Last month, on consecutive days, the Supreme Court struck a blow for gender equality and dealt a body blow to racial equality. One is tempted to say they blew it.
But those decisions only appear contradictory. Truly understood, they make perfect sense.
The confusion arises when one thinks of the conservative bloc of four-and-a-half that drives the agenda for the Supreme Court as judges. They are not. They are Republicans. Their decisions are designed to do one simple thing: help the GOP win elections.
Party politics, as practiced by the Republicans, is a blood sport. If you fix the umpires, you win. The Supreme Court threw the game for the GOP in Bush v. Gore; they're doing it again now.
The way the conservative bloc votes can only be understood in light of their rooting interest in one political team. They're fan boys for the GOP. They might as well take off their robes and put on an elephant suit. Kennedy could be the trunk. Whichever way he points, they go.
That explains the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. The Republicans rammed the Defense of Marriage Act through Congress in 1996, when most of the nation thought the idea of men marrying men or women marrying women was strange, even threatening. The Republicans knew they were onto a good wedge issue and they ran that horse for all it was worth.
But then the nation changed its mind. People came to realize that gay marriage was no threat to them, that allowing people to marry the ones they love is a simple matter of fairness. On a national level, opposing gay marriage became a political loser.
Now the Supreme Court has made sure the Republicans never have to seriously deal with that issue again. Oh, they'll fundraise about it, they'll continue to spout anti-gay rhetoric in those states that are habitually behind evolving, enlightened, public opinion, but as a national winner, that issue is dead to them.
But the day before the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage act, they eviscerated the Voting Rights act. On the surface, this makes no sense. Are they that ideologically inconsistent?
No, it's not about ideology. It's about elections.
The Republicans can't say they don't want blacks and Latinos to have equal rights, including the equal right to vote. But they have a problem. Demographics is working hard against them. Those emerging minorities won't forgive and forget the scapegoating they got from the GOP. If Republicans simply let minorities vote, they lose; if they preach overt racism, they lose. What to do?
Gerrymander. Suppress the vote. Use your fading power to redraw the districts in your state so the minority vote is broken into little impotent puddles. Raise the phony specter of hordes of Hispanics hurtling towards the ballot box with fake papers in hand, and use that lie to pass voter ID laws. Make sure you don't have enough polling places in poor neighborhoods, make the lines long, make voting hard. Don't worry about the Supreme Court, they'll go along. They're team players.
And the scorecard in this game of the Supreme Court v. Democracy? Well, in 2012 half a million more people voted Democratic in the Congressional elections nationwide. But they "elected" 233 Republicans and 200 Democrats.
The Republican Party is about nothing but winning. Sound a little harsh to you? Okay, you try to draw a line from Abraham Lincoln's party of abolition and emancipation to the race-baiting, code-spewing, immigrant-bashing yahoos who run the GOP today. And if you manage that trick, stand on your head and do it backwards when the line zigzags back because immigrant-bashing isn't a winning proposition anymore.
Because that's next. Illegal immigration is anathema to the Republican Party. But they have a problem. The demographics are working hard against them. They know they have no future unless they get some of the Hispanic vote. But their own caucus can't get its act together to pass immigration reform, because if the Republican Party goes "brown," the tea party will turn blue.
Who can save the GOP from itself? Never fear, the Supreme Court is here. Count on it; when a case comes before the court challenging immigration reform, they'll do the right thing. They'll bail the Republicans out. They'll decide it in the way that best helps the GOP win elections.