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Oppenheim: Mud Season

I must confess I’ve been down lately.

Part of that is the calendar; we’re approaching mud season in Vermont. But it also has to do with the political world where it’s been mud season for a while.

Much of the campaign rhetoric has featured low discourse at a high pitch, occasionally entertaining but mostly alarming to those of us hungry for serious debate on issues and policy.

And now, there’s something afoot that seems just short of sinister.

I was shocked when right after Justice Antonin Scalia died, the Republican Party nearly unanimously called for President Obama to not nominate a replacement. The argument goes it’s “standard practice” not to confirm a Supreme Court nominee in an election year. The followers of this idea say: let the people decide.

My problem is that I thought the people had decided. In 2012, Obama was re-elected, giving him constitutional authority to nominate a Supreme Court Justice should there be a retirement or vacancy during his term in office. The Senate can reject that nominee, but the job of that chamber is to consider the candidate.

That’s what the constitution says in a very straightforward way. It doesn’t say we should wait until the nomination process may be more advantageous to one party or another – in this case, nearly a year.

Meanwhile, the unified approach taken by Republicans has put the media in a bind. After all, when so many people line up behind one idea, it’s hard not to portray that idea as legitimate – even when it’s neither constitutional nor logical.

The GOP would never tolerate a wait to nominate a justice with a sitting Republican president. So it seems clear to me that this is all about manipulation and tactics.

Consider: if the GOP dominated Senate can keep alive the hope that a future Republican president will nominate a replacement to Scalia who will uphold conservative values, then the GOP has a rallying cry with conservative voters.

To be sure, this campaign season has had offensive moments, including smears against immigrants and Moslems. There’s been name-calling and profanity. It has not been inspiring.

But the death of Scalia has opened up a new battleground... and that gets me back to my mud season mood.

In Vermont, mud season eventually gives way to spring. But on the national scene, it looks like this mud season may be with us for a very long time.

Keith Oppenheim, Associate Professor in Broadcast Media Production at Champlain College, has been with the college since 2014. Prior to that, he coordinated the broadcasting program at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan (near Grand Rapids). Keith was a correspondent for CNN for 11 years and worked as a television news reporter in Providence, Scranton, Sacramento and Detroit. He produces documentaries, and his latest project, Noyana - Singing at the end of life, tells the story of a Vermont choir that sings to hospice patients.
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