11/10/2010 03:21 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Rule of Law and Fear-Based Politics

In a post elsewhere on this site, Joan Walsh, editor of the web magazine, Salon, and occasional contributor on MSNBC, will be stepping down to write a book on the indictment of fear-based politics that splits Americans and holds the country back. Last week, three justices of the Iowa Supreme Court failed to be retained by Iowans because they were each part of a unanimous decision declaring unconstitutional a state law that barred gay couples from marrying. Why the juxtaposition of these two items?

Our country is more and more being led by those who wish to replace fact with lies; with special interests for what benefits the middle class; and with the goal in the "game" of politics of just wanting to beat out the other party instead of wanting to provide a better life for those who put politicians into office. A prime example in recent days is the Republicans saying that what was passed as health care reform was a monstrosity and should be dismantled. If truth and fact are our guide (as they should be), just the opposite occurred: the present bill needs to be strengthened by providing more competition that will, in turn, reduce costs. After all, health care for Americans should be a right, and not merely a privilege.

The premise for Walsh's upcoming literary effort is correct: politics has morphed into a fear-based dynamic. So goes the premise, if a political party/politician can inject enough fear into the electorate, then those who go to the polls will vote based on that fear. Trouble is, fear is used as a Damoclean Sword over our heads when fact and reality do not support, or, more likely, do not exist, for the proposition advanced. But 99.999 percent of voters have no idea whether what (s)he is asked to believe is true or not. In the past, we have relied on politicians to be truthful and honest. That, sadly, is no longer the case. As voters, we have to be shown what is fact and what is not. And for politicians, that means responding to media questions, and answering directly that which is asked of them. Enough of this bull_ _ _ _ that is ever ongoing.

What does the above have to do with the three Iowa Supreme Court justices voted out of office? Voters are doing what politicians are doing: deciding whether an office holder should remain based on fear, and not on fact or foundation. Remember, that there are three equal branches of government, one of which is judicial. Unfortunately, that which is being used in the legislative branch (fear to get results) now has become viral and entered our courthouses. The Iowa decision on gay marriage was based on the rule of law -- in this case, with the facts at hand and how they fit within the parameters of that state's constitution. This is as it should be; that is the role of a judge, particularly one at the highest level of a jurisdiction, like a state supreme court, or, of course, the United States Supreme Court on the federal level. The three justices that were ousted were all fine and credible jurists with a considerable pedigree in the law. They performed their job well. In every case, there will be a winner and a loser. Those who are not successful and their followers should not fear that the end of the earth is near because our judges used the tools at hand to decide a case, even one involving gay marriage. If voters disliked the decision don't vote out the "messenger"; go and try to get a new law or, in this case, change the state constitution. At the same time, and equally disgusting, was a multi-million effort (funded with money from interests outside the state) to oust the Chief Judge of the Illinois Supreme Court because he sided in a recent case that found (also) unconstitutional caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. He survived that effort, however.

In the end, decisions based on fear are the sine qua non for failure. This country can ill afford to see this happen in either branch of government, particularly in the justice system and in the application of the rule of law.