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Why Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Death Matters Here

Written By: - Date published: 8:28 am, September 20th, 2020 - 27 comments
Categories: feminism, helen clark, jacinda ardern, labour, us politics - Tags:

The death of United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a signal of a heroism of endurance and sustained good judgement.

When she began in law, women were strictly forbidden from employment in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. She explains why here.

She was also asked often how many women would be enough women on the U.S. Supreme Court, and her answer was: “When there are nine”. That’s the kind of boldness that inspired a whole new generation in the United States and across English-speaking legal systems to appreciate her in the documentary RBG:

RBG’s death was an important event for women here because it happened on the anniversary of Women’s Suffrage Day 126 years ago.  On this day in New Zealand we celebrate women being able to vote, the women who won further victories of political liberation, and many got together to recount our female heroes enabled by that right and all those rights that followed.

While it is now unremarkable that Labour would have 50% of women in its caucus, or its Cabinet, who can forget the media hysteria about Labour seeking to tilt gender representation towards equalisation. The shouts about the “Man Ban” right across the media, as in Newshub at the time.

Courageous as he was not, Labour leader at the time David Shearer walked it back.

I think there were more Davids in the 2013 Labour shadow Cabinet than there were women. The battle over equal representation was hard fought in the back rooms and subcommittees, for many years. And one of those young activists now runs the country: Jacinda Ardern.

Now 7 years later in 2020 it is quite unremarkable that our two main political parties are for the first time since 1998 being led by women. It hasn’t even been remarked in the media that the Auckland Central seat contest guarantees that one of three women will get it.

It gets little mention in 2018 that for the first time in our history 50% of our civil service heads were women.

Also that positions held on public sector Boards are heading towards being equally men and women.

That goal has now been achieved under Prime Minister Ardern’s leadership, several years earlier than planned.

Also unremarkable that the Prime Minister, Opposition leader, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and Governor General are now all women. In the case of Justice Winkelman, she is relatively young and hence has a good chance at leading our Supreme Court for a good decade or more to come (compulsorily retires at 70).

After Hilary Clinton came close but failed to win the 2016 United States presidency, a female Vice President who may also run the U.S. Senate majority barely remarked as to her gender, though the amount of power she would jointly wield has been.

Justice Ginsburg’s death is a sign that there is no inevitability to ever-expanding liberty and representation for women. But it is also a sign that it takes often the dedication of one’s full life to achieve change for good, and in the face of retrograde forces to dismantle progress it may take until right until one’s death to hold such political entropy at bay. I don’t see that kind of heroism very often.

While RBG was hired as a moderate with strong public sector and gender activist credentials by President Clinton, since that time the makeup of the Supreme Court has tilted stronger and stronger in the more conservative majority. So the opportunity to replace her is a massive ideological axis upon which the future progressive makeup of their Supreme Court will tilt.

In New Zealand our first elected female Prime Minister, Helen Clark, was the leader who redeemed social democracy as a viable force within New Zealand. Else we could have the absurdly timid Phil Goff as Prime Minister right now, or worse the feckless David Shearer.

It was Helen Clark (with her most able Cabinet) who renewed our social cohesion, laying the groundwork for our current Prime Minister to draw on that social democratic cohesion in a time of real crisis and intervene in our society and in our economy as we have not seen in living memory. Clark was the necessary precedent for Ardern’s interventions.

Indeed while the legacy of John Key will be as a weak banker and weaker Prime Minister, Helen Clark’s legacy in the next five years will be as the one who restored the idea of truth resting in science by getting to the source of the Covid-19 outbreak through the World Health Organisation investigation.

In New Zealand’s last forty years it has been female Labour Prime Ministers alone that have secured progressive gains for the left and for us all, and massively expanded the extent and good of the state to sustain our cohesion. Clearly, if you want more of that, you need to vote for Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party in four weeks time.

I have not much doubt that we will look back even after Labour’s second term and recognise Jacinda Ardern as the hero to our country that she is. Like Justice Ginsburg, I hope she serves as our leader for many years and, in time, I hope an even better Labour woman will replace her.

27 comments on “Why Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Death Matters Here ”

  1. AB 1

    Yes to that with a couple of caveats:

    • One wonders what Bader Ginsburg was thinking by not resigning during Obama's 2nd term so she could be replaced with another liberal judge.
    • we shoudn't imagine that if our elites are gender-balanced, then all is sweetness and light. If 5% of people own 80% of everything, it is not sufficient that 50% of that 5% are women
    • Draco T Bastard 1.1

      we shoudn't imagine that if our elites are gender-balanced, then all is sweetness and light. If 5% of people own 80% of everything, it is not sufficient that 50% of that 5% are women


      And Labour's caucus may have 50% of women it's pretty much a guarantee that they're all in that 5%.

    • McFlock 1.2

      Seriously? Maybe she was thinking that the orange oaf didn't have a chance, and that a republican senate might not pick the best candidate at any rate?

