After the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative icon, politicians and pundits alike descended like buzzards to pick at his bones.
In the shadows of the Internet, conspiracy theorists, having run out of un-arrested Bundys to distract them, whispered that Scalia might have been assassinated.
It’s always a shock when a 79-year-old in the prime of life tips over. I think he was going to run a marathon next week, too. If they bury him next to Vince Foster, we’ll know something is up.
As a presidential campaign rages, tensions are high. After Saturday’s Republican debate, future fisticuffs seem imminent. Watch out for Trump—he’s got a mean left hook. I expect the featherweight Rubio to run. Cruz is most likely to poison the water bottle. Kasich will referee.
Republican candidates were united on one point, though—the NEXT president should choose Scalia’s replacement. Heaven forbid the court should swing to the center.
You can’t stand left of Genghis Kahn and be a Scalia fan. He politicized the court with close ties to Republican interests. He’s been been the enemy of women’s privacy and equal pay, LBGT and minority rights. He helped hijack a presidential election, and thought health care ought be restricted to those who could afford it.
He championed Citizens United, a decision that injected dark money into politics, enabling billionaires to speak anonymously with a megaphone, making our legalized system of bribery even more toxic. Just two candidates, Trump and Sanders, are talking about this political pollution. We ought to pay attention.
Rigor mortis had not yet set in when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared, “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
How noble. Yes, I’m sure if the Republicans held the White House, he’d feel the same way.
Fact is, Americans have spoken resoundingly—twice—when they elected Barack Obama. The notion he should abdicate his constitutional duties with a year left in his term is wishful thinking. He ain’t Sarah Palin.
Americans aren’t cheering for more gridlock. A stall may put Republicans in the position of opposing a qualified nominee from a faction they desperately need to win in November, possibly a minority. Or Hillary could win and appoint Obama, a move that would flood emergency rooms across the country with heart-attack victims, driving Medicare into insolvency. In that regard, a win for conservatives.
The notion Obama will appoint a left-wing ideologue is misguided. First of all, in spite of the hysteria from the right, Obama has governed from the center-left. He’s more conservative than Trump and he’s going to nominate someone Americans will support. Any nominee must have at least some conservative credibility to help moderate Republicans in the Senate (if they still exist) justify their vote.
Working with this president is the pragmatic move. It’s a long way to November. Democrats could win both the White House and the Senate. Then, you’d see a true liberal appointee. Republicans could hedge their bets, appear to be putting the country ahead of party for once, and confirm a moderate now. We’re hardly breaking new ground here. In Reagan’s last year, Democrats confirmed Justice Anthony Kennedy.
This is the first battle of the next presidential term. Should Republicans be successful in blocking a nominee and winning the White House, they may still face a Democratic backlash like the one inflicted upon Obama. Worse, they will squander any remaining faith Americans have in the political system.
All-or-nothing extremists from the Tea Party have fractured the Republican tradition of compromise and diplomacy. Their mantra that “government is the enemy,” is corrosive and empty-headed. Government itself isn’t the issue.
Dysfunctional government is the enemy and no group has undermined the function of government more than these mean-spirited, paranoid zealots. Sure, let’s shut down the government, again. People love that sort of thing.
It’s notable Ruth Bader Ginsberg, perhaps the most liberal member of the court, found her dearest friend in Scalia. In that, they have set an example for us all. We may disagree, but we should still get along.
Our democratic republic is constructed of compromise. Change doesn’t come quickly, but the pace lends itself to more stability. By compromising and finding a qualified justice who gives both parties some (if not all) of what they want, they could set the stage for a more-functional government and more-respectful discourse.
One can hope.
© Tony Bender, 2016