The unprecedented move by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to withhold “advise and consent” Senate actions on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee raises a rather simple question. What has possessed Republicans to simply deny past practices and declare “no way, no how”? Is this action the mark of a conservative?
Clearly Merritt Garland’s nomination is not in and of itself confrontational. By all accounts, Judge Garland is considered a centrist and a student of law, not an ideolog. Never the less, McConnell dismissed out of hand any consideration of the nomination during President Obama’s term. Why?
The surface reasons are obvious. Even a centrist Justice will break the conservative hold on the current Supreme Court. If one holds conservative views, then nothing but another conservative will do. Even though these same Republican leaders cry about the need to follow the Constitution in Court decisions, apparently following the Constitution and past practice does not apply in this case.
Former Justice Antonin Scalia weighed the hands of justice so far to the right that replacing him with a centrist, will by default shift the Court’s direction to the left. It is all about ideology, the Wall Street Journal says.
The Journal allows that Garland is not as progressive as the Kagan, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Breyer, and has had a distinguished career on the Court… but, in essence the Republicans could do better. Of course, “better” is in the eyes of the speaker.
Why is this so difficult to comprehend?
It may be that seeing politics as the left (progressive) versus the right (conservative) is no longer sufficient. Left versus right was convenient just as in the old wild west movies the good guys wore white hats and the bad ones wore black hats. As others have suggested, one might better see political disputes by imagining two axes, one with left at one end, right at the other end. Perpendicular to that axis would be one with libertarian at one end and authoritarian at the other end. Hmmm.
Republicans who seek to block consideration of Judge Garland have a large dose of authoritarianism. This group “knows” they are correct in their thinking and just as strongly sees Democrats, or progressive thinking, as an imminent danger to good order.
Being conservative (right) is not necessarily a bad virtue. In difficult times, moving cautiously (like in a mind field) can be quite beneficial. Balancing progressive ideas with touches of common sense can turn a well meaning but inadequately conceived idea into policy which can work and last.
The dysfunctional Washington GOP behavior is not that type of conservative thinking. Rather denying Judge Garland a fair hearing is about “we know best”, and by the way, we can pervert the Constitution to get our way.
At the extremes of the libertarian-authoritarian axis lies anarchy and dictatorship, both of which are important to recognize as end games if common opinion drifts to far in “free thinking” direction or follows obediently what “father proclaims”. Universities tend to lie along the libertarian axis while religious institutions lie at various points on the authoritarian axis.
Now, imagine a third axis which runs at a 45 degree angle from the libertarian-progressive quadrant down through the center to the conservative-authoritarian quadrant. The end points this axis would likely be today’s Republican and Democrat Parties, I would suggest.
So back to the original question, what are Republicans conservative?
I would submit conservatives are simply cautious by nature. Relative to progressives, most conservatives are skeptical that government policy can remedy what ails the country. Republicans share this caution. Republicans, however, are also composed of some libertarians (small government, less taxes) and some authoritarians (Republican managed policy and agencies are ok, but not Democrat ones).
What we are seeing in the Garland situation is the ugly, short sighted authoritarian (we know best) face of the GOP. Their misuse of Constitutional prerogatives can, however, be perceived by a more centrist public as a party not playing fair and probably unfit to govern.
The GOP is composed of many who are less authoritarian and grasp fairness (less authoritarian) as an important element of governance. This internal GOP conflict may lead to a fracturing of party unity and potentially a loss of control of Congress. GOP leaders are playing with fire.