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Jewish World Review May 29 2001 / 7 Sivan, 5761

Thomas Sowell

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The high costs of politics

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- IN the years ahead, more violent criminals may be walking the street, some taking the lives of law-abiding citizens, because someone in the White House couldn't keep his big mouth shut about how they were going to retaliate against Republican Senator Jim Jeffords for not voting the way the administration wanted him to. According to Bill Kristol, one of Jeffords' aides said that the report of that comment -- published in Kristol's magazine, The Weekly Standard -- made Senator Jeffords more angry than any of the other things said and done against him by his Republican colleagues.

Now that Jeffords' defection has thrown control of the United States Senate to the Democrats, the biggest and most certain consequence is that the whole shape of the federal judiciary will be different from what it would have been if the Republicans had retained control of the Senate. Before, the Bush administration could have gotten some hard-nosed judges appointed -- people who believe that criminals belong behind bars and that the Constitution of the United States means what it says, not what is fashionable among the liberal intelligentsia. The Democrats would have objected but, so long as Dick Cheney was there to cast the deciding vote, such judges could have been confirmed.

Not now. Such judges may not even be nominated, when the administration knows in advance that they cannot be confirmed. Moreover, conservative judges may be so discredited by character assassinations during the confirmation process they cannot be nominated again, even if the Republicans regain control of the Senate after the 2002 elections.

The kinds of judges who are likely to sail through to confirmation by a Senate controlled by Democrats will be judges who are either liberals or who are mushy enough to buy much of the liberal vision of the world. That vision is going to put more criminals back on the street when they belong behind bars -- and innocent people are going to pay with their lives. Since federal judges are appointed for life, that means that the lives of your children and grandchildren can be at risk.

What other differences will Democratic control of the Senate make? There is not a lot that one House of Congress can do on its own, when the other House and the White House are controlled by the opposition party. Besides, all spending bills must originate in the House of Representatives -- a fact often forgotten by those who name deficits or surpluses for the presidents who were in office when they occurred.

Democrats are of course in a better position to obstruct whatever legislative program President Bush wants enacted, now that they control the organization of Senatorial committees and provide all the chairmen. But not a lot has changed as regards the voting balance on legislation itself in the Senate. Jeffords usually voted with the Democrats when he was a Republican, so it will not be a change if he continues to vote with them as an Independent.

Even when the Senate was divided 50-50, the Democrats were in a strong position to obstruct the Bush legislative program, because there were more liberal or weak-kneed Republicans ready to abandon their party when tough issues came to a vote than there were conservative Democrats ready to vote with Republicans. What is different now is that the Democrats are visibly in charge of the Senate and can therefore be held accountable for their obstruction. One early sign of how sobering the change can be was the Senate's quiet confirmation of Theodore Olson to be Solicitor General after Jefford's defection, despite some Democratic Senators' wild charges against him before and their veiled threats to turn his confirmation hearings into a circus. Not now, when they know that any gridlock they create will discredit them, not just make the Bush administration look bad.

As for Senator Jeffords, he has certainly had his 15 minutes of fame and has been warmly praised in all the media quarters where anyone who supports the liberal agenda can expect praise. But he risked nothing and lost nothing. What he did when he changed parties was a sharp contrast with what Senator Phil Gramm did when he left the Democratic Party and joined the Republicans.

Since voters had elected him as a Democrat, Senator Gramm thought that they deserved a choice as to whether they would still vote for him as a Republican. So he resigned from the Senate and asked for a new election. It is typical of liberals that Senator Jeffords had no such respect for the voters.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate