Many people have been asking me what I think of the nomination of John Roberts to fill Sandra Day O’Connor’s seat on the Supreme Court, especially in light of my piece “Signifying Nothing,” which has gotten wide circulation.
I see this nomination as just one in another of the Bush administration’s smart strategic moves to keep the left busy fire fighting, thus expending time and resources, but not actually advancing forward. I believe that the Bush administration is purposely not doing anything so outrageous that people will pour into the streets.
Don’t get me wrong. Bush and Co are doing outrageous things everyday. And they’re getting away with it. The recess appointment of John Bolton is just the latest example in a long line of stunningly brazen moves that consolidate power and flaunt convention. Perhaps it’s the shock that dampens the people’s reaction to these moves. Or perhaps it’s the flawless Orwellian “doublespeak” of such Bush programs as the Patriot Act, The Clear Skies Initiative, and No Child Left Behind that leaves people’s heads spinning and unable to think clearly. The Bush Juggernaut is like the most skilled Las Vegas magician: we only see what they want us to see. And even those of us who see the sleight of hand behind the card trick are often at a loss of how to explain the illusion before they’ve moved on to the next one. (I’m reminded of the Thomas Mann novella, Mario and the Magician, about nascent fascism. It’s been years since I’ve read it; I’ll have to re-read it and see if it’s relevant to our times.)
But what I’m talking about with the Roberts nomination is somewhat different. Alberto Gonzalez’s name had been tossed about for years as Bush’s top pick for the Supreme Court, even before Abu Graib, even before he became Attorney General. But I believe that the administration sensed that a Gonzales nomination to replace O’Connor would produce too much protest. So instead, they nominated John Roberts. He has a shady history no doubt, including gratuitously arguing during another case that Roe v. Wade was a bad decision that should be overturned while he was Solicitor General under Bush. But what the media is portraying is a relatively young, good looking man, who his colleagues all describe as “nice”. And the left is reacting in kind. Instead of calling for an outright rejection of Roberts, or even a filibuster, leaders on the left are asking that his background be “thoroughly investigated“. That’s as lame-ass a protest as the Dems, before the Iraq War started, complaining that they should be consulted in the decision to go to war.
Another example of this “give ‘em enough to keep ‘em busy, but not enough to provoke massive protest” is what they’re doing with reproductive rights. Bush, et al, have never hidden the fact that they want to outlaw abortion in the U.S. But instead of overturning Roe v. Wade outright, they have been slowly chipping away at reproductive rights for years. They know that legal abortion has become an accepted fact for the majority of Americans, and that most would not accept the outlawing of abortion. So instead they wear it away step by step. This long-term assault seems much less serious to the general public. The result is that people on the left who see the true Bush agenda and call it out are accused of crying wolf. And the difficulty of sustaining a drawn-out defense of Roe wears on the financial and human resources of the choice movement.
Perhaps they’ll save Alberto Gonzalez for when Rhenquist retires, which I believe will be once the Roberts confirmation goes through. Or maybe they’re satisfied with him as Attorney General for now. What’s certain is that Roberts will get confirmed. Remember that a Democratic-controlled Senate confirmed Clarence Thomas. Anyone who expects any real opposition from that corner is sorely deluded.