That’s democratic leadership with a small “d.” Thank you, John Roberts. Whew! The Chief Justice just preserved what is left of public confidence in the Supreme Court. Through a somewhat convoluted rationale in which he protected the will and intent of Congress by correcting their mistake of labeling a tax as a mandate, he kept his more conservative colleagues on the Court from yet another massive “overreach” of their authority. Progressives and Democrats can be happy while conservatives and Republicans dig in their heels for November. The real winner here is American democracy.
A little over a year ago I began corresponding with a couple of high school classmates on political issues. Despite the fact that I was introduced to politics by my mother, an Eisenhower-Nixon Republican, over the years I have found myself more comfortable with the liberal progressive narrative. My classmates on the other hand, who probably raised their hands for John Kennedy as high school freshmen, are firmly entrenched in the conservative narrative. Given that we all came from modest middle class backgrounds, went on to college, raised families, worked hard, played by the rules and love our country, I thought it might be fun to explore both our differences and what we might have in common. I was naïve. It has turned out to be quite an effort to get past the polemics of left-right, liberal-conservative, Democrat-Republican. Thanks to their good nature we are making some progress but the question remains "why are polemics so perverse and pervasive?"
Jonathan Haidt provides one answer in his excellent new book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Haidt, a professor of social psychology at the University of Virginia, draws attention to the fact that at the core of our political thought is a moral universe where intuition plays a much larger role than logic or reason. And moral universes don’t allow much room for compromise. God does not compromise with the devil. Unfortunately our democracy REQUIRES compromise. If our elected leaders get caught up in the polemics of their message, particularly the tendency to demonize any differences in what Haidt calls “moral foundations,” it can lead to gridlock and perhaps more importantly, it can lead to the distrust and disrespect of our government and its institutions.
Chief Justice Roberts gets full credit for recognizing these dangers within his Court and for his efforts to re-establish its reputation as a check on the power of Congress and the Executive and not as the “supreme political decider.” I only wish he would have exercised this wisdom two years ago in Citizens United. What do you think?