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November 5, 2012

Which Prez candidate should a single-issue, federal-sentencing-reform voter support?

I ask this question with a serious interest in encouraging a serious (and respectful) discussion of whether folks think either of the two fellows seeking to be the US President over the next four years is likely to get behind and seek to move forward with federal sentencing reforms. 

If time permits late tonight, I will update this post to explain why I truly am not sure if there is an obvious answer to which candidate is more likely over the next four years to be interested and able to engender serious federal sentencing reform.  In the meantime, let me hear readers thoughts only hours before the final day for voting begins.

November 5, 2012 at 06:04 PM | Permalink


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I want Obama to be president, I would hope to see him commute the sentences of crack defendants not able to take advantage of the FSA. Though his track record is extremely poor for this.

Posted by: Lacy | Nov 5, 2012 6:35:31 PM

"Which Prez candidate should a single-issue, federal-sentencing-reform voter support?"

Romney, although I am not urging and could not urge anyone to vote for Romney on that account.

David Brooks, the NYT's favorite mushy Republcan columnist, made an interesting point the other day. Brooks, who backed Obama last time, tepidly endorsed Romney this time, on the grounds that only Romney has a chance to break the partisan gridlock in Washington.

I mostly agree with that. Obama rammed through Obamacare on a Democrats-only vote, and the Repbulicans were justifiably furious. In other ways as well, Obama is a polarizing figure, the most polarizing President since Nixon, according to the polls.

We are going to see basically the same Congress next year we saw this year: The Repubs will control the House and the Dems, in all likelihood, the Senate. If Obama is re-elected, his certain-to-be close margin will not incline the Repubs to cooperate with him more in the future than they have up to now; indeed, it will be the opposite. So we'll just get more of the same, i.e, gridlock.

Romney will not be a polarizing President. He's a somewhat bland, centrist type. The chances of getting any kind of sentencing reform done are next to zero no matter who winds up winning (the public just isn't that interested), but are slightly greater with a guy who, as governor, had to work with a legislature dominated by the other party, and had his share of successes.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 5, 2012 6:55:21 PM

Actually, if one cared only about sentencing and criminal justice, many of the so-called "third party" candidates would offer real alternatives, from Jill Stein to Virgil Goode. That's not an endorsement of any of those candidates, but they seem more interested in challenging the status quo than the Republicans and Democrats. Meanwhile, President Obama and Governor Romney don't seem to have any real interest in the issue.

Posted by: C.E. | Nov 5, 2012 8:04:58 PM

I want to argue with the question, for two reasons: 1) maybe the current, post-Booker federal sentencing system is "as good as it gets" in the federal system; 2) sentencing geeks should also care about what each candidate would do with the next Supreme Court openings, but for reasons related to Bill Otis's comments, I think both candidates will probably chose to -- or be forced to -- nominate centrist jurists. As for the thrust of Bill's comments: surprise -- he thinks we should vote for Romney. Geez, Bill, couldn't you at least come up with some reasons that don't sound like Repub talking points? If we're going to go down that road, however, here are some views from the other side. First of all, what "polls" say Obama is "the most polarizing president since Nixon"? (who, by the way, would never get the Repub nomination today - 'way too liberal). Obama actually remains fairly popular, notwithstanding the slow economic recovery. That's partly because lots of people believe Obama tried to work with the Repubs in Congress (Democrats are pretty sure Repubs refused to work with Obama so they could make him a one-term president). The Repubs wouldn't compromise on the deficit, or even on healthcare (what's come to be known as Obamacare was originally a conservative idea, and of course, it's very similar to Romney's Massachusetts plan). If Romney qualifies as a "centrist," so does Obama -- if Obama loses it may very well be because he wasn't liberal enough to satisfy a lot of the people who voted for him four years ago. And even if Romney is personally a centrist (despite all the "severely conservative" things he said to get the nomination, not to mention his running-mate choice), some folks from Massachusetts have a very different recollection of how well he worked with the Democrats in the legislature. Still, it may be true that Democrats will work more cooperatively with Romney than Repubs will work with Obama -- Paul Krugman calls that protection-racket politics: vote for us and we won't trash the country.

Posted by: R.F. | Nov 6, 2012 12:33:12 AM

R.F. --

"First of all, what "polls" say Obama is "the most polarizing president since Nixon"?


"Obama actually remains fairly popular, notwithstanding the slow economic recovery."

