Will the GOP Leadership Fail on Sotomayor?

The GOP's leadership is hopelessly out of touch with not only the base, but the mainstream of America, when it comes to confirmation hearings for Judge Sotomayor.  If the DC denizens default in their responsibility to expose her radical views and make the Democrats play defense, it is they who may doom the GOP to extinction.

In commenting on the National Journal poll that 64% of "GOP insiders: advise dodging a battle on Sotomayor Bill Kristol quipped in his blog

Safe rule of American politics: Two-thirds of "GOP Insiders" are never right.

Kristol offered the poll as another reason to take the stand on principal and go on the record opposing Sotomayor's confirmation.  I agree.   My answer to those like Peggy Noonan who say that Republicans need to "play grown-up"  because Sotomayor's confirmation is a done deal is that one of the first lessons taught in law school is that over turning established precedent usually begins with the bold and well reasoned dissent. 

Such dissent may also be very smart politics.  A Quinnipiac poll  reports that 54% approve of the Sotomayor nomination with 22% undecided.   Rasmussen reported that 49% of those polled had a favorable view of Sotomayor and only 45% said they wanted her confirmed, with large numbers of undecideds.   More than one commentator has noted these numbers are well below those reported to be Obama's overall approval ratings.

One of the questions in the Quinnipiac poll is most illuminating as to why there may be some reluctance to support this historic nominee:

Do you think making the Supreme Court look like the rest of the nation in terms of race, religion, ethnicity, and gender is more important than a justice's legal qualifications for the job, less important or about as important?

Quinnipiac reports a clear break between independents and Democrats on this issue.  Forty four percent of Democrat said it was equally important.  Only 17% of Republicans and 23% of Independents felt that way.

The conventional wisdom is that Republicans lost the last two elections because the country has moved to the left and become more Democrat.  Since the very guardians of that wisdom have worked assiduously to bury or explain away all evidence of Democrat political corruption and that Barack Obama's politics were to the far left it is understandable that they might hold this belief.  But like so much of conventional wisdom, is it really true? 

A recent Pew Research survey suggests not.  It notes the proportion of independents is at the highest level in 70 years and that these independents are more conservative than they used to be.   Even more interesting, this growth in the number of independents has not, repeat, not caused the Republican Party to become noticeably more conservative.  Another analysis, this of by the University of Minnesota of 160 polls in the upper Midwest finds that while the Republican brand may have suffered, conservatism has been on the rise since 2007.

That tends to suggest that part of the problem with identification as a member of the Republican Party has a lot more to do with style than of substance. Some of this certainly is based on the war the news media and pop culture and academia has waged on all things Republican since the era of Richard Nixon.  But another may well have to do with the problem of elected Republicans getting to Washington, buying into the conventional wisdom and thus losing the ability to act on the beliefs that first got them elected.  

Rich Moran recently compared Barack Obama to James Buchanan.  While he was comparing the southern Democrats of the 1850s to today's rogue states, I rather like the analogy for another reason.  The political opposition to Buchanan had crumbled because the Whigs had been rapidly losing the support of voters.  One reason was that the Whig leadership did not wish to address the tough issues, preferring to play nice and hope the entwined issues of slavery and western expansionism would somehow resolve themselves.  As a result, they were subsumed by a group of dissidents who weren't afraid to speak bluntly about their principles and the burning issues of the day.  

There are two such issues today greatly in need of some blunt language. One is the unsustainable growth of government.  The other is the related issue of preferences being given to people based upon group identity and political clout rather than individual merit, a formula that tends to breed corruption.  In many ways failing to address these issues has the same long term consequences as a slavery based economy,  economic stagnation, loss of innovation and the criminal waste of human potential.

I was first made aware of the appeal of Barack Obama when a member of my church positively gushed about how he was going to bring about a new age of post racial politics.  I noted to her that as he was a Chicago politician and every political plum in Chicago is careful allocated based upon race and political clout, that was not likely to happen.   Pointing out that the Sotomayor nomination is at odds with both Obama's implicit campaign promise  and the very rule of law upon which this nation was founded is good politics.  So is pointing out in a civil way that Sotomayor's background is pretty much that of any number of members of the current East Coast power elite. 

Following the advice of Noonan and company, on the other hand, is to go the way of the Whig Party.