George Will Wants Four More Years of Gridlock
The “Morning Joe” crew previewed George Will’s latest column, focusing on his comparison of the upcoming election and that of Goldwater’s 1964 debacle and a prediction that neither Mitt Romney nor Rick Santorum is likely to beat Barack Obama. The first is neither novel (I, along with scores of others, have already made it with regard to a Santorum nomination) nor really part of Will’s column. The second amounts to conventional wisdom at this point and I’ve been counseling the likelihood of Obama’s reelection since well before this campaign degenerated into a clown show; Obama’s a superb candidate and Americans tend to re-elect their presidents.
What’s actually interesting about the column, though, is this:
But suppose the accumulation of evidence eventually suggests that the nomination of either would subtract from the long-term project of making conservatism intellectually coherent and politically palatable. If so, there would come a point when, taking stock of reality, conservatives turn their energies to a goal much more attainable than, and not much less important than, electing Romney or Santorum president. It is the goal of retaining control of the House and winning control of the Senate.
Several possible Supreme Court nominations and the staffing of the regulatory state are among the important reasons conservatives should try to elect whomever the GOP nominates. But conservatives this year should have as their primary goal making sure Republicans wield all the gavels in Congress in 2013.
If Republicans do, their committee majorities will serve as fine-mesh filters, removing President Obama’s initiatives from the stream of legislation. Then Republicans can concentrate on what should be the essential conservative project of restoring something like constitutional equipoise between the legislative and executive branches.
Such a restoration would mean that a reelected Obama, a lame duck at noon on Jan. 20, would have a substantially reduced capacity to do harm. Granted, he could veto any major conservative legislation. But such legislation will not even get to his desk because Republicans will not have 60 senators. In an undoubtedly bipartisan achievement, both parties have participated in institutionalizing an extra-constitutional Senate supermajority requirement for all but innocuous or uncontroversial legislation. This may be a dubious achievement, but it certainly enlarges the power of a congressional party to play defense against a president.
Three years ago, conservatives were particularly focused on stopping two of Obama’s principal goals — a cap-and-trade climate policy and “card check” to abolish secret ballots in unionization elections. He still speaks incessantly but no longer speaks about either. And were it not for grossly corrupt conduct by Justice Department prosecutors in the trial of Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, which cost him reelection, Obamacare would not have passed.
Beginning next January, 51 or more Republican senators, served by the canny Mitch McConnell’s legislative talents, could put sand in the gears of an overbearing and overreaching executive branch. This could restore something resembling the rule of law, as distinct from government by fiats issuing from unaccountable administrative agencies exercising excessive discretion.
With regard to the Stevens prosecution, it’s worth noting it was done under a Republican Attorney General and convicted before a Democratic Attorney General decided that prosecutors had withheld crucial evidence from the defense team and declined to send the case on for sentencing. Which is to say, Stevens was in fact corrupt and the prosecution, while hamhanded, was not politically motivated. I’m sorry Republicans lost that seat in the way we did but not that Stevens himself was ousted.
Beyond that, even if the Republicans can get to a majority–and that became much harder this week with the retirement of Olympia Snowe and unretirement of Bob Kerrey–it’s not at all clear to me how “the long-term project of making conservatism intellectually coherent and politically palatable” is served by another four years of the shenanigans we’ve seen since Obama’s inauguration. While I suppose there’s a sense in which “conservatism” simply means preventing change, especially in the wrong direction, surely the way to invigorate the movement is to fight for a legislative agenda that matches conservative ideals and advances a vision for the next thirty years rather than harkening back wistfully to 30 years ago.
While a young William F. Buckley, Jr. famously declared in the founding issue of National Review that its mission was “stand[ing] athwart history, yelling Stop,” obstructionism wasn’t the whole package–or, indeed, much of the package at all. If that’s all that’s left, there’s not much to commend the movement, much less to motivate it through the nearly five years until the 2017 inauguration. And, of course, absent a positive message for the future, there’s not much reason to think a conservative will be taking the oath that day.
Will being “sand in the gears” until 2021 be the next rallying cry?