His approval rating is 50% -- not good, not bad. A little more than 54% think the country is headed in the wrong direction.

"That's partly because lots of people believe Obama tried to work with the Repubs in Congress (Democrats are pretty sure Repubs refused to work with Obama so they could make him a one-term president)."

Oh, sure. Harry, Barry and Scary rammed through Obamacare on a Democrats-only vote, after literally locking Republicans out of the markup. There was something bi-partisan about Obamacare, however -- the opposition.

And why should Republicans "work with" Obama to do things they think are wrong? If Romney wins, should Dems "work with" him to renew all the Bush tax cuts (98% of which the Dems have now discovered are a good thing)?

As you know and intend, you're using the phrase "work with" as a euphemism for "cave in to." Nice try, though.

"If Romney qualifies as a "centrist," so does Obama."

Really? Did Romney have the most liberal voting record in the Senate? Not exactly -- but Obama did.

Obama got the Democratic nomination to start with by running to the left of Hillary, who is a mainstream Democrat. The idea that Obama is a centrist is nuts. Meanwhile, the whole objection to Romney in the Republican primaries was -- guess what -- that he was too centrist.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 6, 2012 9:06:54 AM

I think R.F. makes some good points but don't think Romney will be forced to pick centrists unless we consider Roberts and Alito centrists, which I guess some do. Alito replaced O'Connor and on a number of issues shifted things rightward. O'Connor was a compromising swing vote so if anyone would require a compromise choice, it would be her. Nope. Dems won't filibuster a nominee. There will be enough for whatever reason to make that a no go, especially given the number of conservative leaning Dems or Dems who are uncomfortable filibustering in such a situation if the person is only opposed on ideological grounds. Plus, like Thomas, even if Ginsburg is being replaced, you can imagine some conservative women being chosen, with a nice personal history, and Dems will be hardpressed to block her even if the vote might be close.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 6, 2012 9:20:46 AM

Also, though how this goes in this area is unclear (Scalia and Alito vote differently in this context at times), Romney is surely likely to choose mainly conservative lower court judges. Some subset will be delayed or block & Dems might have a few victories regarding some "stars" chosen, but overall, lots will get thru. And, particularly given it is an important way to support the base, many of them will be conservative picks.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 6, 2012 9:24:06 AM

"First of all, what "polls" say Obama is "the most polarizing president since Nixon"?


If you look past the headline and read, you'll see that polarization among the electorate is increasing as a historical matter, irrespective of who is president. And, GW Bush had the top three most polarizing years. Obama had the most polarizing 3rd year in office. If he wins, obviously his 4th, 5th, remaining years are yet to be polled. But, you statement that Obama is the most polarizing is clearly undermined by your link, which in fact shows that GW Bush had the top 3 slots for most polarizing years.

Posted by: Anon1 | Nov 6, 2012 9:53:26 AM

Apparently, GW Bush was the most polarizing president in US history - that is just one more dubious legacy Bush left for his successor.

Posted by: C | Nov 6, 2012 10:25:08 AM

One more thing - the polling only dates to 1953. It seems to me clear that Abraham Lincoln was the most polarizing president in American history as 11 states chose succession over remaining in the Union under his presidency, even though neither Lincoln nor the new Republican Party posed any threat to slavery in the states where slavery was practiced.

Posted by: C | Nov 6, 2012 11:39:52 AM

C --

But I never said Obama was the most polarizing President "in American history." I said he's the most polarizing since Nixon, and, if you look at current numbers, he is.

I notice that you wisely choose not to try to buttress any of R.F.'s numerous other assertions. Don't you want to tell us how Obamacare was, you know, bi-partisan? No?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 6, 2012 11:53:46 AM

There were various ways in which a Republican Administration might pose a threat to slavery such as allowing anti-slavery publications in the mails, nominating judges like McLean or Curtis who would give blacks or putative slaves limited protections in the federal courts, weakening fugitive slave laws to some extent, outlawing slavery in the territories which would have some affect in slave states (one reason they were so concerned about the issue) and so forth.

