Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Echoes down the corridor

By Carl

The first of many disconstitutional dismantlings is now coming back to haunt us:

The Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, issued eight years ago this month, was widely understood to work like that tape recorder in “Mission: Impossible.” It was meant to produce a president and then self-destruct.

“Our consideration is limited to the present circumstances,” the majority famously said, “for the problem of equal protection in election processes generally presents many complexities.”

That sentence, translated from high legal jargon into English, was often taken to mean this: The decision was a ticket for one ride only. It was not a precedent. It was a ruling, yes, but it was not law.

But now, as the petitioner leaves the national stage, Bush v. Gore is turning out to have lasting value after all. “You’re starting to see courts invoke it,” said Samuel Issacharoff, a law professor at New York University, “and you’re starting to see briefs cite it.”

Indeed, rumblings of
the damage the Bush administration has so gleefully inflicted on the Constitution echo everywhere. That sound you here is the foundation of the nation quivering. And just as it was unlikely that a major Supreme Court obstruction of justice eight years ago would not now be used by candidates great and small, Democratic and Republican, so is it unlikely that the massive gaping holes in due process and the law will go long ignored.

We elected Barack Obama with the understanding that he would likely close some of these holes, and perhaps ignore others, but asking a President to completely ignore convenient precedents is like asking a man to not use his left arm for four or eight years. It's simply not going to happen so long as they are available.

And assuming that Barack Obama is as much a mensch as we might hope he is, there's no guarantee that a president down the road would not reopen these old wounds. After all, even as great a man as Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. But then, so did as wretchedly pitiful and miserably twisted a man as George W. Bush.

Our freedoms, such as they are, are at stake here. This is more important than any controversy over any pastor or proposition might be, for what is, say, gay marriage or the right to an abortion when there is no freedom to speak of? Nothing but a gaudy bauble glued to the ratty carpet of America.

If I had the means, I would do this: When Barack Obama gets to the bit at his inauguration that says "preserve, protect and defend the Constituion of the United States of America," I would ask Chief Justice Roberts to pause, and say, "We are holding you to this, Mr. President."

A reminder that a free people is only as free as the government allows them to be, and until we the people control the government again, we the people rely on those in power to share our vision of freedom.

It pains me to think that in the past fifty years I've been on this planet, I've seen freedom dwindle, rather than flourish. Freedom should be an unprunable bush, one that you can nip a little here or there, but never be able to cut back to its roots. Freedom should be spreading, not contracting.

Even as we've made strides to insure freedom to all people in the nation- - black, white, male, female, gay, straight -- we've simultaneously watched our freedom winnow and starve as a whole. This must stop. This must reverse. The center cannot hold for long.

The impetus in this country has long been towards safety. I'm not sure specifically when that occured, my guess would be during the Great Depression. Government does solve problems, but those solutions need to be put away unless necessary as soon as the problem begins to resolve itself.

Similarly, a confluence of morality, religion, and fear has created an atmosphere that makes security take precedence over liberty. Scary gay men might ruin our marriages! Scary Latina women might do work that American women will not! Jesus is coming and he's carrying an M-16 rifle!

We must, as a nation, grow up a little. Coddled by our ministrations and administrations for too long, we must stand on our own two feet and work our own way through the world. Only then will we understand that it is through liberty, through freedom from oppression not only of our government, but of the majorities and minorities around us, that we can achieve security and safety. Respect is a two-way street, not a dumpster in a blind alley that we might duck behind when we need protection.

Freedom, Mr. President-elect, is what got you where you are. Please keep that in mind when you take your oath next month. We've missed it for so long here in America.

(Cross-posted at Simply Left Behind.)

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