Column: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 87th birthday should be motivation for Democrats to back Biden – Chicago TribuneMarch 14, 2020
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a four-time cancer survivor, turns 87 on Sunday.
That’s all you really need to know for the 2020 presidential election if you’re a Democrat or left-leaning moderate.
“RBG is 87” is the slogan to emblazon on the buttons, bumper stickers, ball caps and other campaign merch in your effort to win the votes of sulky progressives now threatening to sit out the election since their favorite candidate is unlikely to get the party’s nomination for president.
Liberal icon Ginsburg is not only by far the oldest justice now serving, she’s also the fourth oldest justice in the 231-year history of the court. In October, she’ll pass former Chief Justice Roger Taney, who served from 1836 until his death in 1864,and become the third oldest.
And if she’s still on the court in January 2024, Ginsburg will become the oldest Supreme Court justice ever by passing Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Holmes was two months shy of his 91st birthday when he retired in 1932 at the suggestion of colleagues who’d noticed he’d been dozing off during arguments and was proving unable to keep up with his workload.
“The condition of my health makes it a duty to break off connections that I cannot leave without deep regret,” he wrote in his letter of resignation. “But the time has come and I bow to the inevitable.”
Ginsburg is clearly a tough, sharp, determined jurist, but her time is coming too. She’s battled cancer four times since 1999 — colon, lung and, twice, pancreatic cancers — and although one can never say never when it comes to the ravages of aging, it seems doubtful she’ll avoid the inevitable for the entire presidential term that begins in January 2021 and ends in January 2025 when she’ll be nearly 92.
The precarious state of her health inspired my favorite joke on Twitter this week: “If you’re feeling sick you have a responsibility to avoid crowded places and Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” by @jdmaccoby. It also inspired one of my favorites of 2018, “Just changed my organ donor status so that now all of my organs go to Ruth Bader Ginsburg even if I’m still alive,” by @DesiJed.
Further, I wouldn’t put a lot of money on the proposition that the next oldest justice — 81-year-old Stephen Breyer, a left-leaning appointee of President Bill Clinton — will serve through the next administration.
So look, yes, I get why some lefties are going through the five stages of grief over the rise of former Vice President Joe Biden and the fall of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Denial — It’s not over yet! Biden hasn’t won a majority of delegates yet and there are still major primaries to come.
But it is over. I won’t trouble you with the delegate math, but even if young Sanders supporters start turning out in huge numbers — which they have yet to do — the outcome of this battle is no longer in any doubt after last Tuesday’s round of voting.
Anger — Biden is a corporatist with a troubling, mushy-to-conservative record on many issues including health care, abortion, criminal justice, climate change, the war in Iraq and so on.
Yes. Barack Obama chose Biden as his running mate in 2008 for the very reason that his establishment centrism would reassure mainstream Democrats that they weren’t voting for a radical ticket. But Sanders, Warren and other progressives have coaxed Biden to the left over the years. He now supports the $15 an hour minimum wage, endorses the outlines of the Green New Deal, favors a government option on health care and has stressed his commitment to abortion rights and a compassionate immigration policy. No, he’s not nearly the revolutionary Sanders is, but neither is he a dreaded DINO — Democrat In Name Only.
Bargaining — If we keep complaining about Biden and threatening not to vote for him, maybe we’ll be able to pull him even further to the left.
Probably not. The far left has played its best cards. The majority of Democratic voters have spoken. Officials in Washington state, where Sanders beat Hillary Clinton 73% to 27% in a caucus contest four years ago, are still counting the votes in Tuesday’s primary, but Biden is holding a narrow lead as of Friday afternoon. They like where Biden is positioned for the general election.
Depression — The lives of minorities and poor and working people won’t get better under Biden.
Maybe not. We certainly seem headed into very rough times with the economic fallout from the spread of the coronavirus. But consider the only alternative.
And consider that, whatever else the president elected this fall does or doesn’t do in office, he is quite likely to appoint one or two justices to lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court and will certainly appoint hundreds of judges to the federal bench. If Trump is reelected, we could see a 7-2 conservative majority on the high court and a suffocating conservative consensus on the lower courts that will blight the aspirations of Sanders’ most fervent supporters for generations and, at the very least, spell the end of abortion rights.
Republicans know this and they vote accordingly. Democrats have more of a tendency to make the perfect the enemy of the good and ignore the importance of the courts in shaping our daily lives.
Biden will certainly act to begin to restore balance in the judiciary at every level. This single insight ought to motivate the most currently infuriated, frustrated, defiant supporters of other candidates to reach the final stage …
Acceptance — Well, actually, since it’s Trump or Biden, the choice is easy.
The reminder of the dimensions of that choice can be summed up in five sobering words: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 87.
The winner of this week’s reader poll to select the funniest tweet was “Raising my kids to question authority backfired a lot sooner than I expected,” by @SladeWentworth. The poll appears at chicagotribune.com/zorn, and you can get an early alert when it’s posted by signing up for the Change of Subject email newsletter at chicagotribune.com/newsletters.
Latest Eric Zorn
Get the week’s best columns, reports, tips, referrals and tirades from columnist Eric Zorn in the Change of Subject newsletter. Sign up here.