Pondering the Pundits

Pondering the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from> around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

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Michael Tomasky: Is America Becoming an Oligarchy?

Growing inequality threatens our most basic democratic principles.

Pete Buttigieg, who’s shown an impressive knack for putting matters well in these early days of the 2020 presidential race, nailed it recently when Chuck Todd of NBC asked him about capitalism. Of course I’m a capitalist, he said; America “is a capitalist society.”

But, he continued: “It’s got to be democratic capitalism.”

Mr. Buttigieg said that when capitalism becomes unrestrained by democratic checks and impulses, that’s no longer the kind of capitalism that once produced broad prosperity in this country. “If you want to see what happens when you have capitalism without democracy, you can see it very clearly in Russia,” he said. “It turns into crony capitalism, and that turns into oligarchy.”

Aside from enabling Mr. Buttigieg, the South Bend, Ind., mayor, to swat away a question that has bedeviled some others, his rhetoric reminds us of a crucial point: There is, or should be, a democratic element to capitalism — and an economic element to how we define democracy. [..]

But somehow, as the definition of democracy has been handed down to us over the years, the word has come to mean the existence and exercise of a few basic rights and principles. The people — the “demos” — are imbued with no particular economic characteristic. This is wrong. Our definition of democracy needs to change.

Democracy can’t flourish in a context of grotesque concentration of wealth. This idea is neither new nor radical nor alien. It is old, mainstream and as American as Thomas Jefferson.

Charles M. Blow: Demonizing Minority Women

Representative Ilhan Omar is the latest target in a trend of conservatives attacking women of color.

Last month at an event hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Representative Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat and one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, delivered a speech in which she correctly derided Islamophobia, a real and persistent problem in this country and others.

In that speech, Representative Omar invoked the attacks of Sept. 11, saying the council was created “because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”

(As The New York Times pointed out, “The Council on American-Islamic Relations was actually founded in 1994.)

The congresswoman could have used different, more severe language to describe the attacks, but she didn’t. Maybe we could judge her use of language as inartful, but we all succumb to that occasionally, me included. Error is inevitable among the loquacious. But, the Omar of the speech stands. I saw nowhere in it a thread of terror apologia. [..]

While the unrelenting attacks on Omar are newsworthy unto themselves as a conservative peculiarity, I believe that the attacks should be viewed through a wider and longer lens. Omar is only the most recent minority woman onto whom conservatives have trained their fire.

While white supremacy has historically tried to paint minority men as physically dangerous, it has routinely painted minority women, particularly those strong and vocal, as pathological and reprobate.

Michael Paarlberg: Does Donald Trump believe his bizarre bluster on immigration?

The president hopes to punish sanctuary cities with his imagined flood of violent undocumented immigrants but the reality is very different

There is no issue that better illustrates the parallel universe in which Donald Trump resides than immigration policy. In the real world, unauthorized immigration is the lowest it’s been in a decade, and violent crime has been dropping since the 1990s. Yet in Trump’s bizarre world, we are experiencing an out-of-control immigrant crime wave. [..]

Yet there is a danger in portraying Trump as more calculating than he is. The Democrats’ reaction to his sanctuary cities announcement flatters him too much, lambasting him for using immigrants as “pawns” in some diabolical scheme. Trump is no evil genius, and this lazy attempt at trolling is evidence enough. That Trump is willing to fan xenophobic hysteria – including against sitting members of Congress – as his re-election strategy is not surprising. That he actually buys into his own rhetoric is telling. Trump’s belief in an imaginary immigrant crime wave meriting dictatorial emergency powers is so unquestioning that he is genuinely surprised whenever his illegal executive actions get slapped down by courts, or voters react negatively to his policy of stealing children from their parents.

It’s a common mistake, made mostly by elite types with an allergy to populist rhetoric, that demagogues don’t really believe what they say. They must be hucksters who, behind closed doors, mock their supporters as rubes. Throughout his campaign, Trump benefited from this presumption that he doesn’t really mean it: he’s saying these things to get attention, or to get a better deal with NBC. After years of Trump playing the willful idiot, it’s worth considering that it may not be an act at all.

Jamelle Bouie: Tell Me Again Why Prisoners Can’t Vote

Maine and Vermont allow inmates to cast ballots. The 48 other states should too.

At a forum in Iowa last weekend, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts gave what has become a standard answer for Democrats on the question of felon disenfranchisement.

“Once someone pays their debt to society, they’re out there expected to pay taxes, expected to abide by the law, they’re expected to support themselves and their families,” she said. “I think that means they’ve got a right to vote.”

Most Americans agree with her. Nearly two-thirds of respondents in a March 2018 poll by HuffPost and YouGov said that former felons should have the right to vote. Voters and lawmakers across the country have begun to roll back the laws and procedures that, according to the Sentencing Project, kept an estimated 6.1 million citizens from the ballot box in the 2016 presidential election. [..]

But the growing tide against felon disenfranchisement raises a related question: Why disenfranchise felons at all? Why not let prisoners vote — and give the franchise to the roughly 1.5 million people sitting in federal and state prisons? Why must supposedly universal adult suffrage exclude people convicted of crimes?

Harry Littman: William Barr’s testimony was a terrible self-inflicted wound

One of the most frequently used words, including by me, to describe William P. Barr when he was nominated for attorney general was “institutionalist.”

Barr himself explained at his confirmation hearing that his goal in accepting the nomination was to “provide the leadership necessary to protect the independence and the reputation of the department. . . . I love the department and all its components, including the FBI — I think they’re critical institutions that are essential to preserving the rule of law.”

But Barr didn’t act much like an institutionalist this week.

Rather than “protect the independence” of the department, Barr dragged it into the middle of a political minefield Wednesday when he testified before the Senate that he believed the department had engaged in “spying” on Donald Trump’s campaign and that he had decided to reexamine it personally.

Barr’s attempts to walk back his mal mot did little to reduce the damage. That’s partly because the problem was more than a slip of the tongue. It was also his decision, however described, to reexamine the individual conduct of FBI and Justice Department officials who initiated the counterintelligence investigation.