Monday, April 25, 2005

Roe is the Root of All Evil

David Brooks traces the political hostility we're seeing in Washington today back to the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. He may well be right. Almost all of the most bitter battles have been between those who wish to defend and those who wish to overturn that decision. Brooks writes:

When [Justice Harry] Blackmun wrote the Roe decision, it took the abortion issue out of the legislatures and put it into the courts. If it had remained in the legislatures, we would have seen a series of state-by-state compromises reflecting the views of the centrist majority that's always existed on this issue. These legislative compromises wouldn't have pleased everyone, but would have been regarded as legitimate. Instead, Blackmun and his concurring colleagues invented a right to abortion, and imposed a solution more extreme than the policies of just about any other comparable nation.

Religious conservatives became alienated from their own government, feeling that their democratic rights had been usurped by robed elitists. Liberals lost touch with working-class Americans because they never had to have a conversation about values with those voters; they could just rely on the courts to impose their views. The parties polarized as they each became dominated by absolutist activists.

Unable to lobby for their pro-life or pro-choice views in normal ways, abortion activists focused their attention on judicial nominations. Dozens of groups on the right and left have been created to destroy nominees who might oppose their side of the fight.

Over the past four years Democrats have resorted to the filibuster again and again to prevent votes on judicial nominees they oppose. Up until now, minorities have generally not used the filibuster to defeat nominees that have majority support. They have allowed nominees to have an up or down vote. But this tradition has been washed away.

In response, Republicans now threaten to change the Senate rules and end the filibuster on judicial nominees. That they have a right to do this is certain. That doing this would destroy the culture of the Senate and damage the cause of limited government is also certain.

Harry Blackmun and his colleagues suppressed that democratic abortion debate the nation needs to have. The poisons have been building ever since. You can complain about the incivility of politics, but you can't stop the escalation of conflict in the middle. You have to kill it at the root. Unless Roe v. Wade is overturned, politics will never get better.

Brooks is certainly correct about this. Our politics will not improve until Roe is reversed and decisions about abortion are placed back in state legislatures where they belong, but Roe will not be overturned until more conservative judges are seated on the Supreme Court, and that won't happen until the filibuster of judicial nominees is ended.

In other words, Brooks' argument entails the conclusion that our politics will not grow more civil until the Republicans vote to change the Senate rule that allows a minority of senators to block a vote on the president's nominees. This seems paradoxical since such a vote, though necessary, will surely make our politics much more vituperative than they already are.

Squandering Power

Senator Joe Biden and WaPo columnist David Broder are calling for a compromise with the Republicans on the filibuster issue, a sure sign that the Democrats are in a position of political disadvantage. Sen. Mitch McConnell claims that the GOP has the necessary votes to get a rule change that would preclude filibustering judicial nominees. Majority Leader Frist has gotten over a wobbly spell and seems prepared to do whatever it takes to get the president's candidates an up or down vote in the full Senate.

Things are falling the Republican's way, but never underestimate the GOP's ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. How else do we explain this from Captain's Quarters, except as a timid reluctance to press their advantage?

Unfortunately, this vote [on changing the Senate rule on filibustering judicial nominees] will not take place now. The GOP had to schedule more pressing business before the recess in the first week of May. The emergency? The new highway bill. You all recall when we fought to expand the GOP majority in the Senate to get that highway bill passed, right? That legislation inspired all of us to donate money that could have gone to family vacations and to assist others in our community to the National Republican Committee instead in 2002 and 2004 ... right? That's what Frist and the GOP leadership expects you to believe now, apparently.

If there's a way to squander political strength the Republicans can be counted upon to find it. They are masters of the art of losing gracefully. They think of themselves as a natural minority party and are as surprised as anyone to find themselves with fifty five members in the Senate. Now that they're there they'd be perfectly happy to let the Democrats take over, but of course they can't actually do that, so they do the next worst thing which is to let the Democrats call the shots on everything that really matters.

If Democrats accuse John Bolton of being mean to underlings then the Republicans pause to reconsider his nomination as ambassador to the U.N. If Tom DeLay is accused of doing what Democrats have long done as a matter of course and which is apparently not a violation of House ethics then Republicans stroke their chins and nod sagely that perhaps DeLay should indeed be dumped. If Democrats think it unconscionable that Bush's judges get a straight up or down vote on the floor of the Senate, well, then, far be it from the Republicans to insist otherwise. That would be needlessly confrontational. If the Republicans find themselves in the unaccustomed position of enjoying political momentum, as they seem to be on the filibuster issue, then the gentlemanly thing to do is put off the vote until the Democrats have a chance to recover their footing enough to kick the GOP in the pants on the vote.

Viewpoint predicts that if Republicans do not vote to change the Senate rules on filibusters there will be a hemorrhage of membership from the rank and file of the party of historic proportions. Financial support will evaporate overnight and Republicans will get steamrollered by the Democrats in 2006 and 2008.

Surely, Republican leaders understand that a party that declines to use the perquisites of power that attach to the majority do not deserve to be, nor will long remain in, the majority. Unfortunately, the prospect of being returned to minority status probably suits the Republicans just fine.

Victor Davis Hanson on the Middle East

Victor Davis Hanson offers five lessons we should take from our experience in the Middle-East since 9/11. Here's #5:

Do not look for logic and consistency in the Middle East where they are not to be found. It makes no sense to be frustrated that Arab intellectuals and reformers damn us for removing Saddam and simultaneously praise democratic rumblings that followed his fall. We should accept that the only palatable scenario for the Arab Street was one equally fanciful: Brave demonstrators took to the barricades, forced Saddam's departure, created a constitution, held elections, and then invited other Arab reformers into Baghdad to spread such indigenous reform - all resulting in a society as sophisticated, wealthy, free, and modern as the West, but felt to be morally superior because of its allegiance to Islam. That is the dream that is preferable to the reality that the Americans alone took out the monster of the Middle East and that any peaceful protest against Saddam would have ended in another genocide.

After all these years, do not expect praise or gratitude for billions poured into Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, or Palestine or thanks for the liberation of Kuwait, protection of Saudi Arabia in 1990, or the removal of Saddam - much less for American concern for Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Somalia, the Sudan, or Afghanistan. Our past sins always must be magnified as much as our more recent benefactions are slighted.

In response, American policy should be predicated not on friendship or the desire for appreciation, but on what is in our national interest and what is right - whose symbiosis is possible only through the current policy of consistently promoting democracy. Constitutional government is not utopia - only the proper antidote for the sickness in the Middle East, and the one medicine that hateful jihadists, dictators, kings, terrorists, and theocrats all agree that they alike hate.

There is much wisdom in this as well as the rest of the prescriptions in his article. We hope that Washington is listening.

Justice for Hasan Akbar

Here's an update on the case of Hasan Akbar, the soldier who in the early days of OIF killed two of his fellow soldiers and wounded fourteen in Kuwait:

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) - An Army sergeant was convicted Thursday by a military jury of premeditated murder and attempted murder in a grenade and rifle attack that killed two of his comrades and wounded 14 others in Kuwait during the opening days of the Iraq war.

Hasan Akbar, 34, now faces a possible death penalty, which the same 15-member jury will consider at a hearing that begins Monday.

Prosecutors say Akbar told investigators he launched the attack because he was concerned U.S. troops would kill fellow Muslims in Iraq. They said he coolly carried out the attack to achieve "maximum carnage" on his comrades in the 101st Airborne Division.

The verdict came after only 2 1/2 hours of deliberations following seven days of testimony in the court-martial - the first time since the Vietnam era that an American has been prosecuted on charges of murdering a fellow soldier during wartime.

There's more on the story at the link.