Saturday, December 28, 2013

File Under: What If...


If you're following the narrative on the blog with any regularity over the week, you probably noticed we've been taking a close look at Stephen Kinzer's brilliant new book, The Brothers, an intense look at the two worst and most destructive arch-villains in 20th Century American history. Having a major international airport named after John Foster Dulles is a slap in the face to all Americans who revere democracy and detest the aggressive fascism he espoused his entire miserable life.

The Dulles brothers had just finished deposing the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mosadegh, and we getting ready to do the same to the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz, when the 13th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Fred Vinson had a heart attack and died. Eisenhower immediately offered his Secretary of State, former sleazy Wall Street lawyer, Foster Dulles, the position. Dulles immediately turned him down. He had monsters to slay all over the world and had no time for Justice, not even a chance to pervert it. Kinzer speculates that "Foster's decision to remain as secretary of state opened the way for the appointment of Earl Warren as chief justice. If he had decided otherwise and left the State Department, Allen would undoubtably have continued to press the anti-Arbenz project. Whether another secretary of state would have shared his passion for it is an intriguing question for which there can be no answer." And that's true. But, had he been interested in domestic matters rather than international affairs, Kinzer could have taken the other fork for speculation, one for which there are plenty of answers: what if John Foster Dulles, a dull-minded bigot and fascist operative, had become the Chief Justice instead of Earl Warren? America would be a very different place today, a far worse one.

Warren, who had served 3 terms as the Republican governor of California (although he was also nominated by the Democrats for reelection), served as Chief Justice from 1953 until 1969. He was one of the three or four most impactful Chief Justices in American History and there isn't a single decision he is best known for-- from Brown v Board of Education in 1954 to Miranda v Arizona in 1966-- that Foster Dulles would have agreed with. Both men were Republicans and elitists but Dulles was the preeminent American reactionary of his time and Warren was a lifelong idealist and progressive.

In fact, Warren turned out to be so unabashedly progressive on the Court-- and so persuasive in terms of forging a liberal activist majority on the Court-- that Eisenhower came to rue the day he ever appointed him. Eisenhower is said to have remarked that appointing him was "the biggest fool mistake I ever made," although this may be a right-wing myth.

Dulles would have never voted to desegregate American schools, the decision Warren is probably most well-known for. And Dulles, a dedicated anti-democracy fanatic certainly would never have championed the two big "one man, one vote" cases by which Warren ended the dominance of rural areas in state legislatures. Although conservatives in Congress frantically tried to pass a Constitutional Amendment to overrule Warren, they failed. "To the extent that a citizen's right to vote is debased, he is that much less a citizen," explained Warren defiantly. "The weight of a citizen's vote cannot be made to depend on where he lives. This is the clear and strong command of our Constitution's Equal Protection Clause." Had he been in a position to, John Foster Dulles would have ended universal suffrage entirely and gone back to a system in which only wealthy, white, male, property owners could vote.

In 1963, Warren's progressivism helped shaped the Gideon v Wainwright decision that requires that indigent defendants are entitled to legal counsel paid for by the government. Other Warren Court decisions that Dulles would have never allowed to slip through outlawed mandatory school prayer and enshrined a doctrine of privacy that led to abortion rights (Griswold v Connecticut).

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