Kagan in Context: Shafting Progressive Values
by Norman Solomon
If President Obama has his way, Elena Kagan will replace John Paul
Stevens -- and the Supreme Court will move rightward. The nomination
is very disturbing, especially because it's part of a pattern.
The White House is in the grip of conventional centrist wisdom. Grim
results stretch from Afghanistan to the Gulf of Mexico to communities
across the USA.
"It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don't cause
spills," President Obama said in support of offshore oil drilling,
less than three weeks before the April 20 blowout in the Gulf. "They
are technologically very advanced."
On numerous policy fronts, such conformity to a centrist baseline has
smothered hopes for moving this country in a progressive direction.
Now, the president has taken a step that jeopardizes civil liberties
and other basic constitutional principles.
"During the course of her Senate confirmation hearings as Solicitor
General, Kagan explicitly endorsed the Bush administration's bogus
category of ‘enemy combatant,' whose implementation has been a war
crime in its own right," University of Illinois law professor Francis
Boyle noted last month. "Now, in her current job as U.S. Solicitor
General, Kagan is quarterbacking the continuation of the Bush
administration's illegal and unconstitutional positions in U.S.
federal court litigation around the country, including in the U.S.
Boyle added: "Kagan has said ‘I love the Federalist Society.' This is
a right-wing group; almost all of the Bush administration lawyers
responsible for its war and torture memos are members of the
The departing Justice Stevens was a defender of civil liberties.
Unless the Senate refuses to approve Kagan for the Supreme Court, the
nation's top court is very likely to become more hostile to civil
liberties and less inclined to put limits on presidential power.
Here is yet another clear indication that progressives must mobilize
to challenge the White House on matters of principle. Otherwise,
history will judge us harshly -- and it should.
For more than 15 months, evidence has mounted that President Obama
routinely combines progressive rhetoric with contrary actions. As one
bad decision after another has emanated from the Oval Office, some
progressives have favored denial -- even though, if the name "Bush" or
"McCain" had been attached to the same presidential policies, the same
progressives would have been screaming bloody murder.
But enabling bad policies, with silent acquiescence or anemic dissent,
encourages more of them. At this point, progressive groups and
individuals who pretend that Obama's policies merely need a few
tweaks, or just suffer from a few anomalous deficiencies, are
whistling past a political graveyard.
At the same time, with less than six months to go before Election Day,
there are very real prospects of a big Republican victory that could
shift majority control of Congress. Progressives have a huge stake in
averting a GOP takeover on Capitol Hill.
The corporate-military centrism of the Obama administration has
demoralized and demobilized the Democratic Party's largely progressive
base -- the same base that swept Nancy Pelosi into the House Speaker's
office and then Barack Obama into the White House. National polls now
show Democrats to be much less enthusiastic about voting in November
than their Republican counterparts.
The conventional political wisdom (about as accurate as the claim that
"oil rigs today generally don't cause spills") is that when a
Democratic president moves rightward, his party gains strength against
Republicans. But Democrats reaped the whirlwind of that pseudo-logic
in 1994 -- after President Clinton shafted much of the Democratic base
by pushing through the corporate NAFTA trade pact against the wishes
of labor, environmental and human-rights constituencies. That's how
Newt Gingrich and other right-wing zealots got to run Congress
starting in January 1995.
For progressives, giving the Obama administration one benefit of the
doubt after another has not prevented matters from getting worse.
At the moment, U.S. troop levels are nearing 100,000 in Afghanistan.
Massive quantities of oil are belching into the Gulf of Mexico.
The White House has signaled de facto acceptance of a high
unemployment rate for several more years, while offering weak GOP-lite
countermeasures like tax breaks for businesses.
Nuclear power subsidies are getting powerful support from both ends of
Pennsylvania Avenue, while meaningful action against global warming is
nowhere in sight.
The Justice Department continues to backtrack on civil liberties.
And now, if the president's nomination of Elena Kagan is successful,
the result will move the Supreme Court to the right.
Progressives should fight the Kagan nomination.
Norman Solomon is a journalist, historian, and progressive activist.
His book "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us
to Death" has been adapted into a documentary film of the same name.
His most recent book is "Made Love, Got War." He is a national
co-chair of the Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign. In California, he is
co-chair of the Commission on a Green New Deal for the North Bay;