Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Let Me Put it Another Way

I’ve heard liberals complaining alot about how Alito defined his role as a judge (i.e., to be an impartial interpreter of the law) and dismiss that as alot of bologna. Some have even gone so far as to imply that the hearings are a waste of time because we should know that conservatives will appoint conservatives and liberals will appoint liberals--that’s just the way it is. If you want your guys in, win the election. Well, there’s a certain amount of truth in that. And you’ve got to admire the libs who have the gumption to say that. It’s factual, anyway. But there is more to the whole truth than a simple recitation of the facts.

Many liberals don’t buy that Alito is serious about his job description not because they think he is a liar (though some may think that as well) but because they have a distorted understanding about the nature of politics that breeds cynicism and does not permit it. Politics, to them, is a power struggle only. It’s not about an attempt at impartial application of justice. They do not really believe that impartiality is possible because they think that judicial philosophy is nothing more than your positions on the issues. A confirmation hearing to them should be about spouting your positions on the issues and garnering the votes you need for confirmation based on whether enough people agree with your positions. They do not see that Alito really does believe that his personal positions on the issues do not matter. He can’t argue them from the bench unless the law calls for it. If you tell them that Roe v. Wade is bad law, they look at you with a blank face. You must be "pro-life" then. That can be the only reason you have that opinion. These libs think politics is only a power struggle because they do not believe that people are capable of reasoning from a point that is not tied up in their own self-interest. They certainly do not respect the constitution as that starting point--because they think it was meant to change as tastes in hairstyles change. To them, American politics is just interest combating interest until someone ends up on top.

That’s why liberals think they’re the better people all the time. They think they are "championing" the little guy in this tug-o-war of interests. We argue that we are only interested in "championing" justice--we don’t wish to play the game. Because they assume that ignoring the game is impossible, they say we’re engaged in nothing more than a covert operation to protect the interests of the wealthy and powerful. There is no such thing as true impartial "justice," they argue. As evidence, they cite one of the hundreds of ways justice has failed some particular group or person. "Whose justice are you talking about anyway?" they always ask. But this proves nothing except (now, I know this is going to be a shocker!) life and politics are hard--and sometimes unfair. But that doesn’t mean fairness is impossible. It only means we have to keep plugging along and working harder to achieve it. We don’t get it by devising schemes to screw the over-dog half the time and screw the under-dog the rest of the time.

But I digress . . . the long and short of it is that I wonder if it is even possible sometimes to engage in conversation with these folks because we’re not speaking the same language or coming at the conversation with anything like the same assumptions about politics. We say one thing and they hear another--and vice versa. Maybe the hearings are a waste of time on some level. We can only hope they were useful to those watching/listening to them (especially the young). One thing is certain, it will not be to the Democrats’ benefit to keep this thing on the front page another week! That’s what I mean about being beholden to interests--they have to try this in order to satisfy their way-left base of donors. It will fail and they will be exposed even more.

Discussions - 17 Comments

Nice post, Julie!

I agree with everything except the pessismism in the last part. I think the trick is to understand the ground upon which they are arguing and refute them on their own terms.

But that doesn’t mean fairness is impossible. It only means we have to keep plugging along and working harder to achieve it.

I would say it slightly differently.


Fairness may be impossible, but if we cease striving for it, the world will be more unfair.

We argue that we are only interested in "championing" justice--we don’t wish to play the game.

Yes, we are so pure!!

I think there was a country song once by John Conlee that fits this kind of thought well--"Rose Colored Glasses."

I’m conservative by nature, but I find it hard to believe that any judge can approach the job impartially. As Clint indirectly stated, both parties care nothing for principle, but only for what will win them the next election. Republicans gave up caring for "justice" long ago.

Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority. However anxiously we may wish that these complaints had no foundation, the evidence, of known facts will not permit us to deny that they are in some degree true.

As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves.

"These libs think politics is only a power struggle because they do not believe that people are capable of reasoning from a point that is not tied up in their own self-interest."

So the liberals agree with Federalist 10 and Madison?

Does federalist 10 (Madison) disagree with Federalist 51 (Madison)? "Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society."

It is the "end" in the same sense that Adam Smith believed that general prosperity is the "end" of commerce. Nobody engages in politics or trade with the conscious goal of bringing about justice or prosperity; they do so rather to promote their individual self-interest. The Founders believed that justice and prosperity would emerge inadvertently, so to speak.

Madison admits that politics is a bickering and ugly struggle for power. The Founders attempted (and did very well I think) to set up a government that could still produce something roughly just out of unjust men fighting in factions. While they may be better by a shade, the GOP is all about power and politics in its lowest form.

It is silly to think that either party acts with justice in mind as an end. As John Moser said, justice will hopefully spring from the power struggle set up by Madison and company.

Wrong, you cynics and poor students of The Federalist. It is no bad reflection on human nature that men seek to secure what is their own. What matters is the ends they seek and the means they employ. A good man deserves honors, but only if he performs the acts of a good man, which conduce to the public good. We need to rethink "the low but solid ground" of The Federalist and remember its inextricable connection in political life with the higher ground of responsibility, reputation, honor and, yes, virtue (the last term appears 22 times). Like the classics of philosophy, The Federalist notes that virtue, strictly speaking, is the product of few souls, so incentives are needed for decency and excellence, not to mention justice.

Remember, too, Arisotle’s critique of Plato’s Republic for insisting on too high a standard for virtue in his call for communism of property, women and children among the governing class. Aristotle knew that Socrates was implicitly teaching the impossibility, and therefore the injustice, of pure communism, but he also knew that Plato’s followers and others were not as subtle as their teacher.

Publius did not wait until Federalist 51 to take up justice. That was no less his concern in No. 10, where he made 13 references to it. The Constitution does not establish a regime for perfect men. But it hardly leaves no place for good ones. In its provision for prestige, stability and powers the Constitution gives incentives to good men no less than to knaves or fools. It is the challenge of every generation to teach relevant history, political philosophy, statesmanship and virtue to ensure the Constitution’s survival and success. A democratic regime is incomplete without the distinctive qualities that virtuous men bring. We need to avoid succumbing to cynicism because of the undeniable fact that we are not always blessed, as Madison put it, with "enlightened statesmen."

Thanks Richard. These guys make it sound like the Consitution the key and we are the wind up toy. Also-comment 2 is exactly correct and says it better than I did in the original--emphasis being on may be.

One last point to Rob: If we refute the libs on their own terms don’t we run the risk of giving the impression that we have agreed to those terms? The real disagreement between us is about the terms. I think we should continue insisting that ours be the common ground of contention because ours are those of the Constitution and laws of this country. Theirs are the imposters.


"If we refute the libs on their own terms, don’t we run the risk of giving the impression that we have agreed to those terms?"

Very good point. We should never let the other side tell us what to say or think.

If we do maintain this necessary integrity, dialogue does indeed become almost impossible, as Julie suggested in her post -- and for the reasons she cites.

As a cynic and poor student, I offer this ditty that describes human nature, and the current state of politics and discussion:

Two ladling butter from adjacent tubs

Stubbs praises Freeman, and Freeman praises Stubbs.

Julie, I’m loving your writing on these last two posts. Your frustration sounds absolutely identical to some of the things I’ve written lately.

It seems a lot of us go through this, when figuring out exactly what’s going on between liberals & conservatives. We’re both projecting our motivations and outlook onto each other.

Yeah, me too, Julie! As they say in the Mickey D’s ads, "I’m lovin’ it!"

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