- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

Sen. Hillary Clinton, New York Democrat, addressing supporters at a recent fund-raiser in Quogue, said: “I deplore the radical left and the extremists on the religious right. I am in the ‘mainstream.’ ” This is indeed a curious comment from a woman who reflexively defended every position on the left throughout her political peregrination.

Surely there is a method to this ploy. Americans don’t like extremists, so the senator has veered to the center. But this is not a true center, “a vital center” as Arthur Schlesinger once defined it, but rather a center of her own creation.

Mrs. Clinton, of course, is not alone. The day the Senate voted confirmed John Roberts as chief justice, Sen. Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat, who voted against Roberts’ approval, said, “I hope he won’t impose his ideology on court decisions.”

What could this comment possibly mean coming from a man who is deeply committed to an ideology, notwithstanding his denials? If someone believes abortion is a right that must remain untrammeled or that special rights must be conferred to homosexuals, aren’t these positions ideological?

It seems the word ideological is used as a pejorative when an individual doesn’t share your views. Mr. Schumer has arrogated to himself the role of ideological litmus tester. When Chief Justice Roberts indicated his first and overarching responsibility is upholding the law, namely the U.S. Constitution, Mr. Schumer replied, “I would like to see a moderate interpretation of the law.” Paraphrasing Justice Scalia, a moderate interpretation of the Constitution is halfway between what the Constitution says and what Mr. Schumer might like it to say. That summarizes the senator’s view very well, I believe.

It is revealing Mr. Schumer, applying his self-designed liberal test, said Janice Rogers Brown, a talented pro-life judge, is unqualified for the Supreme Court because of her stance on abortion. She was deemed outside the mainstream. Whose mainstream should be patently obvious. Moreover, Mr. Schumer seems to have forgotten no one gave him presidential powers.

When faced with criticism of this kind, Mr. Schumer relies on stare decisis, established precedent, to make his case. But he must know that precedents from “slaves as chattel” to “separate but equal” have been overturned by the Supreme Court. I don’t think it is farfetched to consider a court decision that overturns the Kelo case and restores the sanctity of private property.

Yet the echo of “mainstream” fills the airwaves as propagandists like Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Schumer contend there will be a “fight” if President Bush tries to appoint someone to Justice O’Connor’s seat who is, heaven forfend, a conservative.

In this context, a conservative is someone who takes the words in the Constitution seriously. As a strict constructionist, the conservative believes the Founders knew what they were doing to preserve the republic. Creative interpretation or inventing rights only dilutes state authority and invites the delegitimation of government. Hence one can argue the strict constructionist is in the mainstream. It is the left-leaning Stephen Breyers and Ruth Bader Ginsburgs who are outside any political mainstream, despite the praise heaped on these judges by the New York senators and the New York press corps.

It is instructive that Justice Ginsburg, a former lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union appointed to the court by President Bill Clinton, is considered, in Mr. Schumer’s fevered imagination, a moderate. However, if one agrees with this bizarre assessment, then anyone to Justice Ginsburg’s right — an area in which there is enormous political space — would be considered an extremist.

In the political arena in which language evokes emotion, words such as “moderate,” “extremist” and “mainstream” should be put under a microscope of rational analysis. As I see it, these words have ceased to have meaning; they have been misshapen by the desire for political advantage.

The next time, a politician says he or she is in the mainstream but his or her opponent is not, ask what is meant by mainstream. I think you’ll be surprised by the response. Perhaps not, if you are addicted to the mindless recitation of empty cliches that now surround campaigns and political speeches.

Herbert London is president of the Hudson Institute. He also is author of “Decade of Denial” (Lexington Books).

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