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TDS Strategy Memo: The Phantom Menace

John on April 15, 2010 at 9:54 am

They say it was published on April 10th, but I’m thinking it was supposed to be April 1st. This “urgent” strategy memo on the Supreme Court was published by William Galston, Stan Greenberg and Ruy Teixeira. It begins (the bold is their’s, not mine):

The Republican right has a deeply disturbing covert extremist agenda for the Supreme Court – end the separation of church and state, undermine the legality of Social Security and Medicare and give individuals the right to ignore any laws they choose.

Does this sound like a wildly hysterical exaggeration?

It certainly does. But unfortunately, it also happens to be true.

They then set out to prove this ludicrous claim using three bullet points. Let’s consider them one at a time:

Since the 1990′s, the Christian Right has sought to replace the traditional American separation of church and state with the notion that the U.S. was actually created as a “Christian Nation” in which Christianity was intended to receive favored treatment by government policy. The most startling recent expression of this view was last month’s decision by the Texas School Board to remove Thomas Jefferson – the symbol of America’s tradition of religious freedom and tolerance – from the states’ history curriculum

This is the “dominionist” claim that was all the rage 3-4 years ago but recently seems to have faded to the background. There are dominionists on the right, but their numbers and importance have been grossly exaggerated for political impact by the left. In fact, it is difficult to identify anyone who self-identifies as a dominionist today. Many of the pastors, authors and speakers who have been so labeled by the left, such as the now deceased D. James Kennedy, explicitly rejected the label.

But in order to make this absurd claim about a coming theocracy, the authors ignore the facts and instead hang their conspiracy on a single peg, i.e. the work of the Texas school board. First off, how does this represent an agenda for the Supreme Court? Second, the Texas school board was elected by the people and nothing they did constituted an abuse of their power. Put another way, this is your government at work. If you don’t like it, campaign for the other guy. Third and most importantly, Thomas Jefferson was not removed from the curriculum. The board voted to remove Jefferson’s name from a list of persons whose writings supposedly influenced political revolutions around the world in the 18th century. They did not remove Jefferson from the curriculum.

Next hysterical claim:

The opponents of Health Care Reform in the Tea Party Movement and among Republicans around the country have advanced the argument that Congress does not have the constitutional authority to enact health reform legislation and are now filing lawsuits based on this view. The basis for such suits – typically a denial of the power of Congress to legislate economic matters under the Commerce and Spending Clauses of the U.S. Constitution–is automatically and unavoidably a collateral attack on the constitutionality of a vast array of past legislation, including most New Deal/Great Society programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

No one has suggested that Congress doesn’t have the right to reform health care. The question is whether Congress has the power to force Americans to purchase insurance (or any commodity) under the commerce clause. If it does have this authority, it has never used it before.

The authors are correct that resistance to ObamaCare may signal resistance to other New Deal/Great Society boondoggles such as Social Security (now in the red, btw), but the issue in this case is distinct. Social Security revenues are a tax. Forcing someone to buy health insurance is not a tax, it’s a demand. Their description of the resistance to this demand is deceptive. In any case, appealing to the courts on a disputed matter is not a radical agenda for the Supreme Court it’s how things are supposed to work.

Third absurd claim:

The Republican revolt against any cooperation with Democratic legislation and initiatives has carried an extraordinary number of conservatives into a general attitude of defiance towards the rule of law itself and flirtation with constitutional doctrines of state nullification and succession. These doctrines were developed as arguments for state sovereignty by the Confederacy in the civil war era and as 1950′s and 1960′s era segregationist strategies to thwart desegregation and civil rights for African-Americans.

Names? Cases? Have they got anything to back this up? Who are the conservatives threatening succession? How many people take this talk seriously? Where is the coordinated agenda they claimed in the opening line?

This looks to me like one more deceptive attempt to claim that resistance to ObamaCare is racist. That’s a well worn strategy on the left by now, but it continues to be a lie no matter how many times it is repeated.

And again, what does any of this have to do with the Supreme Court? The authors flimsy speculation and cherry picking of a few extreme views never amounts to a danger to the Republic. Remember, Barack Obama is President. He’ll be the one selecting candidates to fill the vacancies. Are the authors concerned that he might select a dominionist or a racist?

Obviously this is all posturing. Three liberals are out to do exactly what Jason Levin (crash the tea party!) set out to do, i.e. paint the right as dangerous, fundamentalist racists. They hope that by erecting this boogeyman in the public sphere they can grease the tracks for a more liberal Supreme Court pick. After all, if the right is threatening the Republic, clearly we need a far left liberal on the Supreme Court. No doubt that is what the White House wants.

It would be nice if liberals could argue honestly for their ideas rather than try to gin up fears on the left about theocracy, the end of Medicare, and racism. But hopefully the level of argument on display in this urgent memo is enough to convince most sentient readers that this a phantom menace after all.

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