A national party promoting the idea that slavery is wrong would in practice do that too, particularly (see writings of Don Fehrenbacher) when the federal government was in practice more pro-slavery than the Constitution required.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 6, 2012 11:54:04 AM

Anon1, remember that the ever charming Bill Otis is a Republican Hack who therefore is obligated to pretend as if the years from 2001 to 2009 did not exist. That also includes the initial days of the Obama Administration when several prominent Republicans announced that they hope that hte country fails so that they can get rid of Obama and many Republicans pledged to vote against everything that President Obama recommended even Republican ideas like Obamacare. They hate the fact that a Black man was elected president so much that they hope the country fails rather than him getting any improvement. Apparently that also explains why Republicans are ignoring Romneycare which is as far as i can tell the only positive thing which Mitt Romney actually accomplished as Governor of Massachusetts.

As for the question, the fact is that both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are corporate controlled marionettes who take a fundamentaly conservative mindset (and note that is conservative meaning basically invested as continuing the status quo and not having major changes not politically conservative). Thus realistically there will be no major changes either way in something as fundamental as the criminal justice system. Both are fully invested in the drug war, the death penalty, and the lock everyone up and throw away the key mindset. Same with tax policy - both have bought into the low taxes for the rich and cutting budgets on the back of the poor. Both have bought into the socialism of risk which characterizes the modern corporate state where incomptent businesses are bailed out at tax payer expense because heaven forbid some incompetent CEO has to lose his golden parachute.

The fact is that it has long been official that anyone who has different ideas about anything in this country is regulated to minor party status or fringe candidates who has no status. i'm sure that Gary Johnson and whoever the Green Party candidate is actually have some ideas about the Criminal Justice system - i've heard that former Gov. Johnson is in favor of reforming the drug laws and legalizing marijuana but honestly i know very little about his positions. i didn't even know that the Green Party still existed until i saw their candidate on the ballot this morning when i voted. Really, its true, if you actually have ideas about anything in this country you are regulated to the fringe.

Sure there are some small changes - maybe Mitt will go a bit easier on corporate crooks but whatever - the criminal justice system will be basically the same. Now, this is not to dismiss the importance of the small things - any thought i might have had about learning what the Green Party stands for and maybe voting for them or simply writing in Eugene V. Debs out of sheer protest with how pathetic the corporate backed candidates we are offered in this country are disappeared when the Republicans made it clear that they view women as second class citizens. i may not expect much from Obama other than a continuation of the depressing status quo in many areas including criminal sentencing but at least he doesn't think i should remain barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

Erika :)

Posted by: Erika | Nov 6, 2012 11:58:52 AM

Bill, all you are doing is proving how ignorant you are. The Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare) was essentially the same law which Richard Nixon proposed way before i was born. The individual mandate idea was first proposed by the Heritage Foundation. In fact, the Affordable Care Act is entirely a market based solution which in its entirely was initially proposed by Republicans and incorporated many ideas not only from Heritage but from other right wing think tanks. President Obama also specifically added proposals to his bill that were recommended by Republican Congressmen. The largest health insurance and health care providers largely wrote the law. Mitt Romney ran for President in 2008 proposing that very same law.

The fact it there really is nothing bipartisan about the Afforable Care ACt - in actuality it was almost entirely a Republican bill. Most liberals wanted and still want a single payer system which entirely eliminates private insurance companies. The market based solution from the so called Obamacare is a conservative bill designed by conservatives.

Posted by: Erika | Nov 6, 2012 12:19:39 PM

True, on closer look, that particular polling only dates to 1953 and you did say "since Nixon." However, when I look at the numbers - at least the numbers related in the article you cite, Bill, it seems clear to me that GW Bush in his 4th term is the most polarizing president since 1953 (or, since Nixon). What am I missing?

Also, I generally don't read writers unfamiliar with the concept of the paragraph.

Posted by: C | Nov 6, 2012 12:26:38 PM

Erika --

"The fact i[s] there really is nothing bipartisan about the Afforable Care ACt - in actuality it was almost entirely a Republican bill."

To the board: Behold Erika, who lectures that I am "ignorant"! Far out. But, uh, the "almost entirely Republican bill" was voted for by zero Republicans and supported only by the votes of Democrats.

Ummm, C, Joe, R.F., do you have any comment on Erika's 100% inversion of the truth?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 6, 2012 12:50:44 PM

"But, uh, the "almost entirely Republican bill" was voted for by zero Republicans and supported only by the votes of Democrats."

Clearly, what Erika wrote was that the details of the bill were details that Republicans in the past had supported. That is the reason why she called it an "almost entirely Republican bill." She did not call it that because of the vote total. Obviously. But when your filter is so clouded, what is obvious is not clear.

