It was never just about abortion. The struggle for America’s soul goes deeper, as the Supreme Court and Congress have been showing us this week.
It was never as simple as faith vs. reason. Rational people can recognize a Higher Power, the religious can respect science and logic.
What it has been about is the conflict between our hopes and fears, between the risks of freedom and the comfort of control, between our needs to feel decent and to feel safe.
Before the trauma of 9/11, the tension between those impulses could be kept in balance. Without that, the vicious idiocy of Bush’s Neo-Cons would never had free rein. For a time, the frustrations of Vietnam allowed Nixon’s paranoia and secrecy to subvert basic American values, but it never came to this.
This is an Executive Branch that makes Nixon look like a paragon of openness and respect for the law.
This is a Congress without the will and guts to stop a war started out of fear and stupidity and too craven to resist the hysteria over immigration and navigate through competing passions and interests toward a responsible compromise.
This is a High Court retreating from messy freedoms such as individual privacy, racial equality, protections from predatory business practices and the right to express unpopular opinions.
A living symbol of all this is Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has emerged, at least for now, as the deciding voter in our losing 5-4 struggle to balance freedom and responsibility.
The duty of judges, he once told an audience, is to "impose order on a disordered reality." But at what price?
By January 2009 we may, to our sorrow, have found the answer to that.