Send­ing a mes­sage, but at what cost?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Thomas Sow­ell

In just two short years, Repub­li­cans have gone from be­ing champs to be­ing chumps. In 2004, the Repub­li­cans were voted con­trol of all three branches of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and most state gov­er­nor­ships. To­day, they are left won­der­ing what hit them.

Now that Democrats are in con­trol on Capi­tol Hill, Pres­i­dent Bush has ex­pressed hopes of get­ting a bi­par­ti­san im­mi­gra­tion bill. The only bi­par­ti­san bill that can get past a Demo­cratic Congress is an amnesty bill, which can be a down pay­ment on an­other Repub­li­can de­feat in 2008.

If the peo­ple in the White House do not un­der­stand how ou­traged their sup­port­ers were at this year’s at­tempt to pass an amnesty bill for il­le­gals — vir­tu­ally guar­an­tee­ing that even more mil­lions will come — then it is hard to know what mes­sage they got from the Repub­li­cans’ re­cent de­ba­cle at the polls.

Im­mi­gra­tion was not the only is­sue but it was part of the more gen­eral is­sue of be­trayal, which in­cludes the Repub­li­cans’ run­away spend­ing, among other things.

If the Repub­li­can lead­ers learned noth­ing from their re­cent de­feat, per­haps some Repub­li­can sup­port­ers will. In some of the most baf­fling pre-elec­tion e-mails, there were con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans who said they were so dis­il­lu­sioned and/or dis­gusted with the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion they were go­ing to vote for Democrats to send a mes­sage.

This is the kind of emo­tional self-in­dul­gence com­mon among lib­er­als but ap­par­ently some con­ser­va­tives have now also come to see elec­tions as oc­ca­sions to vent their feel­ings rather choose among ex­ist­ing op­tions for the fu­ture of the coun­try. Send­ing a mes­sage may have its ben­e­fits but — as with all ben­e­fits — the ques­tion must be asked: “At what cost?”

On the left, it is con­sid­ered OK to say things like “open space” or “al­ter­na­tive fu­els” with­out any thought of the cost. What is new is find­ing the same spirit flour­ish­ing among some con­ser­va­tives as well.

As events un­fold over time, per­haps those con­ser­va­tives will re­con­sider whether it was worth it to “send a mes­sage” to Pres­i­dent Bush at the cost of mak­ing Sen. Pat Leahy chair­man of the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee.

Mr. Leahy’s con­trol of that com­mit­tee vir­tu­ally guar­an­tees the only kind of fed­eral judges who can get con­firmed are those likely to spend decades on the bench cre­at­ing new “rights” for crim­i­nals, il­le­gal aliens, and ter­ror­ists. Was that price even con­sid­ered by con­ser­va­tives who in­dulged their anger in­stead of weigh­ing al­ter­na­tives? It is easy to say “the par­ties are no dif­fer­ent” or “things couldn’t get any worse.”

Peo­ple have said that be­fore — and have been proved wrong be­fore. Be­fore the elec­tion of 1860, abo­li­tion­ists said it would make no dif­fer­ence whether Abra­ham Lin­coln or a Demo­crat was elected. But mil­lions were freed be­cause that pre­dic­tion was wrong.

In Ger­many, the Weimar Repub­lic was no­body’s idea of an ideal gov­ern­ment and, in the des­per­ate days of the Great De­pres­sion, no doubt many Ger­man vot­ers thought that noth­ing could be worse. But they dis­cov­ered dur­ing the dozen years of Nazi rule just how much worse things could be.

Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans don’t have enough votes to stop any leg­is­la­tion or con­firm any judges, es­pe­cially since the Democrats stick to­gether, un­like Repub­li­cans. More­over, with a Repub­li­can pres­i­dent say­ing he wants both a bi­par­ti­san im­mi­gra­tion bill and a bi­par­ti­san min­i­mum wage bill, there is not even a hope of a veto.

But the fact you can­not stop some­thing does not mean you have to be­come an ac­com­plice. There is no rea­son why a ma­jor­ity of Repub­li­can sen­a­tors should ever again vote to con­firm an­other ex­treme ac­tivist judge like Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Nor is there any rea­son why con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans should again out­rage their sup­port­ers by vot­ing for an­other il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion amnesty bill. Not un­less they want to be chumps again in 2008.

Even aside from moral is­sues, be­trayal has had a bad po­lit­i­cal track record un­der both the elder Pres­i­dent Bush (“No new taxes”) and the younger Pres­i­dent Bush (“com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form”). Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans will have to face the vot­ers again in 2008, even if Mr. Bush does not.

Thomas Sow­ell is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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