Posted by: anon1 | Nov 6, 2012 2:31:37 PM

anon1 --

A bill that was championed by Obama, pushed by the Democrats, opposed (with a promised effort to repeal if elected) by the current Republican candidate, passed with only Democratic votes and uniformly opposed by every Republican in Congress cannot FOR ANY REASON be called "an almost entirely Republican bill" unless language has lost all meaning.

As for the "details in the bill," have you read all 2700 pages so that you'd know the "details"? Of course you haven't. But you're in good company. Does anyone think Obama bothered to read it either?

Not that I blame him for taking a pass. After all, as Speaker Pelosi insisted, in one of the most hilarious and unintentionally revealing remarks I ever heard in public life, we can find out what's in it after we pass it.

Far out!

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 6, 2012 3:03:25 PM

Bill, you are simply adorable in your parroting of Fox News talking points.

All i have to say that if you believe that Mitt Romney will actually work for the repeal of Romneycare i have a very lovely bridge over the East River to sell you. Oh sure, the Republicans will repeal the provisions protecting women's access to birth control to satisfy the religious right and likely make it even more of a giveaway to the private businesses to provide health insurance to their employees, insurance companies, and health care providers - but the fact is that Mitt Romney has actually promised that if elected he will keep almost all of the Affordable Care Act.

And its not like internal consistency has ever been a goal of the right. Does anyone remember that according to the REpublicans deficits didn't matter between 2001 and 2009? Just watch, if Mitt Romney gets elected, Romneycare (which will be essentially the exact same bill minus birth control coverage) will be the greatest thing since sliced bread and deficits will not matter.

Posted by: Erika | Nov 6, 2012 3:56:33 PM

"100% inversion of the truth?"

You aren't ever charming?

Posted by: Joe | Nov 6, 2012 4:50:47 PM

Bill is simply not used to hearing statements like that from a young lady, i believe :)

Posted by: Erika | Nov 6, 2012 4:53:28 PM

Erika --

You know from beans what the Republicans will do, since you get your take on them from parroting Mother Jones.

Still, I do have one question. If you know of any reason why the taxpayers should have to foot the bill for Sandra Fluke's birth control, I'm all ears.

Ms. Fluke's sex life is none of my business, and neither is how she gets her birth control. Can you think of any way she might be persuaded to stop asking other people to pay her bills for her?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 6, 2012 4:56:29 PM

Joe --

My charm, such as it may or may not be, is strictly an ad hominem topic, and has zip to do with Erika's assertion that Obamacare is, to quote her, "an almost entirely Republican bill."

I'm saying that assertion is false. Are you saying it's true?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 6, 2012 5:05:05 PM

This is just like playing Whac-A-Mole. Don'tcha think?

Posted by: C | Nov 6, 2012 5:05:37 PM

C --

You have a point. Still, if the left is going to say absurdities like Obamacare is "almost entirely Republican bill," I would be foolish to pass up the opportunity to highlight what this says about their credibility.

It's just amazing that I'm the only one on here calling out such nonsense for what it is. Any sensible liberal, or indeed any sensible anyone, would join me, but apparently it's not to be.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 6, 2012 5:49:27 PM

"100% inversion of the truth?"

Since a keystone aspect WAS a Republican idea, no, it's not 100% off.

Charles Grassley once noted there was agreement with 80% of the bill. It surely isn't ALL Republican, but her comment has some truth to it. BTW, Republicans did vote for many amendments to the bill.

Rhetorical overkill on both sides. You two should try a Hepburn/Tracy skit.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 6, 2012 5:55:00 PM

Bill, it seems to me that you and Erika are talking about two different things - you seem to be addressing the partisan divide in the ACA Congressional vote; she seems to be talking about the ACA's origins in a conservative Heritage Foundation working paper, brought to life in the Republican-sponsored Health Equity and Access Reform Today Act of 1993. See http://tinyurl.com/778v2lz.

So, who is right? It seems to me that you both are.

Posted by: C | Nov 6, 2012 6:56:55 PM

Unfortunatley bill. i have to give the other side this one. Since obamacare is a 80-90% copy of the crap romeny passed as gov ....he's got to take credit for this one.... The dims (this was an accurate missspell) may have stole it...But it was his ideal.

Posted by: rodsmith | Nov 6, 2012 7:09:30 PM

Joe --

"BTW, Republicans did vote for many amendments to the bill."

Yup, they voted for what are known as killer amendments or poison pills -- amendments designed to sink it. Your implication that they voted for amendments designed to assist its passage is incorrect.

