So, I used to work for now Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (pause for applause) back when he first arrived in Washington. Harry is a great guy, and I really liked working with him. I regard him as a centrist or conservative democrat, while I regard myself as a liberal democrat (if I’m a democrat at all), but we got along just fine.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how government matters. I have friends who don’t vote, and I always think that’s a bad idea. The main reasons they cite are:
One vote doesn’t matter
Government doesn’t matter
Religious grounds (devotion to secular matters is against their faith’s teachings)
I respect the third reason (and wish our evangelical brothers and sisters would incorporate it into their zeal); I disagree with the first two.
The first I’ll discuss some other time.
I want to focus on the second.
There are three things that are happening right now that really argue that government DOES matter. The first is the coal miner tragedy. The second is Abramoff scandal, and the third is the Alito nomination.
A few papers have discussed the link between cuts in federal programs designed to evaluate mine safety and increased risk for miners. I see this as analogous to the New Orleans levee and the impact of years of budget cuts on the levee’s ability to withstand a storm. Today, I’m feeling charitable, so I won’t blame the President for the deaths in West Virginia, but I do want to make the central point. Government matters. Government decisions make a real difference in people’s lives. When you cut taxes to the rich and cut spending on mining inspections, THAT matters. If a city has fewer firefighters when a four alarm fire breaks out, that matters too. More houses burn. Property damage increases. Firefighter safety is compromised.
And Abramoff. I’ve been appalled by what I’ve read about his government for hire schemes. I regard Abramoff as an anti-democracy racist. What he has done to elect Republicans and to pass legislation has impacted lives, and he has undermined the entire legislative process and (even though intuitively we know that Washington is dirty) our faith in elected officials. When I read the list of elected officials donating dirty money to charity, I feel sick. I find myself thinking: government matters. We should treat it like it does. We should respect it more than we do.
And last, Alito. He sure seems to be a bright guy, and he’s playing his cards really well. Give academic and boring/technical answers to questions you feel like answering – avoid controversy. Let’s face it, the average American doesn’t know what the 10th and 11th Amendments are, nevermind a dry monologue about their application to the commerce clause and what they suggest about the various powers of the various federal branches (be they executive, legislative or judicial). He dodged the abortion bullet, did the old thrust and parry whenever he was pressed for details around his ill-informed views on executive powers. But ideologues make poor justices (Scalia and Thomas are ill-suited to the bench because they are more interested in the application of a concept than in striving for intelligent and sensible outcomes. That’s how you end up hunting with litigants and not appreciating why that matters. And by the way, for all their crowing about judicial activism, no one strikes down more legislation on constitutional grounds than Clarence Thomas (read about it here), and trust me on this – Alito is an ideologue. For those who don’t think government matters my advice is this: the answer may come…if you replace a thoughtful jurist like Sandra Day O’Connor with an ideologue like Alito, you’ll see first hand how government impacts the lives of everyday citizens. I hope we never learn that lesson as clearly as we might.
And this brings me full circle. The reason I started by talking about the Honorable Senator Harry Reid is because his leadership may see us through this.
And it’s a complex question. Midterm elections are coming up, and taking down Alito will make it easy for Republicans to cast Democrats in an extremely negative light (and they lack scruples, so expect exaggerations and half-truths). Still and the same, Harry needs to lead us here and do what must be done.
Alito should not be approved. The Supreme Court matters and Government matters. Those who regard it as a plaything, or a joke or a place to test theories spun out at one Ivy League spot or another should not serve.
What we need is thoughtful, courageous leadership. Leadership divorced from money and all the ills it inspires.