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The National Medical Association says African Americans don't trust the government when it comes to deadly virus.
Eye Opener: Two officers shot during protests over Breonna Taylor decision
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Can Democrats pull off another Senate win in Arizona?
Retired astronaut Mark Kelly with his wife, former Congress member Gabrielle Giffords, in 2017. | Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images The same voters who helped Kyrsten Sinema win could boost Mark Kelly, too. The Senate race in Arizona is giving a lot of people déjà vu. Just two years after running — and narrowly losing — to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Sen. Martha McSally is running again, this time against retired astronaut Mark Kelly, in an attempt to keep her seat. In a unique twist, McSally was appointed to an open Senate seat by Gov. Doug Ducey to serve out the term of the late Sen. John McCain after she’d previously lost. And experts say McSally’s candidacy isn’t the only thing that feels familiar. “I would be willing to wager Sinema just handed Kelly her playbook and said, ‘Here you go, here’s how you win the US Senate in Arizona,’” quipped OH Predictive Insights pollster Mike Noble. Many of the dynamics that defined 2018 — and contributed to the state’s shift to the left — have only become more apparent in the two years since. Independent voters, which make up about a third of the state’s electorate, are still dissatisfied with President Donald Trump and likely to favor Democrats this fall. In a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden led Trump 57 percent to 38 percent among independent voters in the state. Democrats are also making inroads with moderate Republicans, particularly suburban women, who are interested in less polarized leadership and concerned about Trump’s handling of the coronavirus. And the state’s growing population of Latinx voters is continuing to skew Democratic. Caitlin O’Hara/Getty Images Sen. Martha McSally speaks during a rally for President Trump in Phoenix, Arizona, on February 19. “The shift is these Ducey-Sinema voters. You’re a Republican and you’re willing to vote for a Democrat. That’s where I think the most growth has been,” said Lorna Romero, a former communications director for McCain’s 2016 campaign. There are some key differences this cycle that are poised to have major implications on the race, too. The state, like the rest of the country, is still grappling with the public health and economic consequences of a devastating pandemic, which hit Arizona particularly hard this past summer. Plus, the presidential election is poised to loom over any down-ballot races. Strong anti-Trump sentiment in the state, driven by his divisive rhetoric and poor handling of the pandemic, could ultimately amplify the same trends already evident in the last two cycles. Although Sen. Mitt Romney won Arizona by 9 points in the 2012 presidential race, Trump only took it by 3 in 2016. Sinema then won the state’s Senate seat by 2 points in 2018. Following her defeat that year, members of McSally’s team put out a memo that touched on the reasons behind her loss. In it, they summed up several issues — including her decision to align herself closely with the president — that could well lead to the same outcome again. “A significant segment of the AZ GOP was hostile to the President,” the memo read. “This segment of moderate Republicans, especially [women], proved very difficult to bring home to a Republican candidate that supported President Trump and the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh.” In addition to maintaining her steadfast backing for Trump, McSally is poised to take another potentially polarizing Supreme Court vote in the coming weeks, making some of the circumstances she’s dealing with very similar to 2018. Democrats are making gains with moderate Republicans in Arizona According to exit polling from the midterms, Sinema won 12 percent of Republicans as well as 50 percent of independents and an overwhelming majority of Democrats. That same coalition of voters could be the ones to buoy Kelly to victory this cycle. In the RealClearPolitics average, Kelly is ahead of McSally by more than 6 points. And an OH Predictive Insights poll published in mid-September found that 15 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of independents would support him. “Sinema voters — they are the Jeff Flake Republicans, they are the John McCain Republicans who want civility,” says Derrik Rochwalik, a political consultant based in Phoenix who was previously chair of the Maricopa County Young Republicans. Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images Sen. Kyrsten Sinema departs from the Senate floor after a vote on September 16. Trump’s hardline stances on immigration and racist comments about Mexican immigrants are among the factors that have turned these voters away. And McSally’s willingness to back Trump on issues including the national emergency for his border wall and the recent Supreme Court vacancy means many view her as just another extension of his administration. “I want a candidate that will represent my family and that will make decisions based on personal convictions and not just follow the President from their party,” said Mark Tucker, a resident of Gilbert, Arizona, in a recent statement that included a hundred Republicans backing Kelly. While McSally has made a more partisan appeal, experts in the state note Kelly’s messaging has been designed — much like Sinema’s — to reach a specific subset of crossover Republicans and independents. “When you look at his ads, he’s not talking about Democrat-this or Democrat-that. He’s running largely as somewhat of an independent,” says Joe Garcia, the executive director of the Chicanos Por La Causa Action Fund. McSally herself nodded at Kelly’s approach in an August event, going so far as to suggest that some people may not be aware he is a Democrat. “Somebody actually could vote Trump-Kelly,” she warned. Carolyn Kaster/AP Mark Kelly takes the stage during the Democratic National Convention in 2016. Kelly’s policy positions, like his messaging, hew to the center: He’s supportive of a public option and reducing drug prices through Medicare negotiation, and he has called out the need to generate more clean energy jobs while stopping short of backing the Green New Deal. Much like many Democrats did in 2018, he’s made defending protections for people with preexisting conditions a centerpiece of his campaign. Kelly is also married to former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, and the two have been leading gun-control advocates in the wake of the 2011 shooting during which a gunman shot Giffords in the head at a constituents’ meeting in Tucson. Presently, he backs universal background checks and red-flag laws, which enable law enforcement to bar individuals from accessing firearms if they are flagged as a danger to themselves or others. “I’m running — to be an independent voice for Arizona,” Kelly has said. Kelly’s campaign declined to make him available to Vox for an interview. McSally’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Kelly’s focus on his independent streak echoes messaging Sinema once used about being able to work with “literally anyone” to get policy done, and it’s one that has played well with Arizona voters, who often boast about how independent they are. McSally, meanwhile, has continued to link herself to Trump in a bet that this connection will be enough to rally members of the GOP’s conservative base in November, even as she’s lost moderates. She’s focused some on her biography as the first woman to fly in a combat mission for the Air Force, but much of her messaging has been dedicated to emphasizing her conservative bona fides. Latinx voters are poised to have huge influence over the election, which could bode well for Democrats A big factor in Arizona’s leftward shift is the uptick in Latinx voters in the state. In 2018, Latinx voters overwhelmingly favored Democrats, with 70 percent supporting Sinema while 30 percent backed McSally. And since the last presidential election, Latinx voter share in the electorate has grown from 19.6 percent to 24.6 percent, with thousands of younger voters reaching voting age. According to Garcia, more than 100,000 new Latinx voters have turned 18 in recent years — and Latinx voters are younger, on average, than white voters in the state. It’s important to note that Latinx voters are not a monolith; the majority who live in Arizona are Mexican American and more likely to be left-leaning. According to the ABC News/Washington Post survey this week, a higher proportion of Latinx voters in Arizona favored Biden than in Florida, for example, a trend that’s indicative of the diversity among members of the group. The pandemic is ultimately an issue at the forefront for all Arizonans, including Latinx voters, who have been disproportionately impacted by it. “For the most part, Covid-19 and the cost of health care are overwhelmingly top issues,” says Edward Vargas, a researcher for polling firm Latino Decisions. “What we’ve seen in our polling is that they trust Democrats much more in addressing issues toward Covid-19.” Both campaigns have focused more of their efforts on reaching Latinx voters — including participating in a virtual forum that will air in October — who historically haven’t seen as much formal outreach from candidates. In 2018, because of more dedicated organizing driven by advocacy groups including LUCHA and Mi Familia Vota, Latinx voter turnout saw a spike compared to 2014. Experts say they expect this same energy — if not more — in 2020. “I think it’s going to be a record-setting election,” says Vargas. The fight for control of the Senate and the presidency looms over this race Because of how she’s positioned herself, McSally’s fate is viewed as inextricably tied to Trump’s. “I do think that the strategy for the president — and Martha McSally — is making sure that the Trump supporters came out of the woodwork to support him in 2016, the play right now is to make sure that those people turn out,” says Romero. McSally has also repeatedly emphasized that her seat is a bulwark against potential Democratic control of the Senate, an effort aimed at targeting those same Republicans, especially as the GOP seeks to confirm a Supreme Court nominee to take the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat. “Arizona is the tipping point for whether Chuck Schumer is going to be in charge in the