What’s Left?


In this, my last column of the term, I’d love to write about how much things have changed since January.

Unfortunately, I can’t. Neither can Miguel Estrada.

Of course, the main focus of the year – the need for preemptive attack and regime change in Iraq – was a world-changing event. It significantly improved the current state of the world and was a strong demonstration of U.S.-U.K. resolve likely to accelerate change in North Korea and Syria.

But that is only one issue in a cacophony of debates occupying the halls of power since January. The Baghdad issue progressed toward action mostly because President Bush and the GOP leadership (both congressmen and laymen) were able to drag the Left, kicking and screaming, into action. But while the world watched the war effort move like lightning across the Iraqi desert, culminating with the toppling of Hussein’s state and statues, a much different battle unfolded in Congress. There, as debates raged over judicial appointments, taxes and budgets, among other issues, virtually no progress was made. In each case, the proposals of the President and the GOP have been met with the same two-pronged response: steadfast obstinacy and a lack of proffered alternatives.

The easiest example of the Democrats’ war on progress is in judicial nominations.

When I wrote my first column of the semester (“Politics by other means,” February 13, 2003), I certainly did not think that Miguel Estrada ’86 – a former Clinton administration lawyer! – would still languish in nomination limbo upon the writing of my year-end column. I underestimated the lengths to which a minority of senators would go to prevent the ascent of the best judicial nominee HLS has produced in recent memory. Week after week, the Democrats perpetrated their faux filibuster, denying the Senate its Constitutional power to advise and consent to the President’s nomination via majority vote, relying on little more than anti-Federalist Society scaremongering as their justification.

Scared of the likely results, Democrats smashed the ballot box. What irony! Democrats against democracy! At least something in this shameful episode is amusing.

Of course, judicial appointments are not the only opportunity for Democrats to prevent congressional action. With the help of three RINOs (“Republicans In Name Only”), they’ve opposed much-needed fiscal stimulus, the elimination of double-taxation of capital investment and spending necessary to help build a democracy in Iraq. They have offered no comprehensive alternatives of their own; rather, they oppose for the sake of opposition.

This summer, Democrats will be forced to confront their own lack of ideas and ideals. Democrat hopefuls will tug the party in a variety of directions: Dean’s “McGovern Left,” Kerry’s “Northeast Establishment,” Lieberman’s “New Democrats,” Edwards’ “New Clinton.” No matter which the direction the party chooses, the change will likely be wrought with pain. How does a party enact an ideology out of whole cloth, when for three years it has stood for nothing but anti-Republicanism? With Hussein successfully deposed, will Democrats have their own plans for securing change among the other terrorist states, or will they just decry the Bush plan? Will Democrats have a plan for economic revitalization, or will they pursue votes from the economically vulnerable through class warmongering? Will they decide their course of action now, or simply wait for a politically advantageous moment to announce Democrat Identity 2004?

The current generation of Democrat leadership is intellectually unmoored, and I wonder if there is hope for the next. In one Con Law class (no, not Prof. Fried’s), a student reacted dramatically to the professor’s exposition of Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Confronted with the failings of that opinion, as well as those of its godmother, Roe, the student exclaimed, “I feel like I’m being brainwashed!”

Of course she was brainwashed – brainwashed long ago by pseudo-legalistic commentators and a tenured liberal legal establishment more content to defend a judicial hoax than to confront the decision’s illegitimacy and pursue legitimization through the democratic process. At that moment, the bewildered student could have questioned Roe; of course, by the end of the hour, she was able to melt back into the HLS day-to-day, where Roe’s viability emanates, undiminished.

The current state of Liberal politics and Liberal jurisprudence is one of intellectual atrophy. They are slaves to New Deal politics, judicial Brennanism, Keynesian economics and a 1945 worldview. The last good original Liberal idea may very well have been their “right to remain silent” – and that was nearly 40 years ago. Does this generation have any latter-day Bobby Kennedys left, or are they content with so many Teddys?

Surrounded by crumbling institutions and an increasingly Center-Right voting public, they clutch desperately to dreams past. Ever-persistent in their refusal to question their foundations, their only response is to stand athwart history, yelling “stop!”

When did Liberals become so conservative? Do they even know what they’re trying to conserve anymore?

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