It’s easy to see George W. Bush’s recent State of the Union address as a call for bipartisanship from an increasingly unpopular second-term president. But that hasn’t been Bush’s style over the past five years. Indeed, it might be more accurate to look at Bush’s speech as the veiled gloating of a man who has already won.
It may be hard to see Bush as a winner at this point. Iraq looks worse by the day. “Fair and democratic” elections in the Palestinian territory have resulted in a victory for a terrorist group determined to destroy Israel. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, Bush’s approval rating stands at 42 percent. The Republican Party is reeling from a lobbying scandal. The White House is trying to defend its possibly illegal domestic spying program while refusing to give key documents to the Senate. And our country is, as Bush says, “addicted to oil” — oil that keeps getting more expensive.
Despite his problems, George W. Bush should be swaggering through the Oval Office in his cowboy boots with a smug smile on his face. This unpopular, lame-duck president has managed to overcome weak and disorganized Democratic opposition and move this country to the right for the next 30 years or so. With the appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito LAW ’75 to the Supreme Court, Bush has earned the eternal thanks of Karl Rove’s favorite constituents: right-wing evangelicals, anti-choice groups and Pat Robertson.
How did the Democratic Party allow this to happen? How did they allow a president from a scandal-ridden party the opportunity to push the Supreme Court to the right for the next generation? The highest court in the land now has four solid to radical conservatives under the age of 70. Even if the Democrats regain the Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008 — hardly a certainty — any bills they pass will have the scepter of Clarence Thomas LAW ’74, Antonin Scalia, Alito and Roberts looming over them.
Want to ensure privacy rights for Americans? The court’s young right wing may not agree. Want to guarantee safe and legal abortions? Read Justice Alito’s 1985 memo on the subject. Want to rebuild the decaying barrier between church and state? Not so fast, even if liberal Democrats control two branches of government. Young, conservative, for-life appointments now control the third.
On the night of Bush’s speech, most of the Democratic Party seemed to have forgotten that they had just given Bush the most meaningful victory of his presidency. Liberal democrats led a rousing cheer after Bush announced his failure to reform Social Security. Where was that obstructionism when it would have meant something? Why didn’t Joe Biden ask Justice Alito some tough questions during the confirmation hearings, instead of speechifying for the C-SPAN cameras? Why didn’t the 17 laughing and cheering Democrats who voted against Alito not join the filibuster that could have sent a message: We will not tolerate the radical, activist conservatism that this unpopular president is shoving down our throats.
On the night of the State of the Union, the Democrats didn’t send a message. Or rather, they sent the wrong one. They told the country that they are a minority party that can make a pretty show of resistance after the fact. Too late, Democrats. You let Bush win.
Xan White is a freshman in Calhoun College.