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President Ronald Reagan announces the nomination of Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court on June 17, 1986, as a result of Chief Justice Warren F. Burger's retirement. (Photo: AP)

The Loser’s Way (or What Do You Do When Your Politics Suck?)

David Michael Green

What do you do if you’re a freakin’ loser?

Oops, sorry – I don’t mean you.  I mean ‘you’ as in your ideas and your party.  And, actually, I probably don’t mean ‘your ideas’ and ‘your party’ for most people reading these words.  So let me rephrase.  What do you do if you’re a regressive Republican, and nobody’s anymore buying the insipid and insanely destructive myths that you’ve been peddling for decades?

What you do is you lie, cheat and steal.

Welcome to the Republican Party, USA, ladies and gentlemen.

The wholesale horror of this monstrosity was brought into full relief this week with the untimely death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  Yes, untimely.  I don’t wish death on anyone, or pain and suffering on their families – and it’s considered impolite to speak ill of the recently departed – but Scalia’s demise was untimely in the sense that it came too late to stop the destruction he and his colleagues have rained down from their lofty perch for decades now.

His was a rear-guard, retrograde politics, in which we denizens of the Space Age were supposed to continue to hew to the dictates found in the literal words uttered by a bunch of slave-holding agrarians – whose legal property also included their wives, by the way – folks who could readily identify a turnip or a yam, but wouldn’t know a cell phone if it smacked them in the head, and would have had little capability of understanding the Internet just as a concept.

Even here, I give Scalia too much credit.  In practice, it wasn’t the literal words of these fellows that he insisted we adhere to, but rather just his own interpretation of those words.  Oh, and only when such an interpretation happened to also produce his requisite conservative outcome, since Scalia was more than capable of abandoning his own brutally promulgated ‘principles’ whenever they got in the way of his real agenda.  The truth is that Scalia was all about what conservatism is all about today:  increasing the wealth and power of the already fantastically wealthy and powerful, suppressing real democracy, and desperately defending a warped, twisted and sick social order such as that beaten into terrified and impressionable kids attending Catholic schools in the 1940s.

 "The truth is that Scalia was all about what conservatism is all about today:  increasing the wealth and power of the already fantastically wealthy and powerful, suppressing real democracy, and desperately defending a warped, twisted and sick social order..."

If that sounds like a world you wouldn’t want to live in (even then, let alone today), then you get the whole lying, cheating and stealing thing.  One thing elite regressives are not is stupid.  They know that if they run a campaign with a slogan like “Vote for Us!  We’ll take your money, repress women, blacks and gays, wreck the environment so that oil companies can get richer, and send you off to fight wars that actually diminish national security!”, that the only votes they’d get would be from the one-tenth of one percent who benefit from such a system.  Or maybe even one-half of one-tenth of one percent, since rich women may not even have much stomach for subjecting people to that life.

So what do you do when your politics suck?  Well, you could submit your ideas to the American people and let them decide for themselves whether they want to live in the world you envision.  And, especially if you really believed in the concept of democracy you’re always talking about and really believed in the attractiveness of your ideas, that’s exactly what you would do.  But if the real truth was that you didn’t give a damn about democracy, that you wanted your preferences to become policy no matter what, and that you knew deep down that nobody is buying the crap you’re selling, you might adopt a somewhat different strategy.

You might lie.  You might tell the world that meat-axe tax cuts for the wealthy will grow the economy, trickle down benefits to the hoi polloi, and actually increase revenues to the government. You know, just like what happened under Reagan (who tripled the national debt), Baby Bush (who doubled it), and today in the wreckage of current regressive fiscal experiments that is Sam Brownback’s Kansas, Scott Walker’s Wisconsin and Chris Christie’s New Jersey.  You might also tell the world that all the scientists are lying about global warming.  Which is plausible, if you think about it, because who has a track record of grand conspiracies and chronic lying – the global collection of geeks in the scientific community, on the one hand, or regressive politicians, talk radio jocks and oil company executives on the other?  You could also tell the world about how necessary it is to invade Iraq, and how great it will all turn out when we do.  Hey, it will be self-financing! They’ll throw flowers and chocolates at our troops!  It will make democracy bloom in the Middle East!

