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While Bush Sleeps, Who Really Governs?

By David Lytel, Managing Partner Democrats.com

George W. Bush wants to make sure we all know that being president is a piece of cake. A day at work for Bush is like a day on vacation for any of the rest of us. He gets a late start, spends time at the gym and takes a nice long afternoon nap. So this leaves the messy business of governing the country to others. But who, exactly, has Bush gotten to mind the store while he takes it easy?

A peak backstage at the presidential theater is truly frightening, since what you see isn’t even representative of the Republican Party, let alone the country at large. The Republicans managed to put the Supreme Court in a position to decide the election only by holding together its four factions – Wall Street fat cats and the super rich, the Main Street small business types, the cultural conservatives who are concerned about moral decline and family values, and the angry white men who feel that gains in status achieved by women, minorities, gays and others come at their expense. However, that coalition is not what has been asked to govern the country. What should be alarming even to Republicans is the degree to which a very small cell of right wing ideologues has been put in the drivers seat by a president who is happy to take a nap in the back seat.

I’m referring to the laughlably mis-named “Federalist Society,” which is a group of no more than maybe 25,000 right wingers who are using the language of democracy to try to fight against some of democracy’s greatest achievements.

The Federalist Society wants to dust off and resuscitate the long discredited doctrine of “states rights,” which you may dimly remember was the rallying cry for the ultraconservative racists and white supremecists who opposed our nation’s great achievements in civil rights and equal rights for women. A great new report called “Slouching Towards Extremism: The Federalist Society and the Transformation of American Jurisprudence” was published recently by the Institute for Democracy Studies. Some highlights:

“Federalist Society leaders are determined… to begin the process of institutionalizing a comprehensive agenda challenging every aspect of a democratic judicial system.

Targeting the courts, the law schools, and the American Bar Association, the Federalist Society has emerged as an increasingly powerful coalition of conservative and libertarian legal activists developing broad-based challenges to fundamental principles of constitutional law.

Backed by millions of dollars from leading right-wing and libertarian foundations, the Federalist Society is quietly and successfully shaping the emerging jurisprudence.”

The Federalist Society is one of the principle organizations by which the right wing conducts its assault on the democratic foundations of our legal system. The Federalist Society is the vehicle for a new generation of right wing ideologues who are determined to use a “states rights” rationale to defend special privilege for wealthy white people and re-establish official discrimination against everyone else.

The Federalist Society membership list reads like a Who’s Who among powerful right wing intellectuals. They include U.S. Supreme Court Justices William Renquist, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor and Clarence Thomas, senators Spencer Abraham and Orrin Hatch, former Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Solicitor General Ted Olson, former FBI director C. Boyden Gray, former Attorney General Edwin Meese and lots more.

This ruling clique is so out of step with America that they believe such landmark cases as Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed school segregation, and Roe v. Wade, which upheld a woman’s right to control her own reproductive system, were wrongly decided and must be overturned. They oppose effective environmental protection and fight against even the small measures that have been enacted to address the massively unequal status afforded women, homosexuals, and racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. – all under the banner of “states rights.”

I have to say that the Federalist Society’s approach – infiltrating and taking over key institutions of government – reminds me most strongly of how the Communist Party or for that matter the Nazi Party went about undermining democratic institutions from within until public support for them had vanished and the remaining veneer could be swept away so a people’s dictatorship of the right or of the left (take your pick) could be put in power.

You almost have to marvel at the tremendous discipline of the right wing fanatics, who now have public office and recognition from the news media to add to their tools for controlling the public agenda. Unless progressives begin to bend down and pick up the tremendous potential power we have to organize a potent opposition we are very likely to find ourselves blocked from returning to power by zealots who have proven that their ultimate commitment is not to God or to democracy but to siezing and holding power by any means necessary.

The key question is how can we use the new tools of activism to help the Democratic Party unlock its inner majority and build a center-left coalition that is the 21st century’s dominant political force. I, for one, am up to the challenge.