5.27.2009

The emptiness of GOP rhetoric, and a real chance to say something of weight

Shockingly, Politico is running another piece lamenting the current direction of the GOP:
But since November, the GOP has doubled down on the same unbending style of conservative sloganeering. The results speak for themselves — Republican Party identification stands at a measly 22 percent, and the party is losing ground among virtually every major demographic group and region of the country. Noted conservative jurist Richard Posner has gone so far as to claim that “conservative intellectuals” no longer have a political party.

Meanwhile, the New York Times takes a look at Judge Sotomayor's rulings:
In cases involving criminal defendants, employment discrimination and free speech, her rulings are more liberal than not.

But they reveal no larger vision, seldom appeal to history and consistently avoid quotable language. Judge Sotomayor’s decisions are, instead, almost always technical, incremental and exhaustive, considering all of the relevant precedents and supporting even completely uncontroversial propositions with elaborate footnotes.

This gives the GOP an opening, I think: to use the Sotomayor confirmation hearings to question her broader vision, and in so doing, to compare her apparent lack of vision to the GOP's overarching vision of jurisprudence.

One thing the GOP has been consistent on -- indeed, it's one of a very, very few things -- is its judicial outlook. And that means that it's one of a very few areas in which the GOP can argue basic principles and not look either opportunistic or hypocritical. Arguing for lower spending after the Bush years, for example, is a moderately ridiculous proposal -- despite the principled cases laid out by Paul Ryan and a few others, the pigs-at-trough spending under GW makes getting back to basics a hard road for the Republicans. Arguing judicial philosophy after the Bush administration is largely the opposite, given the appointments of strongly intellectual justices to the Supreme Court. Arguing that the court is not the place to make policy is a good angle.

Arguing first principles has another benefit -- that of taking away the "bonus points" Sotomayor gets for being a minority and a woman. The only thing that really counts should be her intellect and her vision, and in order to make a case, the GOP will need to argue these points firmly, but without the hysterical shouting about socialism that has sadly characterized the party in exile lately.

It probably is a losing fight going in; but that means that for the GOP, this gets to be a kind of instructional theater, showing voters that basic Republican arguments are tight, intellectually grounded, and not hypocritical. I just hope the GOP doesn't screw it up.