From the Executive Editor
It’s 2009. A Democrat is settling into the Oval Office, and the party has strengthened its hold on Congress. With troops still in Iraq and the economy somewhere between shaky and tanking, what should the Democrats do? How much can they do? And what should and can they do right off the bat to win some validating victories and to pave the way for more fundamental change?
We’ve asked a distinguished collection of scholars, advocates, and Prospectors to ponder these questions and lay out some priorities should the Democrats finally be in a position to arrest America’s slide. Celebrated historian Doris Kearns Goodwin provides a primer on how transformative presidents built public support for transformative policies. Prospect co-editor Paul Starr, who conceived this issue, sifts through the strategic choices that will initially confront a new Democratic president. Our other authors argue for particular progressive policies and approaches on issues ranging from climate change to civil rights to restoring America’s standing among nations. Nor does this exhaust our discussion: We’ll have more such articles in forthcoming issues.
Elsewhere, Prospect columnist Mark Schmitt offers what I’m confident will become the definitive assessment of Michael Barone’s Almanac of American Politics, a venerable reference book that has both curdled and become less relevant with the passage of time.
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Sen. Kennedy’sWrong Turn
Sen. Edward Kennedy voted against the confirmation of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito because they did not share his political views and is now shocked -- shocked! -- that these Republican-appointed jurists have not ruled as he would have liked ["< a href="http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=repealing_the_20th_century">The Supreme Court’s Wrong Turn," December 2007]. He ultimately urges "reform" so that never again may nominees skate through without having to answer senators’ tough questions.
But Kennedy’s proposed reform is nothing more than a litmus test related to specific pending or future cases -- precisely what he says "should be avoided." After all, Roberts and Alito testified at length about their views on Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade -- though their support for the precedential weight of these cases does not imply support for racial quotas or unrestricted abortion (rulings against which Kennedy argues contradict the justices’ testimonies).
As for the pay discrimination case that jump-starts his article, Kennedy need look no further than his own object lesson on American civics for a remedy to any perceived problems. If Congress doesn’t like how the Court decided a technical issue of statutory law, then it should pass a law changing the applicable rules.
In short, Kennedy’s attempt to conflate law and politics belies his call for "reform" of the judicial confirmation process: You’re already free to ask whatever questions you want, Senator, and to continue voting against nominees you decide haven’t been sufficiently forthright. Better yet, win a presidential election and propose nominees more agreeable to you.
Kennedy’s proposal to require Supreme Court nominees to reveal their true natures by saying how they would rule on particular cases just shows how membership in the U.S. Senate addles the brains of otherwise-intelligent Democrats. Scoundrels such as Roberts and Alito will say whatever is required to satisfy the credulous.
The only real way to determine the characters of Supreme Court nominees is to examine what they have done in the past.
The real scandal is that Senate Democrats such as Kennedy failed to filibuster judicial nominations so far out of the American mainstream. Wouldn’t the Republicans be in a fix now if they had done that!
David J. Raymond
Leaving Fewer Behind
Dana Goldstein’s article "Left Behind" [December 2007] casts much-needed attention on a crisis facing students of color and the resolve of one school district in Ossining, New York, to address it. It is a sad commentary on contemporary society that a school’s efforts to maintain racial integration and reduce racial disparities in academic achievement are now being challenged as undesirable or even illegal.
Much of the criticism of Ossining’s system misses the mark. Although socioeconomics are important, ignoring race in favor of income is not the answer. As Supreme Court Justice Kennedy wrote in his opinion in the recent Seattle and Louisville voluntary integration cases, "The enduring hope is that race should not matter; the reality is that too often it does."
Given this reality, one can only hope that the district can continue its efforts to provide equal educational opportunity for all of its students. The problem is not that there are school districts like Ossining but that there are not more like them.
Dennis D. Parker
Director, Racial Justice
New York, NY