I know that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s empty Supreme Court seat has provoked an epic, long-awaited clash between Democrats and Republicans, that the very principle of judicial independence hangs dangerously in the balance. I realize that the social-media wave cannot be stopped, that the talking heads cannot be silenced, and that Democrats in Congress must fight this nomination. Nevertheless, let me try to convince anyone who will listen: Democrats should not spend the weeks between now and November talking solely about judges, Mitch McConnell, and the Supreme Court.
Why? Fixating on the Court organizes the electorate along two fronts of a culture war, and forces people to make stark ideological choices. Instead of focusing voters on the president’s failure to control COVID-19 or the consequent economic collapse, the culture war makes voters think only of their deepest tribal identities. To put it differently: Americans who define themselves as “pro-life” or as socially conservative might consider voting for Joe Biden if the issue at stake is the botched pandemic response. If the issue is conservative judges versus liberal judges, then they may stick with the Republicans.