Quitcherbitchin, My Fellow Liberals, and Confirm Judge Roberts

This wild-eyed lefty blogger thinks we have the best Supreme Court nominee the American public could deserve or expect, considering the President we elected twice.


The best outcome anyone can hope for given any Supreme Court vacancy is a nominee who is educationally and experientially well-prepared to consider complex constitutional issues, and who has shown himself a person of excellent judgment and character. To all appearances, Judge Roberts will be a thoughtful constitutional judge.


All the current hand-wringing, posturing, and outrage by Democrats is, I suppose, somehow useful or necessary to future fights, but we can hardly be surprised that a conservative president has selected a conservative nominee. In an unbroken American political tradition, presidents have always nominated candidates who share their political leanings. I mean, duh.


I’m grateful that Mr. Bush took someone’s very good advice concerning his huge responsibility to select a nominee who might make thoughtful decisions over a long period, who might strongly influence or even lead the court, and who has the capacity to deeply impact the country, albeit for good or ill. I’m also grateful that Mr. Bush did not select some fringey right-wing extremist type (we don’t need any more of those on the court. Or any more justices of dubious credentials, experience, or reputation.)


A woman or an ethnic minority would have been nice, all things being equal, but I saw no conservative ethnic or female nominee with equivalent qualifications.


Supreme Court justices are always a crapshoot anyway. Indeed, if this guy goes south on us and completely forgets that the job of a judge is to weigh all sides of an argument fairly, I’ll sadly chew very tough crow. Indeed, Roberts may make a terrible justice; one can never know. All such predictions are mere risk-calculation and glorified guesswork. Left-leaning justices sometimes swing right, solid conservatives like O’Conner sometimes move center, and sometimes we get a justice who turns a little nutty—or nutty-er. Then it’s up to the other justices to work hard to shape, mold, rein in, or sit on the new guy or gal.


Roberts’ relative youth is a smart choice too. Of course we would rather the young ones with years of influence ahead were liberals. But it’s good that Roberts is generationally close to the nation’s youngish folks and thus may better relate to our rapidly changing culture and the myriad new issues being raised, and it’s good that he has a young mind which may not have stopped opening and growing.


Judge Roberts has apparently worked amazingly hard, has shown integrity, character, and sound judgment in every phase of his life so far (except in choosing to be a conservative, heh-heh) and he has demonstrated a capacity for independent thought. His brilliant wife (also an independent thinker deeply concerned with ethics and trained in law) can only be an asset to him. His young adopted children are also a factor in his favor, as they may humanize and keep him grounded.


Can Roberts relate to the common man? Does he have as-yet unrevealed weaknesses? (Every other human being has; why not he?) Will our privacy rights (which cover abortion) be threatened? Maybe. Hope not. But Roberts is the best candidate we could have expected from our system when it’s working as well as it can, given our current President.


The very complex, fine-line, difficult-to-weigh-and-decide, arguably this-or-that cases that come before the Supreme Court are best considered by a group of thinkers who represent the broad range of American constitutional thought, both left and right. Even I don’t want a Supreme Court packed with only liberal thinkers; I hardly have that much faith that I’m always right, and the court will never be served by hordes of knee-jerk partisan yes-men. Besides, some of my opinions are proudly rightish. 


Finally, I’m surprised and pleased that this nominee is apparently not an extremist, but possibly, in fact, almost main-streamish-y, sort of.


We could all wish for a more representative government, and we could wish for a less politically influenced and influential Supreme Court. But, given the government we have, in this particular instance, President Bush has done exactly what he’s supposed to do. For a change.


If we want to confirm an equally qualified, more left-leaning justice when Justice Rehnquist or whoever it is next steps down, we should support Judge Roberts’ nomination, thus earning the legislative reciprocity we’ll need when our own shiny-new president (some day soon–they're all getting old!) nominates a slew of similarly qualified liberal justices.

Against Nationalism: A New Revised Standard Version of American Allegiance

As I pull up the tiny plastic U.S. flag (tagged “Made in China”) which my well-intentioned neighbor leaves on our front lawn every July 4th, I ponder my deep affection for America–her ideals, traditions, and achievements. This land has been home, safety, and opportunity for me and mine. I acknowledge the good will and sacrifice of patriots of every nation. And I do want to be an accepting, supportive neighbor.


