It ain’t just crying wolf when half the sheep have already been eaten

So, it begins again — that Groundhog Day like process of trying to convince Democrats who are unhappy with the party’s nominee to support the party anyway. And, as always, one of the prime reasons we’ll give this year is the threat a Republican victory would pose to the Supreme Court. At age 53, I’ve seen this dance preformed for 40 years, though with varying degrees of artistry and success.

I’ll touch on only the two most painful examples.

The year was 1968. The Vietnam War was tearing America apart. In March, President Johnson stunned the nation by announcing he wouldn’t seek reelection. There was “division in the American House,” he said, and he was withdrawing in the interests of “national unity.” In April, Martin Luther King was assassinated, followed, in June, by the assassination of Robert Kennedy.

At the Democratic convention in August, Mayor Richard Daley ordered a police crackdown on antiwar protestors. As the nation watched on television, the streets of Chicago erupted into chaos.

Hubert Humphrey, Johnson’s Vice President, became the Democratic nominee. An authentic hero of American liberalism, Humphrey was, nevertheless, constrained by his status as Vice President from openly breaking with Johnson on the war. This made him unacceptable to many doves.

In the emotional aftermath of the convention, far too many liberal voters seemed to accept George Wallace’s assertion (while obviously not accepting Wallace himself) that there was not a “dime’s worth of difference” between Humphrey and Richard Nixon. And they refused to support Humphrey.

I remember how, already a political junkie at age 13, I stood in front of the television screaming at those would-be liberal rebels on the screen: “But what about the Supreme Court?!” 

Nixon had been campaigning on a pledge to appoint “strict constructionists,” which then, as now, were code words for ultraconservatives, to the Supreme Court. And even at age 13, I understood, at least a little, of what that would mean.

Bit by bit, many of these disgruntled liberals came around to supporting Humphrey, but he lost precious time. And given the closeness of the final result, this probably gave the election to Nixon.

And then as payment in full for their “noble” refusal to support Humphrey, these disgruntled Democrats received the Burger Court, four more years of the Vietnam War, enemies lists, the politics of polarization, Watergate and so much more.

Rocket ahead to the year 2000. Given that just about everyone already knows the story, I’ll be brief. During campaign 2000, echoing back to the arguments of 1968, enthusiasts of Ralph Nader repeatedly insisted that there was no real difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

In response, many Gore supporters, myself included, emphasized, again as in 1968, the importance the election’s outcome could have on the makeup of the Supreme Court.

The response was often contemptuous.  

Alexander Cockburn, for example, repeatedly belittled such concerns. These were his concluding words from a July 2000 column in The Nation:

Would liberal Democrats want a (Supreme Court) nominee picked by a man with this political record (Gore)? Actually, they couldn’t care less. If they did care, they’d be out campaigning for Ralph Nader. All they want to do is scare the pants off liberals with the idea that Bush would finish off Roe v. Wade. It’s a substantively vacuous and bankrupt position, but it’s all they’ve got left.

Barbara Ehrenreich, also writing in The Nation, jumped on board in an August of 2000 column, titled Vote for Nader:

Ah, the Supreme Court! Never mind that pro-choice Justice O’Connor was a Reagan appointee or that Clinton’s man Breyer is one of the most economically conservative Justices around–the Supreme Court gets dragged out every four years to squash any attempt to escape the Democratic Party.

A lot of other Nader supporters said similar things, and, without a doubt, Ralph Nader’s candidacy, along with many other factors, helped to put Bush in the White House.

And, yes, Nader voters had every right to vote as they pleased, and the election of Bush was not their fault. No one in America owes his or her vote to anyone else. But looking back is still a wise thing to do, especially when doing so may help to enlighten us in decisions yet to be made.

So what does all of this mean in terms of the decision Clinton supporters will soon have to make as to whether to support Obama?

One thing seems incontestable: as of today, in 2008, as opposed perhaps (although I don’t think so) to 1968 and 2000, there is simply no room left for debate regarding the importance of the election’s outcome to the future course of the Supreme Court. We’ve seen how far George W. Bush was able to move the Court to the right with just two appointments — turning a conservative, but occasionally unpredictable, court into a dependable right wing organ.

