Friday, February 25, 2005

McClellan or Grant?

Today Hugh Hewitt asked the question "Does the Senate GOP Go McClellan or Grant if Harry Reid "Goes Gingrich?" This is a question regarding the strategies of both parties surrounding President Bush's nominations for federal court seats - read his post to get the details. In a nutshell, if the Republican majority changes the rules to prevent filibustering judicial nominees and then takes an up-or-down vote on the slate, Senate minority leader Harry Reid has threatened to effectively shut down the Senate as Newt Gingrich once did. If this happens, should the Senate spend its energies posturing but never really fighting, as General McClellan did in the Civil War, or should it dig in like General Grant and fight to win, however long it takes and whatever casualties may accumulate?

It seems that the Democratic leadership has already taken its position in this issue; it "goes Grant" over the issue of pro-life or conservative religious judicial appointments. Whatever it may cost the Democratic party in terms of loyalty in the red and battleground states and whatever the loss in terms of other necessary business the Senate fails to conduct as a result, they will dig in and fight unyieldingly to prevent any judges with clear conservative religious convictions or pro-life sympathies from ever being nominated to the federal courts. If this is so, then no amount of posturing or negotiating will ever secure a change of heart in this matter and to "go McClellan" over it is simply to acquiesce to the Democrat's stand until and unless such a time comes that they lose a sufficient number of seats in the Senate that they can no longer sustain a filibuster. While the Democrats claim that changing the rules would be to "go nuclear" on this option, their own strategy in response looks truly nuclear in comparison, not merely shutting down discussion over judical appointments but shutting down all discussion over any issue and effectively holding the Senate hostage until they get their way.

Why has abortion become such a crucial issue for the Democratic Party that they are willing to go to s
uch an extreme to defend the pro-abortion ideological purity of the federal courts? Perhaps because it is a test case for the entire worldview of those who have influence within the party. When confronting moral issues, one can start from one of two premises; either moral standards exist apart from our consent or desire, or moral standards only exist to the extent that society agrees that they do. Any attempt to undermine abortion rights is implicitly an affirmation of the first premise against the second, for it says that the unborn child has rights that society is obliged to respect and protect regardless of the mother's consent or desire.

But if this is true, then many other issues that have been thought by some people to be settled are called into question again. If an external moral standard exists that protects the unborn child, might it not also restrict the definition of marriage, or the practice of euthanasia, or one's freedom of divorce, or one's right to distribute pornography? Might such a standard require us to intervene on behalf of the oppressed even if it means engaging in an unpleasant war? When discussing these and many other issues we might need to ask ourselves not merely what we like or want to do, but what we ought to do in a given situation, and we might have to accept the possibility that what we ought to do isn't at all what we want to do. We might have to admit that our own happiness isn't the final arbiter in moral decision making and that we might have to make decisions that in some sense make us unhappy but are nevertheless the right decision to make because they conform with the authoritative external moral standard.

But to deny that individual happiness as the final arbiter in moral decision making is inceivable to many, for it would bind us (it is claimed) in the strait jacket of traditionalism, fundamentalism or superstition. If we are not governed by a desire for our own happiness then we must be morally bound (it seems) by the rules imposed either by our own ignorance or by force exerted by others who are stronger than we are. This is intolerable, and to prevent this from happening, it is a small thing to shut down all business in the Senate, if by so doing we may stand against the tyranny of the other and insist that in abortion rights, as in all things, my desire is the ultimate moral arbiter.

But what if the real tyranny is slavery to our own desires? What if an endless pursuit of our own desire is simply an addiction as destructive and unbreakable as cocaine, or even more so? Is it possible that we might find in a true external moral standard not slavery but freedom? It might be a painful freedom, yes, but still one worth having in preference to a slavery to the endlessly escalating demand to do what makes me happy. The prospect of having a baby may not make the mother happy, but perhaps her happiness isn't the biggest issue here. The battle in the Senate is finally over this issue; is our happiness the biggest concern in deciding what we ought to do and what we are prohibited from doing? If the Senate GOP leadership "goes McClellan" over the judicial nominees, then the answer will be what the Democratic leadership has already decided it must be, namely "yes." If instead the Republicans "go Grant," and, after what could be a long and bloody political battle, finally prevail in this issue, they will be acknowledging that we have a higher standard than ourselves to which we accountable.

And that will be the right answer.


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