The Strategy: How the GOP Will Relaunch the Culture War With its Next Supreme Court Appointment

There are a lot of people who think that George Bush’s political weakness will result in a more moderate appointment to replace Justice O’Conner to the Supreme Court.

They are deluding themselves. In fact, it’s worse than wishful thinking: it’s exactly backwards.

The weaker Bush gets, the more certain it is that he (or Cheney or Rove) will appoint someone certain to reverse Roe v. Wade.

Do the math. The one thing that this crew is any good at is electoral strategy. And the weaker they are, the greater the danger to the GOP ticket in congressional elections next year, not to mention the Presidential election in 2008. The Bush-Rove strategy for winning elections is simple and well-understood: it’s to fire up ‘the base’ with culture war stuff, to distract from the environment, economic and health issues, all issues that as an abstract matter the majority of the electorate actually prefers the Democratic position to the Republican one.

Currently Cheney and Rove face two problems.

First, the failure to cope with Katerina Katrina and the issues of rebuilding will dominate the public agenda for some time. It is a debate which already shows signs of derailing additional tax cuts that only a month ago were due to be enacted by a compliant congress that treats fiscal discipline the way we used to treat levees. Only something major can displace Katerina Katrina from public consciousness — and even Iraq isn’t big enough.

Second, Cheney and Rove are deprived of their accustomed freedom to maneuver legislatively, as Congress becomes less and less willing to enact the “Bush agenda”.

These problems have, however, an obvious solution.

The only effective way to retake control of the public debate and distract from Katerina Katrina is to reignite the culture war, a move which would give the GOP a reasonable shot at controlling the debate for the next election. And the best way to do that is to appoint an anti-abortion Justice such as Patricia Priscilla Owen shortly after Roberts is confirmed. Far better to have the next election be about abortion than competence, Iraq, or indeed anything to do with the way the nation has recently been governed.

From a Rovian perspective it’s a win up and down the fight card. First Senatorial democrats can be demonized for filibustering. Then they can be shown to be wimps when muscular Cheney invokes the nuclear option and silences them. [If the filibuster should somehow survive, that’s just as good — it keeps alive the intransigence meme and explains to the base why it is so important to have more GOP Senators.] Any challenge will go before a Supreme Court with a chief justice who thinks little of congressional power and much of the executive’s and who will have, in familiar conservative doctrine, many avenues such as the political question doctrine available to leave the new status quo alone. Finally, the ensuing election can be framed as the war of law against obstreperous extremists seeking legislative and executive power to overturn the historic decision that returned the US to the blessed path of righteousness. (Quiet subtext: Katerina Katrina was divine chastening to ensure the right sort of appointment. Now that it has been made, we can relax.) The abortion issue will fire up the base like nothing else could any more, and even those doubtful about Katerina Katrina will come home when told they have a moral duty to do so. Some Democratic fringe group will undoubtedly cooperate by making an inept campaign commercial and a clip from it will become the Dean Scream of 2008.

While not guaranteeing a favorable result, this strategy plus a financial advantage at least creates a possibility of locking in GOP gains against what otherwise would be a renewed and nationally vigorous Democratic challenge.

Now if only I could figure out what we do about it…

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32 Responses to The Strategy: How the GOP Will Relaunch the Culture War With its Next Supreme Court Appointment

  1. ratio says:

    One thing we can do about it is to play the culture war card too: Make it explicit that his side of the culture war is the side that ends up killing people at home and abroad for no reason. His side of the culture war is the side that gets you chaos in Iraq and New Orleans and is bringing us closer to chaos in every American venture every day.

  2. fiat lux says:

    As far as I know, SCOTUS can only act when cases are brought before it. So the other part of the equation in this calculation is — how soon can a case which will de facto result in the reversal of Roe be brought before this newly-constituted court you posit?

    Or am I wrong? Could the court decide to reverse itself on Roe 25 years after the decision was handed down?

  3. Kenneth Fair says:

    A small correction: It’s Priscilla Owen. You’re unfortunately all too right about everything else.

  4. Max says:

    Reacting will not be as hard as you think — keep in mind that all of the rightwing nutballs generally have scant credentials and few well-respected opinions as judges. Unlike, say, Roberts.