Senate,” McSally said during an August appearance on CBS News. “A vote for Mark Kelly is a vote for ... the radical left agenda.” Matt York/AP Vice President Mike Pence greets Sen. Martha McSally at a Veterans for Trump campaign rally in Litchfield Park, Arizona, on September 18. In the past week, the two candidates provided a glimpse of how they’d handle the Supreme Court nomination: McSally swiftly backed a vote on Trump’s Supreme Court pick, while Kelly argued that a nominee should be put forth by whoever wins the general election. One of McSally’s chief arguments is, “Let’s make sure we don’t lose that second seat and that the Republicans don’t lose the Senate in 2020,” says Rochwalik, the Phoenix political consultant. The pivotal role Arizona could play in determining control of the Senate has also meant that an overwhelming amount of funding has been flowing into this race, with Kelly, in particular, raising a staggering sum. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Kelly had raked in more than $45 million as of a July report, dwarfing McSally, who had brought in $30 million as of a September report. If Kelly can channel this support as effectively as Sinema did, he could see a repeat of her success, too. Will you help keep Vox free for all? The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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On This Day: 24 September 1991
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Beijing's Terrifying Repression Campaigns | Opinion
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How Health Care Can Stop Amplifying Racism
The coronavirus pandemic didn’t create the health disparities among Americans, but it has exposed once again how stark the problem is. Black and Latino patients are two to three times as likely as white patients to be diagnosed with COVID-19, and more than four times as likely to be hospitalized for it. Black patients are more than twice as likely to die from the virus. They also die from it at younger ages. COVID-19 has exacerbated long-standing trends: Black and Latino Americans have lower rates of insurance coverage, a higher prevalence of chronic diseases, worse health outcomes, and a lower life expectancy. People in the health-care world sometimes speak of these patterns as if they are inevitable facts of life—something the industry is powerless to change. More doctors and hospitals need to acknowledge and address how the U.S. health-care system is rife with structural racism. For decades, American medicine has discriminated against people of color.The health-care system, by one estimate, is responsible for only about 10 to 15 percent of preventable mortality in the United States. Socioeconomic factors, such as housing, food, and education, have a greater overall impact. Policies that effectively address these factors will be required to significantly reduce disparities in health outcomes for Black and Latino people. Nevertheless, many choices that health-care professionals commonly make—such as not accepting Medicaid patients, having fewer staff members at facilities in minority neighborhoods, and blaming patients for not taking their medicine and for poor overall outcomes—perpetuate disparities and even amplify them.[Read: How to fix the health gap between Black and white America]These health gaps are not immutable. Concrete changes to public policy, industry practices, and medical education could turn the health-care system into a force for greater equality. Here are five such changes:First, when states are indifferent to whether their Black and Latino citizens have health coverage, the federal government should step in. According to research published earlier this year, 9 percent of white adults were uninsured in 2018, compared with 14 percent of Black adults and 25 percent of Latino adults. The coronavirus recession is making the coverage gap worse. Already, as many as 12 million Americans have lost insurance sponsored by their employer or a family member’s employer. Black, Latino, and other workers of color have faced especially steep declines in employment.The Affordable Care Act did reduce disparities in insurance by setting up insurance exchanges and making more Americans eligible for Medicaid, but some states opted out of the latter—with terrible consequences for disadvantaged minorities. Indeed, an estimated 46 percent of Black working-age adults live in the 15 states that refused to implement the ACA’s expanded Medicaid benefits, leaving low-wage workers with no way to pay for their family’s care. The disparity rises when joblessness grows: Medicaid covers 36 percent of unemployed adults in states that expanded eligibility for the program, but only 16 percent in states that did not.So far, federal inducements have not been enough to persuade states such as Texas, Georgia, and Florida to expand Medicaid. The next president and Congress can solve that problem by federalizing Medicaid and removing its administration from states. Such a change could yield universal enrollment standards and greatly reduce the racial health-insurance gap.Second, policy makers can make insurance coverage meaningful by having Medicaid pay physicians and hospitals more. Having health coverage is necessary, but not sufficient, for patients to obtain good health care in