of interesting points, Bilbo. No doubt we are over-incarcerating a lot of people who could be elsewhere. Marijuana offenses in particular.

Duckbutt said...

I think it is reasonable for a potential voter to produce some form of photo i.d. - driver's license or some other readily available form.

The Bastard King of England said...

Congress should take up the matter of our high incarceration rates, but no one wants to be labeled soft on crime.

Linda Kay said...

I can't imagine those comparisons of the incarceration rates in the U.S. Do we just have more criminals?? It does look totally out of balance, and Congress should be addressing it...just one more thing for them to disagree over. I do know some areas out here in Texas where we could probably put people to work instead of sticking them in a jail cell!

Mike said...

I think there should be a lower limit on civil forfeitures ($500,000). There are stories of cops pulling over drivers and taking all the cash (400 or 500 dollars) they have on them as potential drug money.

Or taking someones home because their kid had some dope. That's just theft.

Fran├žoise said...

George Will made some excellent points in his questions. He is a pubic philosopher.