Wednesday, July 17, 2024

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Stray Thoughts

Has Biden put us in another Ruth Bader Ginsburg mess?


Do you remember that phrase our nation’s founders wrote in the preamble to the Constitution 237 years ago? The one about forming a more perfect union?

We have hit some speed bumps in that quest, a couple that would rattle your teeth. I wonder when, and how, or if, we are going to get back on the road.

Consider these potholes our nation has banged into on that road to a more perfect union:

President Joe Biden, in front of a television audience in the tens of millions, stumbled and stammered and had his train of thought rumble off the tracks in one of the most embarrassing performances since I was told to sing a solo in front of my classmates in fourth grade.

Donald Trump, the president’s opponent in that debate two weeks ago, had trouble uttering a truthful statement — except when he stated, “I really don’t know what he said at the end of that sentence. I don’t think he knows what he said, either.”

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Democrats were beside themselves afterward. Some dismissed President Biden’s halting performance as the effects of a bad cold or lingering jet lag. Others pooh-poohed Biden’s “We finally beat Medicare” nonsequitur and said it is more important for voters to remember all Joe Biden has accomplished in his life’s work in government service.

But others were wondered whether we are seeing a new version of the lasting consequences of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s decision to put off her retirement from the Supreme Court while Barack Obama was president and Democrats controlled the Senate. 

RBG’s health became more precarious, with another bout with cancer taking over, after that decision and the 2016 election. She died in 2020 at age 87, leaving the selection of her replacement to Donald Trump, not Obama.

Back to those speed bumps on the road to a more perfect union: The nation encountered a couple of them in recent weeks at the Supreme Court. One involved corruption by government employees. The other involved presidential immunity.

The court ruled public corruption laws do not apply to gifts and payments meant to reward state and local government officials for the actions they take. The court said those anti-corruption laws apply to bribes paid to government officials before they act, not to “gratuities” they receive after the fact.

The decision came in the case of the mayor of Portage, Ind. A jury found him guilty of accepting a $13,000 check from a truck company for supposed consulting services he rendered to the company when it was awarded contracts worth $1 million from the city for five new garbage trucks.

Where I come from in southern Iowa, no one expects nor desires teachers be prosecuted as criminals for accepting a bouquet of flowers or a small gift card from the appreciative parents of a student. But where I come from, Joe and Jane Citizen do not see such token gifts in the same light as they see gifts valued at tens of thousands of dollars.
And I do not think Joe and Jane Citizen see any difference between a gift made to a government official *before* a decision is made and a gift that is made *after* that decision.

The court’s majority said a fair-minded reading of the corruption statute would leave reasonable doubt in the public’s mind about whether an action like that involving the Portage mayor was corrupt or not. As a result, the decision said, the court should err on the side of the person charged with a crime.

And then there was the Supreme Court’s decision in the case brought by Trump, who asserted he had absolute presidential immunity from criminal prosecution. Although nothing in our nation’s founding documents speaks of presidents being above the law, the court decided 6-3 that presidents do have absolute immunity for laws broken in carrying out their official duties. 

The court concluded presidents enjoy no immunity for their unofficial actions. But the justices said prosecutors cannot use testimony or records about any official actions by a president, even if that evidence might aid prosecution of a president’s unofficial acts.

This is another jarring speed bump on the road to a more perfect union. This is another reason to pour a tumbler of Maalox and wonder what a second Trump presidential term might be like, especially with his friends at the Heritage Foundation laying out a roadmap of new laws and executive orders for him called Project 2025.

My friends are not asserting Joe Biden’s first term has been problem free. They mention their concerns about his response to the war between Hamas and Israel or to his delayed actions to deal with the flood of immigrants coming across our southern border.

But my friends also mention Biden’s missed opportunities during the debate to clearly explain the relationship between high consumer prices and record-breaking corporate profits and the connection between workers’ frustrations over paltry wage increases and those blockbuster corporate profits and compensation packages for corporate executives. My Democratic friends also point to the Project 2025 goals of cutting Medicare and Social Security benefits, ending same-sex marriages, banning emergency contraceptives, among many significant changes in the nation’s laws.

My Democratic friends remind me of the television ad former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney recorded for his daughter Liz’s re-election campaign two years ago. The elder Cheney, as conservative as they come, said, “In our nation’s 246-year history, there has never been an individual who is a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump.”

That is why some Democrats wonder whether Biden’s insistence he alone is best equipped to take on Trump in November worrying this is theIr party’s new Ruth Bader Ginsburg lapse of judgment moment.

We will not know until it is too late, unfortunately. ♦


Randy Evans can be reached at

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Summer Stir - July 2024