If you're disappointed with the job Congress is doing, you're far from alone. According to the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, Congress' approval rating fell to a 14-year low in mid-October, with only 16 percent of registered voters approving, while a whopping 75 percent disapprove.
Of course, this really isn't news to anyone who has followed, even in passing, the predicted results of the federal midterm elections. Polls are now suggesting the question voters will answer on November 7 is no longer whether the Democrats will take back the House of Representatives, but whether the Republicans will lose the Senate, as well. Indeed, the political tide has turned so much over the past year that more than a few conservatives are now openly questioning whether some short-term punishment at the ballot box might leave the Grand Old Party better off in the long run.
As the argument goes, conservatives may not have much to lose and a lot to gain if the Democrats take control of one, or even both, houses of Congress in the midterm elections. After all, a Republican-controlled Congress hasn't accomplished much since President George W. Bush's re-election, while ensuring the GOP assumes all of the accountability since Republicans are completely in charge of the political branches of the federal government.
On the net loss side, the pundits claim that divided government won't be bad for conservatives in the short-term because it will simply mean that not much will continue to get done. Sure, they concede there won't be big victories for conservatives with a Democratic Congress, but there won't be big losses either because President Bush will have his veto pen at the ready.
What's more, there are big gains possible in allowing the Democrats to be held at least partly responsible for nothing getting accomplished. Right now, the Democrats know that Americans have no one to blame other than the Republicans for every negative news item that emerges from the Beltway. With Republicans controlling Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the Capitol, whether it's doing nothing good or something bad, Republicans alone are left having to explain it. If the same is true two years from now, it would be the nightmare scenario for the GOP's chances of holding on to the presidency. In other words, by losing now, Republicans help their chances of winning later by gaining a target, someone other than themselves to blame.
Unfortunately, this political calculation forgets one critical feature of our federal government – there are not two branches, but three. That third branch, the judiciary, is pretty important, too. Indeed, as a Wall Street Journal editorial observed, the "one great exception" to the "major disappointment" of the Republican-controlled 109th Congress was "the confirmation of two new Supreme Court Justices."
Conservatives would be hard pressed to find any better appointments than those of Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito. More like them are desperately needed up and down the federal bench. But, if the Democrats retake the Senate, any chance for continued judicial reform will be over.
As the Washington Times editorial page pointed out last week, a Democrat-controlled Senate will mark the return of Senator Patrick Leahy as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee -- the same former chairman who "denied [now Chief Justice] Roberts a hearing" for a federal judgeship "[f]or the final 19 months of the 107th Congress," along with "another 11 appellate-court nominees." In other words, conservatives need to remember that some short-term punishment for Republicans will cause some long-term consequences on the bench. Those losses should be part of the conservative political calculation, too.November 2, 2006