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Power Trip

The Beltway Bully Boys

The SCOTUS battle was never about Roe v. Wade. The real prize, as always, is money and the power to make more of it.

Photo by Tom Williams/AFP/Getty

NNow we know that Judge Brett Kavanaugh is not “sober as a judge.” His handlers might have preferred it otherwise. But if watching a rock-ribbed former wide receiver and cornerback snivel and sob for a chance at a lifetime job offended the sensibilities of a he-man worshipper like Senator Lindsey Graham, or forced the President, who hates men who cry, to swallow his revulsion, or made sensitive observers cringe and giggle, it’s a small price to pay for a coveted prize.

Washington is in a state of mayhem, but the odds are still high that Kavanaugh will be confirmed — or possibly dumped for another choice. Republicans need that fifth SCOTUS seat, before the retributive sweep of the November election.

I won’t say the FBI investigation is a sham, but if you think there are any agents left in the Federal Bureau of Investigation with the starch and principle to deliver a thorough investigation after watching Trump personally eviscerate the agents and their wives and lovers who’ve dared stand up to him, I’d like to sell you a crumbly, half-burnt Baku tower embossed with a big gold “T” and boasting a moldy, never-used “Spa by Ivanka.”

For the Republican Party — not only the hard-right but the supposed moderates as well — Kavanaugh must be confirmed. Only, it’s not for the reason that everyone thinks. Despite his flaying in last week’s bloody gender battle, the GOP’s SCOTUS power play has nothing to do with overturning Roe versus Wade. It’s about maintaining power. And money. And the power to make gobs more money, with which to solidify power. And the vast majority of cases the Supreme Court will rule on in the next term are about precisely that. There’s only one Roe. There are dozens of cases about power and money on the docket. Decisions by the next court bear, as they often do, directly on the relative rights of the powerless and the powerful, including questions like: when companies can require arbitration and avoid the court system; when and how class action suits may be filed; issues involving Native American claims to public lands; and how much immunity international corporations are due inside the United States. (Interested parties can peruse the SCOTUS 2018–2019 docket. You will not find the word Roe.)

Here’s a dirty little Washington secret: The cynical hacks behind Kavanaugh don’t actually care about overturning Roe at all. It’s mostly political theater. That’s how it works with these guys. Remember that Trump himself was on record as pro-choice for decades until, after squirming through a laying-on of hands in Trump Tower, he finally got the message: Roe is the glue holding together the Republican base.

Kavanaugh himself — avowedly, proudly Catholic, watched over by that dolorous Madonna of a wife, the expression on her face a silent testament to having witnessed a thousand similar private meltdowns, some surely having to do with missing a Nats game — probably doesn’t care either. If one of their daughters comes home, pregnant, up before Dad gets her into Yale, even if he’s made abortion criminal for doctors and women in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, he or his wife will still be able to see to it that she gets what she needs, if they so choose.

In the long chess game the Republicans have been playing ever since Jerry Falwell and The Heritage Foundation co-founder Paul Weyrich made their unholy alliance in 1971, creating the Moral Majority and cementing a bond between no-tax hyper-capitalists like the Koch Brothers and “social conservatives,” the party insiders have never seriously wanted to get rid of Roe. To do so would deprive them of the binding issue that has served so well on election day for four decades.

Overturn Roe, and it’s hard to see what keeps this coalition together. Prayer in schools?

The Republicans have offered up a baby-man who can look serious (tiny mouth, flinty eyes) in those black robes, and who can be counted on to uphold gerrymandering, incursions into voter rights, challenges to Citizens United, and other cases coming before the court that affect corporate rights and protect the system they’ve been working to preserve for decades. Gavel or no, Kavanaugh’s little more than a footsoldier in the battle to maintain Republican control and support from members of the business elite, men who could give a rat’s ass about abortion as long as they can make bank.

And they didn’t need another Scalia for this slot.

For Trump’s second SCOTUS nomination, The Federalist Society, still riding high on the success of their outrageous refusal to even consider Obama’s last court pick, didn’t even bother to nominate a supposed intellectual in the model of a Scalia or a Bork, a man who, however odious his beliefs might be to the left, at least seemed to read and think.

That Brett Kavanaugh is not their best and brightest — not even close — was clear to anyone who watched his performance before the Judiciary Committee. But they don’t need a heavyweight for their fifth vote. They need a guy who’s been trained since puppyhood to seek the approval of his peers, and to get it by targeting those less privileged than himself. In high school and college, that meant women. On the court, that group will expand to include just about everyone: immigrants, racial minorities, workers, the poor, and of course, the Democratic party, which he accused of “a calculated and orchestrated political hit” against him.

Kavanaugh will be the fifth vote on the legality of Republican political gerrymandering.

He will be the fifth vote on an obscure case challenging whether states can bring charges after federal charges have been dismissed; this has direct bearing on the value of President Trump’s pardon power.

He will be the fifth vote in yet another case aimed at further eviscerating the Affordable Care Act.

Should some intrepid committed civic hero somehow manage to get Citizens United back on the SCOTUS docket, he will be the fifth vote upholding the legality of dark money, the lifeblood of his handlers.

Most importantly, he will be a crucial vote for Trump, if and when issues from the Mueller investigation, including the question of whether a sitting President can be indicted, rise to the high court.

And despite what he told Senator Susan Collins, and the strategic importance of Roe as a rally cry for the base, he may well be the fifth vote to overturn it. Hell hath no fury like an old DKE scorned, isolated and humiliated.

To sum up, yes, Friday’s spectacle was a milestone in the gender wars, and in American political theater. A he-man cried and sniffled, exposing the hysterical fragility underneath all forms of machismo.

But real power feels no shame, as our authoritarian, lying President reminds us daily. In the Trump years, the outrageous means being deployed to maintain the GOP’s grip on power would not have seemed plausible to the writers behind the second season of House of Cards, the season where every Washington insider knew it jumped the shark. The shameless Republican SCOTUS power grab, begun when the Senate refused to consider Merrick Garland, and it will reach its end game before November 6, come hell, high water or a bully’s tears.

Writer, explorer, national politics, 6 books, NYC.

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