According to a post-election poll by CNN/USA Today, slightly more than half of all Democrats think that Bush did not win the election fair and square. How, exactly, Bush supposedly cheated is a bit vague. It was official Democratic policy before the election to accuse Republicans of harassing and suppressing Democratic voters — even if there was no evidence — as a “preemptive strike” against such potential Republican dirty tricks as demanding that newly registered voters show ID (as required by law). In contrast to Republican efforts to “suppress” voters, Democrats have a long and noble tradition of enfranchising many of the forgotten and underrepresented members of our society, namely felons and the dead, which both have turned out to be among the Democrats’ most loyal constituencies.
But while intoxicated by misleading early exit polls showing Kerry winning easily, Kerry senior campaign aide Joe Lockhart, as quoted by Ryan Lizza in the New Republic, commented cheerily that “we think the system has worked today … I’ve seen very few reports of irregularities.” As actual vote counts came in, however, many Democrats decided to embrace a new reality — one that denied the failure of their candidate and of their ideas, and, more importantly, denied the success of George W. Bush. Even European poll watchers who declared the election fair have apparently not been able to satisfy much of the anti-Bush Left.
Democrats thought they had this one. They had George Soros’s money. They had most of the national news media, even more than usual, pulling for their guy, acting as an extension of the Party spin machine. They had an inarticulate opponent. And somehow they convinced themselves that a president with a 50% approval rating was “highly unpopular” or even “widely hated.” In sifting through the post-election debris, some Democrats have come to the conclusion that, in addition to Bush’s adoption of the unbeatable strategy of pandering to backward, redneck, religious homophobes, Bush was able to pull it off because they erred in choosing the renowned duck hunting enthusiast and hip-hop aficionado senator from Massachusetts as their candidate.
Howard Dean energized many Democrats, but he was just a little too out there, so they instead chose as the “most electable” candidate, not Dick Gephardt or Joe Lieberman, but the most liberal member of the Senate, John Kerry. As the aforementioned CNN/USA Today poll suggests, the Democratic Party is now controlled by the Michael Mooron Left. Hatred for George Bush and opposition to the war in Iraq (along with well-funded left-wing “527” organizations) was what was supposed to propel Democrats into power this year. Dick Gephardt or Joe Lieberman might have done a better job of appealing to the political center, but they could not hope to fire up the Michael Mooron base. So the choice was obvious. John Kerry was Howard Dean with the résumé and gravitas of a senator and the status of a “war hero.” As it turned out, since Kerry’s war record was never anything that excited members of the left before, they never scrutinized it. And it probably came as big as surprise to them that Kerry’s bona fides were overstated as it was a surprise to Kerry that all that intelligence information he got about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction during the Clinton administration was really part of an elaborate ruse by the then governor of Texas to mislead him into supporting going to war to oust Saddam.
Arlen Specter and Democratic leaders who have accepted the fact that Bush actually won the election have warned exuberant Republicans that winning 51% of the vote does not a mandate make, and that Bush should seek accommodation and compromise with the Democrats. The good news is that Bush is having nothing of that — pledging to reach out to Democrats, but also stating his belief that he has earned political capital that he will spend on pushing his agenda.
BUSH HAS LEARNED THAT Washington is not Texas, where he could work with moderate Democrats to achieve bipartisan goals. There are precious few Democratic moderates these days in the national government, and certainly not in the Senate. And a Republican president, especially one with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, should not seek accommodation with liberal Democrats. Bush tried that in his first term with Ted Kennedy and he got burned. Trying to find a middle ground with the likes of Chuck Schumer and Barbara Boxer is a non-starter.
Both Arlen Specter and Chuck Schumer, however, have already put their finger on what will surely be the most contentious issue during Bush’s second term. It won’t be the Patriot Act, or seeing through the war in Iraq, or tax reform. It will be the appointment of federal judges — particularly the almost certain appointments to be made to the Supreme Court.
Chuck Schumer has promised that he and his fellow Democrats will protect the country if Bush tries to nominate “out of the mainstream” judges to the federal judiciary or the Supreme Court. It is an odd notion that Democrats, who are responsible for most of the judges sitting on the most overturned, and most out of the mainstream court in the land — the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals — will protect the nation from a re-elected president and a 55-member Republican majority in the Senate who think the Constitution is law, not a “living document” subject to revision by 5 Supreme Court Justices.
Liberals over the past several decades have, with the help of liberal law school faculties, managed to widen the boundaries of the American judicial mainstream. But now that they are out of power, they seek to narrow that definition to include only the views of judges that they like and to exclude judges with views that no one would have questioned as being out of the mainstream from the birth of the Republic up until Ronald Reagan started making Supreme Court nominations in the 1980s (when liberals sought to redefine the “mainstream” in order to protect Roe v. Wade, which definitely was not a mainstream decision).
Senate Democrats never made any convincing arguments that any of the judicial nominees against whom they filibustered during Bush’s first term were, by any stretch of the imagination, out of the mainstream. In the case of William Pryor, they could not cite any of his rulings or writings but could only throw up that his religious faith (Pryor is a practicing Catholic) might cause him not to enforce laws that were in conflict with his religious views. The argument that a person with religious convictions is unfit to serve in the federal judiciary is, itself, well outside of the mainstream of American thought, and the Democrats’ use of it may help to explain how their presidential nominee — a nominal Catholic — managed to lose the traditionally Democratic Catholic vote.
LIBERAL DEMOCRATS, WHO NOW make up most of the Democrat contingent in the Senate, may have been bloodied and beaten, but they still have that quality they ascribe to that swaggering cowboy George W. Bush known as hubris. Regardless of what the electorate says, they still think they should be in charge and, as they showed during Bush’s first term, they will throw out all the stops to obstruct Bush and the Republican majority. Democrats have come to understand that they may not be able to win elections as often as they used to, but that doesn’t matter as much if they can utilize the courts to end run the legislative process to install their domestic agenda. They aren’t likely to give up without a fight.
Conservatives can take heart in the knowledge that when it comes to judicial nominees, Bush will unflinchingly stand by conservatives. He did so, after all, during his first term, going so far as to use recess appointments to frustrate obstinate Democratic obstructionists.
In Bush’s second term, if the now even smaller minority of Democratic senators insists on filibustering qualified conservative nominees against whom they cannot muster enough votes to defeat, we should expect Bush and the Republican leadership in the Senate to take the next step — institute a Senate rule to authorize a full Senate vote on judicial nominees upon the assent of a simple majority. The Democrats will whine and vow retaliation but this country cannot afford indefinite delays in filling court vacancies, or any more Supreme Court justices like Anthony Kennedy or Stephen Breyer who meet the Democratic definition of “mainstream” by thinking that Supreme Court decisions should take into account world opinion or precedents set by courts in Canada, Belgium, or Mozambique. This is one more “global test” that is unacceptable to George W. Bush, as it should be to all Americans. And it is one more reason that this election was enormously important.