Wanna tell me what my "charm" has to do with it? Was that anything other than an ad hominem?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 6, 2012 8:36:39 PM

Bill, I didn't "imply" anything except that they voted for lots of amendments, in no way all of them "poison pill" amendments, and whatever the point of them, some of them passed. So, the Rs voted on certain aspects of the bill. There were "Republican" votes in that respect.

The charm comment was a joke. The basic point there is that it's hard to be 100% wrong and she was not. No one here tends to be 100% wrong about things. Even me! ;)

Posted by: Joe | Nov 6, 2012 11:03:53 PM

Bill, i really do find you to be charming and adorable in an odd sort of way. i really do like you, Bill Otis (and even rodsmith is oddly endearing in his honesty) so any teasing i might do is strictly good natured :)

So how is it a personal attack to give you a compliment? :)

While its all academic now, i would point out that Mitt Romney explicitly promised to retain many of Obamacare's provisions and to pass "market based" health care reform. That is odd because Obamacare is in fact "market based" healthcare reform so it seems that in all liklihood that would mean essentially the same bill with even more giveaways to private interests than Obamacare. Romney has even in this campaign called for "Massachusetts" style health care reform nationally somewhat incredibly trying to argue that Obamacare and Romneycare are not substantially the same bill.

Thus, its really not that hard to predict what Romney would do when he has been consistently promising to do the same thing if elected for the past 5 or so years. Notice that Romney always said "repeal and replace" Obamacare not "repeal." Language makes a difference.

As far as your question regarding Sandra Fluke, i have to ask in return: don't you actually work for Georgetown University? Which means that you should know better - okay, since you are an adjunct from my understanding maybe you do not participate in the Georgetown University health plan - but surely you'd know that the Georgetown University health plan which Sandra Fluke paid for using her own money does not provide coverage for birth control pills based upon Georgetown's religious beliefs. Of course, that religious belief is rejected even by the vast majority of American (and European) Catholics not to mention most of the non-Catholic Georgetown University employees and students. But in any case, Ms. Fluke was talking about the fact that birth control pills are often prescribed for numerous women's health issues which have absolutely nothing to do with birth control. But the fact is that Ms. Fluke was paying for health insurance which did not provide healthcare which doctors found medically necessary. In any case, there was absolutely no tax dollars involved - Ms. Fluke was paying for a plan that did not provide medical coverage for something which is often medically necessary for women's health.

Apparently the plan did cover Viagra and Cialis which aren't medically necessary for men's health while birth control pills are often medically necessary for women's health. That was the point that Sandra Fluke made and she has been attacked mercilessly by your side for months because of it. There is a good chance that those mysognistic attacks (and some insane comments about rape from some Republican Senate candidates) ultimately cost the Republicans the election.

In any case, its all academic now - the status quo has essentially been retained by the voters and hopefully the Republicans will be willing to compromise this time now that they have learned that simply saying no to everything and attempting to bring down the country for political gain does not work. As Virginia Governor McDonnell proves not all Republicans are completely unreasonable people who are out of touch with real people's needs.

God bless you, God bless America, and God bless the whole world,

Erika :)

Posted by: Erika | Nov 7, 2012 6:25:33 AM

very nice erika. I have to agree with most of what you said. except this!

"God bless America, and God bless the whole world"

I'm afraid god pretty much seems to have given up on american and the world. Pretty much no other way to explain the fucktards who have ran both the last 50 years or so.

Posted by: rodsmith | Nov 7, 2012 11:16:35 AM

Erika --

For the moment, at least, people in this country have a wide variety of insurance options from which to choose. The options provide all manner of different coverages for different prices. If Ms. Fluke doesn't care for Georgetown's policy, the thing to do is easy: Get a competing policy. As it happens, I don't know what coverage she has, or if she has any, and it's none of my business. In addition, her health and her sex life are none of my business.

She is a fully capable adult and can make her own way in the world as she thinks best. She is not responsible for my bills, medical or otherwise, and neither I nor the taxpayers generally ought to be responsible for hers, nor do we have any business ordering Georgetown or any other employer, religious or not, to provide one thing or another.

The answer is not government fiat. The answer is competition and choice.

P.S. I agree that rodsmith is an underappreciated asset. I also agree that McDonnell is a good Governor and a good person. A former prosecutor, I might add.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 7, 2012 10:47:10 PM

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