Offering an Alternative

“Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you,” said Peter Dinklage’s character, a clever dwarf in HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Sage advice for complex times. But what might it be like to wear your identity like armor?

One might consider translating that into advice for three great institutions facing great challenges—one in business, one in religion, and one in politics.

In Silicon Valley, Apple Inc. struggles to compete with Samsung. As its stock has fallen over 30% in the last six months, Apple wonders whether to submit to growing shareholder demands that it reduce its huge cash pile and start paying out bigger dividends.

In the Vatican, the Catholic Church struggles with much of the Western world. Led by a new pope, the Church finds itself in sharp contradiction with popular secular positions on contraception, abortion, female clergy, and other issues.

Finally, in Washington, the Republican Party struggles to compete with a confident Democratic Party. As the GOP strives to recover from its 2012 defeats, it must decide whether to modify its political positions on limited government, social issues, and immigration.

Will these groups need to evolve over time? Inevitably, yes. Apple must launch new products, the Catholic Church must grow its flock, and the Republican Party must find a way to broaden its appeal to younger voters and minorities.

Yet, through it all, my sense is that there’s something to be said for sticking to one’s core principles through thick and thin.

What might that mean for these institutions?

In Apple’s case, it might mean adhering to the philosophy of the late Steve Jobs: to focus on building high-quality products that integrate services, software, and hardware to create a terrific user experience. Although there is something to be said for giving slight discounts on the MacBook Pro and the iPad, the average Apple fan believes that he (or she) is paying a premium price for a premium product. In a sense, Apple’s purpose isn’t merely to make lots of money, but also to offer people an alternative to what Samsung, Microsoft, or Google have to offer.

All things considered, it would be a sad day for Apple fans if CEO Tim Cook refocuses his company away from producing great Apple innovations and onto short-term accounting tricks to prop up Apple’s stock price—or worse still, to sacrifice the quality of Apple products in order to make them cheap. After all, if consumers want a $200 laptop with minimal functions, why not let them buy PCs instead of Macs?

Stock prices inevitably fluctuate with speculators’ whims. But building a great company might involve taking the view of the original founding genius.

What about the Catholic Church? In Pope Francis’s case, sticking to core principles would mean adhering to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible. To some extent, it might be risky, because some of those teachings contradict popular secular positions. But although the Church might have to adapt its message to a modern world, there is is something to be said for the idea that the Catholic Church’s purpose isn’t merely to be popular, but also to offer people an alternative to what Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, or atheists might propose.

Why? Because people seek fulfillment, and they will inevitably test out different philosophies and religions. One of the purposes of the Catholic Church, as I see it, might be to offer an alternative conception of the Good Life, so that if people find other approaches wanting, they can consider an alternative path.

If your predecessors stuck to their principles at the cost of crucifixion, being fed to lions, or having their heads impaled on spikes, then the least the modern Church can do is uphold the principles that came at so bloody a cost. After all, if your stock is down, would it make more sense to follow the suggestions of speculators—or the original founder’s insights?

In the Republican Party’s case, sticking to core principles might mean adhering to the philosophy of Ronald Reagan and Calvin Coolidge: to fight for limited government, traditional social policies, and a strong military. Although some political positions might have to be moderated, there is something to be said for the idea that the GOP’s purpose isn’t merely to win elections, but more importantly, to offer America an alternative political vision from what the Democrats or the Green Party offer.

Of course, this is risky, because the future is unpredictable: nobody really knows whether President Obama’s governing philosophy will work spectacularly or fail dismally. On one hand, the Dow has passed a 14,500 record, unemployment has inched down to 7.7 percent, and the housing market is healing. It is possible that the Obama economy of the 2010s might end up looking like the prosperous Clinton economy of the 1990s. But on the flip side, one might express concerns over potential risks posed by tax increases, our $16 trillion debt, and Obamacare’s remaking of one-sixth of the economy.

Is the progress real—or is our prosperity hollow? Only time will tell. But in the meantime, one might argue that the Republican Party would serve America best by offering an alternative agenda as a principled opposition party, just like the UMP in France, the New Democrats in Canada, or the Workers’ Party in Singapore. This might mean fighting for further budget cuts, lower taxes, a strong military, and pro-life positions, not on the grounds that GOP positions are necessarily infallible, but on the grounds that the incumbent government’s philosophy might be fallible and that Americans might someday consider an alternative.