    The trick is to smother all such unqualified candidates in the blanket of incompetence. “Iraq, Katrina, and now the Supreme Court?” needs to be the mantra. Democrats need to shout as loudly as possible “you did so well with Roberts, why is this person so lame? You gave us a Colin Powell last time, now a Michael Brown?”

    Wash, rinse, repeat, repeat, repeat.

  5. Max says:

    Reacting will not be as hard as you think — keep in mind that all of the rightwing nutballs generally have scant credentials and few well-respected opinions as judges. Unlike, say, Roberts.

    The trick is to smother all such unqualified candidates in the blanket of incompetence. “Iraq, Katrina, and now the Supreme Court?” needs to be the mantra. Democrats need to shout as loudly as possible “you did so well with Roberts, why is this person so lame? You gave us a Colin Powell last time, now a Michael Brown?”

    Wash, rinse, repeat, repeat, repeat.

  6. RedWolf says:

    Agree on the choice for justice, but it may be Janice Brown; she’s black.

    Unless Bush is really lucky, Katrina is probably a massive nail in the coffin.

    Now, we turn to the Democrats: The Dean Scream was a morality play written by the media; in this sport-crazed society screams are par for the course. It’s important, however, that Democrats stop being Kerry-like door stops. Dynamic campaigning and Shramless directives will bury the Republican (not too deeply though).

  7. Brautigan says:

    “Reacting will not be as hard as you think — keep in mind that all of the rightwing nutballs generally have scant credentials and few well-respected opinions as judges.”

    Name me one single Democrat of natural stature who will point this out in plain language.

    Yeah, thought so.

    We’re toast.

  8. tweedledopey says:

    fiat lux-
    a case must be brought before the court (and all of the courts) before it can go to the supreme court. of course, the supreme court can fast-track cases. unfortunately, all it would really take here is someone attempting to bring a case against an abortion law. the lower courts would toss it out (the precedent of roe) allowing the case to be tried at the next level. in fact, any state could pass a law banning abortion, get it overturned, and appeal it all the way up. you could probably make a pretty good betting pool on which state would do this (i’d guess utah).

    precedent is a pretty weighty thing, but not so weighty to be overturned. the supreme court hates to admit it was wrong, and overturning roe v wade could be bigger than just abortion. if you enjoy sex, you might find yourself prosecuted. if you’re gay, you might find yourself prosecuted. if you serve your kids alcohol in your own home, you might be prosecuted. the legality of these are all built on the assumption of a right to privacy. but i doubt the court would go so far: a conservative court would probably say that a fetus is alive, and therefore it is murder, and the right to life trumps the right of privacy. the court has already shown that it’s happy to intervene in cases of high technology (even though it was a case of commerce first and foremost), and biology has been around a whole lot longer. it’s about time they legislate some questionable science/philosophy.

  9. tweedledopey says:

    fiat lux-
    a case must be brought before the court (and all of the courts) before it can go to the supreme court. of course, the supreme court can fast-track cases. unfortunately, all it would really take here is someone attempting to bring a case against an abortion law. the lower courts would toss it out (the precedent of roe) allowing the case to be tried at the next level. in fact, any state could pass a law banning abortion, get it overturned, and appeal it all the way up. you could probably make a pretty good betting pool on which state would do this (i’d guess utah).

    precedent is a pretty weighty thing, but not so weighty to be overturned. the supreme court hates to admit it was wrong, and overturning roe v wade could be bigger than just abortion. if you enjoy sex, you might find yourself prosecuted. if you’re gay, you might find yourself prosecuted. if you serve your kids alcohol in your own home, you might be prosecuted. the legality of these are all built on the assumption of a right to privacy. but i doubt the court would go so far: a conservative court would probably say that a fetus is alive, and therefore it is murder, and the right to life trumps the right of privacy. the court has already shown that it’s happy to intervene in cases of high technology (even though it was a case of commerce first and foremost), and biology has been around a whole lot longer. it’s about time they legislate some questionable science/philosophy.

