Dworkin on the US Presidential election

(via Gary Sauer-Thompson) Frequent Troppo readers will be aware that American jurisprudential scholar Ronald Dworkin is one of my intellectual heroes. Phillip Adams’ favourite borrowing source the New York Review of Books has just published a multiple author article titled The Election and America’s Future. I’m reproducing Dworkin’s contribution on the extended page here because the article lacks internal page links. But the whole article is worth reading:

RONALD DWORKIN

New York City

This election will decide whether a radical politics succeeds in the United States. We have been governed, for many decades, from somewhere in the broad center of opinion rather than through a winner-take-all contest of extremes. We have kept religion out of politics so that people will not be alienated from their government because of their beliefs; and our foreign policy has, for the most part, been grounded in bipartisan unity, not partisan politics. The Bush administration has replaced every part of that centrist philosophy with a strategy of ideological partisanship aimed at two groups. It subscribes to the principles and causes of the religious right and it is convinced that Bush can be reelected by giving that particularly zealous minority reason to vote in great numbers. It relies, in that hope, on the support it has bought from powerful mass media and business groups by sponsoring huge and economically perilous tax cuts, and by virtually abandoning past bipartisan initiatives to protect the environment and improve public safety.

The alliance with the religious right has already proved a serious threat to America’s commitment to social inclusiveness. Bush urges amending the Constitution to outlaw gay marriage; he calls for federal support for religious projects, and condemns millions of Americans to unnecessary suffering by forbidding stem cell research. Religious fundamentalists want above all to staff the courts with judges who share their views, and he has pandered to that wish by nominating to the federal courts only lawyers distinguished for their intransigence on issues of abortion, race, civil rights, workers’ protection, gay rights, religion, or the environment, many of them embarrassingly unqualified for judicial office. Senate Democrats have so far blocked some of the worst of these nominations by filibusters, but they may not be able or willing to continue to do so if Bush is reelected while protesting that tactic. Bush could and would then fill the federal courts with whatever reactionary judges he thought most pleasing to what he regards as his “core constituency.”

——————————————————————————–

The crucial court, of course, is the Supreme Court. America is very lucky to have survived one Bush administration without a single new Supreme Court appointment, but a second term without more than one new appointment seems unlikely. Even during the last few years, when the Court has been dominated by relatively conservative justices, it has done more than any other national institution to protect American principles of equal citizenship and individual fairness. It has refused to abandon affirmative action; it has insisted on rights for homosexuals; and it has held that even aliens whom the President declared to be enemies of the United States are entitled to the due process of law. But each of these important victories was won by one or two votes, and each was denounced by the fundamentalists Bush has assured of his support.

The three most conservative justices ¢â¬âRehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas¢â¬â voted against each of those decisions and have also made it plain that they would vote, whenever they have the chance, to overrule the Court’s earlier decisions recognizing women’s abortion rights, decisions the fundamentalists hate most of all; and Bush has all but promised that he would appoint new justices who would vote with them.

New justices would presumably also join the conservatives’ campaign to transfer power from the federal government to the states, so that a new Court might conceivably make environmental regulation¢â¬âand perhaps even, in the worst case, antidiscrimination legislation for local business¢â¬âmatters of state option rather than federal jurisdiction. A Bush Court would probably have an entire generation in which to destroy constitutional rights that the Court has built up over decades, rights that have helped to define Americans’ sense of their own public values. Even if we came to our senses after a second Bush term, that terrible damage would have been done and could not soon be undone.

Of course judicial appointments are not the only danger in Bush’s alliance with right-wing religion, or even the worst. The terrorists want their battle with the United States to be seen as a religious war in which we fight not for justice or safety but for our god against theirs, and almost everything the administration has done since September 11 has helped them to sustain that claim. The administration’s incompetent war in Iraq is not only immoral because it has killed thousands for no legitimate purpose, but it is also stunningly counterproductive because it has convinced much of the world that America’s ideology, not the terrorists’, is the gravest threat to peace. The administration defends its military actions in theological terms whenever it can¢â¬âBush once called the war on terrorism a crusade¢â¬âand America sometimes treats its prisoners with the special humiliation and cruelty of the Spanish Inquisition.

