(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:
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¬âRehnquist, 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¬âand perhaps even, in the worst case, antidiscrimination legislation for local business¢â¬âmatters 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¬âBush once called the war on terrorism a crusade¢â¬âand 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¬âa 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.