Chris Seck is a 3L.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record.

The Tall Tale Of Chuck Hagel

Let me begin by framing the absurdity.

President Obama nominates Republican Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense.

Really?  He couldn’t find a single Democrat willing or able to take the job?

Okay, fine. We’ll accept one absurdity.  But there’s more.

The Republican Party says no.

Really?  Would they rather have a Democrat doing the job?  Because it’s absurd to think that Obama will appoint someone more conservative—although with absurdity popping up all over, I suppose that assumption could be made.

But there’s more.

Why does the Republican Party say no?  Two of the most often cited reasons: because they’re afraid Hagel sympathizes with something called the “Friends of Hamas” and something else called the “Junior League of Hezbollah,” and because they want to continue to hit the President over Benghazi.

Really?  Because about 30 seconds after this “Friends of Hamas” story broke (on, which is a conservative blog that has now been roundly criticized by more reliable media outlets such as the Washington Post and New York Magazine), it was roundly contradicted as a willful misunderstanding of another journalist’s joke.  So to hear it, and variations on it, issuing from the mouths of sitting Senators as if it mattered is yet another absurdity.  And Benghazi—well, scoring political points is fair game, I suppose, for United States Senators.  It’s just usually not particularly smart to telegraph your motives quite as much as Lindsey Graham, for example, has done.

If I’ve learned anything in law school, it’s that the world is an extremely absurd place.  So why should we care about this particular morass of absurdity?

First, because of what’s not being objected to with regards to Hagel’s nomination.  No one, for example, is complaining about Hagel’s support for President Obama’s drone policy—a policy that is rapidly becoming a concern just about everywhere except Washington, it seems.  Nor is anyone expressing much, if any, concern about Hagel’s views on Afghanistan, the F-35 fighter, general US military readiness and strategy, budget cuts from the sequester… the list goes on.  Instead, it’s all Israel, all the time.  Of course Israel, and, by extension, Palestine and Syria, are extremely important.  But certainly there are more matters that are equally or more pressing.

Second, because of the rapidly increasing constraints on the exercise of the Presidential appointments power.  Congress has shown an increasing tendency to hold up appointments for trivial reasons, non-related reasons, and bare political gain.  See, for example, the incredible six-year vacancy at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.  The President’s last nominee never received a hearing, and his latest nominee seems destined for the same fate.  Upon being congratulated by a friend, nominee Byron Todd Jones offered a quick correction: “Oh, you mean sincere condolences.”  The D.C. Circuit’s recent decision in Noel Canning v. NLRB has further limited the effective use of the President’s appointment powers, leaving him essentially without a way to get around Congressional intransigence.

Finally, we should care because this is how your government works now.

Just let that sink in for a moment.  Then ask yourself:


Nathan Reeves is a 1L.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record.

How the GOP Stole Christmas

“This liberal opposition has just got to stop!”

Shouted the furious, put-upon Gop,

“The natural order suffers awful distortions,

Like health reform, gay marriage, safe, legal abortions,

Environmental regs favored by the Lorax,

And, worst of all, rich people asked to pay tax!”

The Gop, you can see, was very distraught,

So he sat, and he thought, and he thought, and he thought.

That’s when the Gop had an idea.

An awful idea.

A wonderful, terrible, rule-changing idea.

“I’ll buy the election!” the Gop gave a shout,

“With unlimited corporate money, we’ll surely win out!”

So he put on his suit, and he went to the Court,

And he made an argument of the following sort:

“This campaign spending, limiting law

Features an unconstitutional flaw.

For each person first has the right to make speeches

To convince America what the right sort of Sneetch is,

And money and speech are one in the same

In this televised, national election game.

Lastly, a corporation’s just a big group of people,

So, if anything, its right to speak should be three-ple.”

Soon the court handed down Citizens United,

And the Gop’s feelings changed from mad to delighted.

He got his list of friends and gave each one a call

“Finally, there’s room for the contributions of all,

Restore Our Future, Freedomworks, Red, White & Blue,

Winning Our Future, Crossroads and GPS, too.”

But then somethings happened the Gop didn’t expect,

Some possibilities his plan had seemed to neglect.

PACs gave money to pols with no chance of winning

Because they were too crazy or had done too much sinning.

