The Book of Judges (Updated)

Back in the summer of 2013, I found myself outraged over the rhetoric of progressive radio host Sam Seder, who was relentlessly slamming then-Newark, New Jersey mayor Cory Booker, one of the four candidates in the Democratic primary for a special election to fill the US Senate seat left vacant by the passing of Frank Lautenberg. Seder favored then-Rep. Rush Holt, who he claimed was the real progressive in the Democratic primary; I favored Holt as well because of his impeccable climate-hawk credentials, but I didn’t have a problem with Booker, largely because his presumptive Republican general-election opponent, Steve Lonegan, was a notorious ally of the Koch Brothers.

I couldn’t believe how viciously Seder attacked Booker during the Democratic primary. Seder strongly suggested that Booker was a de facto Republican who did nothing but kiss the rear ends of one-percenters, and that if he won the primary, he would betray Lautenberg’s progressive legacy. I thought Seder was going way over the edge; even if Booker wasn’t as progressive as Lautenberg or Holt, the Newark mayor on his worst day would not be as bad as a Koch consigliere.

Booker, of course, won the primary and the general election, and three years later, I don’t hear anybody saying that New Jersey, or the US Senate, would have been better off if the loathsome Lonegan had won that seat. Imperfection, after all, is far preferable to malevolence.

I remain steadfast in my view that in the event Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders–who could win today’s Democratic caucus in Nevada–ultimately fails to secure the party’s nomination, Sanders’s supporters will quickly overcome their disappointment and embrace Hillary Clinton in preparation for the general election. The folks who were disappointed that Holt didn’t beat Booker in the New Jersey Democratic primary didn’t throw a tantrum, and I can’t imagine the majority of Sanders’s supporters doing the same.

After the US Supreme Court’s radical decision blocking implementation of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, I remarked to a friend that the Court’s decision was a blessing in disguise, as it would force the progressive political conversation away from the overheated debate over Clinton’s alleged corporatism and Sanders’s alleged naivete towards more serious issues, including the most serious issue of all–the philosophy that will influence the federal judiciary. The passing of Antonin Scalia and the subsequent squabble over his likely replacement reaffirms the seriousness of this issue.

Neither Clinton nor Sanders would nominate to the US Supreme Court a self-righteous scold like Scalia, or a callous crackpot like Clarence Thomas. Neither Clinton or Sanders would nominate to the federal appellate courts judges who ignore evidence of racism on the part of teachers in order to kill off, for explicitly ideological reasons, policies intended to remedy past discrimination in public schools.

No issue in this election trumps judicial philosophy. Federal judges have literal life-and-death power over us; just think of the five Supreme Court judges (including Scalia) who decided the 2000 election, awarding the White House to a man who ignored bin Laden’s plot to kill thousands of Americans, then launched a war that killed thousands more. The judiciary controls all aspects of our lives; therefore, the importance of having federal judges who reject narrow right-wing ideology cannot be overstated.

Sanders’s supporters know this. If their candidate doesn’t win the Democratic primary, they will accept the result with humility and grace–and then work to prevent future Scalias and Thomases from being appointed to the federal judiciary over the next four years.

UPDATE: More from Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow and Nicole Sandler.

SECOND UPDATE: The Associated Press calls the Nevada caucuses for Hillary Clinton. Yes, some Sanders supporters will be upset, but I don’t anticipate an unreasonably ugly reaction to this result. It will be interesting to see if Sanders can indeed pull off a victory or two or three in a more diverse state than New Hampshire. More from the Washington Post, Ezra Klein, Tara Culp-Ressler and MSNBC.

Clinton’s victory speech:

THIRD UPDATE: In yet another example of the Southern right’s love for hate, Donald Trump wins the South Carolina Republican primary. More from the Washington Post and MSNBC.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.