  10. tweedledopey says:

    fiat lux-
    a case must be brought before the court (and all of the courts) before it can go to the supreme court. of course, the supreme court can fast-track cases. unfortunately, all it would really take here is someone attempting to bring a case against an abortion law. the lower courts would toss it out (the precedent of roe) allowing the case to be tried at the next level. in fact, any state could pass a law banning abortion, get it overturned, and appeal it all the way up. you could probably make a pretty good betting pool on which state would do this (i’d guess utah).

    precedent is a pretty weighty thing, but not so weighty to be overturned. the supreme court hates to admit it was wrong, and overturning roe v wade could be bigger than just abortion. if you enjoy sex, you might find yourself prosecuted. if you’re gay, you might find yourself prosecuted. if you serve your kids alcohol in your own home, you might be prosecuted. the legality of these are all built on the assumption of a right to privacy. but i doubt the court would go so far: a conservative court would probably say that a fetus is alive, and therefore it is murder, and the right to life trumps the right of privacy. the court has already shown that it’s happy to intervene in cases of high technology (even though it was a case of commerce first and foremost), and biology has been around a whole lot longer. it’s about time they legislate some questionable science/philosophy.

  11. How to respond ? Well first if the nominee is P Owen, Dems could stress the Texan corruption angle. She was on the Texas Supreme court, which is an elected body. She did not recuse herself from cases involving campaign contributors. Toss in Delay and Dubya and there is a good theme right there.

    Another approach is based on the case of Bolton. A request for information which is not met is a reason to filibuster which has been accepted as legitimate by the nuclear optioneers. Given the obsessive secretism of the Bush administration, this should be easy to arrange.

    On abortion I think it is clear that the issue is useful to Republicans because pro choice voters feel protected by Roe V Wade and vote on other issues. Any chance of actually overturning R v W is deadly to the Republicans.

    Also question Alberto under oath on why he called Owen a judicial activist.

    My concern is that Bush will name someone a notch less extreme than Owen. I’m not going to try to remember and spell any names.

  12. Good post, but I have one question:

    You said that culture wars “…distract from the environment, economic and health issues, all issues that as an abstract matter the majority of the electorate actually prefers the Democratic position to the Republican one.”

    Just out of curiosity, can you give us some support to this statement (poll results, etc.)?

    Thanks!

  13. Good post, but I have one question:

    You said that culture wars “…distract from the environment, economic and health issues, all issues that as an abstract matter the majority of the electorate actually prefers the Democratic position to the Republican one.”

    Just out of curiosity, can you give us some support to this statement (poll results, etc.)?

    Thanks!

  14. Good post, but I have one question:

    You said that culture wars “…distract from the environment, economic and health issues, all issues that as an abstract matter the majority of the electorate actually prefers the Democratic position to the Republican one.”

    Just out of curiosity, can you give us some support to this statement (poll results, etc.)?

    Thanks!

  15. Paul Gowder says:

    Michael: Are we doomed then? If every time the right actually screws up, they can save themselves by turning the screws on theocracy a little more, then … well… Toronto has excellent public transportation…

    Brandon: possibly the classic study is here (pdf) — a bunch of Bush supporters were polled and, on several issues, they were both unaware of Bush’s position and in favor of Kerry’s. Look at page 13 of that pdf especially: a majority of Bush supporters were in favor of the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty, the land mine treaty, and the Kyoto Protocols… Bush, needless to say, was not…

  16. michael says:

    Paul –

    It seems to me that any effective solution can only be preemptive not reactive. And I don’t think the Democrats are up to that right now….

  17. RedWolf says:

    Preemptive or Reactive:
    Tend to agree for 2006, but 2008 is a function of the ability of the Democratic Presidential candidate. A strong candidate, e.g. Dean, can be explosively effective as a reactor. Ali was, mainly, a counter puncher. The current varsity team, i.e. Bidens+Feinsteins+etc, are neither preemptively nor reactively effective. They are a status quo team interested in maintaining narrow middle class interests.

