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 executives 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…