Good President, Bad President

Schizophrenia in the White House.

Barack Obama has postponed his Australia trip to lobby for health care, and if Christina Bellantoni has it right, the President is really putting the pedal to the metal:

Democratic leaders and President Obama have mounted a major persuasion campaign, trying to get the party on board with the all-speed-ahead push on health care reform legislation. They are offering wavering members – who voted “No” the first time around or are thinking to switch and oppose health care this time – in-person talks with the president and are walking members through how health care reform would help constituents in each lawmaker’s district.

Better late than never, and the President has a superb sense of political timing: he’s pushing when he needs to. 

At least sometimes.  As the Los Angeles Times notes today,  the administration has been pathetically lax and inattentive on filling judicial appointments.  A good chunk of that derives, of course, from the GOP’s scorched-earth policy, but it is also true that

Key slots stand without nominees, including two on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the body that reviews decisions by federal agencies and a court that is considered second in importance only to the Supreme Court. Federal judicial vacancies nationwide have mushroomed to well over 100, with two dozen more expected before the end of the year. To date, the Obama administration has nominees for just 52 of those slots, and only 17 have been confirmed.

“It’s just a missed opportunity,” laments Geoffrey Stone, a professor at the University of Chicago who has known Obama since he lectured at the school. “I don’t know how committed he is to it.” Stone was one of a dozen law professors from schools including Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Stanford who sent Obama a letter late last month urging him to act with “far more energy and dispatch” on the issue.

But of course this latter dereliction of duty isn’t happening, because Obama is a political genius who never makes mistakes and must never be criticized.

By the way, Mark, you can get a good deal on the necessary accessories here.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

14 thoughts on “Good President, Bad President”

  1. Some questions from a knee-jerk Obama apologist:

    1) How many more judicial seats do you think we would have filled by now if the president had nominated more people? As a percentage of the currently-unfilled seats, I'd say about 5% or less just based on how he's doing with senior treasury officials and the like.

    2) If you agree that we wouldn't have many, if any, more judges in place now if the president had done his duty, are you upset because you think this is an important fight that needs to be had?

    3) Do you buy the "presidential attention budget constraint" theory that paying lots of attention to one thing leaves less time for other things? (This idea is used a lot to say the president shouldn't have pursued health care reform because it leaves less time for him to work on the economy). What do you think the president should have had staff spend less time on at the expense of selecting and pushing judicial nominees? What do you think the president should have spent less political capital (and bully pulpit powers?) on at the expense of selecting and pushing judicial nominees?

  2. 1. I think you are wrong. I think most would have gotten filled as there is a limit to the Senatorial Obstruction attention budget.

    2. I don't agree, but even taking this as a strawman. You can't fight if you haven't laid the groundwork.

    3. The President has wasted time in not looking at the big picture and misunderstanding his enemy. He acts like Progressives are the people who need to be ignored and the Republicans need to be negotiated with. Wouldn't you say that's pretty much bassackwards?

  3. elliotg:

    1) you make a good point about the potential "limit to the Senatorial Obstruction attention budget." I think that the GOP would try much harder to obstruct judges than senior treasury officials, so I maintain that we would have about the same amount of judges with or without the president working harder on judicial nominations. But maybe we would have more senior treasury officials now if the president forced the GOP to spend their obstructionism energies on judges! Then again, maybe the GOP has unlimited obstructionist capacity and this is still all moot.

    2) fair enough.

    3) You're basically saying "the president would have more time for epic battles with the GOP if he spent less time negotiating with the GOP." You're probably right. Only time will tell if all this "appearing to take Republicans seriously" thing bears fruit in the long run, but it certainly doesn't do much good in the short run. I want to believe that it will help in the long run, but then again I'm a knee-jerk Obama apologist.

  4. Jonathan, your link brings up a Cavaliers uniform. Aren't Mark and I supposed to be in the tank for the Roundheads?

  5. I see no evidence of a "Senatorial Obstruction attention budget" constraint. The binding constraint is the Senate agenda. Given the will to block "everything", the Republicans only have to be available for every motion, vote, etc. which they are already. It's no harder to obstruct a list of 100 judges than it is to obstruct a list of 5.

  6. There's clearly a threshold issue here: You just don't have standing to complain about the non-confirmation of nominees who didn't get nominated, no matter HOW morally certain you are they'd have been obstructed. Obama had a serious lack of executive branch experience going into the White house, and this is one area where it shows.

  7. What Brett Bellmore said.

    Also, Ano: I don't believe any president in the past hundred years, including this one, has spent more than a negligible amount of time thinking about appointments to the district or circuit courts. The Supremes, yes, but they're not worried about that right now. (Though I hope they're planning ahead.) District and circuit court appointments are presumably arrived at by mid-level staffers in consultation with home-state Congresscritters; it consumes essentially no Presidential attention at all.

  8. Hey! You can't say anything remotely critical of Mark! This is a liberal blog, and that means total intellectual conformity. Why, just the other night, Bux said, "I know you liberals can’t handle criticism or intellectual debate. So yes, go ahead, censor me off this site. I forgot that censorship is what you liberals are all about. What a joke. This is nothing but a big group-think."

    This was at 7:37 on March 13, under the "You thought Red Blogistan couldn’t go any lower" heading. That was barely 48 hours ago. You may claim to be one "Jonathan Zasloff," but I think you are a hacker who has broken into this site. The RBC needs to boost its security firewalls.

  9. I'd add that if people were nominated, Obama and the Dem leadership could make a big stink about 'up or down votes'. Since they're not nominated, that option has been lost.

    The thing that irritates me is that nominating people is not a big time and energy suck for a president; he's got people to do that.

  10. I see what you mean! We need a man like David Sutch in this country. A strong leader who will rule with an iron fist and crush his enemies and chastise with an iron rod anyone who thinks deviant thoughts and who will liquidate all parasites!

  11. Neither does it detract from the same. You want to complain about nominees not being confirmed, you've got to nominate them. And, no matter what you might thing Obama's merits were as a candidate, extensive executive branch experience wasn't among them.

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