Welcome to Conflagration Central, otherwise known as Washington, D.C. We unfortunate denizens are beyond exhausted from observing repeat rounds of the low state of American politics' never-ending series of bar brawls. We will be all the more drained after we observe the pending battle between the fire-breathing, over-reaching, power-drunk far Right-ies and the limp, listless Left-ies. That, as each side seeks to destroy the other over the next U.S. Supreme Court nominee.
It's come down to this in American politics: Do you want venal, overt prevarication or do you want inept, feckless incompetence? The former is today's GOP. The latter are today's Democrats.
Conservatives threaten Armageddon if they don't get their way on Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement. Perhaps their ability to deliver on such threats (indebted as this White House is to their ilk) means the time has arrived to board the plane for Tehran. After all, wouldn't it be a relief to join a society in which religious tyranny is gossamer compared with the version we now face in the good old U.S. of A?
Laughable is conservative angst over the possible nomination of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales by President Bush. Gonzales would be a historic "first" Hispanic Supreme Court Justice. Gonzales is also a loyal Bush aide and devout Catholic who calls himself pro-life. That does not suffice for the red meat-eaters, who consider themselves a better judge of judicial merit than their beloved president.
They distrust Gonzales heartily for the judicial sin of adhering to precedent. And yet, strict constructionists (i.e., those who adhere to precedent as set by the founding fathers) are supposedly the conservative ideal.
Conservatives detest Gonzales for one ruling he issued five years ago while serving on that bedrock bench of judicial liberalism, the Texas Supreme Court. Judge Gonzales had the nerve to join the majority in conceding that Roe v. Wade was still national law. In so doing, the court upheld a pregnant teenager's right to seek an abortion without first notifying her parents. Gonzales called two conservative dissenters (including recent appeals court appointee Priscilla Owen) "unconscionable judicial activis(ts)" because they tried to re-write federal law to fit their own extreme right-wing agenda.
Right-wing hate of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor centers on her desertion of the conservative cause and support for limited abortion rights. And yet O'Connor was as strong a centrist as the Supreme Court has ever seen. In today's Conflagration Central, centrism isn't good enough -- only extremism will do.
Funny how in her most important ruling on abortion while on the Supreme Court, O'Connor was the swing vote in the majority that abortion rights supporters say "eviscerated" Roe v. Wade. In Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, Justice O'Connor recognized a woman's right to abortion early in pregnancy as a matter of liberty. States could regulate abortion early in pregnancy, she co-wrote, but not to the point of creating an "undue" burden on the woman.
Later, when the fetus reached "viability" (was able to live outside the womb) the states could levy more stringent restrictions unless they endangered the woman's health. Funnier still how the term "viability" has disappeared from the abortion debate. It's been replaced by "conception" because, as we all know in this enlightened time, life begins at conception, not as we used to believe at viability.
When the Casey ruling was handed down, liberals said Justice O'Connor kept a skeletal version of Roe alive, but denuded it to the point she may as well have voted to strike it down. In retrospect they were right. Abortion may still be legal, but it's unavailable in many counties and largely unavailable in a handful of states in the United States. In other places, girls and women need jump over so many conditions -- 24-hour waiting periods, anti-abortion counseling, taunts from anti-abortion zealots who hover like vultures outside women's health clinics -- that they just give up.
This is today's stilted view of centrism. Even this is not enough for the extremists in Conflagration Central. They have seen the future. It is Armageddon. And they want it now.
X Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service.