Following Bush’s appointment of Roberts and Alito, conservatives now stand just one appointment away from achieving their number one political goal of the last 40 years — installing a Supreme Court majority made up of five politically motivated right wing judicial activists. Five Justices who can be depended upon to always come down with the “right” — as in far right — decision.

Think of what that would mean: a Supreme Court made up of five Alitos. Such a Court would literally rewrite the genetic code of our jurisprudence. Overruling Roe v. Wade — which would, of course, be a given — would be only a small start. Progressive legislation would be mowed down as unconstitutional as a matter of course, corporate power enhanced, civil liberties restricted and democracy itself junked through the stripping away of the few remaining limitations on the power of wealth to game the process.

And since these actions would often be taken on the basis of constitutional adjudication, they would be extraordinarily hard to remedy.

If there’s such a thing as a judicial apocalypse, this would be it.

Back in 2000, Nader supporters often accused those of us who warned of what might happen to the Supreme Court if Bush won of crying wolf — in other words, of exaggerating the threat as a means of extorting voters into voting for Gore.  

Well, whatever else angry Clinton supporters may say this year to justify opposing Obama, surely we won’t hear that one again. Because we already know how much damage far right appointments can do. Bush has been “kind” enough to teach us. And given that McCain is promising more of the same if he’s elected, there isn’t much doubt what’s on the line.

It ain’t just crying wolf when half the sheep have already been eaten. By then, it should be pretty clear to everyone how much is at stake.

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5 Responses to “It ain’t just crying wolf when half the sheep have already been eaten”

  1. alwayshope Says:

    I’ll vote for him, of course, and I’ll talk my girlfriends and my sister into voting for him……but

    “Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
    The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
    And somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout;
    But there is no joy in Mudville–great Casey has struck out.”

    I don’t think it will be hard to get Hillary’s supporters on board but they should be left alone for now. They have to grieve and wind down. I wouldn’t expect much enthusiasm if he doesn’t pick her for VP, but that’s a risk he’ll probably take. I don’t know who else he should pick though, I read some of the stuff Jim Webb said about women in the military and it was creepy and sexist. I don’t want a republican like Hagel. I don’t want Richardson. I don’t think he’ll pick Edwards but that would be good. He won’t pick Kucinich, that would be great. Maybe Biden, whatever. If it isn’t Senator Clinton then I guess I don’t much care. I’m worn out from listening and reading all the “I hate Clinton” talk. I don’t really remember when it was that Bill became such a villain. All I know is it’s over and no one I know is happy. Maybe they’ll leave the Clintons alone for awhile. We can begin the SC arguments and the troop deployment debates and the economic woes and fixes………….
    but there is no joy in Mudville.

  2. RJHall Says:

    No question that the Democrats are a lesser evil than the Republicans. Still, I like the illustration at this link:

    The illustration, called “2008: The Extinction Election”, depicts a Republican mammoth and Democrat dinosaur on a prehistoric landscape and has the following caption: “Both archaic parties put life on the planet in peril. Whether you vote Democrat or Republican, you will get life-threatening nuclear weapons development, biological bomb labs, worldwide arms sales, an imperial military with over seven hundred foreign bases, preemptive strike diplomacy, endless wars, declining civil liberties, disappearing health care and homelessness.”

    Compared to all that, the Supreme Court and its rulings on abortion and so on really do seem kind of, well, less important, don’t they? (Incidentally, of course, Roe v. Wade itself was from the Burger Court in 1973.)

    The single issue of health care is graphically illustrated at this link:

    This one, entitled “Leading Presidential Candidates Out of Step on Health Care”, presents the poll question, “Do you support national (single payer) health care insurance?”, and the answers on three pie charts. The first shows that, of the U.S. general public, 54% say yes, 44% say no, and 2% declined/are neutral. The second shows that, of U.S. physicians, 59% say yes, 32% say no, and 9% declined/are neutral. The third shows that, of the three major candibots, Clinton, Obama, and McCain, 100% say no.

