What’s at the heart of the quest for a “new” progressive ideology? In short, it has to be a commitment to applying the simple, concise first principles of human dignity to present-day and clearly anticipated future problems.
It means that, in case you haven’t noticed, the influence of the 20th century’s great Democrats has almost entirely been eclipsed. It means that you don’t oppose social security reform because it’s “working,” you oppose it because Bush’s reform is asinine and is designed to destroy social security.
Nothing in the last few months shows how stark the contrast is between old and new progressives than the obsession over federalism and the decision of the Supreme Court in the Raich case. The “liberal” bloc voted to uphold the overreach of the Federal government. One report explained that they were haunted by Jim Crow.
The Commerce Clause was used by the Warren Court to uphold the Civil Rights Act. Justice Douglas suggested that all of these civil rights laws could be upheld by section 5 of the 14th Amendment, which gives Congress explicit authority to remedy racial inequities. At the time, a 19th century precedent stood in the way of this interpretation and wasn’t taken. How ridiculous.
Using the Commerce Clause opened the door for Congress to pass just about any law. Conservatives shrewdly keyed on this issue while in the minority, and managed to get at least 3 justice on the Court with a serious commitment to “Federalism.” I think they rightly held in Lopez and Morrison that Congress’s reach was not unlimited.
And the Ninth Circuit has outmanoevered the Supreme Court again. As with child porn, the 9th circuit said fine: we’ll use your precedent to uphold a pro-drug law. Show us how committed you are to this principle! And the Supremes blinked, most likely because of who-will-be-the-next-Chief-Justice politics.
But why on earth did the 4 liberals vote to uphold federal powre here? Because they felt the need to protect the civil rights act.
Please do not file this under the category of those who deny racism exists. It exists today. The effects of slavery are still a burden on their descendants. But racism in 2005 is vastly different than racism in 1965. It is not only directed at blacks (it wasn’t ever this anyway…) . It is not “overt.” It is subtle, subconscious even. Putting aside the notion that the Civil Rights Act could be upheld under the 14th Amendment, even if it was struck down by the Supreme Court, it would simply require Congress or the States to address today’s problems instead of age old problems.
A New Progressive with his head in 2005 and not 1905 would realize that it is Progressives that hold all of their power in states, not reactionaries. The Conservatives rule the federal government, so limiting its power makes sense.
Justice Thomas has shown that he is committed to this principle no matter what the subject matter (except elections, I guess). He’s the only one. Strange bedfellows indeed.