A conversation I had last Friday with a leader of a national policy organization followed by the enthusiastic response that greeted U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on his presidential campaign tour through Tennessee got me to thinking. Are conservatives going to fall, yet again, for the same line of political thinking regarding the presidential election that has failed us in the past?
Lest you think my question implies something about Sen. Cruz’s fitness for office, let me clarify. I wasn’t talking about the candidate. Rather I was referring to the political line of thinking that says if we elect the right president, he or she is going to fix some of our most egregious problems.
A case in point is the conversation I mentioned. This person with whom I spoke said that it was a bad idea to encourage multiple states to pass resolutions condemning the Supreme Court for its continuing abrogation of states’ rights and condemning Congress for not exercising its powers to protect the states they supposedly represent. He said those efforts would distract from the “real issue” that could fix the Court, namely, electing a president that would nominate good justices to the Court.
I think having a strong, conservative president is good, but I pointed out to my friend that Ronald Reagan is the presidential icon for conservatives and that it was he who gave us Justice Anthony Kennedy. The same Justice Kennedy has written majority opinions saying that natural marriage was unconstitutional after hundreds of years and that sodomy statutes were somehow unconstitutional after hundreds of years, but that Roe v. Wade’s abortion rights were too well-settled to be reversed after just 19 years.
I’m not picking on President Reagan, but I am picking on the idea that a president alone can fix the Court or fix any number of other things. The next president must have a solid, conservative Senate and House with a collective backbone, and right now he or she won’t have that.
Not having that is what got us Justice Kennedy. You’ll recall that President Reagan nominated the brilliant jurist Robert Bork. Judge Bork didn’t believe in conjuring up “spirits” and “emanations” in the Constitution for the purpose of protecting rights that, as Justice Kennedy recently opined, become “urgent in our own era,” whatever that means. But when the Senate couldn’t confirm his nomination, President Reagan had to bring it down a notch and Kennedy got nominated. He was “confirmable.”
Between a minority of 40 Senators out of 100 being able to block anything, leaving the Republican majority helpless and hapless1 and the majority leadership in the Senate being weak, moderate, or incompetent—take your pick—the next Republican president will be hamstrung.
For goodness’ sake, the Senate couldn’t even find a way to pass a bill to defund Planned Parenthood in light of all the recent revelations! Government charity and criminal activity in one fell swoop, and the Senate can’t pass a bill to stop it? You really think they’ll find a way to confirm a Justice like Robert Bork and current Justice Antonin Scalia?
And that was my point to my friend. Congress and the U.S. Senate will continue to do business as usual (and, actually, they don’t get much business done anyway) unless we the people and the members of our state legislature demand that they elect conservative leadership and take action. We have to push them; they have to know that we are not content with electing a president who can’t get anything done because of them. They have to know we are wise to their unfruitful ways.
Electing a president who has not made it clear to the electorate that he or she will nominate a hundred Robert Borks and Antonin Scalias until the Senate gives in is not going to be a president who’ll get much done.
We’ve tried the put-all-your-political-eggs-in-the-presidential-election strategy for solving America’s ills. It has failed. And, in my opinion, it will continue to fail until we make Congress do its job.
1 I know Senators will say that requiring “cloture” on a bill ensures an opportunity for the minority to have a say and that it would violate the history and traditions of the Senate. Well, sometimes history shows that what we’re doing isn’t working in a changing environment. And I’d also note that the Tennessee Senate also requires a 2/3 vote on a motion to cut off debate, but we never had the problems the U.S. Senate has. That’s because it has a rule that says that the majority can call for a meeting of the Rules Committee to require them to set a time to cut off debate. In other words, the majority of Senators in Tennessee will not let the minority control the agenda forever, a thought that is somehow beyond the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.
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