The Clever Strategist
April 7, 2002
by Bruce Walker
It is beguiling how easily President Bush can make us all forget that he is more than just a great president, he is also a brilliant political strategist. Military historians understand the difference between tactics and strategy. Tactics is winning battles and strategy is winning wars. President Bush is good at the former, but phenomenal at the latter. This is no slam or slur on our very good leader: Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Ronald Reagan great generals of political wars.
Lincoln allowed the Monroe Doctrine to lapse when French troops installed Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico. Jefferson took the extra-constitutional step of doubling the size of the United States with the Louisiana Purchase, greatly enhancing federal power at the expense of state governments. Ronald Reagan lifted the grain embargo on the Soviet Union, as he was declaring that an Evil Empire.
In each case, far sighted politics and far sighted statesmanship converged. In 1865, a victorious and battle-hardened Union Army simply nudged towards the Mexican border, and the French were gone; soon after that, British North America also coalesced into Canada, and Russia sold the United States its province of Alaska. Jeffersons decision insured an America able to absorb huge immigration from Europe. Ronald Reagan kept a campaign promise to Americas farmers by lifting the grain embargo, and that provided a carrot to go along with the stick of military buildup to allow Soviet leaders a viable path to meeting with him.
History may well show that the Senate Judiciary Committees partisan vote against Judge Pickering and the Presidents silent signing of Campaign Finance Reform were magnificent strategic moves. How?
Take the Pickering tactical defeat. Virtually everyone agreed that Pickering was competent, honorable, and experienced. When it counted, he stood up against bigotry in the South, testifying against leaders of the Ku Klux Klan. Black leaders in the South have concurred in that he is a good man and no bigot at all. So what does his rejection say to the nation generally and to the South in particular?
It says that conservatives, no matter how qualified and no matter how noble their behavior against the real evils which liberals pretend to oppose, will not be allowed to be put on the federal bench as long as Democrats control the Senate. It also supports the subtle Yankee arrogance against the southern conservatives, which includes the vast majority of southerners of both political parties.
Zell Miller, who is a lot smarter than his fellow Democrats and has actually won a bunch of elections in the heart of the South, has it right: Daschles high-handed mistreatment of this obviously good judicial candidate will cost Democrats dearly in the South. Crude, boorish treatment of honorable men does not play well in region that has never forgotten civility and manners.
Republicans will defend five Senate seats and seek to capture two Senate seats in the South next November. Republicans candidates defending their partys seats in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas will have a significantly easier time because of Pickering, and Democrats Max Cleland and Mary Landrieu, who had previously been considered safe may now face real battles. In is possible three of these seven key Senate races in the South could turn against the Democrats because of Pickering.
The rotten smell of "Pickering" a good man could tip a half dozen House seats in a South, all of which will have new district boundaries, to Republicans as well. The impact will extend, as Zell Miller noted, to gubernatorial races in the South. Aside from trying to capture statehouses from Republicans in Texas, Florida, and Tennessee, Democrats will be trying to hold onto statehouses in Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina. Each state legislature also will have new district boundaries, and in these too the Pickering affair will help Republicans and hurt Democrats.
Democrats had begun to work their way back to respectability in the eyes of many Southerners, and slamming Pickering places Democrats squarely back into the box of George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis.
What about campaign finance reform? How can that be a strategic victory? The presidents quiet acquiescence means that Democrats will have to shut up about the whole matter through November, which leaves them with almost no reason for anyone to vote for them.
When the Supreme Court declares huge chunks of this rotten law unconstitutional, the Presidents passive role will look much better than the Democrats jihad against the First Amendment. This will happen after the November elections, and this inevitable Supreme Court decision will then leave the president an opportunity to make his proposals on campaign finance reform, saying: "We tried your way, and the Supreme Court found that your way violated the First Amendment."
His reluctant signature to a bill which he has stated he considered flawed in some respects will place him in precisely the best political position. When he proposes constitutional reforms, it will be Daschle and the Democrats who will appear the obstructionists.
Is it wise to let the Supreme Court do the heavy lifting on this issue? Yes, actually it is, and that goes against the grain for many of us. Consider, though, how liberals have used the Supreme Court for decades to deflect any political consequences from their policy-making by judicial fiat. Let liberals be mad at the Supreme Court for a change, and let us watch as they fume and complain, and let us be the quiet voice of reason in the debate.
Which brings together a beautiful convergence in both of these strategic victories which Daschle has not yet figured out that he has handed the president: Democrats are being forced and will be forced to make our imperial federal judiciary a political issue. We want that, because when Democrats begin to attack the courts and make blatant politics the basis for appointment, it allows those two real branches of our democratic government - Congress and the president - both stronger and more accountable.
So, my fellow conservatives, worry not about this president. He knows what he is doing. And he knows better than anyone that Democrats have just been handed two Pyrrhic victories. That particular term refers to Pyrrhus of Epirus, who defeated the rising Roman Republic in battles that devastated his own armies more than the Romans, prompting him to say: "A few more victories like this, and we will have lost the war." Forget the particular battles or the individual skirmishes: we are winning the war, and they are losing it.
Bruce Walker has been a dyed in the wool conservative since, as a sixth grader, he campaigned door to door for Barry Goldwater. Bruce has had almost two hundred published articles have appeared in the Oklahoma Bar Journal, Law & Order, Legal Secretary Today, The Single Parent, Enter Stage Right, Citizen's View, The American Partisan, Port of Call, and several other professional and political periodicals.
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