Strategic and political impatience is killing America

Efriend the late liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was critical of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that declared abortion a constitutional right. While she supported a woman’s right to vote, Ginsburg argued that winning over state legislatures would put elections on a firmer footing. She was right. Trying to short-circuit the legislative process with an appeal to the Supreme Court put abortion rights on shaky ground. The shortcut proved more corrosive than using the constitutional process bypassed Roe would have been.

Nor was the desire for a shortcut to abortion the first time political impatience exploded in a way that proponents of a shortcut never imagined. Democrats resent their Republican colleagues for forcing three Supreme Court elections under the Trump administration on purely partisan votes. In 2013, however, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid embraced the “nuclear option” and changed the rules to move to a full vote on judicial nominees with just 51 votes instead of the previous 60. Reid acted out of frustration with Republican filibustering of President Barack Obama’s appointees. For Reid, it was easier to change the rules than to find consensus candidates whose merits could transcend party loyalty. It may seem Pollyanna-like to think such elections could exist, but it was the practice for decades, promotes moderation, and is the foundation of checks and balances at the heart of the system of co-equal branches of government.

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Impatience also undermines national security. Obama’s signature foreign policy initiative was the 2015 JCPOA, which his team described as a landmark agreement to end Iran’s nuclear threat. Instead of considering and addressing Republican concerns, Obama short-circuited the process to avoid any ratification process (let alone the need to achieve a majority). If he had put the nuclear deal to a vote, it certainly could have failed. But separation of powers requires consultation; getting your way is not predetermined. Shortcuts to implementing the nuclear deal served to undercut international non-proliferation and led Iran’s policy into a quagmire from which it has never emerged. There would have been worse things than failure. After all, the Senate’s rejection of SALT-II defined a standard that led to more comprehensive and stringent arms control agreements over the following decade.

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The Biden administration’s approach to Saudi Arabia reflects the same strategic impatience. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is implementing the reforms that have been demanded for decades, but Biden reacts with regret to Mohammed’s failure to instantly transform Saudi Arabia from an absolute monarchy into a liberal oasis.

The problem is not just among politicians either. Consider immigration and demands for justice: Immigrants once understood the American dream to be a multigenerational struggle that required sacrifices by previous generations for the education and advancement of children and grandchildren. There was no expectation of instant gratification or material success. Today, however, big-government liberals argue that failure to achieve for years what takes decades is both evidence of systematic discrimination and the need for expanded government.

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Cable TV, the internet and social media may have changed attention spans and focus, but there are no shortcuts. The Founding Fathers were wise and the system they handed down brilliant. America is at its best politically, strategically, and socially when neither politicians nor the public cut corners, expect instant gratification, or think they can bypass dissent with sleight of hand or procedural shortcuts.


Michael Rubin (
) is a contributor to Washington examiner Beltway confidential. He is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.


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