1. Judges. On April 20th of next year, Justice John Paul Stevens (arguably the most liberal member of the current Supreme Court, will celebrate his 87thirthday. The actuarial tables suggest that the chances are excellent that he will vacate his high office some time before President Bush leaves the White House – at a time when Justice Stevens is just two months shy of his 89th birthday! No decision will impact the long-term future of this Republic more substantially than the choice of a successor to this veteran jurist. If the Democrats have taken over the Senate, with Pat Leahy of Vermont as the new chair of the Judiciary Committee, the chances of winning confirmation for any justice in the Alito-Roberts mold are nil. Many conservatives felt (rightly) troubled by the aborted nomination of Harriet Miers; but even this sort of “stealth nominee” would find it difficult to escape a Democratic Senate.
Whatever our complaints about other aspects of the Bush record, his judicial nominations have been incontestably superb—vastly better than his father’s, than Nixon’s, and even than Reagan’s (remember Sandra Day O’Connor? Anthony Kennedy?). With one more nomination, the high court would enjoy a clear strict constructionist majority (Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, Alito, and……). But sulking conservatives want to give up a once-in-a-lifetime chance to overrule Roe v. Wade and other examples of catastrophic judicial overreach because you’re angry about Mark Foley’s e-mails? And what about all the dozens of appellate and federal district court nominations that will come up in the next two years? These appointments will help to shape the federal judiciary for a generation, with incalculable impact long after any current complaints have been forgotten.
2. Encouraging the Enemy. The only way to win wars is to convince your adversaries that further resistance is useless. Democratic victories in the House and/or Senate would help persuade Islamo-Nazi terrorists that they are, in fact, winning the war for US public opinion. No one questions that the jihadists closely monitor our domestic politics. Why else would they so conspicuously intensify their violent attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan just weeks before a crucial election? They also clearly want Democrats to win, not just because they hate Bush but because they clearly perceive the irresolution, confusion and urge to appease of the liberal faction in the current debates. Even if the Democrats resist these temptations once in power (after all, they would still face two more years of a Bush White House as a block to their more irresponsible impulses) the much-ballyhooed fact of their political triumph would greatly encourage anti-American forces everywhere and thereby prolong this war.
3. Security. When it comes to vigorous interrogation and wiretapping of terrorist suspects, more than 70% of Congressional Democrats opposed even the compromise policies jointly shaped by President Bush and Senator McCain. Liberal leaders have been outspoken in demanding more “oversight” for our dedicated and phenomenally successful counter-terrorist fighters. The possibility of endless investigations, and even prosecution, regarding Guantanamo and other efforts to force information from deadly anti-American combatants, very obviously threatens all progress in the war on terror. Disaffected Republicans must seriously consider whether they want our battle against al-Qaeda to proceed in a more timid, limited and legalistic way, because with Democrats controlling Congress (and specifically its investigative and funding powers) that is precisely what we are going to get.
4. The Economy. There’s no doubt that Democrats will raise taxes – they’ve pledged to do so and no veto threat could stop them, since all they need to do is to sit tight and to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire. It’s not certain that GOP control will bring further tax reductions, or even protect all of those enacted in the last six years, but it is certain that Democrats will move in the tax-hike direction. Combined with Nancy Pelosi’s promise to raise the minimum wage by two-dollars and hour within the first four days (one hundred hours) of taking the Speaker’s gavel, and of sharply increasing spending for federally subsidized college loans, Medicaid and other social programs, the Democratic tax increases could easily provide the economic jolt to bring the current boom to an abrupt halt. The Dems proudly announce they want more governmental “supervision” of the economy – concerning energy, environmental regulations, labor rules, “gender equity,” family leave, and so forth. Conservatives understand that this sort of growth in federal power hardly constitutes a reliable formula for prosperity. And why, exactly, would anyone on the right support the huge boosts in federal college spending that would provide a vast transfer of wealth from ordinary, middle-American taxpayers to universities that represent islands of unreconstructed leftism within the body politic?
