What really jumps out at you upon watching or reading about the Justice Sunday II sermon-o-ganza in Nashville yesterday is the contrast between the carefully process-oriented framing of the event–all about the separation of power, and checks and balances, and maintaining legislative prerogatives, and so on, bark bark, woof woof–and the underlying extremism of what the speakers actually were talking about.Sure, one theme of the event was the hoary pretense that somehow people of faith (or more accurately, of conservative faiths) are being persecuted for speaking their minds on political issues, which is pretty hilarious given the presence of the all-powerful Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, and the event’s object of promoting the judicial appointees of the President of the United States in the Senate controlled by that president’s party. There are a few of us who think the religious leaders participating in Justice Sunday II are dangerously shirking their spiritual duties by committing their flocks to a seamy alliance with Mammon through today’s Republican Party, but I don’t know anybody who denies their First Amendment right to sell their religious birthright for a mess of political pottage.But aside from all the paranoiac (and very un-Christ-like) whining, the big underlying message from Nashville was that reshaping the Supreme Court is necessary to stop the alleged baby-killing, sodomizing, and paganizing that characterizes contemporary America. And there is zero, zero doubt that each and every one of the speakers at Justice Sunday II would completely reverse themselves on every issue related to the Constitution, activist judges, and all the other stuff they blathered about, if the shoe was on the other foot and the judiciary was promoting their own ideology.Suppose, as a thought experiment, that a future Supreme Court embraced the implicit interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause embedded in the Human Life Amendment (still supported in the last Republican platform): that unborn children are endowed with all the rights and privileges of citizenship. Was there a single speaker in Nashville who would not hail such a decision as vindication of a Higher Law that binds all people and all times? I think not.In all their talk about legislative and democratic prereogatives, and the horrific arrogance of unelected judges, the Justice Sunday crowd is painfully reminiscent of the southern segregations who relied for many decades on Supreme Court decisions like Plessy v. Ferguson (the infamous “separate but equal” validation of Jim Crow), and then suddenly re-discovered a populist hostility to the federal judiciary the moment the constitutional winds started blowing in a different direction.It’s true that the Left as well as the Right has flip-flopped on this subject in the course of American history; reducing the power of the judiciary was a staple of the People’s Party and of the Progressive Movement back when judges interpreted the Constitution as prohibiting any and all legislation regulating private property rights.I don’t accuse today’s Cultural Right of a unique political heresy, but I do accuse them of a great and notable streak of dishonesty. They don’t give a damn about any of the constitutional and procedural issues they talked about in Nashville; they care about a particular policy outcome. They want to criminalize abortion, criminalize homosexual behavior, and sanction public displays of particular religious traditions. They will pursue those policies through any means available, and they ought to be pushed to the wall to admit it.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
While mulling some recent material from The Bulwark, I thought I’d explain something to the converted “Never Trumpers” the outlet represents, and did so at New York:
For a while now I’ve had a guilty-pleasure reading habit: The Bulwark, that semi-official outlet of Never Trumpers who view themselves as having definitively broken with the GOP thanks to their former party’s thralldom to Donald J. Trump. I share its contributors’ belief that they (the tribe usefully described by Miller as Red Dog Democrats) represent not just a self-promoting claque of elite scribblers but a real if marginal faction of the Democratic Party, having burned a lot of bridges on their way out of the GOP. Their views appear to parallel those of a significant number of suburban Republicans and independents who voted Democratic in 2018 and 2020. And given the very close balance between voters of the two parties, as reflected most recently in 2020, Democrats really can’t afford to contemptuously reject any potential adherents, however alien or even repugnant they might find their backgrounds.
So it’s understandable when Bulwark co-founder Charlie Sykes expresses frustration that Democrats refuse to consider their pleas for policy concessions on grounds of holding old grudges:
“The spending. The wokeness. The repeal of the Hyde Amendment. I could go on …
“These are difficult times for folks on the center-right, who’ve tried to join Democrats in a loose alliance to protect the Republic from Trumpism …
“Litmus tests are applied: it’s not enough to be pro-democracy, NTers are also expected to embrace the elements of the progressive agenda — from free community college, to abortion, rent moratoriums, police funding, transgenderism, CRT, social spending, and the candidacy of Greta Thunberg for sainthood.”
Sykes fears it’s all very personal, and warns, “If you cancel moderates/conservatives for their past sins, you don’t have a coalition.”
Here’s the thing, though: It’s not really about the Red Dogs. Yes, I’m sure it’s been tough for them to watch Democrats largely come together around a legislative program that’s significantly more progressive than the one advanced by the Obama administration. But Democrats have been coalescing around the basics of the Build Back Better agenda for some time now. That the famously moderate Joe Biden now embraces it is a sign of how the party has slowly evolved, not some sort of betrayal or surrender to the left. And anyone who paid close attention to the 2020 presidential primaries should have understood that there is less distance between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders than between Joe Biden and the Joe Biden of the 1990s.
Part of what has happened is simply a resolution of internal conflicts among Democrats that left them defensive and at times incoherent. A classic example is one that Sykes mentioned: abortion policy. For years, Democrats claimed to value reproductive rights even as they accepted significant limitations on them: e.g., the Hyde Amendment, which made abortion services, unlike any other medical services, ineligible for any sort of federal support. That amendment, along with acceptance of some largely symbolic restrictions on rare late-term abortions, and the whole “safe, legal, and rare” messaging introduced by Bill Clinton, represented concessions to a significant bloc of Democratic voters and Democratic pols who did not recognize reproductive rights at all.
That has changed over time. Anti-abortion Democratic politicians are a rare and shrinking breed, and there are now significantly fewer anti-abortion Democratic voters than there are pro-choice Republicans. Most Democrats, including Joe Biden, have made the leap into a more coherent and unified position. They aren’t going to turn back the clock to satisfy ex-Republicans, but they aren’t insisting on a “litmus test” just to annoy or exclude them, either. The same could be said for other policy tenets once beloved by a significant number of Democrats — from fiscal hawkishness to armed interventionism to an openness to “entitlement reform” — that remain attractive to the newest proto-Democrats. As for the idea that Democrats are some sort of rigid ideological cult: Come on, seriously? Look at what’s going on with the attempted enactment of the Build Back Better reconciliation bill. If this is an intolerant and exclusive political party, I’d hate to see a loosey-goosey one try to function. It may just be that the issues Red Dogs fret about may lie outside the still relatively loose bounds of party unity.
This doesn’t mean Red Dogs should despair, but it may mean another painful reevaluation of priorities, recognizing that most have already had to sacrifice a lot of old allegiances and even the habitual language used to make sense of the political world. In many respects, the Never Trumpers resemble their spiritual (and in some cases biological) predecessors, the neo-conservatives. These were people who broke with the Democratic Party out of a conviction that Democratic views on national security made continued party loyalty impossible. But most of them retained many views that horrified their new Republican allies until they accepted the inevitable role of a factional minority and grew to accommodate or even share the policy positions and ideological language of the GOP, which was increasingly dominated by conservatives with their own ideological-consistency demands.
Most Red Dogs have no illusions about the party they’ve left and understand their constituencies are too small to form a third force or demand concessions from a position of strength. Most, I suppose, will get used to the strange and sometimes lurid landscape of the Donkey Party. Others will embrace the posture of the gadfly, the people of no party or coalition. But it’s really not personal. It’s just politics.