Now that President Bush has twice gotten himself to the White House, the question is whether he wants to try for Mount Rushmore. One of the luxuries of a second term is an opportunity to think about the long run, not simply for one’s own “legacy,” but for the future of the nation as a whole.
Even during his first term, George W. Bush’s long-run strategic view, exemplified by the war on terrorism, contrasted sharply with former president Bill Clinton’s preoccupation with short-run political tactics, though this contrast seemed to be little noticed in most of the media.
What are the biggest long-run problems? The biggest is of course national survival in an age when international terrorist networks and rogue nations developing nuclear weapons raise possibilities too chilling to contemplate. If the time ever comes when this president, or any future president, has to hesitate in the face of a mortal threat looming on the horizon because of fear of the word “unilateral” and the howling of critics at home or abroad, this great nation is lost. President John F. Kennedy said it all long ago: “We dare not tempt them with weakness.” Already we have had Osama bin Laden warning us that we had better vote his way or face massive retaliation. When Spain caved in to terrorism and changed governments in response to terrorist violence, it opened a new and deadly chapter in international politics.
Domestically, our biggest long-run challenge will be to rescue the voting public’s right to govern itself from activist judges who not only invalidate policies they don’t like but even dictate new policies to elected officials. Vacancies on the federal courts, including new vacancies expected on the aging Supreme Court, offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to turn around the drift toward judicial despotism.
Those who favor judicial activism have long appreciated how high the stakes are with nominees to the federal bench in general and the Supreme Court in particular. After the orchestrated character assassinations of Judge Robert Bork and Judge Clarence Thomas, there is no excuse for those who want to end judicial activism to be unaware of what a brutal fight lies ahead if they mean to restore the rule of law instead of the rule of judges.
Whatever the short-term solution to the problems created by the Senate Judiciary Committee, a longer-term solution must put a stop to the practice of publicly savaging nominees to the courts. Vote against them if you don’t like them, but do not make this a snake pit that high-quality people, who have many other options, will avoid. Within living memory, judicial nominees did not even appear in person before the Senate for confirmation. A system that produced giants like Oliver Wendell Holmes is surely better than one that has produced pygmies like David Souter.
Some institutional changes, such as getting the TV cameras out of the committee hearings, or having nominees submit their records without appearing in person, need to be explored and some solution imposed despite the inevitable howling of the liberals and their media allies.
Many other areas need institutional change for long-run results. Even something as apparently innocuous as the Census Bureau needs a broader focus than studies incessantly comparing one group with another, featuring pie charts and “gaps”—and ignoring or downplaying the great progress in material well-being of all Americans, including those in the bottom 10 or 20 percent in income.
Census data on family and household income are grossly misleading when families and households are getting smaller over the years. When two working members of a household today earn as much as three working members earned a generation ago, that is not a “stagnation” in income—as the media love to report it—but a 50 percent increase in per capita real income that has enabled one member to go set up another household.
Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation has made devastating criticisms of these and other misleading Census studies over the years. But despite many years of conservative Republican administrations, neither he nor people who have his perspective have replaced those in the Census Bureau whose liberal vision shapes the way so many issues are presented in the media and in academia. That kind of influence should not go by default to those with one political viewpoint.
The area in which many Americans feel most betrayed by both political parties has been in those parties’ refusal to take control of our borders. Fear of the Hispanic vote is no doubt one factor and fear of media demonization is another. But the guys on Mount Rushmore didn’t get there by ducking tough fights.
When you consider what a private citizen like Ron Unz has done to get rid of so-called bilingual education in California, for example, it must be clear that you can talk sense to both the general public and the Hispanic population as well, if you make the effort and do not let the political and media chorus intimidate you. Not all Hispanics are thrilled at open borders, any more than they all were dedicated to bilingual education. But the Republicans’ greatest failing on this and other issues, going back through several administrations, has been an unwillingness to take their case to the public. On Social Security, for example, they need to spell out that privatization means more total investment, creating more future income from which to pay future pensions.
Too often Republicans have been willing to make backroom compromises with the Democrats, instead of going to the public, as Ronald Reagan did. With the Democrats becoming ever more obstructionist, it is long past time for Republicans to try Plan B. This administration faces challenges and dangers that few, if any, have had to face in our history. But these challenges and dangers, at home and abroad, are also historic opportunities.