“Don’t waste your time mourning -- organize!”
-- Joe Hill, the day before his execution.
William Rehnquist was the legacy of Richard Nixon, a reminder that presidents often far outlive the terms of their presidencies. He was at the vanguard of the modern conservative movement, a movement dedicated to reducing the power and responsibilities of the federal government. In over three decades of jurisprudence, Rehnquist opposed state’s rights against federal responsibility only once: Bush V. Gore, 2000. That singular fact (alongside the golden epaulets adorning his gown) is all you need to know about the judicial philosophy of William Rehnquist.
State’s rights were employed to fight back desegregation in the south. State’s rights were used to fight back civil rights and the voting rights of African Americans. State’s rights were employed in the battle against organized labor and women’s equality. And state’s rights were denied in order to make George W. Bush president.
Now, given the retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor, the legacy of one of the most ill equipped leaders ever to inhabit the White House will be felt for generations to come.
President Bush the elder was fond of speaking of “a thousand points of light” (a concept his son converted to “faith based” charities) but a thousand points of light are not capable of fortifying levees, restoring wetlands, cooling an overheated planet, or amassing the kind of response required in a major disaster.
All issues surrounding the Gulf Coast catastrophe, its prevention and relief, are the essential responsibilities of the federal government. I am not impressed with the unity tour of former presidents Clinton and Bush to raise private funds for the most basic of government functions.
This is why we pay taxes and, yes, taxes should be raised. As the financers of our government, the responsibility belongs to all of us and all of us should pay our fair share -- beginning with the corporations that profit from war and national tragedies.
We need not wonder what happened to all those billions of dollars we paid for Homeland Security. They went to the wars and the occupations.
They went to stealth operations, sponsoring coups in Haiti and Venezuela. They went to the development of a new class of tactical nuclear weapons. They were shuffled around to pick up pork projects in exchange for midnight votes for another round of payoffs to the pharmaceutical industry, the banking and credit industry, and of course the oil industry.
We are facing the national disgrace of an abandoned city, a predominantly poor black city, and an army of lost, desperate souls, yet the White House is already shifting gears, biding its time, waiting for the cameras to turn away from the suffering so that the government can proceed with its program of austerity for the masses and tax relief for the elite.
At its very core, the modern conservative philosophy holds the poor responsible for their own poverty.
At the core, the new conservatives do not believe that the federal government is responsible for rebuilding New Orleans or restoring the afflicted to stable and decent lives.
They will not say so in public but in the private smoke-filled rooms where William Rehnquist held court, where his brethren found him charming and illuminating, it is openly acknowledged and embraced.
So forgive me if I do not bow my head for the passing of the Chief Justice. My heart is already consumed in mourning. Forgive me if I do not honor the tradition of paying homage to the dead. He was only one man, one life against a backdrop of thousands.
As labor leader Joe Hill said: Don’t waste your time. Organize!
Jack Random is the author of Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press) the Jazzman Chronicles, Volumes I and II (City Lights Books). The Chronicles have been published by CounterPunch, the Albion Monitor, Buzzle, Dissident Voice and others. Visit his website: Random Jack.
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