The Accomplishments, Ego, and Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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2020 sure is something. Last Friday I was enjoying honestly one of the best days of my life. I don’t want to get too much into personal stuff but you will soon notice that my background is going to change because I’m moving to a bigger space with my own office, and…you know, fun life stuff is happening. So I was celebrating on a Zoom call with a few friends when one of them looked at her phone and just said “Oh shit.”

We stopped and asked her if she was okay. She said no, and then said that we weren’t going to be okay either, because Ruth Bader Ginsburg just died. And that’s just life right now, isn’t it? To quote the great Ralphie Parker, “Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us.”

Or to quote 2020, “No, you can’t have anything nice.”

Social media was immediately flooded, first with posts both sentimental and at times cringey, and then with posts mocking the cringey posts, and then with posts even mocking the sentimental posts. And I’m just talking about what I saw on my feed, and I don’t follow any alt-right assholes. Like, that was just the cringey liberals and the socialist assholes.

It’s interesting, because with the death of any human being there’s usually mostly sadness, but with Ginsburg I think I only saw hopelessness and frustration. That was my initial reaction: I immediately said “Shit. Democrats let Republicans stop Obama from nominating Merrick Garland like six months before an election, and now they’re going to let Republicans push through a judge a few weeks before an election. And they really are — you’ll see some Republicans claiming that the Garland thing was only because opposite parties had the presidency and Congress, bla bla bla. At least Matt Walsh, detestable as he is, was honest about it when he Tweeted, “To be clear, I wanted McConnell to refuse to hold hearings for Garland because I didn’t want Garland on the court. I want the hearings now because I do want Trump’s pick on the court. That’s the way the game is played, you dumb whiners. It’s not “hypocrisy,” it’s just politics. And this is the right response. Stop trying to justify it on any other basis. We didn’t want Obama’s pick and Republicans had the power to prevent it, so we wanted that power to be used. There’s no shame in that. Stop being scared of playing the cards you’re holding.”

It’s weirdly refreshing to see them just admit it. Republicans are better at politics than Democrats. It’s just a fact. And it’s frustrating to know that they’re probably going to just roll over.

And it didn’t have to happen — people were rightfully calling on Ruth Bader Ginsburg to retire during Obama’s term. By 2013 she was 80 years old and had already survived one bout of colon cancer, a round of pancreatic cancer, and a stent placed in her right coronary artery. If she had retired, Obama could have nominated a new, young, healthy liberal judge. And she heard those calls and responded very clearly with a “no,” because she was positive that Clinton was going to win in 2016 and she wanted her to nominate her successor.

“But hey,” some people cried, “why blame RBG for not retiring when you can instead blame Anthony Kennedy for purposely retiring during Trump’s administration to ensure that his successor would be his own law clerk, Brett Kavanaugh?”

I don’t blame Kennedy because of exactly what Matt Walsh said, which we all know but some people steadfastly refuse to acknowledge: politics is a game. The conservatives are playing it well. The liberals are not. Kennedy retired to make sure his team stayed ahead. Ginsburg let her own ego and belief in her powers of prognostication get in the way of winning the game. She literally said that she couldn’t think of anyone Obama could nominate who would be worthy of succeeding her. That’s ego and it led to a situation where everything Ginsburg fought for may now be reversed.

It’s not fair to put so much blame on the shoulders of one elderly woman, which is why I don’t do that. I blame our garbage system of democracy in general and the Democratic Party as a whole specifically. First of all, maybe we should reconsider lifetime appointments! Sure, we thought it would prevent people from being “political” in order to keep their jobs but they’re being political anyway and in the meantime we now have to play this ghoulish game of “when is this human being going to fucking die?”

As for the Democratic party itself, RBG had a spine but lacked the political acuity to do the right thing to win. The party she supported should have had the political acuity to know what the right thing was and the spine to pressure her to do the right thing. And if they couldn’t pressure her, they should have had the spine to push through Merrick Garland instead of rolling over. And if they couldn’t do that they should have had the spine to stop Kavanaugh, a credibly accused sex pest, from taking the bench.

The fact that Ginsburg didn’t resign when it was most politically needed shouldn’t mean she’s canceled and all her previous efforts were for nothing. She was an imperfect person, and that’s fine. Hell, she was friends with Justice Scalia, who loved the death penalty and hated same sex marriage and abortions. And let’s not forget that she said kneeling during the national anthem is “dumb and disrespectful.”  She was an old privileged white lady who sometimes had bad opinions and did stupid things. And she was an icon, and someone that future girls and women can look to for inspiration. Both things can be true. She fought hard for what she believed in. She was smart, insightful, good at her job, and by all accounts was also funny and kind. I’ve seen people on Twitter trying to call her out for legal opinions they don’t agree with but as I hope I made clear in my recent video about the Supreme Court’s disappointing 7-2 decision in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor discriminating against women who need birth control, sometimes judges (like Elena Kagen in that case) need to play the game, and sometimes that means voting for something you don’t necessarily agree with. And hey, I’m sure she had plenty of opinions that I would disagree with anyway — like her opinion that it’s cool to be friends with someone who thinks same-sex marriage is a slippery slope to plural or sibling marriage. But that doesn’t mean that everything she did is garbage, and honestly as cringey as many of the “rest in power, kween” posts are, it’s honestly cringier to see socialists respond by shitting on Ginsburg as though she never did a thing in her life to attract admiration.

Anyway I guess what I’m saying is RIP, RGB. Let’s hope that the Democrats grow that spine and try to get someone on the court who will continue her fight for progressive ideals.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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