|January 24, 2006|
We dodged the bullet back then
A BUZZFLASH READER CONTRIBUTION
While our senate currently considers the appointment of Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr., to the Supreme Court, the time seems appropriate for the rest of us to consider aspects of this nomination, too, especially regarding the uncertain state of the union today, which to this writer’s view is not a particularly healthy state. The fact that Sam Alito appears to be a shoo-in doesn’t diminish the danger that this man bodes for the nation.
Our republic has seldom been in a condition as vulnerable to becoming unrecognizable as it is today. It may have weathered similar tests of its resiliency in our past, but it has seldom been quite as precariously balanced on the edge of the abyss -- balanced between hanging on as a two-party, three-branch democracy or free-falling into a one-man autocracy -- a centralized monolith making lawful such disgraceful policies as illegal spying, torture, and pre-emptive war -- policies once considered, quaintly, as impeachable offenses. Unfortunately for our nation a conservative Court will have the ability to legalize them, and Judge Alito’s ascension thereto is all but certain to clinch the deal.
While our Constitutional safeguards against unchecked presidential excesses exist in theory and ought to exist in practice, our elected representatives -- persons who can actually prevent this usurpation -- seem to be either tongue-tied or impotent or so bedazzled (or intimidated) by their own proximity to power that they have all but abrogated their responsibilities to the citizenry who are dependent on them to keep the nation free from a coup d’etat – be it overt, covert or by incremental stealth. Death by a thousand cuts is no less lethal.
While the desire to control and embrace absolute power is probably as old as the species, in any history where power resides or has resided in any one party or person, absolute power has seldom if ever provided for a viable or healthy commonwealth, or anything approaching the greatest good for the greatest number. Instead, the centralization of power inevitably has produced a form of government that is obsessive in its certitude and infallibility -- usually arbitrary, oppressive, secretive, dogmatic, unaccountable and unresponsive.
When President Nixon overreached and produced arguably the gravest Constitutional crisis in our history, the guardians of the people -- the other two branches of our government -- rose to the occasion in opposition to the blatant illegality, arrogance and insensitivity displayed by that president. It was a frightening time, but as a nation we survived it. The likelihood of a scenario of this countervailing force repeating itself to save our republic today seems remote at best. We survived in the 1970s not only because of the actions of the two other governmental branches actively playing their constitutional roles, but also because Nixon capitulated. There was a terrifying moment when Nixon could just as well have defied the Supreme Court. He didn’t, so we don’t know what that defiant stance might have led to. Had he not chosen the road he did, only God knows what perversion of democracy we might be living under today. America was lucky. We dodged the bullet back then.
But that was then. Today as we live not only with a president (and a vice president, i.e., the de facto president) seemingly more intent than even Nixon to rend the fabric of our constitution to shreds, the Congress seems, if not oblivious to the these alarming excesses but -- even more frightening -- to be in concert with them! One seriously wonders into what black hole sanity in Washington has disappeared, and why? If this were an opera it would be a great middle act, to be resolved with a cliffhanger of a happy denouement. But this isn’t The Marriage of Figaro; this is America’s life on the line as a democratic republic.
Where the voices of outrage ought to be screaming from the mountain top, there is instead only silence from most of our elected representatives (and I might add, from most of the mainstream media, too, but that is another equally disturbing story).
The Republican stranglehold on two branches of our government is all but a given. The Supreme Court is the only missing piece to ensure a Republican rubber-stamp imperial kingdom, and with Sam Alito on the Court that missing piece of a Republican rubber-stamp imperial kingdom may no longer be missing. One cannot believe even the right-wing firebrands want this -- an unaccountable, secretive, despotic and autocratic one-party system. If one doubts that a single vote on the Supreme Court can actually make a big difference or substantially alter our government and history, one need look no further than to the political tsunami created by a single vote in Bush v. Gore.
Judge Alito’s extensive record of opinions supporting a centralized, authoritarian executive branch, as well as a personal history of bias regarding racial and gender politics, does not encourage me to trust his apparent about face. Although Alito has attempted to disavow and downplay many of his past opinions, etc., he nevertheless did avow them at one time. What’s changed, except his audience? His history is also replete with numerous examples of his obsequiousness in feeding his superiors what he thinks they want -- a modus operandi not exactly comforting in the present circumstances. Neither comforting is his selective memory, a memory so perfect discussing case law, so imperfect discussing right-wing organizations he formerly belonged to.
Of course many judges have surprised us in a positive way once they were ensconced as justices on the Supreme Court, and if Judge Alito is elevated to our homegrown Mount Olympus he, too, may surprise us with an enlightened worldview. I certainly hope so, if he is confirmed. In spite of his clever bobbing and weaving this week, Sam Alito appears, however, to be little more than a right-wing extremist in a moderate’s clothing, and the consequences of the old ideologue emerging after his confirmation are too dire to contemplate, particularly if we cherish -- as I presume most of us do -- a government with our Constitutional safeguards firmly in place.
Nobody knows the future, of course, but I’d rather be safe than witness the alternative. I hardly think an imperial presidency was what our founders envisioned, but it may be what they -- and we -- are going to get, with George W. Bush as sovereign the first. Caveat America.
A BUZZFLASH READER CONTRIBUTION
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