Which is why it's so very hard to explain why I can no longer countenance nationalism and patriotism in this shiny new century. We Americans could choose to salute the amazing human achievements which have arisen in our unique context of a vast, rich new land teeming with seemingly infinite natural resources. Instead, we too often associate all that is good and proud and fine and brave about our land and history and people with a divisive sort of me-first superiority thing that insists that the people on our side of an arbitrary border are us–the more-deserving good guys in the white hats, with all the best approaches to everything–while those sub-humans on the other side of the borderline, their side, are they, them, the other–fearsome, strange-looking beings, susceptible to all kinds of dangerous differences. It's just exactly this kind of automatic us/them competitive perspective that power-hungry demagogues tap so conveniently when they want to lead aggressions.


At least our growing understanding of ecology has finally helped us see that birds and insects and seeds and wind and rain and sun, in fact all of nature–sans humanity of course–have the common sense to be oblivious to imaginary, arbitrary borderlines. I guess that's some progress.


The more closely I look at nationalism, the more of our planet’s ills I blame on it. Wars. Terrorism. Unrepresentative politics. Social injustice and gross inequities. Coldness to the plights of non-“us” humans. Environmental disasters. Global epidemics. Unfair trade policies. Prejudice. Intolerance. I could go on. You name it, nationalism hurts it. Stirring emotional associations prettify the concept of nationalism, but ultimately fail to conceal the ugly truth that its most predictable fruits are separation, fear, and hatred, along with their natural corollaries, violence and suffering.


Perhaps not so incidental in this so-called Christian nation is the sad reality that there is not a single Christ-like or Christ-advocated thing about nationalism/patriotism. Equally tragic is the fact that nationalism doesn't accomplish anything which couldn't be achieved far less harmfully through unfettered, internet-linked local, regional, and global organizations supporting human endeavors of all kinds, whether social, political, economic, spiritual/religious, artistic…whatever. What positive thing could nationalism possibly accomplish which a consistent allegiance to and respect for human life on this earth could not do better?


Nationalism is an empty rhetorical device crammed full with irrational, emotional connotations, a burning nonsense cipher comprising all our breast-swellings, gratefully blown to life by small alienated power-hungry groups capitalizing on it to quickly inflame frightened masses into exploiting, occupying, attacking, retaliating, and avenging. However painfully and slowly, we need to wean ourselves from our knee-jerk heartfelt faith in nationalism, and begin to reconsider its value and its harm to all human beings.


I know, I know. Some people still believe in the devil, and think that human sinfulness necessitates all the “us”-es marching furiously off into all corners of the world carrying big sticks, breaking into their houses and changing their ways of life. If someone tried to bust into my home, push around my family, hurt my neighbors and interfere with our ways, I too would fight back. Meanwhile, I’m left to wonder whether nationalism and its spawn are the evils we're so afraid of, the devil incarnate himself.


The very concept of “nation” is, historically speaking, a relatively new one, going back only a few centuries. Before our present age of nationalism, local and regional thugs used fear, religion, ideals, and money (as recruiters do today) to attract followers. However, in those days, the accumulation of power was blessedly limited by the mortality of such temporary leaders. Today's nationalism requires citizens to blindly and permanently transfer their loyalties, indeed their lives, over to whichever country they happen to be born into, regardless of incomprehensible and rapid changes to the integrity, responsiveness, principles, and even the intelligibility of leaders, policies, and processes.


On this past 4th of July, I sat out under the trees with my family, eating hot dogs and spitting watermelon seeds along with other lucky Americans. With them, I took time to express gratitude for past and present leaders and workers, and for our battered but hopefully still resilient legal, economic, social, and political traditions. And then I added thanks for the uniquely American gift from God–the richest swath of untouched land in the history of mankind–and asked for guidance and humility in using what’s left of that unimaginable wealth more wisely and generously in service to mankind.


I prayed that nationalism will soon be just a memory of a sad, crazy passing political phase, albeit one which, during its brief reign on earth, provided a multitude of rationalizations for aggression, greed, and barbarism, always characteristically cloaked in beautiful passionate colors–among them, our own beloved red, white, and blue.


This morning, I try to find a dignified way to dispose of this small flag, symbol of my ardent childhood pride, devotion, and innocence, symbol of the anguish endured under patriotic predations everywhere. Of course I want to pay my respects for yesterday’s sacrifices and values. But I am moved also these days to honor the emerging, competing value which more and more Americans and their fellow earthlings are finally recognizing as far higher and purer than nationalism/patriotism. And that is respect and support for–allegiance to–human life everywhere.