Commentary Magazine


Topic: Andrew Jackson

A Woman on the Twenty-Dollar Bill?

The left’s obsession with group identity politics has come up with the latest truly silly idea: taking Andrew Jackson off the twenty-dollar bill and substituting a woman. The “final four” are Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Wilma Mankiller.  Who is that, you ask?—as did I. Mankiller, it turns out, was the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation, from 1985 to 1995. Given the pervasive misandry of the feminist left, I don’t doubt that Chief Mankiller’s last name was a big plus in the election.

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The left’s obsession with group identity politics has come up with the latest truly silly idea: taking Andrew Jackson off the twenty-dollar bill and substituting a woman. The “final four” are Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Wilma Mankiller.  Who is that, you ask?—as did I. Mankiller, it turns out, was the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation, from 1985 to 1995. Given the pervasive misandry of the feminist left, I don’t doubt that Chief Mankiller’s last name was a big plus in the election.

Rosa Parks sparked a huge advance in the American civil rights movement by refusing to go to the back of the bus. And she and Harriet Tubman are both genuine American heroes. But can either even begin to compare in historical significance with, say, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, or even W. E. B. Du Bois? Of course not.

And while Eleanor Roosevelt is, by at least an order of magnitude, the most significant First Lady in American history, is she even in the same ballpark of historical significance as her husband? No, she is not, however admirable she was, which was admirable indeed.

The current portraits on American currency are Washington ($1), Jefferson (the rarely seen $2), Lincoln ($5), Hamilton ($10), Jackson ($20), Grant ($50) and Franklin ($100). Each one of these men is in the highest rank of the American political pantheon. This would be a very different country—if, indeed, it would ever have become a country—had one or more of them not existed.

No longer in circulation are McKinley ($500), Cleveland ($1,000), Madison ($5,000), Salmon P. Chase ($10,000) and Wilson ($100,000—only 32 were ever printed and they did not circulate outside of Federal Reserve Banks). Of these, only Madison is in the highest rank, and most people today, I imagine, have never heard of Salmon P. Chase. (He was Secretary of the Treasury under Lincoln and then Chief Justice from 1864 to 1873). So if Chase were to get the boot for Eleanor Roosevelt, that would be fine with me, but $10,000 bills have not circulated since 1969. (Personal note: As a child, perhaps ten years old, I went into a bank with my mother while she cashed a check or whatever and the teller showed me a $10,000 bill he had just received on deposit. I was duly impressed.)

I am distressed to have just found out that while the faces on U.S. coins is a matter for Congress, Congress in 1862 gave the Secretary of the Treasury the power to determine who appears on U.S. currency. (Salmon P. Chase promptly put his own face on the one-dollar greenback.). So President Obama has the power to replace Andrew Jackson with a woman, and with Obama, politics beats common sense every time.

If he does so, I have a suggestion. How about putting on the twenty-dollar bill the face of the most historically significant woman of the 20th century, Margaret Thatcher?

That’s a lot less silly than Wilma Mankiller.

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The Problem of Electing Judges

Tomorrow the U.S. Supreme Court will hold a hearing on whether the bans on candidates for judicial office in 30 states directly soliciting contributions violate the First Amendment. The New York Times this morning put the story on the front page and ran an editorial on the subject.

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Tomorrow the U.S. Supreme Court will hold a hearing on whether the bans on candidates for judicial office in 30 states directly soliciting contributions violate the First Amendment. The New York Times this morning put the story on the front page and ran an editorial on the subject.

Judges are elected, in one way or another, in 39 of the 50 states. In some states all judges are elected, in others only some are elected and others appointed. Some are elected in partisan elections, some are appointed but then face a retention election. You can see the particulars here.

The reasoning behind the bans is that if a judge or a candidate for a judgeship personally asks for a contribution, especially from lawyers or companies that might have a case before him, that sets up a quid that might at some future date produce a quo.

This is not just theoretical. As the Times reports:

In the 1970s, two justices of the Florida Supreme Court resigned after evidence emerged that they had tried to fix cases for contributors. A third stepped down when a gambling junket paid for by a litigant came to light. A fourth left the court in connection with a scandal including draft opinions ghostwritten by lobbyists.

But banning direct solicitations simply puts the problem at one remove. Instead of the judge asking for a contribution, his campaign manager (or his wife)  asks for it. The quid and the potential quo are still there.

The problem is in electing judges, a practice unknown outside the United States. It dates to the 1830s with the flowering of “Jacksonian democracy.” Andrew Jackson was a fierce anti-aristocrat and thought that one of the ways to dilute the power of the elite was for all public officials to be elected, including judges. The thoroughly Jacksonian New York State constitution of 1846 required the election of almost all public officials, from town clerks and receivers of taxes to the head of the prison system.

