Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Legal Tender

This isn't an earth shattering topic (or even, truth be told, a particularly interesting one), but there's just enough of the would-be law professor in me to offer a gloss on Volokh's post today about people miffed because they can't use a c-note to pay for their $4 latte. Volokh thinks that once the merchant gives you the goods (e.g., you pump your gas, then go to pay), the merchant is obliged to accept whatever legal tender you proffer. I think it's somewhat different. A merchant offers goods, and it's up to her on what terms she'll sell them. So if she puts up a sign that says "no bills larger than $20", she's simply stating "I'll sell you guess, if you agree to pay me in full, using no bill larger than a $20 bill." You take the gas, you've accepted her offer, you pay like she asks. If she doesn't have a sign, so you're not on notice of her terms, different result. No time to research it, but I'm pretty sure that's how it plays (and it may be that's what Volokh meant, but I didn't read his post that way).

Monday, August 04, 2003

President Hatred

Josh Marshall over at Talking Points posits that the dynamics of the Bush-hating and Clinton-hating phenomena are remarkably similar. Drezner's given him partial props, agreeing that the animus is parallel.

Marshall and Drezner are a lot smarter than I, but I have to disagree. Bush-hatred and Clinton-hatred differ fundamentally in their genesis and their manifestations. The jihad against President Clinton was a revanchiste movement. The species of Republican politicos that ran it never accepted that what Richard Nixon did was wrong -- criminally, historically, constitution-destroyingly wrong. They saw Watergate as nothing more than a garden variety political witchhunt. When they seized control of Congress, they were bound and determined to get their own pound of flesh. Clinton could have shown them bloody holes in his palms, and they'd still have gone after him. It was sheer dumb luck that their victim was flawed enough in character to make their work easy.

The media, for their part, were forever changed by Watergate. For the first time in history, Watergate made the media players, not just reporters. It was like a first hit of heroin to them. There hasn't been a so much as a six-inch snowstorm since 1973 that the press hasn't used to try to feed its addiction to power. So when something as juicy as the anti-Clinton jihad came along, they could no more resist it than Janis Joplin could a bag of smack. Sadly, Janis succumbed, and the press (in their ugly, senseless-addict incarnation) are still with us.

And of course, they had a ready-made audience. If the Republican politicos felt a political animal's need to get back at their enemies for Watergate, they were not some mutant, inside-the-beltway species. From 1965 until 1995, Democrats controlled the Congress and the political agenda. (No matter that for 20 of those of those 30 years we had Republican presidents. It is by now commonly acknowledged that Nixon's policies were in the main far more liberal than anything today's conservatives would countenance, or anythign today's Democrats would dare propose). And the Supreme Court, despite not having a single new justice appointed by a democrat between Thurgood Marshall in 1967 and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993, left largely undisturbed, and in many senses extended the work of the Warren Court. So resentment and a feeling of disenfranchisement among the most conservative elements in our polity had been brewing before Clinton -- whether rightly or wrongly -- for more than a generation.

Turn now to Bush-hatred. It shares none of these characteristics. For one thing, Democrats in Congress and other positions of power don't really feel it, or if they do, don't express it. For another, although our hatred of Bush (and for that matter, Ronald Reagan, Henry Hyde, Asa Hutchison, and the rest) is quite intense, it has never had to fester all that long without correction. We had the Carter administration, eight years of Clinton, and even against the backdrop of a Supreme Court we're, er, not fond of, key victories in cases like Romer, Casey, Lawrence, Dickerson, and Grutter. And, as others have noted, Democrats simply do not have the same ability as Republicans to focus ruthlessly on the goal of destroying a man. They have Bob Barr and TomDeLay, Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter. We have Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt, MoDo and Anna Qundlen. No contest.

Drezner is right about one thing though: Clinton-hatred was not a powerful weapon for Republicans at the polls, and it won't win for Democrats in '04. Not that I know what will . . .