I went to see Serenity, Joss Whedon’s film debut, yesterday.  It begins with a presentation of the official story, how Humanity left an overcrowded Earth to colonize nearby space, and found a system rich in earthlike planets and moons, how the progressive core of the more civilized planets fought and won a war against the more primitive periphery.

The scene shifts to where the story is being told, a shimmering outdoor “classroom” echoing archetypes of Golden Age Greece, with a beautiful youngish teacher, and her charges, small children, one of whom asks (paraphrase) “Why would they fight against us? Why wouldn’t they want to healthy, happier and more civilized?”  There’s a bit of back and forth, then one girl who’s been furiously working her hand-held electronic tablet looks up and says, “We’re meddlers.  People don’t like to meddled with.”

Who Are The Real Meddlers? on the flip…
Within seconds it’s revealed just how true that is. The entire tableau is… no, wait that would be a spoiler…

Who Are The Real Meddlers?

For decades now, the reactionaries have relentlessly attacked liberals on that very same ground–that we’re meddlers.  “Outside agitators” who disturbed the peace and quiet and racial harmony of the South.  Pointy-headed bureaucrats who want to tell businessmen how to run their businessess, and gun-owners whether they can buy a gun.

There’s a germ of truth in this, of course. The Abolitionists wanted to tell slaveholders what they could and could not do with their slaves–absolutely nothing.  Talk about meddling!

But mostly, the “meddling” has been very much in the eye of the beholder. The human rights of millions of slaves, vs. the property rights of a relative handful of large plantation owners.  It’s been the genius of the reactionaries to convince large numbers of people that the loss of their special privileges means a threat to the personal lives of ordinary people.  It’s a lie that’s had a good, long run.  

But the Schiavo fiasco showed quite clearly just who the real meddlers are.  Just like the Elian Gonzalez case five years earlier–only moreso–it should how little the reactionaries cared for the sanctity of family bonds, and concept of limited government.  The only thing that ever bothered them was the fact that they weren’t the ones doing the meddling, in the furtherance of their particular agenda.

What’s this got to do with the Supreme Court? Plenty.

Bush’s nominee is a total judicial non-entity.  A cross between Dick Cheney selecting himself for the job of VP and Michael Brown getting promoted for his connections, without a shred of hands-on experience in the job.  By the byzantine rules of masochistic self-flagellation that the Senate Democrats have made up for themselves, there is no way for them to challenge her.  They can complain about her lack of a record, her withholding documents, etc., etc., but in the end they have already agreed in advance that they will approve her anyway.  Any questions about court rulings can easily be waved away.

Which is why they need to forget about all that.  They need to focus on defining narratives. Bush has already presented his narrative in nominating Harriet Miers.  It’s all the usual plattitudes with no bearing how Miers would judge, and how her decisions would change America.  And here’s the most defining narrative of all, to bring the distant abstractions of the Supreme Court right into people’s living rooms:

Are you a meddler, Ms. Miers?  Would you bring Big Brother into the bedrooms, living rooms, and hospital rooms of ordinary Americans, meddling and intruding into the most personal and difficult decisions that American citizens make about their lives and their families?

Or, more specifically, to cut through all the lawyerly gobble-de-gook, and customary evasions, let me put it like this:

You told David Frum that George W. Bush, was the most brilliant man you had ever met.  Last March, President Bush flew back from Texas to sign a law passed by Congress, intended to force-feed Terri Schiavo against her husband’s wishes, to let her die, as he said she would have wanted to do.  Is that an example of Bush’s brilliance?

An overwhelming majority of Americans–including a majority of conservatives, thought that this was an act of government meddling, and they opposed interferring in such a difficult personal decision. If George Bush is brilliant, is it your opinion that the American people are stupid?  Too stupid to be trusted with the most personal decisions of their own lives?

In short–are you a meddler, Ms. Meirs?  And why should we let you be the one to meddle in our private lives?

Please note–none of this has to do with a pending court case. Nor with one that is likely to be heard.  The law Bush signed came nowhere near the Supreme Court–and for good reason, it was not serious legislation, it was a piece of grandstanding.  So Miers has no excuse for avoiding these questions.

Of course she will try.  But the questions are so damning that it really doesn’t matter how she answers.  Because this is the real problem with the Democrats over the past 30 years: they have been mortally afraid of asking the tough questions, the questions that the Republicans cannot possibly answer.

Those are the questions that need to be asked. First, foremost, and always.