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January 22, 2010


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I would find remarkable is that the so called liberals on the court often rule on the side of big business. but in the case, the consequences are so disastrous that it is obvious to anyone who is concerned with protecting democracy.

It would seem this another fine example of the decline of symbolic efficiency: Stevens doesn't even inhabit the same universe as the alito's and Robert's of the court. Truly a remarkable decision, only days after the death of healthcare reform at the hands of business.

Bryan Klausmeyer

I think what's interesting about that Stevens quote is not so much that it's "obvious to anyone who is concerned with protecting democracy" that the legislation was wrong-headed. Stevens' judgment is far more ambiguous, take a look at what he writes:

When citizens turn on their televisions and radios before an election and hear only corporate electioneering, they may lose faith in their capacity, as citizens, to influence public policy. A Government captured by corporate interests, THEY MAY COME TO BELIEVE, will be neither responsive to their needs nor willing to give their views a fair hearing. The predictable result is cynicism and disenchantment: AN INCREASED PERCEPTION that large spenders “‘call the tune’” and a reduced “‘willingness of voters to take part in democratic governance.’”

Capitalized for emphasis. So, notice how Stevens isn't talking about whether or not the legislation will actually impact whether the system becomes objectively less democratic, but only refers to the semblance of democracy, how voting *appears* to be corrupt to the electorate. In that sense, it seems that the dissent's argument is, ironically enough, cynical at bottom: we already live in the "future apocalyptic world" that liberal's are describing this decision to inaugurate, in which corporations dominate the electoral process, all this legislation does is strip us of the illusion of having any control. What the liberal bloc of the supreme court is arguing is that it's necessary, in order for the corrupt order to persist as it has, to sustain the illusion of democracy.



I think your move to the decline of symbolic efficiency is dead on--really insightful. What becomes interesting, then, is whether or not one can make charges of bad faith or if inhabiting a different ideological register is simply where we are. If the latter is the case--which I think it is--then we are in a condition of civil war, a situation without shared meanings or norms (ala Thucydides and Hobbes). And, the Right says this all the time: it's civil war, it's revolution, it's a struggle over America.

Brian--your reading is really good. My first reaction was, wow, I wish I thought of this. But then I reread the first line of the passage you quote about capacity to influence policy and I wondered if maybe Stevens thinks that a faith in that capacity is a necessary condition for democracy. I think that it is--and that political power is often (not always) exercised by those who have this faith in their capacities.


Could there also be an enjoyment account of what motivates the right-wing members of the Court? Not that they actually "believe" in democracy or that corporate interests are genuinely threatened by democratic action, but that when given the chance they simply enjoy twisting the knife in, getting in that extra kick in the groin, sticking it to the liberal "elite". That certainly seems to fit what we know of the psychological profile of Scalia, Roberts, Thomas and Alito anyway. Phony ressentiment on the part of Scalia/Alito, smug entitled self-satisfaction on the part of Roberts and whatever on the part of Thomas.

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