a timely manner. Because Medicaid pays doctors less than Medicare or private insurance does, many doctors refuse to see—or delay appointments for—Medicaid patients. A 2014–15 survey showed that only 68 percent of family-practice physicians accepted new Medicaid patients, while 91 percent accepted those with private insurance. Some doctors did not accept new patients at all or didn’t accept insurance. Only a third of psychiatrists accepted new Medicaid patients.In 2013 and 2014, the ACA temporarily raised Medicaid payments to primary-care doctors. This fee bump improved patients’ access to doctors. Just as predictably, when states returned to lower fee levels, Medicaid enrollees had more trouble making appointments. The lesson is clear: The federal government needs to permanently raise Medicaid payments to doctors. For hospitals, payment reforms should penalize poor performance on measures of health equity. For example, higher payments to hospitals could be tied to improvements in emergency-room wait times—which have often been found to be longer for Black patients than white ones.[Read: Medicaid’s dark secret]Third, hospitals—which often anchor a community’s health-care system—must address social factors that affect health outcomes. Hospitals that do so could see benefits in the long run. In the mid-2000s, for example, Boston Children’s Hospital began a community-outreach program for low-income Black and Latino children who, based on previous information, seemed likely to be hospitalized with asthma. Case workers worked with families and community groups to reduce the prevalence of conditions that lead to asthma attacks. The result: Unnecessary readmissions, emergency-room visits, missed school days by students, and lost workdays among parents all fell. The program generated $1.73 in benefits for every dollar spent. At a variety of other hospitals, initiatives to address the social determinants of health have led to a fall in readmissions.The government has leverage over hospitals. In return for avoiding substantial federal and state taxes, nonprofit hospitals are required to provide community benefits. Many hospitals count discounted care to Medicaid and uninsured patients as community benefits. Instead, state and federal policies should specifically encourage hospitals to invest in community health—for instance, in anti-hunger programs or “nurse-family partnerships” that assist low-income mothers. Many hospitals also receive extra funds because they operate in low-income communities, make less money from private insurance, and provide a disproportionate share of their services to patients without the ability to pay. These government payments should be tied to investments that address social determinants of health.Fourth, increasing diversity among physicians and nurses is vital. In an experiment in Oakland, California, the researchers Marcella Alsan, Owen Garrick, and Grant C. Graziani found that the involvement of Black doctors could reduce the cardiovascular mortality gap between Black and white men by 19 percent. Yet only 5 percent of American physicians are Black, compared with 13 percent of the general population. Latino and Indigenous physicians are similarly underrepresented. Structural barriers, including the excessive cost of attaining a medical or nursing degree and bias in the admissions process, substantially contribute to this lack of diversity. Many states already offer loan-repayment services and other incentives for physicians to work in underserved areas, but expanding these programs could recruit even more underrepresented minorities to the medical field. Not all the obstacles to diversity are economic, of course. Minority students are also more likely to experience discriminatory comments and public humiliation during their medical training. Medical schools and hospitals need to enforce serious disciplinary measures for such behavior, while ensuring that students who complain are not labeled as “troublemakers.”[Read: America’s health segregation problem]Finally, all health-care workers could also benefit from a curriculum that specifically addresses implicit bias and the historical roots of racism in the medical system. To this day, medical textbooks still depict mostly white skin tones. Many medical students hold empirically false beliefs about race-based physiological differences—including the notion that Black patients have a higher tolerance for pain than white patients. These beliefs affect the kind of decisions that doctors make. One analysis early in the pandemic found that doctors were less likely to refer symptomatic Black patients for testing than they were to refer white ones. Educating aspiring doctors about these dynamics will improve the care that patients receive.These five steps won’t cure America’s health disparities, but they outline a course of action. Reducing racial bias in health care will have broad benefits: A country whose residents have fewer chronic conditions, better access to care, and longer lives has a greater capacity for happiness and prosperity. As America faces a national reckoning with structural racism, leaders in the health-care system must confront the role we play and assume responsibility for solving the problem.Amaya Diana and Aaron Glickman contributed research to this article.
