a contemplative approach to politics

What the Media is Missing

Posted by blindspotpolitics on December 29, 2011

We all know that the main stream media is lacking in any intense discussion of policy during campaigns. Perhaps this is a sign of the encroaching stupidity of modernity sans Idiocracy. Or perhaps it’s a sign of a news market that cheers ratings and competition among networks over valued discussion. Regardless, the so called main stream media often fails to expand upon candidate’s policy ideas or discuss them at all.

The problem with not discussing policy is that potentially dangerous ideas are essentially swept under the table. Rick Perry’s recent critique of the Supreme Court is a poignant example. One of his more disturbing ideas, that the Supreme Court will be, under a Perry administration, subject to term limits, has not received the attention it deserves in the media. Maybe this is because most media sources consider Perry’s Presidential bid hopeless, but the importance of his suggestion is very important, if not at a practical level then at a theoretical level.

Perry’s suggestion is disturbing because it undermines the functionality of our democracy; harsh words, I know. The seperation of powers is a fundamental principle of our representative democracy. The courts, separated as their own branch of government and thus independent of the legislative and governing bodies, ensure a fair and progressive society (This conclusion may not be based on a strict reading of the Constitution but it is certainly based on the precedents set by courts throughout American History, see Marshall and Warren Court as prime examples of Judicial Review and social progression). Threatening the life terms of Supreme Court Justices advocated by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 78 (see a good synopsis here), threatens the independence of the Judiciary and the whole concept of three branches of government. Simply put, life terms for Supreme Court Justices ensures that they are independent of the whims of the political climate because they have no threat of losing their job.

Yes, unlike members of Congress who must be reelected every two (House) or six (Senate) years, they do not have constituents and no one votes for them. Perry argues that this lack of accountability means that Justices can act independent of what people generally want or believe in. Almost ironically, and a little too scary and concerning to laugh at, Perry’s critique of the courts is precisely their purpose. The Supreme Court is not supposed to represent us; not directly, anyways. They are not supposed to represent what the people view is correct or what is popular to believe in. They are supposed to represent the vision of our founding fathers and the theoretical principles that are the foundation of our democracy. What maintains the supremacy of our courts is not their inherent power or their lust for even more power but the slow march of time. As time moves on it leads to the  development of societal norms and of individual notions regarding social equality. This in turn, leads to the destruction of antiquated and dangerous beliefs and thus the acceptance or at least the toleration of once marginalized groups or practices or beliefs. One hundred years ago a large plurality, if not a majority, of Americans believed Black men and women to be inferior. The march of time has changed this, pushed slowly along by decisions from the courts.

The media did report on Perry when he discussed the courts. They chided him for saying their were only eight justices and for mispronouncing Sonia Sotomayer’s name, silly mistakes indeed. A serious and well advertised analysis of Perry’s remarks about term limits are, however, absent from any major news source. I found out about it from listening to one of the recent GOP debates and the only source I found on-line that took more than a line to explain Perry’s position was at TowleRoad, a site for the gay community and gay-friendly allies. Why is this source, which is outside the mainstream, the only one seriously reporting Perry’s policy position?

Instead of discussing what Presidents say, or what they do in their personal lives, how about we focus on what they believe? How about we start focusing on the theoretical principles that frame our Candidate’s political beliefs? How about we up the level of our national discourse? We’re all adults here. The people of the United States are not children vying for entertainment–we have reality TV for that anyways–Americans want to see the Ad Hominem attacks end. Candidates should not only say what they are going to do for people, but why. Democracy isn’t arbitary. The Federalist Papers were based on theory, on the why, on the ought, not just the is or the how. Candidates often speak of their “convictions” or their “moral outlook,” yet it always seems to be framed within the context of their political accomplishments. Properly vetting a candidate must, in the future, include addressing their political justification not just their political motivation. Individual experiences can and should help frame a candidate’s political views but only in so far as the candidate links his personal views with greater theoretical justifications.


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