      • mpledger 1.2.1

        Yea, she was holding our for a Dem majority senate and Dem President… and it looks like it may be on the cards … so she only missed by a few months.

      • AB 1.2.2

        Yeah – that's possible and human enough to be understandable. Mortality doesn't always play ball though, and maybe having certainty about something less than perfect, is wiser than taking the risk of something far worse.

        • McFlock

          Dunno that anyone McConnell would let through would ever be so good as merely "less than perfect".

          Although it looks like dolt45's list was written by Pence. Gilead, here they come.

          • SPC

            It's worse than Gilead, SCOTUS is now set to repeal Obamacare and enable each red state to re-enact white voter preference rules write election laws that suit the GOP.

            • McFlock

              I'm noy entirely sure that ditching obamacare is worse than gilead.

              Although the voter suppression is heading in the far-right direction. But also Roe v. Wade will be out. And if the dems don't get at least the senate, the New Deal might be out, too.

              • SPC

                It's worse, because in addition to the power over women entailed in Gilead (patriarchal Christian dominionism) there is also the loss of health care cover to millions.

                The permanent control of the electoral college through voter suppression is akin to a 1000 year reich for the white race of the new world.

  2. JanM 2

    "In New Zealand’s last forty years it has been female Labour Prime Ministers alone that have secured progressive gains for the left and for us all, and massively expanded the extent and good of the state to sustain our cohesion"

    Ahem – it was the regressive Foreshore and Seabed legislation under Helen Clark that stopped me voting Labour until recently. I would dispute that that was a "gain for us all" .

    • Incognito 2.1

      Maybe Ad was referring to other gains such as NZ Super and KiwiSaver, for example. Just guessing, of course 🙂

  3. Peter 3

    Another way it matters here are the reflections it casts on the way our world operates politically now.

    The eulogies will come about the significance of Ginsburg's contribution to the world and what they mean for us 'going forward.'

    The day to day reality sees her and what she signifies as only flotsam and jetsam in the political sewer that is the United States. You can burn the Picassos to keep yourself warm, smash the Michelangelo's to pieces to use as doorstops.

    The values and virtues claimed to be sacred over years are mere detritus, TV ads. And we copy America.

  4. Stuart Munro 4

    Helen Clark, was the leader who redeemed social democracy as a viable force within New Zealand.

    Oh is that what she did? Looked to me like she choked.

    • Chris 4.1

      If you look at what she did to social welfare benefits you'd think she was a nat. But then Labour in opposition voted with the nats on some of the nastier Key/Bennett welfare changes, too, so nothing that surprising, really.

      • Stuart Munro 4.1.1

        I remember getting a pledge card with none of the things we needed on it.

        • Chris

          Labour's been in denial since 1991. It says one thing, nothing changes, but somehow we still believe we're getting closer to them agreeing to fix things. Even now Ardern's government adopted the nats' 2018 welfare Bill and passed it as its own even though it's far from 'policy neutral' as the nats touted it, and is ten times more complicated than the 1964 Act, also touted by the nats as a 'simplification'. And how many of WEAG's recommendations have been adopted?

          • SPC

            There has been a recent surge in WEAG recommendation adoptions in the Labour policy list for the 2020-2023 term.

  5. SPC 5

    sustained good judgement.

    The wise option was to retire while Obama was POTUS.

    The Democrats will now have to go big to save US democracy.

    1. Win control of the Senate and presidency this election
    2. Appoint extra members to the Supreme Court (starting with Garland).

    If they do not, then both women and fair elections are at risk in red states.

  6. Incognito 6

    Excellent post although not quite what I was expecting given the title; I feared it was going to be all US this and Trump that.

  7. vto 7

    Not trying to upset this good post…. but it seems to me that the history of the vote in New Zealand is distorted by the exclusive celebration of women getting the vote.

    A large and forgotten element of that history is that it was not so much a gender issue as a class issue.

    Men only received suffrage 14 years earlier than women. Last year was 140 years since men received the vote, yet it passed in NZ with nary a mention.

    As Mihinarangi Forbes said on the tele last night – we in NZ seem to be very selective about which parts of our history we choose to highlight.

  8. Tiger Mountain 8

    The Ginsburg section of this post would be hard to fault, but seeking reflected glory for NZ Labour, spare us.

    Clark, really–“Jobs jolt” where beneficiaries were geographically constrained at pain of losing their payments? Helen has a good legacy in some respects but always supported the neo liberal Parliamentary consensus that enforces inequality.

    Bonus comment: Paid Parental Leave and Kiwibank…thanks Alliance.

  9. UncookedSelachimorpha 9

    I found this interesting from The Young Turks, "5 Ways Democrats Can Stop GOP From Filling Ruth Bader Ginsburg Seat". Some actual options.

  10. UncookedSelachimorpha 10

    I might be over-egging it, but I fear the replacement of RBG could prove to be a significant step in the USA's descent to failed-statedom, fascism, the realisation of The Handmaids Tale and possibly even civil war.

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