These policies are as divisive domestically as they are in the larger world. Bush has sacrificed shared pride in American values¢â¬âa unity that was itself a source of protection in danger¢â¬â for the militancy of fundamentalist religion. His reelection would be frightening not just for the damage a second term would do but because his radical political strategy would then seem, to future Republican candidates, a new template for electoral success.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Brian McKinlay
Brian McKinlay
2022 years ago

Dworkin seems to say very much the same things as critics of the Religious Right/Family First/Cardinal Pell,have been saying in Australia since the recent elections. He makes the powerful point that the Fundamentalists do inflict pain and death by their obscurantism and hostility to scientific and medical advances. How many women die from backyard abortions because of their policies in the USA,and here too if the fundamentalists had their way…and likewise with their opposition to stem-sell research,based on their belief that tiny bits of goo have a soul.Dworkin provides all the arguments needed to justify those here who oppose religious groups being involved in our political life

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

Religion ain’t nothing but the politics of the centuries.

And it has always been a particularly nasty and authoritarian kinda of politics, especially the Bronze Age sky good religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

If I work out a covenant with what I think is my Prime Mover, why should anyone else believe they have the right to interpret it for me?

I am prepared to entertain arguments about the value of human life and the impact of our personal actions based on the muddled through consensus of how we got this far. But telling me what me to do, based on someone else’s reading of the intentions of their invisible superhero from out there, doesn’t take us much further from apes flinching at thunder.

As far as I can see, organised religion has only successfully delivered one virtue: charity. Everything else that got us this far was developed, invented or put into practical use by us being a bunch of clever, curious, restless, aggressive, thoughtful and imaginative monkeys with a sense of humour.

Or to put it another way, if the Popes had taken in what people like Galileo Galilei had to say, then Keith Roberts’ counterfactual history “Pavane” wouldn’t have been fiction…but it was, thank god.

Shorter Nabakov: Believing in yer own God is cool. However contents may settle to the vendors’s benefit during transit.

Nick
Nick
2022 years ago

Certainly Dworkin has an element of the Cassandra in him…but it’s hard to refute much of his argument. Bush has certainly decided to ignore the role that cluey Presidents such as Clinton & Reagan played in American politics by moving to a centrist, more populist position in their 2nd terms. History will determine if he chose the Right path for his party & America as a whole but it’s hard to see how his fundamentalist Christian, faith-driven goals & corporate enslavement will benefit a nation that is swinging in their desire towards a Canadian style health & pharmaceutical system…ironic that Bush is bailing himself out of the flu shot fiasco by utilising Canadian companies considering his admin’s antagonistic attitude towards the health system across the Northern border & attempts to ban cross border purchases. He’s no flip flopper…:)
Unfortunately Bush & his cohorts are willing to play divisive politics in order to shore up the evangelical base, so Dworkin’s concerns are valid when one contemplates the consequences of an America where Far Right supreme court judges make the final decision on the most controversial of issues. However, I also find it hard to believe that Bush will not be forced to shift if he wins the election…the censorship & civil rights restraints eminating from such a society would not only harm the economy via reduced consumption & aggravate many a contributor ie: the porn industry, but also leave the Republicans with barely a wedge issue for future use. The roots of the Republican Party lay in small gov’t, promoting high productivity working conditions, balanced budgets, lower taxes and so on…Bush’s Religious zealot agenda could inadvertantly slow economic growth & piss off many a moderate in the party leading to a coup. Also a less than Centrist/Secular society could lead to aggressive & repeated civil demonstrations…violent clashes between gov’t & dissidents, civil rights protestors vs. religious bigots…quite a costly mess both in people & money…imagine the response of the swing voter desiring a peaceful society & homeland security. Hopefully some of the older Centrist & Left-Wing judges can hold out long enuff to ensure America survives a biased stacking of the Supreme Court seats. Fingers crossed too that the ballot proposal in Colorado is passed that ensures a fairer distribution of the electoral votes rather than the undemocratic status quo of ‘winner takes all’. This might see a popular uprising against this archaic system that has ensured the majority of Americans are unrepresented…consequently more than half the population don’t bother to vote. The Gore popular vote win is a case in point. Actually, from this fellas point of view, fingers crossed Bush fails in his attempt to regain the Presidency. Thanx for the chance to read the article Ken.

