Here is the thing: Republicans and Democrats battle.
They have battled for decades, and the possibility that they will continue to do so for decades to come is about as certain as the rising sun. And some level of political combat is likely a good thing for democracy.
But in the seven years that President Obama has occupied the White House, a rather extraordinary pattern has emerged in which it seems that the Democratic president's opponents do not simply oppose his ideas or his policies or even his executive orders. They do not simply seek to criticize the substance or even the style in which Obama expresses or promotes any of the above. All of that is utterly ordinary in the course of professional politics.
What appears to have developed and then metastasized is a condition that makes it perfectly acceptable -- even ordinary -- to question the legitimacy of Obama's presidency and his authority to do things clearly delineated as the responsibility of a U.S. president.
In recent months, this pervasive disease has taken on a kind of dormant -- or, at least, managed with medication -- quality. But a crisis emerged over the weekend, almost as soon as the news that longtime Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia was dead became public. Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stepped forward to say simply they would not allow, contemplate or abide an Obama nominee to replace Scalia. There would be no Scalia replacement as long as Obama was in the White House. Republicans would not have it. Not now. Not at all. In recent days, that early recalcitrance has softened to what is essentially, We are considering whether to consider an Obama nominee. Seriously.
That's where things stood when, Thursday morning, a New York Times story described the party leadership's behavior far more plainly than that. Under the headline, "Blacks See Bias in Delay on Scalia Successor," the paper gave ordinary black Americans space on the page to describe their read of the developing Supreme Court showdown.
It is, these voters said, just the latest iteration of the many times and many ways that Republicans have not just opposed the president but seemed to chafe at the idea of this president, rear back and then try to trample his actual presidency with unfounded and widely repeated false claims about his birthplace, his citizenship, his faith, his family and his methods. This is the president who experienced that moment in 2009 when Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) pointed at him during a speech before a joint session of Congress and yelled, "You Lie."
The black Americans interviewed by the Times said clearly that the Supreme Court confirmation fight had already begun to carry a "whiff" of biogtry. They have also picked up on the top notes of disdain, disrespect, paranoia and likely, the flippant and frequent references to impeachment for non-crimes. They have taken note of Senate Republicans' behavior, speech and refusal to readily and frequently disavow Wilson and others at the center of eyebrow-raising episodes during the Obama presidency. And so, now, it is quite reasonable and fair to understand the Supreme Court fight as yet another unfortunate entry on the list of efforts to stymie and stifle this president.
Some of these same Americans are no doubt well aware of McConnell's 2009 declaration that making Obama a one-term president was McConnell's primary goal. After the 2012 election, when it was clear that this goal would not be achieved, McConnell and his peers seemed perfectly happy to stymie Obama at every turn possible and then to describe the executive orders that resulted from the gridlock in Washington as unconstitutional and incomprehensible attempts to work around Congress.
The Times left it to voters to describe the sensations and suspicions that the Republican leadership's behavior raised in the days after Scalia's death -- a series of events and statements motivated by racial bias or a rattled and challenged sense of racial superiority. Then, the Times made space for a short list of both semi-relevant facts, including that McConnell began his career 50 years ago on the staff of a congressman who was a champion of civil rights, and utterly irrelevant counter-arguments like the fact that McConnell's wife is Asian.
What matters in this situation, really, is what McConnell has said and done in the past seven years.
Please consider this dispatch from the land of reason.
It is high time that the United States -- voters and elected officials -- discontinue the longstanding practice of talking about race, bigotry and yes, the dreaded r-word -- racism itself -- in the simplest of terms. It is time that we surrender the proposition in which anything short of lynching is not racist and that only intentions and proof of the unknowable matter. Modern racism and most other forms of bigotry are more aptly described as occupying some space on a continuum. Think less, 'Yes, that is racist,' or 'No, that is not,' and more like where does this statement, event, effort or effect sit on a scale ranging from violently racist to a condescending race-based sense of authority.
So, when a Senate leader says that he simply will not do the job that the Constitution, voters and his law-making colleagues have given him, there is good reason to recognize that all that follows is a departure from reason. When a senator says that he will not allow the president to do his constitutionally identified duty either, a serious challenge has been posed to the functioning of government based on an illogical, extra-legal and, more often than not, unwholesome sense of authority.
We will not entertain here the idea that the various pronouncements made by McConnell and other members of the Republican caucus this week amount only to ordinary political gamesmanship. Presidents and senators in opposition parties have faced Supreme court vacancies before. And, yes, such events have even occurred during election years.
Sure, that Senate leader's politics and his list of political favors owed may well play some role. But based on what's happened in the past seven years, so do his ideas about Obama's right to be and then exercise all the powers and authorities of the presidency.
This president has the rare opportunity -- caused, of course, by the unexpected death of a human being -- to appoint someone to the nation's high court who could serve the next 20 to 30 to 40 years. In doing so, this president stands to shape U.S. history long after he leaves office. That is the prerogative of every president.
Why should this president be the exception?