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DEBATE: Litmus Tests | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

DEBATE: Litmus Tests

Bush's slip in the third debate was about Osama, but his big, calculated lie last night was, as in the second debate, about the Supreme Court. Bush said he wouldn't apply a "litmus test" to any judicial appointments, and then fell silent. But in the second debate he elaborated, saying he wanted "strict constructionists." 

In evangelical circles this is code for anti-Roe judges, because the litmus test for a strict constructionist is opposition to Roe. Bush's favorite justices, Scalia and Thomas, are strict constructionists. Ginsburg and Breyer are not. If this weren't enough, Bush went on to say he wanted the kind of judge who opposes Dred Scott, the 1857 decision that extended the property rights of slave-owners.

This confused many people, as Katha Pollitt explains in the current issue of Nation. Who supports Dred Scott? Was this another one of Bush's mental lapses? Or was it a painfully awkward Republican appeal to black voters? Actually no. According to Slate, and as Pollitt elaborated, Dred Scott is also code for Roe in anti-choice circles. When Christian conservatives want to denigrate Roe, they compare it to Dred Scott.

So Bush apparently felt the need to reassure conservative evangelicals that he intends to apply an anti-Roe litmus test with not one but two coded references, one for each of the only two votes it would take to outlaw legal abortion in the United States. Yet another example of why we can't trust Bush to tell us the truth.

For more on last night's debate, click here to read my contribution to a forum hosted by TomPaine.Com which also included American Prospect editor Michael Tomasky and Campaign for America's Future co-founder Roger Hickey.

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