Red Peter
Red Peter
2022 years ago

While I agree that the Supreme Court appointments are a worry, I’m not sure it’s a wholly fair portrait of Bush as the rabid fundamentalist vs. Clinton as the cluey centrist. A big factor in Clinton’s move to the middle ground was that the senate, having previously been lead by the democrats, was re-claimed by republicans in ’94. Apparently, this suited him just fine because because the pressure from his leaders of congress had had him producing a less populist, more idealogical policy agenda.

Clinton has remarked that Bush should have let the senate go to the dems in ’02, but he didn’t, and, as mentioned, historically this almost always leads to more divisive policies. Of course, that Bush drove so hard for complete control of congress says something about the man and his administration in itself. It was probably rationalised that a “commander in chief” needed total control.

Nick
Nick
2022 years ago

Hey Red Peter, I agree that the loss of the Senate in 94 was a blow for the Clinton Admin., in part caused by his failure to persuade Congress to pass an extensive health care reform bill through the Congress, but Clinton had already shown shades of the Right pre-the loss of the Senate…for instance: his aggressive moves to motivate welfare recipients into the workforce (Welfare Reform Initiative) & a hard-line approach to crime (The Violent Crime Control & Law Enforcement Act)…eventuating in ‘three strikes & you’re out!’ He ordered a Tomahawk attack on Iraq in 93…sends troops into an ill-fated situation in Somalia…initiates the National Performance Review that ended up reducing Federal Employee jobs & Federal spending”

Red Peter
Red Peter
2022 years ago

G’day Nick,

Generally I agree, but for the sake of nit-picking, I’ll mention that Clinton’s ex campaign manager (what’s-his-name?) said in a radio interview about his new book, that Clinton really didn’t want to pass those welfare reforms as they were formulated and probably sees them as the largest blemish on his presidency. Of course, Clinton himself doesn’t acknowledge this in his autobiography.

I guess the broad point I was making is that a President isn’t necessarily granted more autonomy by holding all of congress. The more extreme policies, and especially the less populist ones, are probably attributable to pressures from his own party (at least to a significant degree). Although personally, I would agree that WRT the war on terror, it’s likely Bush is driven by his own ideology and the “echo chamber effect” more than anything.

Lastly, I also wondered what kind of legacy Bush will leave after I watched “the fog of war” (on election eve- helped put things in perspective ;-)). I’m too young to have directly experienced the Vietnam War so I could be wrong, but it’s hard for me to imagine that in these days of spin and the way news is experienced by and large, there will ever be sufficient clarity for the wider community to come to a general consensus. Even in retrospect.

Nick
Nick
2022 years ago

How goes it Red Peter?

Even tho i respect Dick Morris for some of his strategic planning & ability on occas. to see the bigger picture in politics, I take many of of his comments about the Clintons, Democrat Party & politics in general with more than a pinch of salt…perhaps a shaker full. It’s the (biased?) opinion of some media critics, Morris has been a vengeful & effective member of the anti-Clinton campaigns since the ‘loose lips sinks ships’ scandal in 1996. After falling from grace with the Clintons he apparently recovered from a political ‘no man’s land’ by converting to Christianity & becoming a Fox News contributor…who have promoted & supported his attack dog publications throughout this era. Morris has demonstrated borderline political tendencies for years, adamantly promoting the Clintons one moment, demeening them the next…he’s someone who has worked for both sides of the aisle, whose main concern seems to be ensuring the candidate wins at all costs…definately Machavellian & apparently proud of it. Say no more. Don’t take my word for it…follow the link for one view…not definitive just another perspective in this war of political words:
http://conwebwatch.tripod.com/stories/2002/morris.html

