By JAMES KLURFELD
LONG ISLAND NEWSDAY
Start with this reality: In the 10 presidential elections dating back to 1968, the Republican candidate has won seven times. If you want to understand why Judge John G. Roberts will be approved by the U.S. Senate you can stop right there.
Contrary to popular perception, the U.S. Supreme Court is not above politics. It follows politics. And in the past 36 years, the nation has moved to the right. It hasn't been in a straight line, but this nation is significantly more conservative today than it was in 1968. The court's makeup is just following that trend -- as it should in a democracy.
Frankly, this is a painful reality for me to accept. I came of age in the 1960s, a card-carrying member of the baby boom generation (OK, just barely, born May 15, 1945), and having lived my life in the Northeast, I assumed that my moderate to liberal tendencies reflected the majority view in the country. The opposition to the Vietnam War, the civil-rights marches, the socially liberal (as in sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll) slant of my crowd surely represented the overwhelming view of my compatriots.
As it turns out, I am a representative of a minority group -- a fairly large minority, but still a minority. Most of my presidential candidates have lost, and the issues that matter most to me and like-minded friends aren't necessarily reflected by opinion polls. We thought the anti-war movement was a great thing and that the march for equality for black Americans, including affirmative action, was a noble cause. I still believe we were right on our principles then and are right now, but a good portion of our generation didn't agree.
Indeed, we Northeast, elitist baby boomers should have realized we didn't have the votes back in 1972 when Richard Nixon crushed George McGovern. We were counting on the 18- to 21-year-olds, who were voting for the first time, to make a huge difference. Not only did that not happen, but the 18- to 21-year-olds voted in about the same ratios for Nixon as their elders.
A new context
This all sets the context for Roberts' nomination and almost certain approval for the Supreme Court. For all his brilliance and apparent decency, he wouldn't be my choice for a vacancy on the court. But my candidates lost the last two contests for the White House, and the party I most often favor controls neither house of Congress.
Does this mean catastrophe for the nation, such as, for instance, the end of a woman's right to choose an abortion? Not necessarily. Roberts doesn't strike me as a judge who wants to upset the social order and radicalize the court. And he seems the type of justice who, like Sandra Day O'Connor, has a healthy respect for precedent.
And besides, the Supreme Court is about a lot more than just the issue of abortion. Or at least it should be. Many legal experts, people who know a lot more about the law than I do, and even folks who agree with the outcome, have said Roe v. Wade was a flawed decision.
At least two of my Democrat friends have expressed the belief that nothing could change the conservative drift of our politics more than if the Supreme Court reversed Roe. It's the radical departure that's needed to energize a new Democratic majority in the nation.
President Bush will almost certainly have the opportunity to set the court on a conservative course for the next two decades with Roberts and other appointments. The time for Democrats to do something about this was last November. Now it's too late. Minority rights are an important part of our system. But when you've lost seven of 10 elections in 36 years, it's time to start figuring out how to become a majority again.
X Klurfeld is a columnist and editor of Newsday's editorial pages. Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service.