Sunday, June 15, 2008

Boumediene "Worst Decision"?

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court announced its decision in Boumediene v. Bush, which allows detainees at the U.S. Naval Air Station at Guantanamo Bay to have access to federal courts in order to challenge the legality of their detentions. On Friday morning, speaking at a "town-hall style" meeting in New Jersey, presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain referred to the decision as “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.” That is ridiculous hyperbole even from a conservative Republican point of view.

Let's put the decision in perspective:
  • The decision affects only about 280 people held at Guantanamo Bay. The majority opinion clearly states that the military base at Guantanamo Bay is unique because it is not, technically speaking, part of the United States, and yet it is under the complete control of the United States. The decision will never be applied to detainees held in prisons in Iraq or Afghanistan.
  • The decision does not set anyone free. The decision only allows them access to federal courts for purposes of challenging the legality of their detentions. If the Bush administration can demonstrate to the courts that the detentions are legal under U.S. law or international law, then the detentions will continue.
From the point of view of a conservative, the Boumediene decision has got to be small potatoes compared to decisions like Roe v. Wade, which has lead to the deaths of innocent fetuses by abortion, or Miranda v. Arizona, which required that warnings be given before police can interrogate suspects and which has resulted in thousands of admittedly guilty criminals going free, or even Lawrence v. Kansas, which gave homosexuality some constitutional protection.

So why the hyperbole? In the grand scheme of things, why should a conservative care whether or not a handful of detainees have been granted access to federal courts?

Two possible reasons:
  1. It's better to be on offense than defense. McCain is going to have a difficult time defending the record of the Bush administration (and McCain's voting record) on domestic and foreign policy issues, so it's better to be on the attack against the decisions of the Supreme Court than trying to defend the decisions of the Bush administration and the Republican party over the last 7 years.
  2. The fear game. What has won elections for Republicans over the last several decades is fear. Fear of desegregated schools (i.e., blacks and liberal judges), fear of crime (i.e, blacks and liberal judges), fear of affirmative action (i.e., blacks and liberal judges), fear of loss of jobs (i.e., Hispanics and blacks and liberal judges), fear of gay marriage (i.e., fear of homosexuals and liberal judges), and fear of terrorism (i.e., fear of Arabs and blacks). Attacking the Supreme Court as "soft on terrorism" effectively combines the most important elements of almost every traditional conservative fear, because it combines traditional white xenophobia with traditional conservative antipathy to the court system.
Look for more of "the fear game" as the McCain campaign continues.

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