WASHINGTON -- ``It would be an irony of fate,'' said the governor as he left home and headed to Washington for his presidential Inauguration, ``if my administration had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs, for all my preparation has been in domestic matters.'' George W. Bush leaving Austin in January 2001? No, Woodrow Wilson leaving Princeton in March 1913.
Wednesday's debate finally focused attention on domestic policy, including such supposedly secondary matters as courts and the Constitution, education and taxation -- the government's claim on the individual's labor. And, most important, the stress that the retirement of 77 million baby boomers will put on the welfare state.
In the second debate, when President Bush at last unsheathed the L-word, Kerry -- who in 1991 proclaimed ``I'm a liberal and proud of it'' -- flinched: ``Labels don't mean anything.'' The reason conservatives do not talk like that was illustrated Wednesday. Kerry, a statist liberal in a conservative, antistatist country, begged the country to believe that the health care reform he, as the government's foremost officer, would have the government implement is ``not a government plan.'' When Bush increased the megatonage of his bombardment with the K-word -- ``Kennedy'' -- Kerry responded not by defending liberalism but by trying to flank Bush on the right with five genuflections to ``fiscal responsibility,'' three to ``fiscal discipline'' and one to being ``fiscally sound.''
Wednesday, as in the rest of the campaign, the presidential power to shape the federal judiciary received remarkably little attention. Any president who serves two terms likely will replace half that judiciary; Bush already has replaced one-quarter. But he is about to become the second president (Carter was the first) to serve a full term without filling a Supreme Court vacancy. It has been 10 years since a new justice (Breyer) was confirmed; not since 1812-1823, when the court had only seven members, has it gone that long unchanged. Bush's second term could be dominated by nomination battles: Chief Justice Rehnquist just turned 80 and the average age of the nine justices is 70.
Liberalism, having lost its ability to advance by persuasion, increasingly relies on litigation. In its flight from arenas of representation, liberalism has used the judiciary as its legislature. Hence the exultation of Ron Brown, then Democratic Party chairman, addressing an American Bar Association forum immediately after the 1992 election: ``My friends, I'm here to tell you that the lawyers won.''