Monday, March 07, 2005

On The Atlantic on Rehnquist

Jeffrey Rosen writes an interesting piece about Chief Justice Rehnquist in this month's Atlantic. I haven't read it fully or too carefully, but it offers a bold thesis that Rehnquist may not be as bad as liberals thought and as inflexible as conservatives might have hoped. Part of this claim rests on his arguments that Rehnquist came from the Goldwater strand of Republicanism that preceded the rise of Religious Republicanism of the late 70's and 80's. In making this modest case for Rehnquist, Rosen offers a rather indecorous attack on today's Republican Party that seems neither relevant nor particularly trenchant:
Although Goldwater dutifully denounced the Warren Court's liberal obscenity and school-prayer decisions, he had little patience for his party's growing moralistic forces, which insisted that Christian virtue, rather than liberty, should be the Republicans' highest calling. The Republican Party of the 1960s, for all its associations with extremism at the time, seems in retrospect a less strident and more inclusive organization than the party of today.
This seems like an awfully backhanded move, given that the article’s overall tone is complimentary in recognizing that one of Rehnquist’s greatest strengths was getting along with his ideological opponents--through his friendly demeanor and dedication to comprise. In order to underscore one of Rehnquist’s finest traits, Rosen has to create a foil out of a significant chunk of today’s Republican Party that he then smears by suggesting that "I'll Drop the Bomb Goldwater" Republicans were comparatively open-minded and ready for fair debate.

How does Rosen’s not-so-veiled aside on today’s conservative ideologues fit into a piece that above all else recognizes Rehnquist’s respect for everyone’s position? Certainly, there is a sense that Rehnquist respected and revealed the procedure, as opposed to justices like Scalia or Thomas who are more fully committed to ideological principles. But can’t that case be made without stepping on the carefully crafted compromising Chief Justice—one that must respect all sides of the argument—which emerges from Rosen’s Rehnquist profile?


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