The Washington Times

On the day of the state of the union message, we might summarize the state of political play as follows: President Bush has fought his way back – from a catastrophic collapse of job approval all the way up to historic lows of job approval. And at this writing Monday morning, I can’t really tell if Democrats are filibustering the confirmation vote for Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court or not.

Let’s start with Mr. Bush. It’s now abundantly clear what happened to him politically in the fall: He began to lose Republican support. It probably began over Hurricane Katrina, but it became serious with the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. At first, as the GOP legal establishment and conservative intellectuals took exception, I thought it was possible that the elite allergic reaction would fail to spread and would peter out by the time of confirmation hearings. Instead of letting up after a week or so, however, the opposition grew. It didn’t ever really extend to the party rank-and-file, but among the more ideological set that cares deeply about judicial philosophy, the damage escalated. And Mr. Bush’s already low job approval rating took a dip into undiscovered country as, for the first time, some of the party faithful expressed doubts. This was a route to disaster.

Mr. Bush fought his way back with the withdrawal of Miss Miers and the nomination of the formidable Judge Alito, as well as more robust defenses of his Iraq policy and his handling of the economy. Whether he likes them or not, and indications are he does, Mr. Bush makes big bets. Sometimes it takes a while to see how they come out. His Iraq policy is hanging in there as the political process goes forward. His biggest medium-term problem is the economy. Fourth quarter GDP growth was alarmingly weak, and lower growth yields ballooning deficits. That complicates his domestic agenda.

Still, before us tonight, we have a president who claims the united loyalty and affection of members of his party. He is accordingly positioned to play for the center of the electorate, provided he keeps his base with him. Which takes us to the Democrats. What a mess. First they persuaded themselves (yet again) in the fall that Mr. Bush was done for, his administration having expired under the permanent and righteous collapse of his job approval ratings. No, really, the cover of the December 2005 edition of the American Prospect proclaiming the end of “the 9/11 presidency” declared, “HE’S DONE,” with a fork stuck in him. They also persuaded themselves that they had only to wait until November 2006, when they would come roaring back to control Congress.

OK, so he’s not done. He has three more years to drive them crazy. And as for Congress, it was bound to occur to people who write about politics that the equation Democrats were peddling, “Bush down in November 2005 equals Democratic victory in 2006,” was about as self-serving and reckless as, well, the GOP notion that the Clinton administration had come to a swift conclusion with the Republican win in the 1994 election. Then again, these are some of the same people who peddled (and bought) the line that an invisible army of Democratic voters was going to rise up in November 2004 to cast the perfidious Mr. Bush into outer darkness. That fantasy lasted through election night, thanks to exit poll “results” that mysteriously confirmed the invisible army thesis.

So, is there a filibuster of Samuel Alito going on or not? Some Democrats seem to be of the view that while a filibuster will not succeed (true, and not only because Republicans would eliminate the filibuster if they had to, but also because filibuster enthusiasts don’t have the 40 votes to sustain one in the first place), it would be worthwhile as a statement of their opposition to the conservative judicial views of the judge. In this, they are being egged on by the hyperpartisan left-wing blogosphere. The pain of Sen. Hillary Clinton seems especially acute. The obvious front-runner for 2008, she has been positioning herself to make a claim on the political center. But recent weeks have seen her virtual tarring and feathering on-line, where the keystroke Robespierres regard her as insufficiently true to the cause. So she, too, now sort of supports a filibuster.

Who knows? It strikes me that at the speech tonight, Mr. Alito will either be down in the front with a robe on or up in the president’s box, and that Sandra Day O’Connor will occupy whichever seat he isn’t in. It’s a political loser for Democrats.

The problem for the Democratic Party, which has been apparent since the Ralph Nader candidacy of 2000, is that it hasn’t figured out since Bill Clinton how to move to the center without losing its left. I’d start by closing the browser window. More infantilism is not the answer.