Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor dropped a bombshell Friday when she told the Chicago Tribune that the justices probably should have not have agreed to hear Bush v. Gore. The high court's 5-4 decision in the now-infamous case put Republican George W. Bush -- not Democrat Al Gore -- in the White House and brought us, among other debacles, the Iraq War.
O'Connor told the Tribune's editorial board: "Maybe the court should have said, 'We're not going to take it. Goodbye.' "
Yeah, right. O'Connor's a little late, perhaps, but absolutely correct. Unfortunately, the ineradicable damage has already been done.
The ruling set up a presidency that many, including this writer, have called the worst in U.S. history.
Bush v. Gore also allowed the tyranny of an extremely conservative minority to turn the country back on a host of social issues. It wreaked fiscal havoc on the nation, turning a small Clinton-era surplus into a looming Bush-era deficit. And it led to the deaths of at least 4,488 U.S. servicemen and women in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn combined, the Pentagon reports, as well countless Iraqi civilians, for what even those who launched the invasion now admit was no good reason.
(Estimates vary on the Iraqi civilian death toll. The Associated Press has reported at least 100,000 were killed since 2003. Numbers are controversial, because the deaths include those by sectarian violence.)
I have felt burdened by a huge sense of guilt since the Iraq War began in 2003. Although I opposed the war even before it began, I still feel guilty for what happened to our service personnel and to their families. I feel guilty for the countless other Iraq war veterans who came home alive but with unimaginable disabilities. And I feel guilty about the Iraqis we killed and wounded and the damage we did to their infrastructure and economy.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I spoke to a group of Iraqi journalists this week. They were part of a group brought to the United States by the State Department on a cultural exchange. I was asked to give an unpaid talk about the state of advancement for women and people of color in the United States, which I did.
Near the end of the question-and-answer period, I started questioning the other journalists. They included about a dozen reporters and correspondents for print/online, radio and TV networks. They were quite a well-educated group. There were four women, at least one Christian and one Kurd.
I asked if things were better for them since the U.S. invasion. They engaged in a lively to and fro, but they largely agreed that they as journalists were better off.
One woman said she preferred working as a journalist under dictator Saddam Hussein because there were very clear rules about what one could and could not write, and she appreciated knowing where she stood. A man said there was no such thing as true journalism under Hussein, only reporters rewriting government press releases. Those who disobeyed the rules were thrown in jail or killed.
Another man noted that under Hussein, Iraqis subsisted on horrific food rations of flour and rice that weren't even fit for animals to eat. But they all agreed that, under Hussein, there was no need to worry about car bombs or snipers shooting up neighborhoods.
I have no idea if their opinions match those of the general Iraqi public. It's quite plausible only educated Iraqis are better off than before, with greater civil rights. One journalist did say he recently was imprisoned for eight hours for covering an anti-government demonstration. Several others noted they feared their country is on the brink of civil war.
No matter. I still believe our Supreme Court justices should have taken the right and, quite frankly, the only legally proper approach and refused to hear Bush v. Gore. The case was clearly a matter for the Florida Supreme Court to decide. The losses we suffered -- including $800 billion spent on the war, initially to halt weapons of mass destruction that never existed -- were just not worth it. And we're no longer the world's police, able to topple dictatorships just because we'd like to do so.
Bonnie Erbe, host of PBS' "To the Contrary," writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.