August 15, 2005

Predictions Are Harder Than Explanations

After something in politics has happened, it's relatively easy to give an explanation for why it happened. It's more valuable and more difficult to predict trends and events before they happen.

Before Roberts was nominated, the prediction was that a fight was all but inevitable due to the structure of the actors in the fight and the nature of the disputes lately. The various interest groups, especially on the left-wing, raise money largely based on their utility in opposing right-wing judicial efforts. If they disappoint and can't stop Bush's nominees, they lose their value. The Republicans were sold to a lot of social traditionalists as valuable in bringing about a more restrained or more conservative judiciary. If they disappoint then they won't be replaced as the left-wing groups might be, but certainly they stand to lose support that translates into greater turnout and greater contributions. The emotions of the issue and the long-standing fight over nominations culminating in the filibuster fight really pointed toward a great SCOTUS fight. After all, if the Democrats fought that hard against appellate court nominees then they'd have even more of a reason to fight a Supreme Court nominee.

Now that Roberts seems, so far, to be largely impervious to serious controversy (to the point where lefties get burned testing the waters with inappropriate personal attacks) the question is predicting what will happen next. Let's assume that Roberts confirmation goes ahead pretty smoothly with the support of 70-odd Senators, the left-wing groups are embarrassed by attacking inappropriate subjects and being forced to recant or withdraw, the document business doesn't really go anywhere after the White House has already offered up so many privileged documents and Roberts takes O'Connor's seat on the Court. Will this make the next appointment (following Rehnquist or maybe Stevens) to the Supreme Court, in all probability done by President Bush, more likely to be contested or less?

First of all, the environmental factor will be short-term reduced. Everybody is mad at everybody, or at least the left-wing and the right-wing are both angry at each other, but in the short term a pretty peaceful confirmation can tend to calm things down. However the underlying problem would still be present and unresolved. Moreover, the groups with their expectant donors and reputations for divisive rhetoric would still be their without a fight. The right would have a prize but the left would be even further embarrassed after losses in 2002, 2004 and Roberts. The right has the real objections to how the Supreme Court operates (all the left really decries at all is Bush v. Gore) but the left has been whipped into a mouth-frothing frenzy the last five years and they really aren't going to slow down without some victories.

It seems pretty clear that Roberts' successful confirmation is more the exception than the rule. If anything it will lessen the immediate hostility while contributing to the anger of the left in future showdowns. Moreover, Bush's next pick is going to have to be a mute in order to have as slim a record as he or she will need to be confirmed.

The best thing the left can do is hitch a ride and endorse Reoberts. He's going to pass and they have nothing to stop him. If something shows up that makes it easy to stop him they can switch positions and say new and disturbing information has come to light that blah blah blah. Otherwise, endorsing Roberts would give them something great: the ability to more credibly claim that all their objections to other nominees are reasonable. Any criticism that their kneejerk opposing nominees in order to oppose Bush could be better deflected. Roberts would be a token conservative that they accepted.

Of course, this would be deceptive and calculating, but that's superior to their current position, which is simply deceptive.

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