Since the election Democrats have been agonizing over "values", taken usually to mean charismatic, protestant religion. Over the last several weeks this trend has escalated from the divine to the ridiculous. Terry Schiavo became a controversial figure whose life was to be defended at all costs although all diagnostic tests indicated that her brain was not functioning at all. Seven ultra conservative judges were presented to the public as differing from the judicial norm only on the basis of their religious fervor. And the stealth school board of the state of Kansas has begun hearings on teaching christian origin myths as science. Enough.
Democrats,like everyone else, already have values they are just, for the last several election cycles, terrified that someone is going to find out what they are. In the Schiavo case, the family had a dispute over who was to make the, awful, decision about life and death. They took it to court, as families often do, and the courts decided that her husband, who knew her best, could decide, he did, and the Christ nuts popped out of the wood work to "save" her. People who have had to make this decision, or who have been close to people who did, understand the turmoil on both sides of the question. The Republican majority, of course, did not. The Democratic principle here is simple: butt the hell out, this is a private affair. The courts checked to see if anything hinky was going on and said it wasn't so back away and let these people cry.
Ronald Reagan began the process of packing the Federal courts with young conservatives who would have lifetime tenure and would stand in the way of any attempt at progress. Fair enough. Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter and Clinton appointed judges they thought would aid the liberal project and even got some confirmed in times of Republican Senates. Reagan went up against a Democrat Majority and lost Bork but won a couple and Bush I got Clarence Thomas. Its the way our system works. The Executive and the House of Representatives have a bias toward action, they exist to get things done and they represent the majority. The Senate and the courts are impediments to action who exist for the purpose of deliberation and, at their best, represent the minorities who would otherwise be ridden over. The power of the courts is lifetime tenure and of the Senate, unlimited debate. All Presidents and all Congresses are frustrated by these two institutions from time to time. Comes the new conservative movement with total sway over the executive and legislative branches to discover that, even conservative judges when contemplating the separation of powers, will not allow them absolute control. The name they use for judges who have actually read, and have some opinion about, the constitution is "activist" judges. The most conservative appeals court in the land told them to back off the Schiavo case so they take the case to the "people of god".
Seven out of ten of the judges Bush has failed to get confirmed in his first term were renominated immediately upon his reelection. I don't think there is any precedent for that but, even if there is, its enormously arrogant. But that's really not the question. The seven are particularly disgusting in legal terms. If you have questions about who they are and what they believe, and you should, please visit the People for the American Way site.
The campaign in the press now is about the precedent of the filibuster. For weeks I have watched our hapless press corps report this fight without once remarking on the facts concerning the most obvious part of this conflict. Has anybody stopped to ask how over 60 of Bill Clinton's nominees were blocked without using a filibuster? Actually, they haven't. Here's how. Most were blocked by "blue slip holds". For many years the Senate Judiciary committee, as a courtesy, has notified the two home state Senators of a judicial nominee by sending a "blue slip" to their office. Until both are returned, initialed, no hearing is scheduled. In addition, any individual Senator could initiate an anonymous "hold", subject to a committee vote, on any nominee. John Ashcroft held one of Clinton's nominees for two years by this technique and then led a floor fight against him. As soon as there was a Republican President ad Senate majority, Orrin Hatch cancelled these two rules, rendering the democrats unable to block a nominee in committee. The filibuster is all that's left them and the Republicans are insisting, consequently, that it must be overturned. The conservative principle at play is "We win no matter how". The democratic "value" is, play fair.
Several years ago the ultra religious right won a majority on the Kansas school board and decreed the end of teaching evolution in the classroom. The good people of Kansas, conservative as they are, were so embarrassed they turned them out in the next election. The wing nuts, undeterred, have crept back into office and intend to do it again. One wonders why. Obviously, if they want their own children to be ignorant, they should be able to pull that off with sufficient brutality in the home. What is their compulsion to see the rest of the children wallow in ignorance? I suspect it is their terror at the prospect of an educated electorate. The question here is relatively easy, what is and is not science?
Science is an analytical discipline that has an innate prejudice for simplicity and a bias toward skepticism. Throughout scientific thought there is one overarching principle, falsifiability. If I cannot Disprove a thing, it is not a science kind of a thing. Scientists insist on hanging it all out. Come on, show me how I'm wrong, is the universal scientific challenge. So, if the intelligent design people will suggest to me how I might disprove their odd little hypothesis, I'll allow it in science class. Until then, its religion.
Which brings me back to the subject of the left and "values". I believe in privacy. The government has no place in my bedroom, or yours, and no reason to stick its nose into decisions we need to make on our own. All of us have a right to come and go as we please without let or hindrance from the forces of the state. I believe that the checks and balances in our constitutional system are there to protect me in times like these and to protect the loonies when common sense again prevails. And I believe that religion is a private affair. You may believe what you wish but you may not ask me what I believe. Our common governance is based on the enlightened consent of the governed, not on anyone's theology.
Finally, since I am incapable of writing one of these rants without mentioning the early history of the Republic, let me offer a retort to the wingnuts who insist that we are a "Christian Nation". Counting from 1792 we had 50 years of presidents, none of whom could be reasonable considered a Christian. Of the men present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, fewer than half were professing Christians. The writer of the Constitution and the primary author of the bill of rights (Madison and Jefferson) were neither christians. The majority of our chief executives from Washington to Lincoln neither attended church nor publicly called upon religion. The current move toward theocracy is unamerican and silly. In my humble opinion, values are formed by rational thought and god is an imaginary friend for grown ups. Bless you all.