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The Fanatic
Over the past 19 months, we have all heard a lot about Bill Barr’s misuse of the office of attorney general and the resources of the Justice Department to do the personal bidding of President Donald Trump, to undermine the evenhanded rule of law, and to work in countless other ways to put the president in a position of nearly autocratic power. What first came to our attention as surprising accounts of specific actions out of sync with the way attorneys general are supposed to act has become a systematic torrent of actions building on one another to feed a rising crescendo of public alarm.This unprecedented pattern of conduct by the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer has brought a question to the minds of many people: Why does Bill Barr do the things he does?To help us find answers to that question, Barr has left an extensive paper trail that goes back more than 30 years. Or rather, he has left two paper trails that run parallel to each other. The most familiar of these concerns executive power, the other the religious and moral health of the American people. As divergent as those subjects sound, Barr’s ideas on both follow a common course and structure.On both subjects, Barr posits a set of views that he ascribes to the Founders, and that, he believes, were absolutely essential to the success of the great experiment that is America. Those views also happen to be his own. In both cases, according to Barr, the Founders’ vision was firmly instituted, leading to the great advances and dominant role America came to play during most of two centuries. But, also in both cases, starting at around the same time—the 1960s and ’70s—the nation wandered away from the sacred path defined by its Founders. On account of that apostasy, the country now finds itself in dire straits. For Barr, the only remedy is drastic action to restore the nation to the Founders’ vision. Fortunately, he is making himself available to lead that restoration.[Charles Fried and Edward J. Larson: How far Bill Barr has fallen]Barr’s better-known views relating to executive power posit that the Founders intended to create an all-powerful president, and he sees that vision as thriving until the late 20th century, when it was undermined by interference from Congress and the courts. To Barr, the role of religion in our public life has followed a similar trajectory. The Founders, according to Barr, believed that national success depended on America remaining a pious Christian nation, in which the worst inclinations of the citizenry would be constrained by obedience to God-given eternal values. That reality, he tells us, also substantially persisted until the late 20th century, when a combination of forces conspired to severely undermine it.The best recent source for his thinking on religion is a speech he gave at the University of Notre Dame last fall. The argument he advanced then is virtually indistinguishable from ones he has been making for many years in other speeches and in an article he published in the scholarly journal The Catholic Lawyer in 1995.The basic story, according to Barr in that article, is that we are embroiled in “a historic struggle between two fundamentally different systems of values.” One of those is the “transcendent moral order with objective standards of right and wrong that exists independent of man’s will,” which is imparted by God, through his institution, the Church. The other is the worldview, developed starting with the Renaissance and accelerating during the Enlightenment, that knowledge, and thus arguably values, are derived from experience and science. This is the movement that spawned many of the notions that gave rise to the American experiment.But Barr does not discuss the latter worldview as an integral force behind the inspiration for and creation of the United States. Rather, he sees it simply as a force for secularism and moral relativism that has made “the tenets of Judeo-Christian tradition … sound increasingly jarring to the modern ear.”The crucial point for Barr is his claim that the thinking of the Founders, and therefore “the American government” they created, “was predicated precisely on this Judeo-Christian system” of values handed down by God. According to Barr, “the greatest threat to free government, the Founders believed, was not governmental tyranny, but personal licentiousness—the abandonment of Judeo-Christian moral restraints in favor of the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites.”To put it in polite terms, this is a complete misreading of the Founders’ views. Barr largely ignores many of the most central elements of the American founding—especially those concerning freedom of thought and speech, and the individual pursuit of happiness. Nor does he see as significant the fact that the members of the founding generation, although mostly self-described Christians, had also been greatly influenced by the secular and rationalist outlook of the Enlightenment, and rejected most of the supernatural elements of literal Christian doctrine.Instead, for Barr, the important point for Americans today, as he stated in his Notre Dame speech, is that: Over the past 50 years religion has been under increasing attack. … We have seen the steady erosion of our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system and a comprehensive effort to drive it from the public square. … We see the growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism. Barr then recites the “grim” consequences of “this moral upheaval,” including, starting in 1965, the steep rise in illegitimate births, “the wreckage of the family … record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence, and a deadly drug epidemic.”Crucial to Barr’s point of view is his claim that our modern condition, and all of these consequences, are the result of a “campaign to destroy the traditional