But town clerks and receivers of taxes are, well, clerks. They have important and responsible jobs but they don’t make policy; they execute it and should be responsible to the executive, not the electorate. The same is true of judges. They can’t promise to do this or that or the other thing if elected, they can only promise to be fair and impartial and to follow the law.

Federal judges are nominated by the president, confirmed by the Senate, and have life tenure. They can only be removed by impeachment. But in the whole history of the federal judiciary only eight judges have been impeached, convicted, and removed from office while another three resigned in the face of impeachment. That’s not a perfect record, to be sure, but it’s an impressive one, and far better than that of judges elected to office.

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Government Creates Wealth?

E.J. Dionne’s column touts Joe Biden’s newfound verve in defending American competitiveness. As Dionne puts it, at least Biden is done for now with defending the indefensible stimulus plan. He assures us that Biden is “more self-aware than people give him credit for.” Whatever. But Dionne then goes off the rails in a revealing bit of liberal demagoguery:

Beneath the predictable back-and-forth between Obama and his Republican adversaries over government spending lies a substantively important difference over how the United States can maintain its global leadership.

For Republicans, American power is rooted largely in military might and showing a tough and resolute face to the world. They would rely on tax cuts as the one and only spur to economic growth.

Obama, Biden and the Democrats, on the other hand, believe that American power depends ultimately on the American economy, and that government has an essential role to play in fostering the next generation of growth.

Republicans don’t care about economic growth? Just military might? Hard to see where he gets that, considering that the post-Reagan conservative movement and the Republican party have been devoted to market capitalism. Indeed, the slur on Republicans has been that all they cared about was wealth creation. Oh, but they are just interested in “tax cuts.” Well, that and free trade, modest regulation, legal reform, and other conditions that spur economic growth, investment, and wealth creation.

Dionne considers this all trivial or dim because he and liberals are convinced that government creates wealth, that public spending creates jobs, and that expansion of the public sector is the way to a brighter future. In fact, he congratulates the president for cheering on the competition in statism with other powers. In the State of the Union, Dionne recalls, the president vowed that no nation would get the jump on us when it comes to government programs. (“Meanwhile, China is not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany is not waiting. India is not waiting. These nations aren’t standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place. They’re putting more emphasis on math and science. They’re rebuilding their infrastructure. They’re making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.”)

Dionne gets one thing right, however: there is, indeed, a healthy debate to be had. The Obama budget, which presumably represents his economic vision, sees an ever-rising level of taxes and government spending (also debt because the taxes can’t keep pace with the spending). It includes many expensive programs liberals tell us will increase our competitiveness and spur growth — green jobs, federal education money, and the like.

Conservatives say this is a recipe for continuous high unemployment and low growth, and the experience of high-tax and high-spending countries is not one we want to replicate. Looking around the world and at our own recent past, there’s plenty of evidence that the liberal formula simply doesn’t work. We can become more like our Western European allies, but then we can expect employment, growth, and wealth creation to approximate those countries.

In addition to its economic shortcomings, Democrats might want to think twice about whether touting the wonders of lots of government is a winning economic message. As Michael Barone explains in his tour through the history of American populism:

[Americans] tend to believe that there is a connection between effort and reward and that people can work their way up economically. If people do something to earn their benefits, like paying Social Security taxes, that’s fine. But giving money to those who have not in some way earned it is a no-no. Moreover, like Andrew Jackson, most Americans suspect that some of the income that is redistributed will end up in the hands not of the worthy but of the well-connected. Last year Mr. Obama and his policy strategists seem to have assumed that the financial crisis and deep recession would make Americans look more favorably on big government programs. But it turns out that economic distress did not make us Western Europeans.

So if Biden now wants to become the official spokesman for the premise that “big government creates wealth,” I’m sure the Republicans would be delighted. They’d be even happier if every Democratic incumbent ran on that platform. But somehow I think they won’t get that lucky. Lawmakers are generally more “self-aware” than that.

E.J. Dionne’s column touts Joe Biden’s newfound verve in defending American competitiveness. As Dionne puts it, at least Biden is done for now with defending the indefensible stimulus plan. He assures us that Biden is “more self-aware than people give him credit for.” Whatever. But Dionne then goes off the rails in a revealing bit of liberal demagoguery:

Beneath the predictable back-and-forth between Obama and his Republican adversaries over government spending lies a substantively important difference over how the United States can maintain its global leadership.

For Republicans, American power is rooted largely in military might and showing a tough and resolute face to the world. They would rely on tax cuts as the one and only spur to economic growth.

Obama, Biden and the Democrats, on the other hand, believe that American power depends ultimately on the American economy, and that government has an essential role to play in fostering the next generation of growth.

