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The Illusion and the Reality of Conservatism



Over Valentine's Day weekend, Antonin Scalia, who had served on the Supreme Court for 29 years, died while on a hunting vacation in Texas. The spiritual leader of the neoconservative movement, Scalia was taking a little romantic getaway and died sometime overnight or in the morning.

From my review of the astrology, I don't think he was murdered, and I do think it's possible that he had company and died in the saddle, like other great men before him. He was traveling with a companion, not his wife.

Scalia had served on the court since September 1986. That is one full cycle of Saturn, beginning when Saturn was in Sagittarius to its return to that position. There could be no better astrology to describe Scalia's patriarchal, fundamentalist religion-based view of the law than this. That he lasted one full Saturn orbit is striking; it really says that a long cycle is complete.

Scalia was appointed by Ronnie Reagan in the days before we knew about the Iran-Contra scandal. At the time, Scalia was a relatively new federal district court judge, and was nominated to the Supreme Court to replace William Rehnquist, whom Reagan had elevated to chief justice. Scalia was so influential, and around for so long, it seemed like he had been there forever, and would be there forever.

Writing in the Forward in 2009, J.J. Goldberg described Scalia as "the intellectual anchor of the court's conservative majority." If you've been listening to television news, you've been hearing him revered not just as the charismatic, affable guy that he was, but also as a titan of American jurisprudence. Scalia gave the neoconservative movement the illusion of legitimacy.

He wrote the decision in Bush v. Gore that stopped the Florida recount in the contested 2000 election. He gave the election to Bush, who had lost the popular vote, and, true to his legal style, included a line about how the decision does not set legal precedent. That, of course, is one of the Supreme Court's most important roles, but Scalia dissed it when it suited his ends.

Scalia was considered the divining oracle of what he called "originalism," meaning that the Constitution's meaning is fixed at the time of enactment, and that's what we must consider. He touted the idea that you have to follow the original text, not what the courts had interpreted over the next few centuries. What he really meant was that he got to be original in his interpretations of the Constitution, stretching them to mean anything he wanted. There are many examples of his votes, which always fit with what we now think of as the conservative agenda: anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-minority, pro-gun, pro-wealthy, pro-religion (if Christian), and pro-death penalty.

If you've ever wondered how this particular set of issues came to be grouped together as what we think of as "conservative," you don't need to look much further than Scalia as the primary arbiter of reality. He was to the judicial system what Rush Limbaugh is to the conservative voter base. It makes no sense to be "pro life" and "Christian" and also support the death penalty.

Contemporary conservatism is a kind of postmodern pastiche of ideas that one must be versed in deconstructionist philosophy to grasp even vaguely. If you're Republican and you disagree even with one of them, you're a potential liberal and considered ineligible to hold public office. But this really took some conjuring, and nonstop brainwashing.

It makes more sense if you take it context of what political operative Karl Rove said in 2004 to the New York Times Magazine: "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Due to Scalia's exit, we're about to see a turning of the tide in American politics. It will manifest first as outwardly expressed conflict. Now, for the first time in a generation, the Supreme Court is split evenly between conservative and liberal justices. Many of the most important decisions of our lifetimes have been decided on five-to-four votes, and for the moment this means of ruling the country with a majority of justices on the court is over. And if a Democrat is elected in November, it will be over for a long time.


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