Friday, January 13

Courting Disaster

There's really only one reason I have no interest in blogging Court appointment hearings: disgust. The Court is the area where my ability to swallow large draughts of Democratic Party swill in exchange for the occasional shot of fine anti-GOP spirits (a sort of reverse Boilermaker) is tested and found wanting.

Before this really sets me off, three pieces which say what I would have said if I were 15% smarter and my patience was closer to the Book of Job than the Book of J◊B rolling papers:

Michael O'Hare: A Piece Missing

He doesn't have a screw loose; what he has is a piece missing, conspicuously, radiantly, displaying an apparent absence of any sense of, well, justice. Not a case came up for discussion in which he registered that one or another outcome was just wrong, outrageous to a sense of decency, or to him....It wasn't exactly Pilate washing his hands, but the man appears to be completely comfortable dealing with frightful social wrongs by moving the issue down the hall to another office. Sometimes the Court has to do this, but to Alito it's an especially good day's work, not a disappointment.

Mark Kleiman: The CAP flap
Alito's membership in CAP is an especially painful issue for his supporters because CAP revealed starkly a truth about conservatism that most contemporary conservatives prefer to hide. That dirty little secret is that, in addition to its intellectual content, conservatism as a political tendency and a movement has a social content. The social content of conservatism is partiality toward those of higher status and greater social centrality and hostility to those lower down the social scale and further toward the margins: rich over poor, white over black, Anglo over Latino, Christian over Jew, Muslim, Hindu, pagan, or atheist, straight over gay, male over female.

(Kleiman also decribed Alito's convenient memory lapse as a "subsequent attack of Waldheimer's Disease" for which, assuming it's his coinage, he deserves enshrinement in some Lexical Hall of Fame somewhere.)

And Peter Daou: The (Broken) Triangle: Progressive Bloggers in the Wilderness
But rather than a Democratic triumph, the Alito hearings have thrown the dichotomy between the netroots and the Democratic leadership into even starker relief, illustrating the profound dysfunction of the left’s triangle. As well, the depth and breadth of media complicity and the obliviousness of so many Democrats to it, is alarming. From the choreography of Specter and Alito creating the "open mind on abortion" soundbite that media outlets dutifully ran with, to the Sen. Graham/Mrs. Alito tear-fest that should have prompted Dems to slam the Republicans for bringing the Judge's wife to tears but instead turned into another Dem-bashing occasion, to the complete failure of the Democratic leadership to create the appropriate tone of outrage (in soundbite form), the chronic breakdown of the establishment and media sides of the left's triangle is apparent.

Maybe it's a function of chronology: I grew up thinking, and being taught, that the Court had, beginning in the late 40s, begun to enter the modern age and to correct the old imbalance between personal and property rights. I had teachers who told me, as a sort of Constitutional algebra, that as a man ascended to the high point of the legal world, and surveyed with proper solemnity the Shining City spread below him, he naturally became more liberal, more compassionate, more of a defender of the law's true spirit.

That all ended before I was able to vote, when Nixon managed to get segregation-apologist William Renchburg, er, Rehnquist, onto the Court. Illusions die a painful death at that age. And it's been basically downhill since then, despite the slim majority keeping reproductive rights alive, despite the defeat of the Abominable Bork.

It's a party of public liars and private thieves. In politics you do watch this as a slow-motion train wreck; granted enough years you see the Bush administration as the logical culmination of the criminality of Nixon and the Hollywood phoniness of Reagan. And the Democratic party facilitated it. They facilitated it at the end of the Watergate hearings when they refused to follow the money trail into the halls of Congress. They gunned down their own in Jimmy Carter, then waved the white flag for Reagan. Funny how it still required a power grab to complete the deal on Reaganism, despite their surrender, because like his idiot bastard cousin a quarter century later he didn't have enough occupying troops either. Funny how all those problems the Great Communicator used to communicate to us are with us still. Today there's no Reagan legacy except in hagiographies by the likes of Peggy Noonan, because it was all about power and nothing about principle. Reagan didn't have the guts to solve problems. He didn't lead, he ran around looking for parades to jump in front of. And the Democrats played along.

Then they finally break the cycle of Electoral College humiliations, and what do they do? Shoot Bill Clinton in the ass over health care. Health care! What Democratic party principle did that violate? The sacred belief in polls and campaign contributions? Republicans rile up their red-meat constituencies then take the money and largely ignore them. Democrats take the money, then run scared of their own constituencies. What did that get them? The chance to wave the same white flag twenty-five years later.

The Court has been tilted to the right for all that time. And because of that we sit here today conducting the same debate we did in the Eighties, namely, the debate over the Sixties. The right lost the culture war, but won the political battle. But the spoils of politics are money and power, not the ability to dictate how people think. The Mamon servers of the mass-market media have done what they could to help, but the fact is we have a polity which does not reflect its citizens, who do not want the return of back-alley abortions, do not want Christianity taught in public schools, do not want the government or its affiliated corporations laying waste to their neighborhoods in the name of profit. If I walk up and down my little Middle West middle-class suburban block with a lit joint, knocking on doors and saying, "Hi, I'm your neighbor, wanna toke?" 75% would let me in, and we're talking about largely white, somewhat above-average income earners. If I did the same thing with a Bible in my hand and announced I was there to talk about Jesus, at least that same percentage would shut the door in my face.

But we're about to enter into the era of the Right-Wing Catholic Court, the life-appointment version of the earlier Racist-Dixiecrats-Change-Parties Executive. The logical conclusion to the latter is the continuing disaster that is the Bush administration (interesting, last evening, to catch some of the News Hour as "experts" debated our next move in Iran, as though we're just gonna tidy up this little manpower problem in Iraq and get ready to shove someone else around). Will the long-term result of filling the Court with radical-right approved ideologues be a disaster of equal proportions, fluffed by the same mouthpieces of money and power? I don't know. The whole originalist/textualist sham that the right hasn't been able to resolve to its own satisfaction is probably going to come to a close, the same way Abolish the Department of Education became Let's Use the Department of Education once they had it back. Maybe there's a conversion in someone's Court future. What I do know is that whatever happens, it won't be because the politicians of the Democratic party did us any good.


Anonymous said...

That pretty much covers it, doesn't it.

One nitpick, and this is because I'm a populist:
do not want the government or its affiliated corporations laying waste to their neighborhoods in the name of profit.

Don't you mean "the corporations or their affiliated government"?
After all, the government, until recently anyway, had to at least pretend to respect your rights. And I'm pretty sure that most of the brilliant ideas we're seeing actually *enacted* in Congress lately have their origins with corporate or trade group lobbyists.

Just a thought.

Jim said...

Re: Kleiman's bon mot "Waldheimer's Disease" -- was common text in NYC mid 1980's as you perceive re: Kurt W and the UN Sec Gen post. Good to hear some histor perspective

Gahrie said...

UHm..what party has a former organizer of the KKK as a member of the Senate? What club did Ted Kennedy belong to? Oh yeah the Owl club, which was so discriminatory it was evicted from campus.