moral order” by “the forces of secularism,” who have “[pressed] on with even greater militancy.” According to him, this militancy of the “secular forces” is working strongly against the historical tendency toward self-correction—the “pendulum swinging back” as it has in the past at times when “the traditional moral order has been shaken.” In his view, the project to secularize America has itself become the religion of the left.According to Barr, “another modern phenomenon that suppresses society’s self-corrective mechanisms—that makes it harder for society to restore itself" is that “we have the State in the role of alleviator of bad consequences. We call on the State to mitigate the social costs of personal misconduct and irresponsibility. … While we think we are solving problems, we are underwriting them.” And he also decried “the way law is being used as a battering ram to break down traditional moral values and to establish moral relativism as a new orthodoxy.”Not surprisingly, Barr’s prescription for restoring America to the Founders’ supposed vision of a pious Christian nation is extensive indeed. Moreover, in many of its particulars, it comes within the reach of discretionary powers held by the attorney general. As Barr specified at Notre Dame, this means working to undo “watershed” decisions by the Supreme Court legalizing abortion and euthanasia, among others that are contrary to religious teaching. It means altering social legislation and policies by which the government relieves individuals from bearing the consequences of immoral personal choices.[Donald Ayer: Bill Barr must resign]It also means broadening the trend of recent Supreme Court decisions allowing people to avoid generally applicable conduct requirements—such as those related to contraception coverage in employer medical plans—based on their religious beliefs. In Barr’s mind, this would countermand the tendency of “militant secularists today … to take a delight in compelling people to violate their conscience.”A final area involves education, where he says “the secularists are attacking on three fronts.” One is the curricula in public schools, where he says districts are adopting “LGBT” and other programs of study incompatible with traditional religious principles. Another is funding, where he says “state policies [are] designed to starve religious schools of generally-available funds and encouraging students to choose secular options.” The third involves laws limiting the freedom of religious schools to operate in accordance with their faith, for example, by foreclosing discrimination based on gender preference.Barr’s views on these issues, which he has been nurturing for three decades, fall close to the heart of the appeal that Trump is making to evangelicals and other religious conservatives who are a central part of his political base. It is thus easy to see how Barr’s expression of them can play an important role in Trump’s efforts to secure reelection this fall.Barr’s views on executive power are a bit better known, and that is probably because of the great many things he has done since becoming attorney general that have been aimed, in one way or another, at freeing the president from most limitations on his ability to act. For Barr’s views on this subject, as with religion, there are a number of sources over a period of more than 30 years to draw upon. We could, for example, go back and look at legal opinions he wrote as the head of the Office of Legal Counsel in 1989 and ’90. But two documents from the past two years give us more than enough to chew on. One is the 19-page memorandum that Barr submitted in June 2018, apparently auditioning for the job of attorney general by specifically arguing that Robert Mueller’s investigation was fundamentally misconceived. The other is the speech that he gave to the Federalist Society on November 15 last year, devoted to the topic of “the Constitution’s approach to executive power."The 2018 memo sets out a breathtaking vision of the president as exercising literally all of the powers of the executive branch, with no constitutional possibility of limiting the exercise of those powers for compelling reasons. Barr writes that the president “alone is the Executive Branch,” possessing literally “all Federal law enforcement power, and hence prosecutorial discretion.” That includes, Barr is perfectly clear, “supervisory authority over [all] cases,” including the right to direct the handling of cases involving himself, his friends, or his enemies.[David A. Graham: Bill Barr’s stinging attack on Bill Barr]In his speech to the Federalist Society, Barr goes beyond this vision of total and illimitable executive power to consider the president’s authority and standing in relation to the other branches of the federal government. And here, as he did in expressing his views on religion, Barr offers up a fictional version of the Founders’ vision with regard to the place of executive power.Barr begins by deriding “the grammar-school civics-class version” of our history, under which the Founders created a complex structure of checks and balances, to forestall the risk that any one part of government might develop tyrannical powers. Among the risks of important concern to them, most of us have thought, include the risk of tyrannical power in the president. And, indeed, the numerous checks the Constitution created to limit the president’s authority—the impeachment power, the House appropriation power, Congress’s power to override vetoes, the need for a congressional declaration of war, and the Senate power to advise and consent, for example—seem to show that unchecked presidential power was prominent among their concerns.Barr sees it differently. Notwithstanding that the abuses of King George III were the focus of the Declaration of Independence, and that the Founders chose in the Constitution to cabin the president’s powers in significant ways, Barr