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  20. Snark Man says:

    What you wrote their is some deep stuff, I totally agree with the fact that our government,sadly, would be willing to fool the American people is such a way. I hope that if they try to pull of a stunt like this, it will get back in their face, because they full on deserve it

  21. Snark Man says:

    What you wrote there is some deep stuff, I totally agree with the fact that our government,sadly, would be willing to fool the American people is such a way. I hope that if they try to pull of a stunt like this, it will get back in their face, because they full on deserve it

  22. M.U. says:

    Stumbled onto this site…must be so much fun to see this stuff in such a wholesome way. Your country has already been taken from you! Go ahead, waste your time with semantics and the rule of law. Hug your friends, have a glass of wine, take a walk in your favorite place, make love to that special someone, but forget about the “America” that you imagined. It is gone. We didn’t pay enough attention when we might have effected change and it is all of our faults. Quit wasting your time and enjoy some good jazz. It’s over. Relax…………………..

  23. AngelFactor says:

    A previous poster is correct: the coporatization of America is already complete. The best the masses can hope for is the marginalization of future efforts to place them outside the realm of influence. If ppl are satisfied with recieving pennies on the dollar for their work efforts, little is likely to change. Corporate America has spent billions, not only in bribing politicians (campaign finance), but in persuading the American masses that they don’t need unions. Corporate America has succeeded in both efforts. National health care will discussed when it makes “business sense.” The examples are endless. Corporations are very organized, American workers are unrepresented.

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  28. Jon says:

    Actually, I think we can win IF we are willing to fight them tooth and nail this time. First, we must demand that those Diebold machines go. Second, we must invite non-partisan election observers. Third, we must bring our own base to the polls. There ARE still more Democrats than Republicans out there and even with the religious right coming out in full force the last election, if not for the massive voter disenfranchisement and the dirty tricks (compliments of Diebold et al), we easily outnumber them. But we have to deal with the elections problem first and foremost. Otherwise, Rove and company won’t need to ignite the culture wars – just their election fraudmeisters – to “win”.

  29. scoville says:

    Just a small note: the Hurricane was KATRINA, not KATERINA.

  30. dilbert dogbert says:

    The molding of public opinion is a money game. Lots and lots of research has gone into this an it is well understood by the people with money. The dems tried to get some money to even up the race by going corporate but corporate knows what they want – “Real Republicans”.
    I agree it is over.
    Only the rethugs getting really crossways with the american middle class can change things a la the great depression.
    It is rape so relax and enjoy it.
    I don’t expect to see a dem president in what is left of my life.

  31. Dan says:

    “Relaunch” the Culture War? I didn’t know it was over. For those who think it is, I can assure you that you are wrong. As Father Neuhaus has put it, the pro-life movement of the last 30 some years has just been the beginning, the laying of the foundation, for the pro-life movement of the 21st Century and the 22nd Century and however many centuries there are to come:

    “There is no permanence, there is no end point to the great cause of life that brings us together. We are signed on for the duration and the duration is the entirety of the human drama, for the conflict between what John Paul II calls the culture of life and the culture of death is a permanent conflict. It is a conflict built into a wretchedly fallen and terribly ambiguous human condition.

    And so those who have been recruited, who understand themselves by virtue of their very faith in God, their very having-been-chosen-by-God, the God of life–those who understand that, know that they are in this for the duration, and that everything that has been the pro-life movement of the last thirty-plus years has been the prelude, has been the laying of the foundation for the pro-life movement of the twenty-first century and of the twenty-second century, and of all the centuries, however many more there are to come.

    That understanding is absolutely essential to the kind of commitment, the kind of devotion, the kind of self-surrender that has made the pro-life movement one of the most luminous illustrations of the human capacity for altruistic, genuinely other-regarding activities, indeed, not only in the American experiment, but in world history. Never before, I think it fair to say–ponder this–have so many people given so much over so long a period of time for a cause from which they have absolutely nothing to gain personally; and indeed in which they have, in many cases, lost–at least by any ordinary calculation of benefits–lost time, often friendships, or gained a great deal of opprobrium and misunderstanding on the part of others and, in many cases, have been jailed and arrested, and have paid deep fiscal penalties.

    It is an inspiring thing to have been part of this first thirty years of this phase of what is called the pro-life movement. And we dare not be weary. We dare never give in to what sometimes seem to be the overwhelming indications that the cause is futile. We dare never give in to despair. We have not the right to despair. And finally, we have not the reason to despair.

