Monday, April 9, 2012

Cat Among the Pigeons

E.J. Dionne notes that the right-wingers are aghast — simply aghast, I tell you — that President Obama would dare challenge the Supreme Court to rule fairly on the healthcare law.

Conservatives are not accustomed to being on the defensive.

They have long experience with attacking the evils of the left and the abuses of activist judges. They love to assail “tax-and-spend liberals” without ever discussing who should be taxed or what government money is actually spent on. They expect their progressive opponents to be wimpy and apologetic.

So imagine the shock when President Obama decided last week to speak plainly about what a Supreme Court decision throwing out the health-care law would mean, and then landed straight shots against the Mitt Romney-supported Paul Ryan budget as “a Trojan horse,” “an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country,” and “thinly veiled social Darwinism.”

Obama specifically listed the programs the Ryan-Romney budget would cut back, including student loans, medical and scientific research grants, Head Start, feeding programs for the poor, and possibly even the weather service.

Romney pronounced himself appalled, accusing Obama of having “railed against arguments no one is making” and “criticized policies no one is proposing.” Yet Romney could neither defend the cuts nor deny the president’s list of particulars, based as they were on reasonable assumptions. When it came to the Ryan budget, Romney wanted to fuzz things up. But, as Obama likes to point out, math is math.

And when Obama went after the right’s willingness to use the power of the Supreme Court for ideological purposes, conservatives were aghast — and never mind that conservatives have been castigating activist judges since at least the 1968 presidential campaign.

We can go back a lot further than 1968. The right wing had conniptions after Brown v. Board of Education, after Loving v. Virginia, after Griswold v. Connecticut, and Ronald Reagan tore into the judiciary on a regular basis to the point that it was as common as jelly beans in jars on the desks of the West Wing. It’s risen to new heights during this campaign season with calls from Newt Gingrich to arrest judges whose decisions the Congress didn’t like and force them to answer for them. Separation of powers? That’s so 1930’s. It’s especially ironic given the conservatives’ victories at the hands of activist judges who helped them steal an election and open the floodgates of uncontrolled cash into an election process that was already steeped in enough corporate corruption to make Robert Mugabe send them candy and a stripper.

I think what especially irks them is that it’s coming from President Obama, who is, in their eyes, getting dangerously uppity about his re-election campaign. He is not showing the due deference that Democrats and lesser forms of society should show to their betters. Who does he think he is, Franklin D. Roosevelt?

In fact, Obama’s statements are moderate compared with those of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who unsuccessfully sought to add members to the court after it had voided one New Deal law after another.

The Constitution, Roosevelt insisted, is “a layman’s document, not a lawyer’s contract.” Its ambiguities had created “an unending struggle between those who would preserve this original broad concept of the Constitution” and those who “cry ‘unconstitutional’ at every effort to better the condition of our people.”


Progressives would be wildly irresponsible if they sat by quietly while a conservative Supreme Court majority undid 80 years of jurisprudence. Roosevelt wasn’t a wimp, and Obama has decided that he won’t be one, either. Conservatives are unhappy because they prefer passive, intimidated liberals to the fighting kind.

More of this, please.