As I read the reaction from some liberals to President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, I am reminded of what Hillary Clinton wrote about Saul Alinsky in her honors thesis at Wellesley College.
If the ideals Alinsky espouses were actualized, the result would be social revolution. Ironically, this is not a disjunctive projection if considered in the tradition of Western democratic theory. In the first chapter it was pointed out that Alinsky is regarded by many as the proponent of a dangerous socio/political philosophy. As such, he has been feared — just as Eugene Debs or Walt Whitman or Martin Luther King has been feared, because each embraced the most radical of political faiths — democracy.”
What many liberals were looking for in a Supreme Court nominee was someone who has a track record of supporting liberal causes. For example:
The liberal grassroots group CREDO noted that “Garland’s background does not suggest he will be a progressive champion.”
While that view makes a lot of sense to progressives, it is interesting to contemplate the message it sends: the way to fight conservative attempts to politicize the Supreme Court is to politicize it.
I would remind you of what President Obama said about Judge Garland yesterday.
On a circuit court known for strong-minded judges on both ends of the spectrum, Judge Garland has earned a track record of building consensus as a thoughtful, fair-minded judge who follows the law. He’s shown a rare ability to bring together odd couples, assemble unlikely coalitions, persuade colleagues with wide-ranging judicial philosophies to sign on to his opinions.
And this record on the bench speaks, I believe, to Judge Garland’s fundamental temperament — his insistence that all views deserve a respectful hearing. His habit, to borrow a phrase from former Justice John Paul Stevens, “of understanding before disagreeing,” and then disagreeing without being disagreeable. It speaks to his ability to persuade, to respond to the concerns of others with sound arguments and airtight logic.
This President has nominated two other Justices to the Supreme Court. First came Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote this in her book My Beloved World:
…I had my doubts that linking arms, chanting slogans, hanging effigies, and shouting at passersby were alway the most effective tactics. I could see that troubling the waters was occasionally necessary to bring attention to the urgency of some problem. But this style of political expression sometimes becomes an end in itself and can lose potency if used routinely. If you shout too loudly and too often, people tend to cover their ears…
Quiet pragmatism, of course, lacks the romance of vocal militancy. But I felt myself more a mediator than a crusader. My strengths were reasoning, crafting compromises, finding the good and the good faith on both sides of an argument, and using that to build a bridge. Always, my first question was, what’s the goal? And then, who must be persuaded if it is to be accomplished? A respectful dialogue with one’s opponent almost invariably goes further than a harangue outside his or her window. If you want to change someone’s mind, you must understand what need shapes his or her opinion. To prevail, you must first listen…
Second came Elena Kagan, who Adam Winkler compared to Chief Justice Earl Warren.
Warren didn’t accomplish these by embarrassing his colleagues or by making sharper arguments on the merits. Warren was a master politician, one who’d sit with the other justices and bring them along slowly and steadily to his side. He sought to understand other justices’ concerns and address them. Unlike most of today’s justices, Warren was willing to work the halls to gain five votes.
Those two women joined the “notorious” Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who Irin Carmon quotes as saying:
“My advice is fight for the things that you care about,” Justice Ginsburg said. Fair enough — banal enough, really. Then she added, “But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
What strikes me is that all four of these people embrace a commitment to the democratic process. It is one that President Obama has valiantly espoused to the American public. For example, in his last two State of the Union speeches, he talked about “a better politics.”
Understand, a better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine. A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears. A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues and values, and principles and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives…
If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments, but let’s make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country.
Of course, Republicans have done everything they can to fight the President on that one. But it is interesting to note that perhaps they fear a better politics for a reason. Could it be that – beyond the polarization and gridlock we see today – the most radical of political faiths is actually democracy?