Republicans don’t care about economic growth? Just military might? Hard to see where he gets that, considering that the post-Reagan conservative movement and the Republican party have been devoted to market capitalism. Indeed, the slur on Republicans has been that all they cared about was wealth creation. Oh, but they are just interested in “tax cuts.” Well, that and free trade, modest regulation, legal reform, and other conditions that spur economic growth, investment, and wealth creation.

Dionne considers this all trivial or dim because he and liberals are convinced that government creates wealth, that public spending creates jobs, and that expansion of the public sector is the way to a brighter future. In fact, he congratulates the president for cheering on the competition in statism with other powers. In the State of the Union, Dionne recalls, the president vowed that no nation would get the jump on us when it comes to government programs. (“Meanwhile, China is not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany is not waiting. India is not waiting. These nations aren’t standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place. They’re putting more emphasis on math and science. They’re rebuilding their infrastructure. They’re making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.”)

Dionne gets one thing right, however: there is, indeed, a healthy debate to be had. The Obama budget, which presumably represents his economic vision, sees an ever-rising level of taxes and government spending (also debt because the taxes can’t keep pace with the spending). It includes many expensive programs liberals tell us will increase our competitiveness and spur growth — green jobs, federal education money, and the like.

Conservatives say this is a recipe for continuous high unemployment and low growth, and the experience of high-tax and high-spending countries is not one we want to replicate. Looking around the world and at our own recent past, there’s plenty of evidence that the liberal formula simply doesn’t work. We can become more like our Western European allies, but then we can expect employment, growth, and wealth creation to approximate those countries.

In addition to its economic shortcomings, Democrats might want to think twice about whether touting the wonders of lots of government is a winning economic message. As Michael Barone explains in his tour through the history of American populism:

[Americans] tend to believe that there is a connection between effort and reward and that people can work their way up economically. If people do something to earn their benefits, like paying Social Security taxes, that’s fine. But giving money to those who have not in some way earned it is a no-no. Moreover, like Andrew Jackson, most Americans suspect that some of the income that is redistributed will end up in the hands not of the worthy but of the well-connected. Last year Mr. Obama and his policy strategists seem to have assumed that the financial crisis and deep recession would make Americans look more favorably on big government programs. But it turns out that economic distress did not make us Western Europeans.

So if Biden now wants to become the official spokesman for the premise that “big government creates wealth,” I’m sure the Republicans would be delighted. They’d be even happier if every Democratic incumbent ran on that platform. But somehow I think they won’t get that lucky. Lawmakers are generally more “self-aware” than that.

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The Harvard Law Review Must Be Aghast

In the ongoing debate over Obama’s attack on the Supreme Court, the president seems not to be faring all that well. Politico’s forum on the subject contains a range of criticisms. They fall into several categories.

First, it was arrogant and careless of Obama to call out the Supreme Court — and not get his facts right. Dan Perino observes: “Misrepresenting a complicated legal opinion is dicey — but doing so in a prime-time address to a nation where the authors of that opinion are in the front row leaves you rightly exposed to criticism.” The president and his minions have gotten used to their sheltered existence and being immune to criticism. You can almost hear them reassuring themselves, “It’s not like one of the justices is going to object!” Well, he did, and that’s what comes from assuming the president can be cavalier with the truth.

Second, it was rude to berate the Court in public, treating the justices as errant political functionaries rather than interpreters of the Constitution. Larry J. Sabato, hardly a fire-breathing conservative, makes some unfavorable comparisons:

Mr. Obama’s blunt attack on the Court’s ruling, with the members sitting in front of him, was no doubt stunning and unsettling to some, and it contradicted his frequent calls for bipartisanship and civility. It also reminded me of President Andrew Jackson’s remark that, “Chief Justice Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it.” Others may have remembered Massive Resistance and the disrespect shown to earlier Courts when they made unpopular rulings about race.

And third, Obama is playing with fire — and talking nonsense when he dares Congress to “respond” to a First Amendment ruling with legislation. This was not a statutory interpretation — as was the Equal Pay Act, which begat the Lilly Ledbetter legislation — that is amenable to a legislative fix. In such a case, the Court says, “We think the statute says X.” The Congress is then free to say, “No, we really meant Y, and here’s the amended law to make that explicit.” What sort of legislative response would there be to “The First Amendment does not permit limits on corporations and unions exercising core political speech”? Boston College law professor Richard Albert explains:

By emphatically urging Congress to pass a bill reversing what he views as the Supreme Court’s misguided judgment–“a bill that helps to right this wrong,” in the President’s own words–the President undermined two sacred institutions in American constitutional government: the separation of powers and judicial independence.

