His Fraudulency the Second?
To the Editors:
Kevin Phillips's article "His Fraudulency the Second?" [January 29,
2001] may have appeared to some readers as almost tongue in cheek. It
isn't, because the current manifestation of a family restoration and its
predecessors run parallel with another return to the monarchical systems
of seventeenth- through nineteenth-century Europe.
Both the Bush administration's and the Clinton-era Republican
Congress's efforts to eliminate all estate taxes assuredly portend
creation of an even larger American hereditary economic royalty. When
combined with the continued elimination of real progressivity of income
taxes, the abolition of estate taxes will ensure perpetuation of very
wealthy families, giving them the capacity to shape both private
investments and public policy in similar ways to the barons and princes
of old Europe. The only thing missing will be the old titles. The new
ones will likely include "senator," "representative," "president,"
"CEO," and "entrepreneur."
Once eliminated, estate taxes will be very difficult to
re-establish. Royalty rarely votes against its own interest.
Dwight F. Rettie
Morehead City, NC
Kevin Phillips Responds:
Mr. Rettie raises a useful point to which I
will append the necessary question: What will it tell us if the party of
Jefferson, Jackson, and Roosevelt can't--or won't--respond with the full
resonance of the Democratic heritage?
The Court Packs Itself
To the Editors:
While I staunchly agree with Bruce Ackerman
that the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore was a fiasco
["The Court Packs Itself," February 12, 2001], his call for the Senate,
as a purgative, to reject out of hand all Supreme Court nominees sent to
it by President Bush is politically tone-deaf.
Ackerman cites as precedent the fact that, following Lincoln's
assassination, Congress blocked Andrew Johnson from filling vacancies on
the Court. But that suggests a difference, not an analogy. In the late
1860s, Congress was dominated by a Reconstructionist majority that
proposed the post-Civil War amendments. Today, the Republican right
controls both houses of Congress, albeit just barely. That narrow margin
reflects the contest within the populace as a whole over the future of
affirmative government in America.
Under these conditions, Democrats must fight hard, but intelligently.
Categorical opposition to all Bush nominees may appeal to the impulsive
desire for revenge, but, as a kind of Gingrichite excess it would
probably prove self-defeating. It would be wiser to use the threat of an
all-out fight to force Bush to name justices who are acceptable, or at
least no worse than the members they would replace (remember that
William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O'Connor are two of the three justices
most likely to retire soon). If Bush nevertheless comes forward with
candidates who will continue or worsen the Court's dangerous course,
rejecting them by filibuster--even if vacancies remain for several
years--would then be a defensible remedy for the grievous wrong
represented by the Florida recount case.
Ackerman's characterization of Bush v. Gore as the Supreme
Court's conservative majority seeking, in effect, to choose its own
successors is a provocative syllogism, but in trying to translate that
point directly into a political strategy, he is too clever by half.
To the Editors:
If Democrats succeed in blocking all Bush
nominees for the Supreme Court, as suggested by Professor Ackerman,
what's to stop Republicans from calling or raising the ante by opposing
all cabinet or judicial nominees by the next Democratic administration?
Rather than declaring war, shouldn't each nominee be judged on his or
her own merit? Do we have to get in the mud to defeat Bush's agenda or
can progressives take the high road? I think it matters how we play the
game; I prefer the high road.
Bruce Ackerman responds:
By all means, let's take the high road. In
stopping the Florida vote count, the five-to-four majority in Bush v.
Gore took an action that was unprecedented, anti-democratic, and
without legal foundation. We should not reward them by allowing their
designate, George W. Bush, to project their five-to-four majority far
into the future. The Court should not be allowed to pack itself.
It is far better for Democrats to stand on this basic principle
than to attempt to defeat individual nominees by indulging in the
character assassination so prominent in the cases of Robert Bork and
Clarence Thomas and, more recently, Linda Chavez and John Ashcroft.
The present balance of power in Washington does not reflect the
balance of opinion on activist government among the electorate. A
half-million more citizens voted for Al Gore than for Bush, and if the
Court had not intervened, Gore might well have won in Florida. This is
not an incidental detail but a fundamental fact that distinguishes the
present situation from hypothetical scenarios in which Senate
Republicans seek to reject all nominees of future Democratic presidents.
The Republicans could only make use of my argument if some future
Democrat reached the White House through a similar power-play by the
Court--in which case, I wish them all the best in their courageous
defense of the separation of powers.
The Joy of Sects
To the Editors:
Let me add a historical note to Wendy Kaminer's
instructive article on faith-based programs ["The Joy of Sects,"
February 12, 2001]. The constitutionality of such programs was
challenged directly by President James Madison in 1811. In that year,
President Madison vetoed a bill passed by Congress that gave a charter
to an Episcopal church in the District of Columbia. The bill referred to
the church providing charity and education to the poor in the
neighborhood. In his veto, the president stated that this would violate
the First Amendment and "would be a precedent for giving to religious
societies as such a legal agency in carrying into effect a public and
Elmer S. Newman
To the Editors:
President Bush's effort to "rally the
armies of compassion" through direct grants to faith-based social
service providers has progressives worried about religion meddling with
government, and the religious right worried about government meddling
Fortunately, a superior approach to helping the poor exists that
avoids both concerns. Charitable tax credits would unleash a renaissance
in private giving. Likewise, volunteer tax credits would enable
businesses to give time off to employees for charity work, and pro bono
tax credits would permit professionals to assist charitable
organizations during a regular day's work. No government funds would
need to flow directly to religious activity under these proposals.
Michael B. Barkey
Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty
Grand Rapids, MI
Wendy Kaminer Responds:
Mr. Barkey is right that we don't need to
establish church-state partnerships in order to provide for poor people
or increase giving to private charities. And as long as we're talking
about tax policy, it's worth noting that religious groups already enjoy
considerable indirect government support in the form of tax exemptions.
(A few strict separationists find these exemptions objectionable, but
they do protect churches from the government, and I don't quarrel with
them.) It's also worth noting that Bush's proposal to eliminate estate
taxes is likely to reduce charitable giving greatly.
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