Since politics today is conducted primarily through the use of catchphrases and codewords, political memes are particularly fun to watch and never more than when they’re first beginning to enter the public discourse. The right has long been the master of this art, building on the direct mail campaigns of Richard Viguerie and, later, Newt Gingrich’s famous list of words to use when making political speeches. Particularly interesting are those codewords and phrases that really just mean “Them – everything we despise”. For instance, the favorite buzzword of the religious right, beginning in the late 70s, was “secular humanist”. But in the 90s, I noticed that phrase being phased out in favor of “pagan”. But it seems now that the left is catching up in this area. What better example could we find today than “neo-cons”? In all such cases, there is a real meaning to the term but as a political buzzword it is rarely if ever defined. It just means Them…the Others…The Name We Dare Not Speak.
Well now it appears that there is a new Them emerging on the left, and this one I have to confess amuses me a great deal. With the nomination of John Roberts as Justice, the new Them are….the Federalist Society. And as we are just in the beginning stages of this meme’s incorporation into our political discourse, it will be rather fun to watch and document. We can watch it bubble up from blogs and activist sites and spread like a playgroung rumor. Jonathan Bunch first brought it to my attention in a post at In the Agora, quoting someone at the TPMcafe:
We know that Edith Brown Clement and John Roberts were two of the final 3…Supporters of neo-federalism, circumscribing the power of the national government’s regulatory power. Both are members of the secretive Federalist Society, which advocates a similar line.
As we shall see, this notion of the Federalist Society as secretive is the leading edge of this meme. At Democrats.com, this meme has been floating around for a couple of years already and it’s just now finding its way into conversation. A search for “federalist society” on that site shows lots of examples from the last few years. For these folks, the Federalist Society is “The Conservative Cabal that is Attacking America from Within”, touting “Extremist Reactionary” ideas. They are “meanspirited, anti-American club of mostly white, mostly male ultrarightwingers” seeking “to tear America as we know it down.” Furthermore, they have a “Dark Vision” for America and, declares one breathless entry, “an Evil ‘Illuminati’ Does Exist, But It’s Called the Federalist Society and It’s Now Running America.” One blogger at that site even calls them a “treasonous conspiracy which engineered the Stolen Election of 2000” while another refers to the “neo-Nazi-esque secretive group calling itself the Federalist Society.” David Brock refers in interviews to “these right-wing judicial extremists who belonged to a secretive legal network called the Federalist Society” while a poster at Daily Kos calls them “secretive and extremist.” Congratulations, it’s a bouncing baby buzzword!
Now, I certainly don’t doubt that there are many members of the Federalist Society who are extremist. Robert Bork, after all, is one of the leaders of the organization and you all know how I feel about that lunatic. But there are also lots of conservative legal scholars who belong to the organization who are highly critical of Bork. And the last thing they are is secretive, for crying out loud. They have chapters at every major law school, they host public conferences open to all and they have their own webpage with all their officers, chapters and activities listed. This isn’t exactly Skull and Bones, folks. Nor are they at all unique.
The liberal counterpart to the Federalist Society is the American Constitution Society, which includes most of the prominent liberal legal scholars in the nation on their rolls and is pretty much a mirror image of the FedSoc. The leadership of the ACS includes big names like Mario Cuomo, Lawrence Tribe, and Abner Mikva. While the pedestrian left frets and stews about the “secret cabal” of FedSoc members who serve in the Bush administration, where were they when Janet Reno and Walter Dellinger, both advisory board members of the ACS, held down the top two legal jobs in the Clinton administration? Perhaps they were just so secretive that no one knew about their involvement with the ACS.
All of this is quite silly. And quite amusing. One can hardly wait until we hear stories of rituals carried out by moonlight involving the blood of babies.