A University of Virginia Law School professor asks whether Obama is seriously entertaining the view that Congress should “challenge the Supreme Court’s ruling and its constitutional interpretive supremacy.” We don’t know, because Obama, one suspects, doesn’t take what he’s saying seriously. He’s simply inciting the mob.

In all this, one thing is rather clear: Obama has harmed himself. In playing fast and loose with the facts and the law, he has diminished not the Court but himself. He seems to prefer Huey Long to Lawrence Tribe as his role model. His elite university pals and media sycophants who marveled at his Harvard-honed intellect and supposed temperamental superiority must be shuddering.

In the ongoing debate over Obama’s attack on the Supreme Court, the president seems not to be faring all that well. Politico’s forum on the subject contains a range of criticisms. They fall into several categories.

First, it was arrogant and careless of Obama to call out the Supreme Court — and not get his facts right. Dan Perino observes: “Misrepresenting a complicated legal opinion is dicey — but doing so in a prime-time address to a nation where the authors of that opinion are in the front row leaves you rightly exposed to criticism.” The president and his minions have gotten used to their sheltered existence and being immune to criticism. You can almost hear them reassuring themselves, “It’s not like one of the justices is going to object!” Well, he did, and that’s what comes from assuming the president can be cavalier with the truth.

Second, it was rude to berate the Court in public, treating the justices as errant political functionaries rather than interpreters of the Constitution. Larry J. Sabato, hardly a fire-breathing conservative, makes some unfavorable comparisons:

Mr. Obama’s blunt attack on the Court’s ruling, with the members sitting in front of him, was no doubt stunning and unsettling to some, and it contradicted his frequent calls for bipartisanship and civility. It also reminded me of President Andrew Jackson’s remark that, “Chief Justice Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it.” Others may have remembered Massive Resistance and the disrespect shown to earlier Courts when they made unpopular rulings about race.

And third, Obama is playing with fire — and talking nonsense when he dares Congress to “respond” to a First Amendment ruling with legislation. This was not a statutory interpretation — as was the Equal Pay Act, which begat the Lilly Ledbetter legislation — that is amenable to a legislative fix. In such a case, the Court says, “We think the statute says X.” The Congress is then free to say, “No, we really meant Y, and here’s the amended law to make that explicit.” What sort of legislative response would there be to “The First Amendment does not permit limits on corporations and unions exercising core political speech”? Boston College law professor Richard Albert explains:

By emphatically urging Congress to pass a bill reversing what he views as the Supreme Court’s misguided judgment–“a bill that helps to right this wrong,” in the President’s own words–the President undermined two sacred institutions in American constitutional government: the separation of powers and judicial independence.

A University of Virginia Law School professor asks whether Obama is seriously entertaining the view that Congress should “challenge the Supreme Court’s ruling and its constitutional interpretive supremacy.” We don’t know, because Obama, one suspects, doesn’t take what he’s saying seriously. He’s simply inciting the mob.

In all this, one thing is rather clear: Obama has harmed himself. In playing fast and loose with the facts and the law, he has diminished not the Court but himself. He seems to prefer Huey Long to Lawrence Tribe as his role model. His elite university pals and media sycophants who marveled at his Harvard-honed intellect and supposed temperamental superiority must be shuddering.

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The More Things Change …

I was reading a textbook history of the United States and noticed this ditty composed by the British after the U.S. started running into debt problems following the Panic of 1837:

Yankee Doodle borrows cash,
Yankee Doodle spends it,
And then 
he snaps his fingers at
The jolly flat that lends it.

Ouch.

President Andrew Jackson had implemented several policies designed to benefit, or so he believed, the common man. Perhaps well-intentioned, his policies, combined with a wheat failure, nevertheless led to the Panic of 1837 and ultimately hurt that very same common man by making it more difficult for him to access capital.

After the Panic, the country, with its expanding transportation system and business growth, fell deeply in debt to the British. When several states defaulted on that debt, the Brits were understandably furious.

I wonder what kids will be reading in textbooks 20 years from now — and whether they’ll need to know Mandarin to get the joke.

I was reading a textbook history of the United States and noticed this ditty composed by the British after the U.S. started running into debt problems following the Panic of 1837:

Yankee Doodle borrows cash,
Yankee Doodle spends it,
And then 
he snaps his fingers at
The jolly flat that lends it.

Ouch.

President Andrew Jackson had implemented several policies designed to benefit, or so he believed, the common man. Perhaps well-intentioned, his policies, combined with a wheat failure, nevertheless led to the Panic of 1837 and ultimately hurt that very same common man by making it more difficult for him to access capital.

After the Panic, the country, with its expanding transportation system and business growth, fell deeply in debt to the British. When several states defaulted on that debt, the Brits were understandably furious.

I wonder what kids will be reading in textbooks 20 years from now — and whether they’ll need to know Mandarin to get the joke.

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