Monday, January 30, 2006


There is much flutter about this article in today's NYT regarding the Federalist Society's plan, devised in 1982, to stock the judiciary with conservatives, and their apparent success with the appointment of John Roberts to Chief Justice and the seemingly inevitable elevation of Samuel Alito to SCOTUS.

The congratulatory subtext is that Conservatives are steadfast rather than doctrinaire, patient rather than obsessed, that Liberals are vacillating rather than intellectually rigorish, inconsistent rather than rigidly unswerving. Because Conservatives created, funded, sponsored, and promoted judges over the course of 24 years who've been Stepforded in training and who owe their allegiance to their patrons, this somehow proves the Conservative ideology is superior to a Liberal ideology by sheer weight of relentless, myopic persistance. Because the Conservatives hatched a batch of cloned jurists, ensuring those jurists' fealty through technically legal but morally questionable patronage, they MUST be superior by simple dint of effort.

In essense this comes down to the fight motif that the Right uses to define the difference between them and us. If Liberals were as serious as us, the argument goes, they would have used the very same tactics we use. Why aren't Liberal think tanks creating an army of Liberal judges who all think alike? And the answer, in Conservative terms: Because Liberals don't take the law as seriously as Conservatives do. If they aren't competing just as ruthlessly, as seriously as Conservatives they must be weaker. If Liberals aren't as rigid - if they have these foolish notions of nuances and relativism and fairness - they can't be considered "serious," a code word of vast importance to the Right.

As long as the political debate pivots on the Conservative meme that in domestic and foreign policy, in interpretation of the law, in matters of morality, truculent rigidity is synonymous with intellectual seriousness, then the majority of us who understand that the issues confronting the country and the world are far too complex to be solved by an adherence to an hortatorily propounded single and simple and childish truth are going to be labeled as unrealistic, idealistic, unserious, and therefore our relevance to any debate dismissible.

It's - I've said this before - a brilliant trap: The world is a vicious sandbox. Believe it can be made better, you're a Liberal dreamer, idealistic, unrealistic, not to be taken seriously. Behave like Conservatives, you're a Liberal hypocrite. That the Conservative worldview believes that all the problems in the world can be reduced to a bipolar war between irreconcilable opposites, rewarding the trained warriors who delight in the war, condemning the world to that endless war - ensuring that nothing ever gets any better - doesn't get any play in today's discourse. Pointing that out wouldn't be serious.


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