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What Do Conservatives Read?

Is there any informed citizen who doesn’t know that the current off-year elections are being bought by some of the country’s most right-wing businessmen? It’s been all over the press for months. The Koch brothers and the millions of dollars they have spent establishing misleading-sounding political action groups, financing the Tea Party, even “buying” an economics program at George Mason University? All these acts so they can continue to deny climate change, rail about government regulation while polluting the environment for their own selfish reasons. Or, Rupert Murdoch supporting right-wing candidates by adding them to the payrolls of FOX News and The Wall Street Journal? (Why was that man even permitted to become an American citizen?)

I know the old adage: you are what you read. Conservatives read The Wall Street Journal and look at FOX News. Liberals read The New York Times and watch MSNBC. What you read supports what you already believe, implying that no one is aware of the other side of an issue.

Is this true of Supreme Court justices also? Do justices Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Alito and Thomas have no regrets at selling our candidates to the highest bidder? Am I naïve to conclude that these justices who overturned nearly a hundred years of prohibitions on political financing see nothing wrong with opening the floodgates to corporate cash that will only support candidates who, once in office, will support them? Do these justices think so little of America that they can see no further than what is immediately in front of them? Is it my own innocence that makes me believe that economic interests do not trump rational thought?

Item: In Washington, D.C., three weeks ago, Adrian Fenty, the current mayor of the city, lost the primary to Vincent Gray in a heated contest that was as much as anything about the District of Columbia’s abysmal public school system. Fenty’s ambitious Chancellor of Schools rocked the boat by firing tenured teachers who should have been “retired” years ago. Yes, that is a bit of a simplification. But the bottom line was this: fire a thousand incompetent teachers and administrators or sacrifice twenty-five thousand students to a mediocre education. What do you do? Sacrifice the teachers or the students? Retain the economic security of a thousand teachers or think about the greater whole?

Isn’t this really the same decision justices Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Alito and Thomas made last year? Protect the financers at the top—who will support any fringe candidate (including those with no previous political experience and questionable backgrounds)–or think about the overwhelming social consequences that America will confront if we continue to let the few at the top determine what’s happening in the United States?

So I ask the five justices who are supposed to be known for wisdom, their ability to see things beyond narrow perspectives—to see both sides of an issue–have you yourselves not observed our crumbling infrastructure, the changing weather patters in Washington, D.C., where I believe you all reside, the fact that there are increasing numbers of homeless people standing on the streets and at intersections when your limousine takes you to the Supreme Court? Do you believe in nothing besides influence shaped by money? Do you have no regrets about the decisions you have made? Do you have no shame?

CHARLES R. LARSON is Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C.