5. Immigration. Many conservatives dislike the Bush approach to immigration, with its calls for a guest worker program and earned legalization for some of the illegals already here. Nevertheless, the President and Congressional Republicans did manage to pass “enforcement first” legislation with provisions for workplace penalties and construction of 700 miles of border fence. The Democrats have indicated they will compensate for this common sense victory with a sweeping, overly-lenient, unconditional amnesty proposal far beyond anything authorized by Bush (or even McCain). Immigration reform will almost surely clear Congress at some point, in some form, in the next two years. Why would anyone on the right believe that in working with a Democratic House and Senate, Bush would come up with a stronger immigration bill than he would in working with his fellow Republicans—who are much less hospitable to the “open borders” crowd?
6. Framing the Debate. It’s true that public opinion shapes elections, but elections also shape public opinion. Consider the impact of the strong showing by religious conservatives in 2004: for the last two years, Democrats have been trying to figure out how to make themselves sound more “spiritual” while commentators of every stripe pay new attention to values voters. If, on the other hand, Dems win a sweeping triumph on November 7th, the media will trumpet the long-awaited demise of the era of conservative dominance, proclaiming a new age of secular enlightenment, tolerance, multiculturalism, peace, partying and rock n’ roll. If conservatives feel discouraged now, try to imagine the paralyzing impact on right wing activism of cover stories and media analysis heralding the nationwide defeat of traditional, family friendly politics. There is, very simply, no example in all American history of advocates who managed to strengthen their cause or advance their ideas by losing a high-profile, watershed election.
7. Losing Control of the Party. When a political party gets thrashed at the polls, it never moves in a rightward (or leftward) direction: it inevitable moves to the center. When Goldwater found himself swamped by Lyndon Johnson in ’64, the GOP didn’t go back to strong conservative principles: it embraced the “centrist” (and deal cutter) Richard Nixon. Similarly, the McGovern disaster of ’72, temporarily discouraged the leftist tendencies among Democrats, as they turned to the self-proclaimed moderate Jimmy Carter. It’s illogical to expect that retreat for today’s conservative-dominated GOP would bring a more conservative party orientation: look for new strength to the mushy middle of the party that would blame the stridency of right wingers (particularly the religious right) for the disaster.
8. Losing Structural Advantages. One of the fundamental truths of American politics is that it’s always easier to defend Senate and House seats than it is to knock off incumbents. Particularly in today’s furiously competitive environment, incumbency confers countless financial and tactical advantages; the majority party starts each battle for Congressional control with significant resources that the challengers can’t match. It is always easier to maintain a majority – no matter how narrow – than it is to dislodge one. That’s why Republicans have managed to survive various ups and downs while maintaining control of the House for 12 years; and Democrats kept their House control for an uninterrupted 40 years before that. It’s a naïve fantasy to suggest that it’s a safe bet that after two years running the House of Representatives (and/or the Senate), the Democrats will get driven from power. It’s far more likely that they’d hang on for several more election cycles, while conferring huge (perhaps decisive) advantages to their Presidential candidate (Hillary? Obama? Kerry?) in 2008 and beyond.
The considerations listed above deserve attention for anyone still grousing about the many shortcomings of Denny Hastert and Bill Frist and George W. Bush. It’s easy to see that our guys aren’t perfect – but this election isn’t about suitability for Rushmore. It’s about maintaining some chance for conservative ideas and policies to prevail at a time of danger and challenge to the nation. Anyone who believes that liberal approaches would work better will no doubt vote Democratic, and that’s appropriate. But for those of us who understand the importance of conservative thinking, and who would like to see that thinking more effectively applied in the next two years, there’s no excuse for advocating unilateral disarmament and surrender, handing power to some of the worst elements on the political scene.
Those who advocate non-participation in this crucial election don’t just call for conservative punishment and defeat. Whether they like it or not, they pave the way for leftist victory. Frankly, America deserves better.