FRAMING O’CONNOR….I can’t help but think that leading Democrats are setting the bar too low in their statements about Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement. Here’s Howard Dean:
Justice O’Connor…has been a voice of moderation whose career was marked by a commitment to placing the law ahead of partisanship and ideology.
….President Bush should follow the example established by President Reagan when he nominated Justice O’Connor. President Reagan had the courage to stand up to the right wing extremists in his party by choosing a moderate, thoughtful jurist.
Above all, Justice O?Connor has been a voice of reason and moderation on the Court.
It’s true that O’Connor has been a swing vote on the court, but statements like these make it sound like she’s in the dead center of constitutional jurisprudence. She’s not. She’s a conservative, and Democrats should make that clear.
Generally speaking I don’t have a big problem with O’Connor’s tenure on the court, but when even Democrats start calling her a moderate, it moves the goalposts too far. They should be referring to her as a “moderate conservative,” a “mainstream conservative,” or a “thoughtful conservative.” Anything like that is fine. But whatever they call her, they should make it clear that she’s a conservative.
After all, if she’s really a moderate, then surely a conservative president has the right to appoint someone just a little more conservative than her, right?
UPDATE: In comments, Josh Yelon suggests “Reagan conservative.” That works too.
UPDATE 2: Greg Saunders thinks I have it exactly backwards. He makes a good case, though I’m not convinced. I think that if O’Connor gets redefined as the “center,” liberals have conceded a battle they shouldn’t.