Readers of small left-wing magazines will no doubt be surprised to learn of dramatic growth in economic inequality and the mounting impact of social class in America. Readers of larger, not-so-left sources may be really surprised. The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal(!), and the American Political Science Association have all weighed in anxiously in recent months. The Times writes that “the 400 taxpayers with the highest incomes”—people who earn $87 million and up—“pay income, Medicare and Social Security taxes amounting to virtually the same percentage of their incomes as people making $50,000 to $75,000.” If your revenues are less, the Bush tax policies will, I suppose, make it easier to buy bootstraps. But if social democracy is distant from contemporary America, you might still contrast the social and economic priorities—and logic and perspective—of today’s Washington to those suggested by Sean Butler’s article in this issue. It advocates the idea of a guaranteed basic income (whose supporters are not solely on the left).
Conservative pundits complain, as they have for decades, that “liberals” and “leftists” define the country’s agenda through control of the media, the culture, the universities. If that’s so, “liberal” and “leftist” power landed conservatives in the White House for seventeen years of the last quarter century, and put Republican majorities in the Senate and the House for most of the past eleven years. The courts, especially the Supreme Court, are in conservative sights. Republicans occupy governors’ mansions in the largest states. The state of this country today is mainly of Republican design. In the meantime, our right-wingers, especially the shouting heads among them, pretend to be a besieged voice of the people speaking truth to the power of elites. n
Dissent rarely focuses on constitutional matters, but the troubled political landscape makes this issue’s “Arguments” section important. In our previous issue, Mark Tushnet proposed that liberals depend too much on judicial review instead of democratic persuasion. If you think you can convince judges, you ought to be able to convince citizens—who elect lawmakers. Distinguished legal theorists Laurence H. Tribe and Jeremy Waldron now respond with keen questions about constitutional government, rights, and checks and balances.
They raise matters of long-term consequence, but our immediate predicament also animates the exchange: how to surmount Republican dominance of the country’s institutions and political mood? There’s no easy answer. Certainly Senate Democrats provided a wrong one when they opted to compromise on the appointment of right-wing extremists to the judiciary in order to protect an undemocratic check (the filibuster) on an undemocratic institution (Wyoming has two Republican senators for 494,000 people and California has two Democratic senators for 34...
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