argues that the Founders actually were not much concerned about an out-of-control president, as the “civics-class version” suggests. They were far more concerned, he argues, about the relative powers that Parliament had gained in the years leading up to the Revolution, and also with the chaos that had ensued under the Articles of Confederation. Notwithstanding the checks that they built into the system, the right interpretation according to Barr is that by resolving in favor of a single executive officer, they meant for the president to have extremely broad and largely unchecked authority.Barr purports to find confirmation of this supposed Founders’ vision of a president with substantially unchecked powers in what happened next. He would have us believe that this vision of an all-powerful president that he wants to restore has in fact been a reality for most of our history. Indeed, he says, “more than any other branch, [the American presidency] has fulfilled the expectations of the Framers.” Thus, in his mind, strong and omnicompetent presidents led our government throughout the 1800s. Never mind the historical consensus that all but a few presidents before Franklin D. Roosevelt were quite weak, and that the greatest expansion of executive power came not early in our history, but in the 20th- and 21st-century era of the imperial president.As with the decline of religion in the face of “militant secularism” starting in the 1960s, Barr says that: Since the mid-’60s, there has been a steady grinding down of the Executive branch’s authority, that accelerated after Watergate. More and more, the President’s ability to act in areas in which he has discretion has become smothered by the encroachments of the other branches. Like our national falling away from pious Christian religiosity, in Barr’s mind, this supposed abandonment of our Founder’s vision of an all-powerful president demands to be remedied. And once again, as we have seen in his conduct since he became attorney general, Barr believes he is the man for the job. The last half of the Federalist Society speech provides the agenda, by detailing how, “in recent years, both the legislative and judicial branches have been responsible for encroaching on the presidency’s constitutional authority.”Targeting first the role of the legislature, Barr comes quickly to focus on alleged congressional interference with the Trump administration. Trump’s congressional opponents inaugurated “the resistance” and used “every tool and maneuver available to sabotage the functioning of his Administration.” Barr does not mention the administration’s repeated assertion of a categorical, prophylactic executive immunity to even having to appear before Congress, respond to its inquiries, or claim a specific executive privilege based on the facts. Nor does he note that the administration’s efforts to stonewall nearly all inquiries were, for many months, largely successful, even in the context of impeachment, where Congress’s constitutional power to inquire is at its apex.Second, he turns to the issue of judicial review. From the tone of this section, comprising four of the speech’s 11 pages, it appears that, in Barr’s mind, the courts are the principal culprit in unjustifiably limiting the extraordinarily broad powers that the president is constitutionally entitled to exercise. His discussion ignores, or perhaps just disagrees with, a pillar of our legal system since almost the very beginning—Chief Justice John Marshall’s magisterial pronouncement in Marbury v. Madison that “it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”Among many other points made here, Barr complains that the judiciary “has appointed itself the ultimate arbiter of separation of powers disputes between Congress and Executive.” Indeed, he says that courts should play no role whatsoever in “constitutional disputes between the other two branches,” because “the political branches can work out their constitutional differences without [resorting] to the courts.” Beyond that, regardless of the complainant, courts should refrain from second-guessing the executive whenever its conduct involves the exercise of “prudential judgment,” on claims of improper “motivation behind government action,” or indeed any time when review would not be guided by “tidy evidentiary standards and specific quantums of proof.” In sum, Barr would foreclose judicial review of executive action in pretty much any case where there is a debatable issue.So what can we conclude from Barr’s long-held views concerning religion and executive power? And from the role that Barr has assigned himself in both respects to restore the Founders’ supposed consensus view—favoring a dominant role for Christian religiosity and an all-powerful president—that, according to him, was largely realized for nearly 200 years, but was totally undermined by the course of events that began in the 1960s?First, Barr grossly distorts what the Founders actually believed. Moreover, the nation’s course has not been the one he outlines—that of a mostly homogeneous nation of pious doctrinal Christian believers, overseen by an all-powerful but benevolent president, until it all went to hell in a handbasket starting in the 1960s.