Monday, October 07, 2002

Not a Prediction, But... I'm not nearly confident enough on this to call it a prediction, but I've had an idea that interests me. I think it's pretty likely that, once the election is out of the way, the Iraq talk will drop off the political radar almost entirely, at least for a month or two. The reason for this is that, at the moment, Iraq is much more of a political issue than a military issue. Even assuming that the White House is dealing entirely in good faith on this issue, we're not talking about it now because we want to invade in November. I would be surprised to see any invasion of Iraq before the first of the year.

But what if the White House doesn't really intend to invade Iraq at all. I've been thinking for the last couple of weeks that, as much as I dislike praising him, Bush has actually done this country a profound service by pressuring Iraq to accept weapons inspectors. If he can parlay a new, tougher, and broader U.N Resolution supporting the inspectors, that would be icing on the cake. Bush deserves credit for doing this, as Hussein is a legitimate long-term threat, and a strong, broad inspections regime is the best way to keep him in check (as long as Iraqi compliance is compelled by the threat of force, and if absolutely necessary, force itself). Of course, Bush won't take credit for this. Bush won't stand up and say "Bill Clinton withdrew the inspectors in 1998 so he could drop a few bombs, but the only way to keep Saddam honest is to get inspectors back in there, so we know exactly what weapons he's got, where he's got 'em, so we can get rid of 'em." But he deserves to. If all of this does go as expected, and the U.N. does pass a new, tought resolution, and inspectors do go back into Iraq and continue their work, that would be a major foreign policy/nationalsecurity achievement for this White House. He's not taking credit for having done this, of course, because that would neutralize war with Iraq as a political issue in the midterm elections. But what about after the elections?

I wonder if we'll see a change in tone. Arguably, if Bush doesn't go to war with Iraq, he'll be jeopardizing his reelection campaign. I'm not sure that's really true, though. I mean, who's going to pound him on that? Gore? A primary challenger? Not bloody likely. He could get away with not going to war, and not regime-changing Saddam, if the inspection regime was effective. Saddam could still make war necessary by screwing with the inspectors agreement, but that would be a big win for Bush too. He wouldn't be seen, in that light, as a war monger. He would be seen as a man who pursued all available diplomatic alternatives, working through and within the UN, and he'd probably get a pretty good international coalition out of it. So, it's clear that the pro-war bluster, culminating in tonight's speech to the nation, is a political strategy designed to splinter the Democrats and allow the Republicans to both keep the House and retake the Senate. But maybe, once the election is over (whichever way it goes), Bush will find a way to do the right thing at last, and avoid an unnecessary war.
I Didn't Want to Do This. I really didn't want to go here, but I will. My friend and fellow South Jersey Blogger Tucker has posted on the subject of hypocrisy in politics. There's no shortage of that, I agree. His beef is that the same Democrats who are furious over the Florida 2000 election are supporting a similar judicial coup in New Jersey. First, the cheap shop. Can anyone guess who said this: "Strict compliance to statutory deadlines within Title 19 are set aside when such rights may be accomodated without significantly impinging on the election process"? The answer is: Doug Forrester's lawyer, who successfully argued Forrester into the New Jersey primary after the 51 day statutory deadline. Note: this is the same statutory deadline that Republicans are screaming about the Democrats violating. Same deadline, same statute, same result. Other Republican primary contenders were furious with Forrester's attempt to overturn the law, and presumably they are also furious about the Torricelli-Lautenberg switch. That's consistent. Forrester argued that the law should be construed liberally to allow him in after the deadline, employing the same argument the Democrats would later use. He was comfortable with this back then, but now it's unfair. If that's not hypocrisy, please tell me what is.

Of course it's hypocrisy. But I didn't want to have to bring it up. Why? Because politics is full of it. All the time. It's ugly, it's dirty, and it's mean, but it really couldn't be any other way. The laws are an imperfect framework intended to govern and control certain situations. As we've seen, election laws are particularly imperfect. If you want to do something, and the law is vague or ambiguous on the question of whether or not you may, there is no reason on Earth why you shouldn't hire high priced lawyers to represent your interests. That's how the system works. If your opponent, months later, tries to use the same argument against you, you are free to oppose him. That's how it works. It's nakedly, obviously hypocritical, and the NJ Supreme Court noted as much when they heard oral arguments last week. But litigating legal grey areas is all about defending your own interests. Before, Forrester's interests meant getting on the primary ballot after the deadline had passed. Now, Forrester's interests mean preventing Lautenberg from doing precisely the same thing. Consistency would hobble his ability to litigate effectively in what is a legitimate legal grey area. The fact the judicial process let Forrester in and also let Lautenberg in is not hypocritical, it's consistent. It's also justice.

As for the so-called hypocrisy of Democrats who bash the US Supreme Court for Florida and yet uphold the NJ Supreme Court for Lautenberg, I just don't see it. The US Supreme Court turned a wishy-washy procedural deadline of no real substantive importance into a hard and fast rule, and in so doing, barred Florida from recounting its votes, even under a recount procedure which would have been fair (and, as all nine Justices agreed, the recount procedure Gore was requesting was not fair). The NJ Supreme Court relaxed a wishy-washy procedural deadline in the substantive interests of the voters. But really, I'm sick of arguing about this. Let's just agree that the NJ Supreme Court was wrong, and that both Lautenberg and Forrester should be thrown off the ticket, and we can see what election chaos really looks like. That way, everyone is equally pissed off, and New Jersey may well end up with a socialist senator. I'm sure that would make Tucker very happy indeed.

Note: if the US Supreme Court refuses to hear the case, this will be my last post on the issue. I really believe that there is nothing else to say.
What He Said. I've been meaning to post a follow-up on the New Jersey Senate race business, but now I don't have to. Josh Marshall at TPM has done a far more comprehensive job than I would have done. Read his posts over the last several days, and you'll see him eviscerate every single Republican anti-ballot-switch argument. Which is not to say that the Republicans have no cause to be pissed off. Of course they have. For one thing, they are going to lose the seat. For another thing, the last-minute switch does seem more than a little unfair. But as I said before, the switch is unfair to Republicans (in general) and Doug Forrester (in particular), and the NJ Supreme Court is not in the business of protecting them at the expense of the voters at large. Moreover, while the letter of the relevant law was (arguably) violated, the spirit was maintained. The intent of that particular law was to ensure that all absentee ballots would be received on time. Every county in the state has certified to the NJ Supreme Court that they will be able to replace all ballots previously sent in a timely fashion. So no one is being harmed by this, except for Doug Forrester and Trent Lott. Boo-hoo.

Once again, I'm in the same position I was in several months ago. My Senate candidate, Lautenberg, is going to win (probably). My Congressman, Rob Andrews, is going to win (definitely). All I can do is vote for those two guys, and even if I didn't, it probably wouldn't make much difference. The rest of the Congress is out of my hands, but you can bet I'll be watching.