However, that said, I’m sure his assertions are correct that Clinton would have been reticant to sign the Welfare Bill, considering his own past experiences…& a general concern for those living in poverty. The obvious main determinant being the desire to win the election. Regardless, he won from the Centre & demonstrated an ability to drop his principles in order to retain the Presidency…cluey in the extreme…:)…morally reprehensible?…that’s another story. Trust me, I’m no member of the Cult of Clinton…:)
Regarding GW…I couldn’t agree more with your ‘echo chamber’ comments…& faith-based determination to win a war against the bad guys & the phantom bomb. Sounds like a bad B-movie. Now, history could prove us prophets of doom wrong, but I can’t shrug off the sense that Bush has been brain-washed by a fanatical element of the Christian Right…conveniently & probably not coincidentally, in conjunction with the allegiance he holds for Dad’s Big Corporate mates & allies so implicitly involved in the War & Reconstruction (?) efforts…who constantly tickle his ego & reaffirm his belief that his goals & opinions are his own, smart & ‘spot on’…destined to save humanity from certain extinction by eliminating each & every Islamic-based terrorist & their brethren & harbourers, those authoritarian regimes & their sham electoral systems…the echo chamber is filled with a cacophony of ‘Stomp hard my son with a big stick!!!…& Bush in a desperate need to prove himself a capable lad after a rather spotty past is enjoying the adulation spotlight & positive stroking…hitting the campaign road with a special type of zealotry that has no room for ‘doubt’ or ‘uncertainty’. Ignorance is bliss!!! in this case.
In the cold, hard light of post-election day, if GW retains power, it’ll be interesting to see if he shrinks under the critical assessment of his beliefs & plan of action. If the corporate masters pull back on the chain & choke their baying attack dog…at least restrain it somewhat…dragging it from RightLand to Centreland, place of all unification & harmony, where polls tell us the pragmatic & opportunistic leaders should rule & reside for the good of the people. If he remains in Right land by virtue of a type of Goebbel’s style propaganda campaign with a morally panicked base willing to turn on their so-called ‘unpatriotic, gutless, terrorist-supporting’ fellow citizens the world could be heading towards elephant stampede territory. The tremors felt across the globe & history as such. Albeit, if GW loses, the Brutus phenomena will ensure his character & campaign strategies are left for a decade or so in the ‘if only’ & ‘what was he thinking?’ basket…until the memories fade & the spinmeisters do their usual magic routine & turn the ‘Infamous’ into ‘Legend’. Ho hum? I wish.

Nick
Nick
2022 years ago

Sorry about the obvious spelling mistakes folks…was in a rush & need a bit more sleep… darn computers been acting up all night…virus creators should be forced to walk the plank imho…:(

Red Peter
Red Peter
2022 years ago

Thanks for the reply Nick.

Your right about Dick Morris; either he has an axe to grind or he’s purely an opportunist (the latter seems to be the dominant trend for campaign strategists). His comments on Bill and Hillary’s personal relationship are pretty disgusting, even if they’re true.

Re: Bush if he wins a second term (as I think he will): I’m optimistic in thinking that he’ll take a more moderate approach. Of course, the “tough guy” exterior will be maintained either way, but reality is beginning to bite and I’m hopeful that enough Republicans will feel the pinch and start to wake up. Perhaps there’s a dash of indignation among some doom sayers, about the prospect of GWB getting away without the roof falling in just because he didn’t knock out the last few pillars of reason in his second term. I share that feeling to an extent, although on balance it’s a small price to pay if it mitigates some of the chaos we’re seeing now.

Nick
Nick
2022 years ago

Hey Red Peter,
i’m sure there exists many a doomsayer with an obsessive desire to see the American imperialistic, rampant capitalist system collapse…i have my own problems with voting systems & a lack of corporate accountability, not to mention the far too cosy triangular relationship between the mainstream media, major political parties & multi-national corporations…however, you probably realise by now I’m not one of those hypocrites or irrationalists who watches every attack on the US military, every roadside bombing report, every market descent with glee…i’ve chatted to a few such characters in my time, interestingly, some have even benefitted from sectors of our economic & political system & yet have this perverse desire to see it fall into the abyss…hopefully their apocalyptic/crash wishes will not be fulfilled under the rule of the Bush regime & sanity will prevail…& as you aptly put it: ‘Republicans will feel the pinch and start to wake up’…
thanx for the stimulating discussion.

trackback
2022 years ago

Turnout for the best

I noticed this post over at Laura Rozen’s site suggesting there is some encouraging news out there for the Democrats: Met with someone pretty senior in the Kerry/Edwards campaign today. He said Kerry/Edwards are up 6 points in swing states,…