[Donald Ayer: Why Bill Barr is so dangerous]Second, given the course of our history and where we are today, his prescriptions for our current situation are quite literally un-American. Like it or not, America is far and away the most individualistic country on Earth, and Americans have always been deeply suspicious of excessive accumulations of power. And for most of its history, America has been a hurly-burly melting pot of varied faiths and freethinkers. All of that has brought both tremendous benefits and advances, and deep complications and challenges. But the only way the nation as a whole is going to buy into Barr’s ahistorical agenda is if it is forced to.Third, what Barr is doing is enormously harmful. He has become a one-man wrecking crew, set on destroying the reforms that were put in place by Edward Levi after Watergate, as well as many other checks and balances inherent in our constitutional system. Public confidence that ours is a system in which no person is above the law, where rules apply to everyone equally, has been severely shaken by recurring stark evidence that during the tenure of William Barr, this simply is not true.It has also been undermined by the unmistakable evidence that Barr regularly lies about all manner of things, in pursuit of his higher calling to restore his America that never was.Finally, as we move toward the election, it is crucial to recognize the toxic way that Barr’s misconduct is being aggravated by the mutual dependency between him and Donald Trump. Barr’s ideas discussed here, which he has spent his adult life formulating, have made him a modern Don Quixote, on a mission to correct the apostasies that he believes have occurred in his lifetime. Trump’s election put into the White House someone who actually aspires to autocracy, and Barr was able to offer himself up to make that a reality. Ironically, Barr’s vision to restore the dominance of pious Christian religiosity is also highly resonant with the campaign narrative most appealing to the political base of this most vulgar and irreligious president in our history.But Barr’s ticket to ride the white horse in his imagination can be rescinded at any time. As Trump said in August, Barr could be “the greatest attorney general in the history of our country,” “but if he wants to be politically correct, he’ll be just another guy.” So Barr has to dance to Trump’s tune. Also, Barr knows that his role of redeemer in chief will end unless Trump gets another term in office.Thus the list of Barr’s misdeeds, committed to protect the president against the consequences of his actions, to advance the president’s reelection prospects, or just to scratch the president’s itch to have something done a certain way, is extraordinarily long. Most obvious are Barr’s lies about the Mueller and Horowitz reports and his interventions in the Stone and Flynn cases.More troubling lately have been the things he has done and the falsehoods he has advanced to promote the president’s reelection prospects. He has become a full-time huckster and probably the most effective spokesperson for the president’s campaign themes. Think about his many unsupported comments on the untrustworthiness of mail-in voting, the unfairness of state and local restrictions to protect public safety, and his recent offhand falsehood, based on supposed intelligence reports, that China poses a greater threat to our election than does Russia. Think about his provocative use of law-enforcement personnel in Lafayette Square and later in Portland, Oregon, and other cities, to create videos of violence to support the campaign theme that America is under attack from subversive foreign elements. Think about his gross misuse of the Federal Tort Claims Act, to assert that the president’s alleged slander of E. Jean Carroll, who accused him of rape, is an official action of the United States, thus delaying any further court action until the election is over. And then there are the wholly unsupported comments Barr recently shared at Hillsdale College, where he said that the career staff at the DOJ have been acting as “headhunters” hungry for scalps to hang on the wall.Hovering over the election is the question of whether Barr will serve up some sort of October surprise in the form of findings or indictments from the inquiry he and John Durham have been leading since early last year into the FBI’s 2016 investigation of Russian interference. Such concern is certainly warranted, given Barr’s very extensive and accusatory recent comments—all in direct violation of written departmental policy—reflecting outrages that the investigation has supposedly unearthed. Barr is now fully focused on getting Trump reelected. He wants to keep Trump assured that he is acting like a Roy Cohn, without a whiff of political correctness. So, shockingly, Barr these days is regularly speaking to Trump’s base in language they will grasp. Sometimes these comments go so far into the ozone of unreality as to be almost beyond belief. And when they do, they typically echo Barr’s own unreal vision about the lost America of uniform Christian piety and autocratic leadership. That has been true in his many statements about “antifa” barbarians at the gate who must be met by force. It has also been true in statements such as the ones he delivered to Mark Levin’s Fox show in August, saying that the Democrats want to “tear down” America’s institutions so they can create a “progressive utopia,” because “power” is “their state of grace and their secular religion,” and “they want to run people’s lives so they can design utopia for all of us.”Barr is also telling the country a very big lie—a falsehood so bold, repeated so often, that it seems almost credible—about himself. Regularly for the past 19 months, Barr has been saying that his greatest concern has always been the protection of the rule of law and the equal application of the laws. He has claimed many times to be the one working to restore evenhanded justice from the supposed political abuses of the Obama administration and now even of the career prosecutors at the DOJ. Of course, the exact opposite is true. He is telling this lie in hopes of reaching the great majority of Americans who believe in the rule of law and want assurance that it is being protected.In this, there is a job for all Americans who care about the future. It is to tell everyone you know, in the clearest and strongest voice you can muster, that these claims are totally false, and that Barr’s devious campaign to restore his twisted vision of our history poses a grave threat to America as we know it.
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