In the present context of the Scalia vacancy, another nifty little lie would be that there is a tradition that presidents don’t get to fill Supreme Court openings in their last year in office.  Good one!  Never mind that it has happened six times in the last century or so alone.  Never mind the obscene irony that the Constitution is crystal clear on this question as it applies to the vacancy left behind by Mr. (Supposedly) Follow-the-Exact-Language-of-the-Document Dude.  Never mind that Saint Reagan made an appointment in his last year in office.  Just tell the Big Lie, and tell it a lot.  It works amazingly often.

But you’re not done yet.  Not by a long shot.  If your mission is to sell the world’s biggest political turd at any and all costs, you’re also not gonna be worried too much about little niceties like maintaining key traditions of governance that may not be written down anywhere, but are absolutely essential to sustaining a reasonably well-functioning democratic political order.

The Constitution is rather vague, for example, as to what constitutes an impeachable offense by a president.  As Gerry Ford once accurately pointed out, it really amounts to whatever the majority of the House says it is on any given day.  That said, one of the traditions that has heretofore kept American government from resembling a banana republic is the recognition that this tool is the political equivalent of a nuclear weapon – that is, something to be pulled out only under the most dire of circumstances.  Unless, of course, you’re the contemporary Republican Party, and your mission is to win at all costs.  Then, when you can’t win the presidency through democratic means, you use impeachment in order to attempt to bring down a president for the high crime of lying about a blow job.

"If you can’t win on the basis of selling your ideas, then what you need to do is stack the Supreme Court with partisan hacks."

The same logic applies to stealing the presidency outright, of course.  If you can’t win on the basis of selling your ideas, then what you need to do is stack the Supreme Court with partisan hacks.  Then get one of them – Scalia, of course – to shut down the vote counting in Florida on the basis of some absurd pretext which – here we go again – is actually completely contrary to Constitutional doctrine, but so what when it gets you a regressive outcome?  Then you just have the stacked majority vote to give the election to your guy on the basis that time has run out to count the votes!  Sorry to tell you America, but you can do this kind of shit, or you can have a sustainable democracy, but you can’t have both.  The essence of what allows a democracy to work is the recognition by the minority that they are just that, and thus follows their unhappy willingness – but willingness nonetheless – to yield to majority rule.

Are you beginning to see a pattern here?  Well, in fact, we’re only getting started.  Remember the days when congressional voting wasn’t strictly partisan?  You might, but you’d probably have to be over fifty to do so.  The fact is that Republicans have, for the last generation or two, completely abandoned any willingness to cross party lines and vote with Democrats on all but the rarest of issues.  This has never been more true, of course, than over the last seven years when the guy in the White House was not only a Democrat but also...  Well, you know.  Different!  Unamerican!  Illegitimate!  Kenyan!  Who cares that his health care reform is actually the market-based plan originally proposed by the Heritage Foundation, was part of Bob Dole’s 1996 platform, and was implemented by the “severely conservative” Mitt Romney in Massachusetts?  Who cares that his stimulus bill (which directly followed Bush’s stimulus bill) was necessary in order to bail the country and the world out of Bush’s total economic meltdown? Republicans must never, never, never vote for anything Democrats are for.  As Mitch McConnell famously made clear, the mission is not to make America better, but to destroy the Democratic president.  “Country First!” said another man from McConnell’s party, who nearly succeeded in putting Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency just to advance his own shot at personal glory.  It wasn’t true of him, and it isn’t true of his party either.

Republicans have done the same thing when it comes to the filibuster as well.  Few parliamentary tactics violate democratic principles more thoroughly than this particular weapon.  It literally allows minority rule in a (supposedly) democratic system that is necessarily built on the principle of majority rule.  The only reason such a ludicrous concept has been at all historically tenable is that senators have heretofore used it very sparingly, and only for issues which they judge to be especially crucial.  Until now.  When Republicans were in the minority in the Senate they used the filibuster to block essentially everything the Democratic president wanted to do.  And then, of course, to add insult to injury, they complain vociferously when a frustrated president begins to employ executive authority to try to get things done on critical issues facing the country.  And then, to add trauma to insult, the Supreme Court last week stepped way out of tradition and precedent to prevent the president from acting on global warming.  Er, sorry – it wasn’t quite the Supreme Court that did it.  It was the regressive majority of five on the Court, led by You Know Who in one of his last acts of destruction on not just the national but the global stage.

