November’s election was much more than a triumph for George W. Bush, our inarticulate and one-dimensional President. It was one of those fateful turning points in national history–quite possibly the event that scholars in the future will point to as the beginning of monumental change.
November’s election was much more than a triumph for George W. Bush, our inarticulate and one-dimensional President. It was one of those fateful turning points in national history—quite possibly the event that scholars in the future will point to as the beginning of monumental change.
Why do I say this? Is this not a wholly extravagant, out-of-proportion reaction to an election that left the country, after all, nearly evenly divided? Wasn’t this election like most others, a mixed bag—some good things, some bad? The gay community certainly had reason to celebrate; even with the massive turnouts by the Christian Right (see below), voters endorsed gay rights in every state but Nevada, where a mini-DOMA measure passed. Here in Indiana, mean-spirited and negative campaigns failed to defeat Frank Anderson or Julia Carson.
The truth is, however, that the good news is massively outweighed by one stark reality: with the Senate controlled by the GOP, Bush is set to change the face of the judiciary, and through it, the face of America.
Those of us who believed that the Christian Right and business interests could not continue their uneasy co-existence in the Republican Party were wrong. It just took an Administration unencumbered by integrity to figure out how to get it done. Big business (not the small businesses that are the engines of job creation and economic growth, but the big guys—the Enrons and Halliburtons) was bought off with tax breaks and special rules insulating them from the forces of the marketplace to which they pay lip service. The fidelity of the Christian Right was bought with our federal courts.
Of the two Faustian bargains, it is the first that gets most of the media attention, but the second that should make our blood run cold. Sure, this Administration can drill for oil in Alaska, buy votes with steel tariffs and farm subsidies, even take us into an ill-conceived war that makes us more, rather than less, vulnerable to terrorism. It can pursue policies that harm the economy at home and isolate us from our allies abroad. And, indeed, it is doing all of those things. But the minute Bush is voted out, those policies can be changed. The harm is real, but not necessarily permanent. The federal courts are another matter entirely, because once appointed, federal judges serve for life.
The existence of an independent judiciary is our guarantor of fair treatment by the government. And that judiciary has been the target of the Christian Right ever since the Supreme Court ruled that government—in the guise of public school officials—cannot constitutionally make children pray. Not that the school prayer decisions are the only ones the radical right dislikes—the constitutional principle of equality for women and blacks, Roe v. Wade, the refusal to allow censorship of television and movies that offend their sensibilities—all of these are on the Christian Right’s list of grievances. Bush won their allegiance during the Presidential campaign by clearly signaling his intent to reverse federal law by appointing a different breed of judge. His first appointments to the bench were blocked, but they were favorites of the Right. The message was clear: give me control of the Senate, and I’ll give you the courts.
The Christian Right repaid him last month with an enormous get-out-the-vote effort.
While the media was focused on 9/11 and its aftermath, and on the threat of war with Iraq, little note was taken of the fact that every lawyer working in the Bush Administration is a member of the Federalist Society—an organization devoted to rolling back the last century of constitutional jurisprudence. The people Bush has nominated for the federal courts are not simply a bit right of center—they are radical.
There are literally hundreds of vacancies on the federal bench—partly because the Republicans blocked Clinton nominees. Until last month’s election, Democratic control of the Senate was all that kept Bush from packing the courts with rightwing ideologues. Now there is nothing to stop him.