    I think I’ll stand by what I commented here in January to Steve’s post “A Letter to Three Democrats: It Isn’t About You” (here), which listed bad consequences of a Republican rather than a Democrat winning in November: “not only would the points on the list probably happen if a Republican were the next president, but also almost if not every one of the points on that list would STILL happen if one of the Democrats were the next president too …. I kind of suspect the list might be a good prediction for what will happen in the next few years no matter which face appears at the top of the U.S. government.” Maybe even the Supreme Court item.

    Incidentally, I don’t think my REAL left-ism is the negative reaction of someone who’s been burned so before that he is unwilling to risk another heartache, but the positive reaction of someone who profoundly welcomes a really big “glacier of coolth” movement and is certain that great things might eventually come of it and that, indeed, without it, great things will NOT happen. That, after all, was the attitude of my teenage sweetheart (if “sweetheart” is the right word for somebody who died amost 50 years before you were born!), Rosa Luxemburg. As Michael Moore wrote in his endorsement (here): “What we are witnessing is not just a candidate but a profound, massive public movement for change. My endorsement is more for Obama The Movement than it is for Obama the candidate.” Hear hear!

  3. willymack Says:

    Good reply alwayshope. It was a win/win situation from the start, what with two highly educated, highly intelligent candidates (and with brilliant spouses, I might add), unlike clueless george or his lickspittle clone, mcloser, vying for the top spot. What we need now are REAL debates as opposed to the farcial setups which gave bush every advantage possible. It hardly matters that dumbya still lost every debate against Gore and Kerry, because the controlled press had thinking-challenged voters believing two plus two was five. Obama simply cannot fall into the same trap Gore and Kerry did. In any REAL debate, Obama would DEMOLISH mcbush, and win the election running away, despite attempts by the rethugs to falsify the vote count (again).

  4. MikeH Says:

    Steve, I am a little in awe that at age 13 you had a clear sense of what was really an important issue, and that subsequent history would show you to have been right.

    I was 17 during most of 1968, and turned 18 in December of that year. I graduated from high school and started college that year. It was a very turbulent year for me personally, as well as in general. I had a lot of problems in high school, and when I graduated I had a lot of unfinished personal business which I would finish years later. (Fortunately I never came close to being drafted or having to serve in the military.)

    I had a hard time really knowing who to really be for. At the time I was pretty much not able to have or form my own opinions, as opposed to and distinct from those of my father, or those of any other strong-minded person. My dad, in particular, was very strong-minded, dominating, very easily offended, and intimidating. My relationship with my dad would be one of my major problems throughout my young adulthood.

    In particular I would not have dared to voice my opposition to the Vietnam War. My dad had served in the Navy in World War II, and he was very offended that young people were not willing to serve their country during the Vietnam War era. However I should note that he had been a Democrat, definitely at least prior to 1968. He strongly admired FDR and Truman (having grown up and known hardship and deprivation during the Great Depression), and was strongly against Goldwater in 1964. However he was strongly against McGovern in 1972, and I think he became more conservative and more Republican after that. I think he voted for Reagan both times.

    Unfortunately I voted for Nixon in 1972; I was not able to go against my father at the time.

    In 1968 I rather naively liked the idea of Nixon making a comeback after having been defeated for President in 1960 and Governor of California in 1962. It would be later that I would see that he was overall a pretty crummy character.

    I didn’t really notice or think much about the Supreme Court in 1968. Actually I do remember hearing about people thinking that the Supreme Court was bending over backwards to protect criminals, who were sometimes let off on technicalities, and that the police were being handcuffed. Now that I remember, I read things like that in the Reader’s Digest, which had and has a definite conservative slant. (I had been a faithful reader of the Reader’s Digest up until about 2000; I stopped reading it after shrub was selected.)

    In 1999 and 2000 I followed the web site of People for the American Way; it was through them in 2000 that I first became aware of the crucial importance of the Supreme Court. They warned about the kind of judges shrub would likely appoint to the Supreme Court if he were elected. (Actually as it turned out shrub was not elected but he became the pResident anyway.)

  5. Again Says:


    great reply, RJHall

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