Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Supreme Court Election Vote on the Justices the Next President Would Choose

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Supreme Court Election Vote on the Justices the Next President Would Choose

Article excerpt

One-issue voters have always seemed like cranks to me. It's natural enough to have priorities, but who thinks one of them is more important than all the other political issues combined?

This U.S. presidential election, though, is different. A reasonable person could vote on the basis of future U.S. Supreme Court nominations alone -- because on almost everything else that matters, the differences between the candidates are going to be vanishingly small when put into practice.

Start with some obvious truths that no one is much mentioning in the news media's frenzied effort to generate excitement. Because the election is going to be close, whoever wins will have little or no mandate to act definitively.

The House and Senate will probably be split, meaning that either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will have to govern in the center. Partisans on either side will tell you that the policy differences are legion, which is true. It's just that presidents don't get to implement the majority of their most important domestic policies without Congress, and Congress is not going to back either side in making radical changes.

Both candidates want to lower the deficit, but neither controls the economic cycle, which will either generate millions more jobs and higher tax revenues, or won't.

On foreign policy, as the lackluster final debate revealed, there is essentially no daylight between the candidates. It won't be in either president's interests for the U.S. to be dragged into a Middle Eastern war, or to take a soft line on China's monetary policy.

But wait, you say, surely the two men have radically different personalities and divergent approaches to government. Their personalities differ, of course, and Mr. Obama may trust government a shade more than Mr. Romney. But let's be honest: These are two highly pragmatic, highly intelligent, highly competitive, very tall men. Each has had a special aura around him at least since his student days. They both went to elite private high schools, fancy colleges and then graduate school at Harvard.

There is a reason that the word "pragmatist" has been attached to each of them for many years. Obama supporters accuse Mr. Romney of having no fixed beliefs, but of course pragmatism embraces that stance as open-mindedness. Romney backers say Mr. Obama is actually a leftist who thinks government can do a better job of building wealth than private industry. But Mr. Obama is no leftist -- just ask the leftists who are sorely disappointed by his centrist presidency.

When it comes to Supreme Court appointees, though, the differences really are going to be stark -- and they will last for a generation.

Somehow the campaigns have failed to remind us that four justices are 74 or older, meaning they will be at least 78 by the end of the next presidential term. …

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