Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Whitman in the WaPo

I just got a tip to an important letter to the editor in Wednesday's Washington Post, which I missed in my perusal of the papers this morning since I never think to read the "letters" section. At any rate, here is the letter in full, from former New Jersey governor Christie Whitman:

"It's risky to predict what current events will become historical turning points, but I'm willing to take a chance on this one. Years from now, students and analysts of American political life will point to May 23, 2005, as the day 'radical moderates' took a stand and began to recapture the sensible center of U.S. politics. The 14 Republican and Democratic senators who came together to avert the detonation of the 'nuclear option' over judicial nominations are owed a much greater debt of gratitude than many people yet realize.

By uniting in defense of America's historical commitment to consensus on issues of great national importance, they proved that moderates possess political muscle and are not afraid to use it judiciously and effectively. As a result, President Bush's judicial nominees will get the up-or-down votes they deserve, and the Senate can turn its focus from procedural matters back to the important challenges facing our country.

Predictably, those whom I call 'social fundamentalists' - the vocal minority who would purge from the Republican Party those who don't meet their narrow ideological litmus tests on a handful of social issues - have gone to Defcon 2, just short of a nuclear launch, in their reactions.

Gary L. Bauer, president of American Values, called the compromise a 'sellout'; the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, accused the seven Republicans of lacking 'backbone' and 'fortitude'; and James C. Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, spoke of his 'disappointment, outrage and sense of abandonment.' Outraged talk radio hosts are vowing to help defeat the seven GOP senators in their next primaries.

History one day will reflect that the high-water mark of the 'social conservative' movement in this country came two months ago with the Terri Schiavo case, when a vocal and organized minority persuaded Congress to intervene. Most Americans did not support that intrusion. History also will record that the tide began to turn just eight weeks later, as radical moderates flexed their political muscles to return the sensible center in American politics to its rightful place."

I have criticized Whitman in the past for pulling punches and not speaking out strongly enough in support of the principles she advocates. Unlike past statements, in this letter Whitman doesn't hold her views back - let's hope she keeps it up!


At 8:12 PM, Blogger BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Do you really think that Bush's nominations are subject to an 'up or down' vote? I know he used that term as well, but to me that seems to be a rather superficial and vague analysis of what goes actually goes on in the confimration process.

Thank you for the post.

At 11:43 PM, Blogger JBD said...

I don't necessarily think that all the nominees will get up or down votes, no. That remains somewhat to be seen, I suspect.

At 12:37 AM, Anonymous Simon said...

I actually just got done reading her book, It's My Party Too (and promptly started on Newt Gingrich's proposal for a new Contract with America, Winning the Future, matter of fact); it raises some good points and makes some quotable points, but there are a few areas where I find it very tough to get on board with Christie. She repeatedly seems to suggest a necessary conflation of moderate Republicanism with pro-choice and pro-Affirmative Action politics, which I just can't agree on. I do agree with many of her proposals (including the need to detatch black and ethnic votes from the other party - but if that's what Whitman wants to do, why on Earth would she continue to support the same failed Affirmative Action paradigm that has kept racial tension a live issue?), but there are a few things I just don't feel comfortable with. The last chapter - which fondly imagines itself a call to arms - is potentially and necessarily the knockout punch of the book, but it is far weaker than it could or should have been, IMO.

Regarding judicial nominees, I wonder if there are any possible SCOTUS / CJUS nominations that will not provoke Democratic intransigence and a return to the edge of the Nuclear Option. One would hope that Harry Reid's previous praise for Justice Scalia would guarantee him smooth passage to CJUS, but I doubt that Senators like Boxer, Feingold or Kerry have the nerve to face their constituents and say "I voted for Chief Justice Scalia", no matter his merits, and no matter that he is the obvious candidate, IMO.

At 10:15 AM, Blogger JBD said...

Simon - as I mentioned, I also found Whitman's final chapter much too wishy-washy. I hope that her recent statements are more indicative of the future. As for conflating moderation with pro-choice attitudes, I think what Whitman is saying (and what I would buy into) isn't that moderates must be pro-choice, but that they ought to at least accept the validity of a pro-choice position and be able to work with those who hold those views.

I don't know that any Supreme Court nomination will get all the Democrats on board (I think a 98-0 confirmation is highly unlikely). But I think probably if the nominee was decently qualified (and I would include Scalia in that even though I disagree strongly with him quite often) enough Democrats would support confirmation to make a filibuster (and hence the possibility of nuclear option) very unlikely.

At 12:08 PM, Anonymous Simon said...

My blog is down for maintainance, or I'd post a link to prior discussions, but anyway, I accept that there are valid pro-choice viewpoints, and I agree that I'm happy to work with people who call themselves pro-choice, who have valid goals in reducing abortion. Apropros, the fact that I support the self-described pro-choice Olympia Snowe (q.v. Snowe08 website), who I believe will work to reduce the demand for abortions in this country, which should surely be the great, unifying goal of both sides.

Of course, there are valid, intellectualy consistent reasons to be pro-choice. If you don't believe that the child in utero is a human life, then it would be preposterous for you to be pro-life. It would make no sense, just as inducing a dead foetus to premature birth is not an abortion - no life, no problem. But the corrolary to that truth is that, if you do believe that the child in utero is a human life, then it would be morally indefensible for you to be pro-choice, and that was the problem I had with John Kerry on this issue. His position was indefensible, intellectually and morally bankrupt. And I get the vibe from Christie that she has the same view - that she is "personally pro-life but politically pro-choice", and that's not a view I can endorse. That view sounds very moderate and reasonable prima facie, but what it actually means is that you believe it's muder and won't endorse its elimination. I very much hope that I have read far, far more into Christie's writing on the subject than she intended.

Regarding the nomination, I think that Democrats have grown so used to using the Living Constitution Judge to get their way - particularly now they control no legislative arm of the Federal Government - that they are no longer capable of supporting a nominee like Scalia, who demands that the Congress should address policy questions, not the Court. Democrats want justices like Richard Posner, who will re-invent the Constitution's text to better comport with their views, and they have been so brainwashed by this "living constitution" doctrine, this notion of "substantive due process", that they are no longer capable of differentiating "conservative" from "originalist".

This changing environment can most clearly be seen in the fact that Scalia was confirmed practically unanimously, while Clarence Thomas (and more recently Janice Brown), who do not expouse judicial philosophies strikingly different to Scalia's, faced titanic battles against Senate Democrats for their nominations. Of course, as Thomas Sowell has noted, there may be additionaly reasons - more political than principled - why Democrats will fight tooth and nail to stop black Judges advancing up the ladder.


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