Sunday, April 10, 2005

Violent criminals

A recent Washington Post column about the just-concluded conservatives' conference in Washington in which Tom DeLay (by video due to the Pope's funeral) and other borderline psychopaths in and close to the Republican leadership agreed that Justice Kennedy must be impeached forthwith made two things especially clear. The first is that these people, although they more or less run the country, not only are outside the mainstream but reject 200 years of U.S. constitutional history. Our system cannot survive if enough people are committed to its overthrow. I mean, Justice Kennedy, a moderate conservative Supreme Court justice (and part of Bush's 2000 election majority), must be impeached because he found that the Constitution bars executing minors? (So much for the "culture of life.") Let's grant, as I think we should, the possibility that one could reasonably disagree with how Justice Kennedy interprets the Constitution in regard to the execution of minors. But to call this grounds for impeachment - or worse - is closer to a Hitler or Stalin viewpoint than to that of anyone who has ever previously held power in the United States.
Do I exaggerate? Well, if it were just impeachment then maybe yes, a bit. That would show rejection of an independent judiciary, one of the basic foundations of our constititutional system, but then again a good friend of mine, Larry Kramer, the dean of Stanford Law School, has taken a similar position about the proper constitutional role of the judiciary (though without the calls for impeachment) from the left.
But the Stalin reference doesn't come initially from me. One of the leading spokesman at the conference, while criticizing Justice Kennedy for "uphold[ing] Marxist, Leninist, satanic principles drawn from foreign law," also twice approvingly quoted Joseph Stalin's famous line, "no man, no problem." The full line, of course, is "Death solves all problems: no man, no problem." The Washington Post reporter was rather charitable, I thought, in speculating that the speaker "had in mind something less extreme than Stalin did and was not actually advocating violence."
Again, this was a conference centrally involving DeLay, two other House members, two Senate aides, and numerous other prominent Republicans and conservatives.
I'm wondering, if these guys lose a couple of elections at some point, how close we will be to having our own U.S. version of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq.
I said this conference made two things especially clear. The first is that these people are committed to the overthrow, and perhaps the violent overthrow, of the U.S. constitutional system. The second is that they are really, really strange. What would be especially comical, if it weren't so menacing, is the extreme displacement of proportionate emotional response that they display. There have been a couple of recent Supreme Court opinions in which Kennedy and others have cited some foreign law or legal principle in support of a conclusion about U.S. law. I think this is fine; the likes of Justice Scalia (who I don't respect very much, but who I hope remains in a separate category) get bookishly apoplectic about it. But these folks get all worked up imagining that it is the culmination of a deadly Satanic conspiracy against them. I am reminded of the Steve Martin character in the movie "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" who goes on a crazed rampage whenever he hears the words "cleaning woman."
Paranoid insanity can grip an entire country, or at least its leadership (see again Berlin 1933 or Moscow 1937). But if you are confident enough that it is doomed to ineffectuality, then it is cause for pity or, among the less kind-hearted, mocking laughter.


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