Monday, October 11, 2004


I’ve a friend who’s convinced that President Bush brought up the Dred Scott decision in the most recent presidential debate with U.S. Sen. John Kerry as a wink to antiabortion conservatives. I’m not so sure.

Dred Scott vs. Sanford was the 1857 U.S. Supreme Court case in which Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, writing for a 7-2 majority, said blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic.” While it was true all were created equal, Taney found it “too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration.”

I don’t see a wink. I can’t draw a devious connection to abortion. Bush brought up Dred Scott to explain what kind of Supreme Court justice he wouldn’t appoint:

I wouldn’t pick a judge who said that the Pledge of Allegiance couldn’t be said in a school because it had the words “under God” in it. I think that’s an example of a judge allowing personal opinion to enter into the decision-making process as opposed to a strict interpretation of the Constitution. Another example would be the Dred Scott case, which is where judges, years ago, said that the Constitution allowed slavery because of personal property rights. That’s a personal opinion. That’s not what the Constitution says.

I also think he meant it as straight-on pandering to black voters. If there’s a wink, it’s to opponents of gay marriage, who feel court decisions in favor have been made by “activist judges.”

Another friend rewards Bush’s Dred Scott comment with a slow, sarcastic clap of scorn. The president boasting that he wouldn’t appoint a Taney to the high court is akin to bragging that he wouldn’t make Earl Butz head of Housing and Urban Development.

The reference may have been clumsy, but, judging from the deer-in-the-headlights look he’s adopted for his face-offs with Kerry, we should credit President Bush for even remembering to hit his talking points. What’s more likely to be mistaken for panicked presidential babbling is Bush’s gratuitous references to the International Criminal Court.

He’s made one in each debate, and it was strangest the first time around. It came in response to Kerry saying:

You don’t help yourself with other nations when you turn away from the global warming treaty, for instance, or when you refuse to deal at length with the United Nations. You have to earn that respect. And I think we have a lot of earning back to do.

To which Bush replied:

My opponent talks about me not signing certain treaties. Let me tell you one thing I didn’t sign, and I think it shows the difference of our opinion — the difference of opinions. And that is, I wouldn’t join the International Criminal Court. It’s a body based in the Hague where unaccountable judges and prosecutors can pull our troops or diplomats up for trial. And I wouldn’t join it. And I understand that in certain capitals around the world that that wasn’t a popular move. But it’s the right move not to join a foreign court that could — where our people could be prosecuted. My opponent is for joining the International Criminal Court. I just think trying to be popular, kind of, in the global sense, if it’s not in our best interest makes no sense. I’m interested in working with our nations and do a lot of it. But I’m not going to make decisions that I think are wrong for America.

In the second debate, the reference made a bit more sense, since it came in response to a question about easing tension with our longtime allies. He used it in the context that “sometimes in this world you make unpopular decisions because you think they’re right.” He’s sorry for nothing. He’s not budging.

The references are less weird if taken as an easy way for Bush to dodge questions about global warming and the Kyoto Protocol, take a poke at Kerry over his supposed willingness to bow to international pressure and show that a Republican-led United States will continue to stand up to one-world government.

It’s for all the isolated weirdos who actually fear that the United Nations — despite all evidence it’s an incompetent, all-talk body standing by despite death and misery in (a short list) Sudan, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia — controls the entire world, overseeing innocent Americans with high-tech surveillance and black helicopters.

It’s easy to quip that black-helicopter fanatics aren’t the ones watching debates on television, but that’s hard to argue when they’ve such a healthy presence on the Internet. Bush brings up the ICC as a wink to them and their soft-core undecided equivalents, just as politicians slip in biblical phrases to slyly reassure the religious.

But Dred Scott and abortion? I don’t see it.


Anonymous said...

I think you're right overall, but I still think it was a "state's rights" argument. -e

Scape7 said...

Yeah ... having to do with gay marriage!