Thursday, July 07, 2005

Changing the Balance

Robert Novak, anticipating Rehnquist's imminent retirement, informs us,
That would enable Bush to play this game: Name one justice no less conservative than Rehnquist, and name Gonzales, whose past record suggests he would replicate retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on abortion and possibly other social issues. Thus, the present ideological orientation of the court would be unchanged, which would suit the left just fine.
Well, not really. But maintaining the ideological status quo would probably be the sort of bitter pill the left would quickly swallow, given the alternative. But, as Novak obviously knows, Bush's problem is most certainly not how to please the political left.
If a Rehnquist vacancy now is thrown into the mix, will Bush be tempted to temporize by naming one conservative and one non-conservative? If he nominates conservative Justice Antonin Scalia as chief justice and thus creates a third confirmation, will he think he has escaped by saying he has named two conservatives? No such maneuvers will make Gonzales acceptable to the Bush base.

Consequently, Bush's USA Today interview has been a source of intense anxiety on the right. Typically, the president did not defend Gonzales on his merits but with outrage that anybody would dare criticize his friend. That reflects a general schoolboy attitude that is losing the president support from fellow Republicans and conservatives.
I find it interesting that in this hypothetical scenario (in which Bush names "one conservative and one non-conservative") Gonzales is somehow transformed into a "non-conservative". That, to me, highlights the depravity of our present political classifications (or, should I say, stereotypes) - you can only be a true conservative these days, it seems, if you adhere to the philosophies of the religious right - even if you are otherwise contemptuous of everything traditionally associated with political conservatism. Otherwise, you're at best a "paleo-conservative" or, worse, a RINO (Republican In Name Only).

If Bush gets the opportunity to appoint two justices, and he doesn't make appointments which leave the religious right satisfied that Roe will be gutted or overruled, he will create an interesting conundrum for the Republican Party - a party which got about 30% of its votes in the last election due to high voter turnout and high voter loyalty among the religious right. If, in appreciable numbers, they stay home or vote for a third party candidate in the 2006 or 2008 elections, the post-election maps may be considerably more blue than the Republicans would like.

Oh, sure, you can make the same argument that Gore made in 1999 - a Republican counterpart to "a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush." But if you voted for Bush on the belief that he would deliver the Supreme Court and saw him deliberately pass on the opportunity to fulfill that implied promise, how inspired would you be to vote for a Republican candidate who in all likelihood will be more secular and more centrist than Bush?

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