    It is a grand thing, it is among the grandest things in life, to know that your life has been claimed by a cause ever so much greater than yourself, ever so much greater than ourselves. In our American public life today, there’s much talk about a culture war–sometimes in the plural, culture wars. It’s a phrase that I’ve used, it’s a phrase we’ve used in First Things from time to time, and people sometimes are critical of that. And they say, Oh, isn’t that an alarmist kind of language, isn’t that an inflammatory kind of language to use, to talk about wars?

    Well, maybe. It’s a contestation, if you prefer the word contestation. It’s a conflict, certainly very, very deep. But it does have a warlike character to it. And if it is war, it’s good to remember who it was that declared this war–who is waging a defensive war, and who an aggressive war. It was not our side that declared war. We were not the ones who decided on January 22, 1973 that all of a sudden everything that had been entrenched in the conscience and the habits and the mores and the laws of the people of this nation with respect to the dignity of human life and the rights bestowed upon that life–that all of that was now to be discarded. That in one, raw act of judicial power, which of course the Roe v. Wade decision was, every protection of the unborn, in all fifty states, would be completely wiped off the books.

    Astonishing thing. It is important for us to remember that most of those who were on the side of what was then called liberalized abortion law, now called pro-choice, were as astonished as everyone else by Roe v. Wade. Nobody expected that the Court would simply abolish abortion law, would simply eliminate even the most minimal protections of unborn life.

    That, of course, is not the only occasion upon which a war was declared that creates what today is called the culture war. There are many, many other points in the culture. Sometimes we simply refer perhaps too vaguely and too generally to the Sixties, but certainly under sundry revolutionary titles, all claiming to be great movements of liberation, was explicitly lodged and advanced and argued for in the name of warfare, a counterculture intended to overthrow, presumably, the oppressive, stifling, life-denying character indeed of Western Civilization itself and all its works and all its ways. It was to be an exorcism, if you will, of what was perceived to be a maliciously oppressive cultural order of which we are a part, with respect to sexuality–always weaving in and out and coming back to the question of sexuality–marriage and divorce and education policy and a host of things.

    And so war was declared and war followed. And it will continue to look very much like a war. It is our responsibility not only for strategic or tactical reasons, but very importantly for moral reasons, to make sure that it doesn’t become warfare in the sense of violence and bloodshed. It is our responsibility to advance our arguments in this great contestation with civility and with persuasiveness, knowing that sound reason and the deepest convictions engendered by Judeo/Christian moral tradition both strongly support the cause of life which will ultimately prevail.”

    The above is part of a speech given by Father Neuhaus. In the same speech he warns, with reference to the Bush administration, against putting “trust in Princes” (quoting one of the Psalms). That warning is pertinent with regard to the next nominee. In my opinion there is a zero per cent chance that Bush will nominate someone who has expressly criticized Roe. Bush has shown time and time again that he will not go to the mat on the abortion issue. He therefore will nominate someone who, like Roberts, is a wild card on the issue so as to avoid a showdown in the Senate on the issue.

  32. Tina Rossner says:

    Ah the heavy hand of the righteous Republican. Is the manipulation of the Supreme Court to enact or overturn those laws ensuring this nation remain a Republic of the people really so hard to follow? This Administration’s response to every disaster, man-made or not, brings us closer to a feudal state. I believe Dubya does believe in ownership. In a feudal state, the ruler owns everything. But since he doesn’t read history, perhaps he won’t remember what happened to King George. Message to Dems everywhere–we say we want a revolution. Begin by voting no to Roberts, who can’t seem to remember what the political agenda of the Reaganites was. We remember. The rights of the unborn are more important to this society than the rights of the mother? Now that’s righteous. They forgot the poverty and hopelessness and the botched back-alley abortions that are always the result when unborn life reigns supreme. But we haven’t forgotten. We remember the joy of what was now possible that accomanied the Democratic victory of JFK. The sheer surprise at realizing we were part of a generation which would drive this country on to reach those ideals it embraces as its own even the impossible ones. And we did. We remember.

    —–

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