The Political Pendulum
The announcement this week of more decisions of the US Supreme Court by its 5-4 conservative majority confirmed that the Chief Justice Roberts has not been able to bring the Justices to a wider consensus. The Court seems to be even more divided than ever in its opinions, with four conservatives and four liberals and one swing man who leans toward conservative. Bush appointee Alito surprised no one with the extent of his conservatism, willingly striking more to the political right than even the late Justice Rehnquist. But Roberts is a true disappointment. Not only has he failed as a consensus builder and voted consistently with the political right wing point of view, but he also has shown a shocking willingness to discard legal precedent, incrementally rather than wholesale, but nevertheless in large increments.
Hope for more sensible majority opinions from the Court now rests on Justice Kennedy, who has taken over the middle role formerly played by Sandra Day O’Connor. But while the Court conservatives are voting to change precedent in large steps, Kennedy only seems willing to reduce the length of their strides rather than change the direction they are taking. Since the conservatives on the Court are also the youngest Justices, liberals who believe in an intervening God may need to pray for intervention. A prayer for change of conservative legal hearts would be nice, but a plea for conservative heart stoppage during the coming Democratic Presidency would be more direct.
Bush has kicked the political pendulum far to the right. The momentum has slowed greatly and now started to turn, most noticeably last fall with the Democrats gaining a slim majority in Congress. Democrat led Congressional oversight hearings have given cover to previously timid journalists, with resulting deeper disclosures of the secrecy, corruption and incompetency of the Bush administration. The American majority has gagged on the Bush effort to undermine Social Security, soured on the Iraq fiasco and been repulsed by the Bush embrace of torture and domestic spying. With a few exceptions, Republicans in Congress, fearing unsuccessful re-election races, are not openly resisting the change of direction, though they still are dragging their feet.
The next measurement of political pendulum movement takes place in November 2008, when Americans are expected to choose a Democrat for President. The movement toward Democrats could include holding onto Congress. It would be great if it went so far as to produce the needed 60 Democrats in the Senate to block Republican filibusters, though that is about as far as the Congressional pendulum ever swings.
But what about the underlying long range American pendulum swing? Unfortunately, in many ways since the 1970s, the movement has been toward the right wing, propelled by corporate funding and religious and racial exploitation. In limited areas, public sentiment has leaned left, but overall right wing momentum has prevailed. Consider this list of subjects.
Abortion - Though public opinion has been more accepting of reproductive rights, political action has not reflected that acceptance.
Capital Punishment - Like abortion, political reality is more to the right of public opinion.
Corporations - In spite of all they bad things they do, their money buys political power and public relations, and much of the voting public has at least token stock ownership through 401k plans, so corporations, quintessentially right wing, continue to enjoy unwarranted favoritism and influence.
Democracy - Money has undermined our democratic foundations. The Bush Administration came to power by trampling on voters rights and has continued the process under the guise of preventing voter fraud. Targeting black voters lower on the socio-economic scale has added insult to the injury, but not particularly in the eyes of white America.
Economics - The economic gap has widened with such debacles as the Bush tax giveaways to the rich and the huge increases in the national debt and trade deficits. Americans have fallen for the overextended credit mirage of wealth, and now the false image is starting to disappear. As more middle Americans fall into the financial hole and get abused by the Bush bankruptcy “reform” thumb screws, the opportunity to move economics back toward justice will improve.
Education - A truly educated electorate is a threat to right wing momentum, which is why the right continues to undercut public education. A credible movement for educational excellence in America has yet to emerge.
Environment - Great hope lies in the strange bedfellows of brilliantly practical environmentalists and sensibly realistic business leaders. Such partnerships, based on mutual acceptance of scientific reality, common appreciation of the wonders of nature and recognition of the economic benefits of wise environmental policies, can be the basis for significant improvement, especially once Bush is gone.
Health - We need better health insurance, and also better health. Partnerships of legitimate stakeholders like unions, employers and health care providers can bring significant improvements. The villainsous insurers, advertisers and drug companies, need to be regulated out of illegitimate influence. Hillary Clinton may have the knowledge and connections to generate movement in the correct direction.
Homosexuality - This hot button issue swings similar to abortion.
Immigration - Our nation of immigrants remains deeply conflicted about how much to close the door in the face of new arrivals, and especially about what to do with the millions that were encouraged to sneak in by employers seeking to cut wages of American workers.
Journalism - Right wing money continues to pervert and pressure the media, but the excesses of the Bush years provide an opportunity for the re-emergence of some respectable journalism.
Labor - Unions continue moribund, except for government employees. Some rumblings of fresh approaches within the labor movement are encouraging. The exit of Bush probably marks the farthest limit of the movement against labor.
Race - The Roberts Court has given new energy to the right wing racially reactive movement. On the personal level, Bush caused Colin Powell to embarrass himself, blinded Condoleezza Rice to reality and proved Alberto Gonzales to be just an empty suit. New Orleans shows just how unimportant the situation of poor black Americans is in the eyes of the rest of the country.
White American concern over the browning of America is a major factor in the immigration debate.
Religion - Republican embrace of evangelicals has at least slowed and maybe even stopped the right wing endorsed merger of church and state, but the Roberts Court will probably prevent any change in direction back to more separation.
Sex - Hypocrisy continues as corporate money exploits sex for profits, while supporting right wing Republicans who use sex as a political wedge issue. Our unhealthy sex obsessions are like the forest which we cannot see because of focusing on one Super Bowl breast.
UN - As the pendulum of the Iraq fiasco in Iraq has flown back to hit Bush in the face, Americans have reason for new respect for the UN.
War - Once again, we have been schooled that war is rarely a valid solution. As Pete Seeger memorably sang, “When will we ever learn?” For a while now, we will be less likely to Sabre rattle.
Women - Hillary’s run confirms the capability of powerful women, but women on the lower end of the economic scale remain largely underpowered.