The primary pushed Mitt so far to the right

What should have been easy turned into a fight.

And the liberals started their own SuperPACS

To counter and make their own TV attacks.

These groups got donations from the rich and the poor,

So the Gop’s people wouldn’t have quite so much more.

They took Romney’s time as a leader at Bain

And made it a layoff and bankruptcy stain.

Gop’s candidates talked far too much about rape,

Leaving sane women voters rather agape,

and Romney wrote-off half the nation, on tape.

It seemed the Gop was really hurting his chances

With his old-fashioned and economically austere stances.

However much airtime the Gop’s money bought,

There were too many voters who just couldn’t be got.

The Gop faced the election, his big plan’s day,

And he watched the returns with growing dismay.

“They vote without hope! They vote without change!

Unpaid volunteers act irrationally strange!

They brave the weather, the hot and the cold,

To get out the vote of the young and the old.

For nothing, they go out and hold up big signs,

And their voters wait through the extra long lines!”

For a moment, a thought struck the Gop, an idea that was funny

Maybe democracy’s about more than corporate money?

But after a minute, the Gop shook it away,

“Those moochers just want to keep government pay.”

Cultural Literacy and the Law is a humor column written by an anonymous Harvard Law student. The column runs every other Monday.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Harvard Law Record.

A Bunch of (Mostly) White Guys

I’ve been told that this is to be my last column this year, so I wanted to make it a super good one. Unfortunately, the little squirrel hostage I keep in my apartment who writes my columns and takes my finals for me (while stacked on top of ten other squirrels and wearing a trench coat for in-class exams) has caught a serious case of squirrel leprosy, so I am afraid this column will fail to meet most/any of your expectations.

Now that we’ve pretty much decided to stop humoring Santorum and recognize that Mittens is inevitably the nominee (notwithstanding some deus ex machina) of the Republican Party, it’s time to start taking bets as to who Mitt will pick for VP. General consensus is Rob Portman, although there are always murmurings about Marco Rubio and Chris Christie. Let’s talk about these guys, and then I will share with you what ticket I would like to see.

Rob Portman: This guy is the house favorite. And why not? He’s from Ohio, always an unfathomably important state in the presidential elections, and there’s a strong argument that but for his assistance and backing, Romney would not have won Ohio by such a margin, or at all. Portman knows what’s going on in D.C.—he’s worked in the White House and Congress. Unfortunately, he is more boring than dry toast. He’s more boring than Romney for fucksakes. While some might argue that the vice president’s strengths will not ameliorate or hide Romney’s flaws, we could at least try. At the very least, we need a more interesting veep candidate if we want to stay awake this fall.

Marco Rubio: Rubio is hungry. Like a wolf. His name has been tossed around by a lot of Republican candidates, mostly because they don’t seem to know any other Hispanics in politics. Rubio is young and charismatic, meaning that he has a real chance of upstaging Romney on the campaign trail. He also hails from Florida, which will be an important state for the GOP this year (all those old people who want the repeal of Obamacare because they’ve been living off of LBJcare for years). Oh yeah, and this will help Romney capture the Hispanic vote. While Rubio has said he wouldn’t be Romney’s pick, he’s also showed extremely poor judgment when he (jokingly?) recommended Jeb Bush for the position, so you never know.

Chris Christie: Christie is hungry. For some hot dogs. Christie has a certain amount of gravitas, and a hardass personality that would go nicely with Romney’s awkward-private equity-Mormony Mr. Roger’s feel. His appeal might be his downfall, however, Romney may be unwilling to invest in such a potentially volatile running mate.

There are more out there, such as Nikki Haley (who governs the state that went to Newt), Susannah Martinez (who doesn’t want the job, and is too close to being a Palin choice), Tim Pawlenty (lulz no), et al.

But I would love to see Romney pick Olympia Snowe. This is an absurdity, even for me, but I can dream. She’s a woman, and one who actually supports women’s rights. She’s got the experience. She has a strong reputation for ending close votes, which is of paramount importance these days. Most importantly, picking her would signal to the moderates and Independents that Romney actually is a moderate, instead of just some psychopathic quantum politician.

Lisa Wang is a 2L. Her column runs every other Wednesday, and she also be provides commentary on the Republican primary debates.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record.