As it turns out, however, even after impeaching presidents, blocking them from doing anything, and violating every principle of democracy in order to get their way, regressive Republicans are still having a hard time selling a seventh century way of life here in the twenty-first.  (Go figure.  Who in their right mind these days doesn’t want war, poverty, mass gun violence, theocracy, planetary destruction, sexism, racism, homophobia and xenophobia?  What’s wrong with people today?)  So, even further destruction of American democracy is necessary to ensure that they get their way in the face of public opposition.  Time for some wholesale gerrymandering, ladies and gentlemen!  And this is precisely what we got after the disaster of 2010 put out-of-control Republicans in control of state governments all across the country.  Creating districts that allow congressional and legislative over-representation of your party relative to the distribution of voters in a given state is hardly a new concept, nor are Republicans the only ones ever to practice this anti-democratic tactic.  But – under the guidance of that great friend to democracy, Karl Rove – Republicans raised the practice to a fine art and precise science following the Democratic wipe-out of 2010, in which the GOP picked up 675 state legislative seats across the country, giving them control of the legislative bodies doing the redistricting for states that account for forty percent of seats in the House of Representatives.  The result was that they created a 33 seat majority in the House in 2012, despite actually losing the combined national popular vote for all House seats.  Nice trick if you can pull it off.  Unless, of course, you happen to give a damn about that whole democracy thing.

"Nothing really quite compares to out-and-out voter suppression when it comes to the most disgusting of all strategies."

But as repugnant as is that sort of undermining of democracy so that losers can win, nothing really quite compares to out-and-out voter suppression when it comes to the most disgusting of all strategies.  When you have to find ways to deny blacks or young people their very franchise as the only way to save your shitty regressive politics from being swept into the dustbin of history where they belong, you’ve made a far louder statement about your pathetic condition than I ever could.  And to lie so egregiously – saying that your motive is to protect against voter fraud without being able to cite any cases of it actually ever happening – honestly, most days I really don’t understand who raised these people.  Even if voter disenfranchisement on the basis of race or similar attributes didn’t have the incredibly odious historical associations it does, who does this kind of stuff and can look themselves in the mirror the next morning?

So now Scalia is dead, and the old bastard went and screwed up and died with a Democrat in the White House.  So now what do you do if you’re a loser party with a dead ideology that only appeals to fossils and crackers?  You make up some total bullshit pretext to explain why you’re not going to vote on the president’s nomination to fill the vacancy even though he has almost an entire year left in the office which your supposedly beloved Constitution charges with the responsibility for picking Supreme Court justices.  You say that the people must have a say in this choice, because there is a lifetime appointment at stake, not bothering to mention that the people did speak on this question, and it was only three years ago.  They said – loud and clear – that they wanted Barack Obama to have the Constitutionally-mandated responsibility to fill vacancies in the federal judiciary.  They knew Obama well, because he had already been president for four years and had made two Supreme Court picks by that time.  And they had a choice.  There was a Republican nominee who said he would be better at the task.  But, as was the case in five of the last six elections, the popular vote rejected the Republican nominee.

Sad-sack regressives don’t seem to be able to come to terms with the fact that the nation has also rejected their politics.  Worse, they seem quite capable of doing anything imaginable to get their way when no one else wants to follow them down that bloody path back to the seventh century.

Well, I have only three words for such childish agents of the destruction of America and American democracy.  They are the same words the lovely Scalia liked to arrogantly spit in the face of anyone who would complain about his hijacking of the presidential election process in his Bush v. Gore travesty.  “Get over it,” he would say.

So here’s my message to all the right-wing toddlers and their infantile temper tantrums:

Your guy’s dead.  Your majority on the Court is dead.  Your politics and the repressed and repressive society you envision are dead.

Get over it.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
David Michael Green

David Michael Green

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.

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