1. George Will had a column this week arguing that a 2008 presidential candidate’s abortion position shouldn’t matter to voters. His theory is that even if a Republican gets elected and appoints Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, people in liberal states shouldn’t fret because their legislatures will maintain abortion rights even without a federal constitutional mandate.
Profs. Adler and Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy beat me to this, but Will ignores the obvious rejoinder that, in the absence of Roe, a Republican Congress would enact a federal abortion law. They do some debating over whether that would be constitutional under the Commerce Clause, and it’s moot unless the GOP gets closer to taking back Congress than I think they’ll be in 2008. But to the extent a candidate would eventually have to decide whether to sign a federal abortion ban, his position is very relevant.
2. Ramesh Ponnuru suggested this week at National Review Online that his preferred candidate, John McCain, should pull a James K. Polk and make a pledge to serve only one term if elected in 2008. Ponnuru argues that McCain could win a mandate if he sets specific goals: “fixing entitlements and beating terrorists.”
There are two obvious things I think are wrong with this argument. First, Ponnuru doesn’t deal with McCain’s Iraq policy, but I think it’s too close to Bush’s for him to get elected in 2008. At a minimum, McCain would have to very clearly explain what he plans to do about Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and North Korea, and how he think he can get that done in four years. (And that’s leaving aside what he thinks he can do about entitlement reform.) If the whole premise of a one-term pledge is that the candidate says he can accomplish all his goals in four years and retire, he needs to convince voters up front. And he would probably have to explain what he would do if he was wrong and the problems were a little more intractable: would he still give up after four years? What conditions would make him re-think his pledge?
Second, I disagree with Ponnuru’s assertion that if McCain made a one-term pledge he wouldn’t become an instant lame duck. I think we would get something of a proxy election for his running mate. After all, the running mate would be the obvious nominee in 2012, and in fact would have to start running in late 2010 or so. (I won’t get into the delicate subject of McCain’s age and health problems, which could make his running mate quite relevant if McCain isn’t able to complete even one term.) On the other hand, this could make McCain more likely to pick an Oval Office-ready running mate, if that person knows he or she (Rice?) would only have to apprentice for four years.
I have a feeling that Ponnuru might be thinking that if McCain pledged to serve only one term, the American people would give him the White House as something of an honorarium after his years of public service (and as something of a do-over for 2000). And Ponnuru would rather have the certainty of four years with McCain than to nominate some other Republican who is as likely to get zero years as eight. But unlike the challenges facing President Polk, I don’t think the next president can solve our current problems in just four years. (Not that Polk “solved” everything facing him, especially slavery. But he did kick the Civil War can down the road a little ways.) So I think if McCain made a one-term pledge he would actually look a little desperate.
Anyway, in honor of President Polk, here is an amusingly literal student-made video for the They Might Be Giants song “James K. Polk.”