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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Conservative Battle Fatigue? What About SCOTUS?

Yesterday we considered what if the GOP suffers a disaster in November and the Democrats regain control of one or both houses of Congress. And I noted that the data for the latest Washington Post/ABC News survey contains evidence of two vitally important developments.

Today I want to look at those two developments in the context of the other issue that ought to be considered in this discussion of "Conservative Battle Fatigue," and in the course of doing so let's take up Master Hewitt's insistent query about judges and the U.S. Supreme Court.

First, nothing is guaranteed for the Democrats. Look at the data in question 16 of the Post survey and you see there is little statistical difference between the low opinion two of three Americans now express toward both parties in Congress. For the GOP, the disapproval figure is 64 percent and for the Democrats the number is 58 percent.

Yes, Democrats win the "which party do you intend to vote for in November" query (question 18) in the Post survey by a wide margin, 56 percent to 33 percent. But that's not the most important data in the survey.

Look at question 19, which asks if respondents are inclined to look around for somebody besides their incumbent congressman to support in November. A clear majority of 55 percent said they would look around, even though 62 percent said previously in the survey in response to question 17 that they approve of the job being done by their incumbent.

Put these data together and we see an electorate that is disgusted with both parties in Congress and would very much like to have an alternative. That shouldn't surprise us, considering how the GOP majority promised conservative legislation but has on so many issues acted more like the Democrats.

This Tweedle Dee/Tweedle Dum factor is the dynamite waiting to be exploded under both parties. The last time the "look around" response was as intense as it is now was October 1994. Then the GOP's "Contract with America" provided the alternative.

Today it is doubtful the GOP can credibly offer another contract unless it prefaces that offer with significant and concrete action toward enactment of long-promised conservative policies accomplished in a dramatic manner - "emergency session" - that nationalizes the election on our terms rather than the Democrats' terms. Do Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert have the political acumen and courage to do this?

Karl Rove's idea that conservatives can be lured back in sufficient numbers to protect the GOP majority by focusing on four critical issues to create the appearance of such genuine progress reminds me of the last desperate effort of the Bush I re-election campaign to portray W's father as a conservative advocate. It wasn't credible then thanks to the broken "read my lips" promise and it isn't credible now because Bush hasn't vetoed irresponsible spending and seems determined to grant amnesty to most of the 11 million illegal immigrants.

That's the bad news, at least for the GOP and the Democrats. The good news is the opportunity thereby created for conservatives to provide the credible alternative being sought by that 55 percent who are looking around for somebody else to support in November.

So in my view the most likely scenario is this: The GOP Establishment won't/can't seize this opportunity and so will lose in November, but the Moonbat extremism that afflicts the Democrats will quickly squander their gains.

With Bush finally using the veto, the period leading to the 2008 presidential race will be stalemate in Congress and continued opportunity for the creation and articulation of a credible new conservative alternative. The Democrats only hope will be a triangulating Hillary, but even that won't work if her negatives remain at their typical level.

Is that scenario evidence that yours truly inhabits LaLa Land, as claimed by The Anchoress? We will see.

Now what about Master Hewitt's question regarding the Supreme Court? As I understand it, Hugh believes it is absolutely vital to protect the GOP majority in order to preserve control of the confirmation process in the event Bush is able to nominate a third member of the Supreme Court before leaving office.

About which I humbly offer two observations: First, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito are likely anchors with Scalia and Thomas of a presumptively conservative majority on the Court. Adding a third Bush appointee of the same quality as Roberts/Alito would probably insure a working conservative majority for a generation.

But there are no guarantees that Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Roberts will all remain healthy. Odds are greater for a Ginsburg departure, but we cannot assume the next exit from the Court will be from the left side.

Far more important, however, is that it may not make much difference. If the "experts" are to be believed, a third Bush appointee is most likely to be Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. Maybe Gonzalez would be another Scalia. More likely he would be another David Souter.

Second, Supreme Court appointments are important but they aren't the most important consideration in these matters. Elevating the Court to such prominence is a sort of conservative echo of the liberals dependance upon the federal judiciary to impose decisions that ought instead be made in Congress.

For me, keeping our gaze fixed on the most important goal means seeking the creation of a reliably conservative vehicle for delivering genuine conservative reforms in Congress, so that even when a liberal occupies the White House the inevitable compromises that must be made will be made with our principles and programs as the starting point, not preservation of the Leviathan bequethed to us by FDR, LBJ and, yes, Richard Nixon.

The priority is, in short, to find a way of completing the Reagan Revolution. The Leviathan in Moscow was brought down and so can the one on the Potomac. May God grant that it be in my lifetime.

UPDATE: The Definitive Geraghtyite Response

Jim provides a comprehensive refutation of my arguments above and concludes that, hey, maybe The Anchoress is right about my being in LaLa Land. One thing is certain: The major voices in this debate have offered their arguments with wit, passion and undoubted principle.

UPDATE II: Master Hewitt swats a gnat

Well, an argument he clearly considers to be of about the same weight as a gnat. I am referring, of course, to my own, above, and Master Hewitt's lengthy, detailed and passionate response. I have to confess that every time I've read a response from Hugh, Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters and Jim Geraghty at NRO, I've found myself nodding in agreement and being tremendously impressed with the strength and reasonableness of their arguments.

A partial explanation for that is undoubtedly the fact that I've grown up as a conservative Republican, beginning with Reagan's speech for Goldwater in 64 and continuing through my own service to President Reagan during the 1980s and during my years at The Heritage Foundation, which is to conservative thinking what the library in Alexandria was to learning for the Ancients.

But I keep coming back to this one undeniable fact: The GOP has for three decades talked the talk before the election but then mostly run the other way after the ballots are counted. Maybe I am, as Bruce Kesler first suggested, suffering from battle fatigue.

More likely, mine is but one small voice among the many in the Blogosphere who love this country devoutly and only wish to see its priceless freedoms nurtured and protected. It's been a great discussion that has certainly helped me clarify my own thinking on these matters and I suspect that of a lot of other folks.