About Me

I am Associate Professor and Chair of the History Department at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. I am also the Academic Director of the Clemente Course in the Humanities, in New Bedford MA. Author of "Social Security and the Middle Class Squeeze" (Praeger, 2005) and the forthcoming "Saul Alinsky the Dilemma of Race in the Post-War City" (University of Chicago Press), my teaching and scholarship focuses on American urban history, social policy, and politics. I am presently writing a book on home ownership in modern America, entitled "Castles Made of Sand? Home Ownership and the American Dream." I live in Providence RI, where I have served on the School Board since March 2015. All opinions posted here are my own.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The system shook, but stood: the ObamaCare decision

You know, part of my joy today is about the Supreme Court's decision on the Affordable Care Act -- but I think its deeper than that. 

Its rooted in my sense that the legitimacy of a core American institution (the Court) wavered, even shook, but ultimately remained in place. 

I remember the acid in my stomach after the Bush v. Gore decision, and anticipated having the same feeling this morning. The nihilism that American conservatism seems to have adopted seems bent on devouring standards, institutions and processes that have served this country well for a very long time -- like some sort of civic auto-immune disease. 

As James Fallows recently wrote, "liberal democracies depend on rules, but also on norms -- on the assumption that you'll go so far, but no further, to advance your political ends. The norms imply some loyalty to the system as a whole that outweighs your immediate partisan interests."

It was out of such loyalty that Gore stepped aside after the Court stopped the vote count in 2000, as much as many of us wanted him to fight.  It was in violation of that loyalty that the Bush campaign sought to stop the vote count, and in violation of that loyalty that the Supreme Court's narrow majority upheld Bush's strategy.

It was in support of that loyalty that Chief Justice John Roberts, however reluctantly, ruled today. Perhaps there still are a few true conservatives left among the bomb-throwing crazies, who would undo in the name of patriotism all that makes that patriotism morally justifiable.

Sir Thomas More, as quoted in "A Man for All Seasons":

"And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, ...the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down..., do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!"

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