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Supreme Silence



On September 11, 2001, after being told that America was under attack, George W. Bush sat quietly doing nothing in a Florida photo-op appearance for more than five minutes, before flying first to Louisiana and then Nebraska, leaving Americans to guess whether their national institutions remained intact.

On June 26, 2003, when the Court that appointed him president struck down a Texas anti-sodomy law, he also sat quietly. Indeed, his silence was deafening. Not even a “No comment.” Was he hiding in the bunker again? The same justices who created him president were now killing him with his core constituency.

Justice Scalia, however, was far from silent. The tangled logic of his calculated charge that the Court had “signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda” was vintage Scalia, his “so-called” appearing to assert that homosexuals are running around falsely pretending to have an “agenda” that in fact exists only in the minds of hysterical bigots. But Scalia was playing to a gallery far more fearful of gays than of, say, terrorists.

Which was more contemptible? Justice Scalia’s rabble-rousing outburst, or the fact that the president of the United States had nothing to say in response to the Court’s historic decision?

We can cut the president this much slack: the Democratic candidates for president seemed equally determined to avoid not only the subject but the entire news cycle.

And there you have the entire problem with the election of 2004 in a nutshell. Raise a fundamental issue of human rights, and neither major party will touch it with a ten-foot poll. For them, it’s a no-win situation. Applaud the decision and you’re “pro homosexual.” Denounce it and you’re One-with-Howard-Phillips, but less compassionate.

“This is a great day for America, long overdue …” did you spend the day looking for someone in a position of influence to say that on TV? A quick flip through the channels turned up Barney Frank, two or three more-or-less anonymous gay people, and the usual dreary, bulbous pack of Falwells and spokespeople for Family This and Heritage That. Predictably, most programs presented the story as an issue with “two sides,” as though ordinary respect for human dignity and wild-eyed hate-mongering were equally plausible “positions.” Here’s an idea, the next time a mass murderer struts his stuff why not show us a debate between a grieving parent and a “spokesperson for the serial killer community.”

The national media knew well in advance that this decision was coming down. They had plenty of time to line up substantive commentators. Didn’t they even try, or was everyone on vacation? How grateful everyone but Trent Lott must have been when news arrived late in the day that Strom Thurmond had died, blessedly changing the subject.

Anyone could have foretold that the far right fundamentalists would line up to denounce the decision (and to position themselves for a new wave of direct mail fundraising). But who knew the Fundies would have such a rough week? They lost Affirmative Action, Lester Maddox, Sodomy Laws and Strom Thurmond, one right after the other, like a rickety line of Dixie Dominos falling. It was enough to confuse and befuddle the hardiest of them. Tom DeLay could be heard muttering, “What a man does with an ax handle in the privacy of his own bedroom is nobody’s handkerchief.”

Think of how they must feel, our reactionary compatriots. They put George W. Bush in office (with a little help). They booed the Dixie Chicks when he told them to. They swallowed the Patriot Act, which violated at least as many of the right’s principles as of the left’s. Three years later, racial and sexual minorities have trounced them in the Supreme Court, people are still getting abortions, and all their movement has to show for all their loyalty is a tax cut and an occasional gospel song from Johnnie “Joy in the Morning” Ashcroft, who, when he sings, gushes with a mannered religious ecstasy that reminds one of nothing if not a tired porn queen summoning up the energy to fake a few more orgasms.

Come election time, Bush W. will run the same old scam on these hapless folk: vote for me and there’ll be vacancies on the Court and I’ll appoint people who’ll follow the Constitution and overturn Roe v. Wade and get rid of hip-hop, whatever suits you. And they’ll vote for him, if they vote for anybody. They may experience a falling-off of fervor based on the fact that they got everything they wanted in a president and they still can’t get what they want. Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush and Bush have failed to prevent the country from sliding ever leftward, from their perspective.

Who knows what they’ll do? Maybe they’ll forget politics and go help Franklin Graham baptize Iraqis. Right now, they couldn’t be more stunned if Newt Gingrich had a sex change.

DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, just released a scorching new CD, Way Down Here.

He can be reached at:

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DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, have just released a scorching new CD, Serve Me Right to Shuffle. His essay on Tammy Wynette is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on art, music and sex, Serpents in the Garden.

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