I am an open, enthusiastic fan of something most Americans, including many of the professional practitioners of it, claim to hate, which is politics. I always have to laugh when politicians say they want to “take the politics out of” something, or when they accuse their opponents of being “political” — as if that was somehow appalling for a politician to be.
I love politics, and I believe that in a democracy, it is not only a positive good but absolutely essential to a functioning government and society. I further believe that, as my late friend Paul Tully used to say, you can’t take the politics out of politics. By this I mean that you can’t take the wheeling and dealing, the give and take, the posturing, the deal making, the speechifying, or the partisanship out of the world of politics, and it actually makes things worse to try: as long as humans are human, it will be there. It is fundamental to a democracy to have politics, and my view is progressives should be good at politics and not shrink from it.
So why am I so upset that the Supreme Court seems to have been taken over by a bunch of political hacks? Look, I think everyone brings their ideology with them in whatever position they get appointed to, so I don’t think justices are ever going to be pure and impartial as they listen to cases being argued and make decisions on whether legislation is constitutional or not. But the kind of pure, unadulterated right-wing Republican hackery exhibited by Scalia and some of his brethren this week in the health care arguments was one of the most repulsive things I have ever seen. I mean, really — the broccoli argument? Talking about things that didn’t even make it into the bill? Come on, guys: are you going to have Bill O’Reilly write your opinions for you?
Okay, I’ll admit, I knew before this that some of these justices are hacks. Bush v. Gore and Citizens United proved that definitively. So did Scalia and Thomas flying out for a retreat with the Koch brothers. But, wow, to see it out there in front of God and everybody, so obvious it hurt, it was shocking even to a hard-ass old denizen of politics like me. I guess I grew up thinking the courts were supposed to preserve some modest measure of impartiality.
In spite of my love of politics, I still have this old-fashioned belief that some institutions ought to try to maintain some semblance of balance and integrity and dignity. I’m old enough to remember a time when not all or even most American institutions were utterly taken over by partisan politics. The Supreme Court, as one example, has always had conservative and progressive justices, but a couple of decades back they had enough independence to rule in a way that didn’t automatically help one party or another, and there were frequent surprises in how they did rule. But it is also true in other institutions.
One example: the Catholic Church was of course very upset when the Roe v. Wade decision came down, and they have always mobilized against abortion rights. Yet when I was a young man growing up in organizing, progressive groups frequently were in coalition with Catholic bishops and institutions on an array of issues.
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