I know that most of the regulars at The Last Chance Democracy Cafe are hardcore Democrats. But in light of the way the Democratic Congress caved on the Iraq funding bill, can you give me one good reason why I should ever support them again?
Furious in Fresno
* * *
Believe it or not, there actually are a lot of good reasons for liberals to continue voting Democratic, even if we sometimes have to hold our noses while we’re doing it. But the one overriding reason, against which all others pale in comparison, is the future of The United States Supreme Court.
And, yes, I know how sick many liberals are of hearing what some call the “Supreme Court scare tactic” — the argument (the very one I’m making now) that we need to keep voting Democratic, despite the party’s shortcomings, because otherwise that awful bogeyman of an ultra-right wing Supreme Court will jump out of the closet at night and get us. As Barbara Ehrenreich wrote in a column for The Nation back in August of 2000, 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.
But, of course, Ehrenreich was dead wrong in most of her underlying assumptions in 2000, as she herself has since reluctantly admitted. Sadly, the Big Bad Bush Wolf she downplayed the fear of turned out to be pretty damned big and bad after all. And frighteningly, the Big Bad Supreme Court Wolf may very well turn out to be far worse over the long haul.
Bush will disappear in shame into the mists of history soon (I won’t say he’ll disappear “soon enough” because tomorrow morning wouldn’t be soon enough, but he will be gone relatively soon); the extremist Supreme Court he’s leaving behind, on the other hand — a Court that will become even more extreme and long-lasting if the Republicans win the presidency and the Senate next election — may well be with us for another generation if not longer.
So here we sit, watching helplessly from the sidelines, as American law is being radically transformed into The Federalist Society’s wet dream: already during the Court’s current term, freedom of choice and the right to bring suit for discrimination have each taken significant hits. Much worse will be coming later this year — count on it.
And this isn’t just about abortion, although freedom of choice is by itself a damn important issue, as my new friend Claire will gladly tell you. The thing about abortion rights, however, is that even if Roe v. Wade were to disappear, God forbid, we would still be free to fight politically to maintain freedom of choice through legislation. And in some parts of the country we would almost certainly win. In fact, absent the security blanket provided by Roe, progressives would probably fight harder, gain more allies and win more often on abortion issues in the political arena.
(One caveat: if a Republican president, elected in 2008, were able to appoint several more arch conservatives to the Supreme Court to replace some of the Court’s so-called liberals — something that could well happen — all bets on abortion would be off: such a radically conservative Court might actually go so far as to declare a fetus to be a person entitled to equal protection and due process under the Fourteenth Amendment, effectively outlawing all abortions nationwide, not to mention playing havoc with a multitude of medical issues surrounding pregnancy.)
But the greatest reason to fear the current very conservative Supreme Court — let alone the ultraconservative Court further right wing appointments would all but guarantee — is largely unrelated to hot ticket social issues like abortion and gay rights: no, the true potential catastrophe here is the likelihood the Court will interpret the constitution in ways that severely limit the power of the federal and state governments to pursue progressive goals like environmental protection, civil rights, worker rights, business regulation and much more (while at the same time whittling down individual liberties).
Even before the Court’s recent surge to the right brought on by the appointment of Samuel Alito to replace Sandra Day O’Connor, the Rehnquist Court had almost certainly already become the most radical Supreme Court in the history of the nation, having declared more federal statutes unconstitutional than any Supreme Court preceding it. One shudders to think what will happen now that Alito has joined the bench. But the thought of having a new Republican president add two or three more Scalia/Thomas clones to the Court on top of Alito is absolutely terrifying.
With a Supreme Court like that it may not matter all that much who ends up controlling the White House and Congress in the future, since their ability to pursue progressive reforms will be largely precluded by judicial decree. To lose the Supreme Court to the far right indefinitely is to effectively lose the war for the nation’s political soul for at least a generation to come. End of story.
So, should liberals jump ship from the Democrats out of a fit of anger over the Iraq vote (as opposed to continuing to fight to change it from within), notwithstanding all of the progress we’ve made in the last few years in getting the voice of the rank and file heard? Not if we care about the future.
* * *
* * *
Why do you asshole Democrats always have to assume the very worst every time President Bush does anything?
Pissed Off in Peoria
* * *
Dear Pissed Off,
I guess it’s the same reason why back when I was a young man I always assumed the worst when a girlfriend said, “We need to talk.” Only a complete bonehead fails to learn at least a little something from the failures of the past.
* * *
* * *
What’s your take on the growing movement to make the rape of child a capital offense? I’m generally not in favor of capital punishment, but I can’t even begin to think of anything more despicable than someone sexually molesting a small child. I don’t like the fact that I feel this way, but I don’t know, maybe this is one situation where the ultimate penalty really can be justified.
Anyway, what do you think, Winston?
Anguished in Augusta
* * *
To be honest with you, this scares the hell out of me. In Coker v. Georgia (1977), the Supreme Court ruled that applying the death penalty to the rape of an adult was unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment. But that was a very different Supreme Court than we have today.
My guess is that the present Supreme Court would uphold application of capital punishment to rape, especially when applied to crimes against children. And when such a decision — one opening the floodgates to allowing executions for crimes other than murder — is some day announced, I suspect that much of the nation will let out a cheer of joy. There is a bloodlust ablaze in the belly of American society that is an ugly thing to see. And although recent polls tend to show some weakening in the public’s support for the death penalty, the vast majority of Americans continue to support it — and I have no doubt would in this situation.
I’ve never hidden my opposition to capital punishment in all types of cases, but at least in the case of particularly heinous murders there is some objectively measurable element of proportionately: an eye for an eye, as the Good Book says — or at least as it says if one chooses to ignore the later sections that include the teachings of a man whose words dare not be spoken in this context, lest his pleas that we be merciful to one another be seen as not fitting well within the era’s dominant theology of vengeance.
Once we remove the requirement that the victim of a crime die as a condition to imposing death as a penalty, society surrenders even the pretext of proportionately, thereby entering the realm of pure revenge. Not that this troubles the principal proponents of capital punishment, who increasingly don’t even bother trying to clothe their thirst for revenge as anything other than what it is: bloodlust pure and simple.
And, yes, raping a small child is an unspeakable crime, but then so is raping an elderly person, or someone who is mentally challenged. What about major drug dealers, or someone who kidnaps a child for ransom, or a spy who steals national secrets, or a child pornographer? And on and on we slide down the bloody trail.
Here’s something else: If you think we’ve seen a disturbing number of cases in which innocent people have been sent to death row — and if you don’t think that you’re either unforgivably uninformed or morally deficient — you ain’t seen nothing yet. There is no class of crime that presents a greater risk of unjust convictions than child molestation cases. Often such cases rise or fall on the testimony of young children, whose memories are often of very dubious reliability.
But what’s so sad is that in the view of many of the death penalty’s true believers none of this matters. Their desire for bloody revenge is so powerful that if to satisfy it requires that a few innocents must die, well then so be it.
I don’t know about you, Anguished in Augusta, but that’s not the sort of America I want to live in.
* * *
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