Peace through victory - the American way.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

If The Right Can't Trust Bush On Miers Why Should They Trust Him On Anything?

The teeth gnashing on the right continues over President Bush's selection of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court. It's clear the right wing punditry had their list of candidates they expected Bush to select from and he didn't. This has given them the vapors and has led to anguished confusion over why Bush rejected their sage advice and selected Miers instead of one of their own.

National Review Online's Jonah Goldberg explores this subject in his syndicated column on Townhall.com. (Column here.) Goldberg lists four reasons circulating among conservative pundits for Bush's selection.
-He had no choice. He's weakened by Katrina, Iraq and the polls, and he can't afford Armageddon in the Senate. A stealthy, female nominee who was all but pre-approved by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is the prudent step at this time. In other words, she's confirmable, and at the end of the day the one indispensable qualification for any nominee is that they can actually make it to the bench.

-She's a crony. This isn't really a theory so much as an observation. She meets the dictionary definition of a crony: a longtime personal friend. She was Bush's personal attorney and in the White House she was his trusted gatekeeper. Bush prizes loyalty above most other considerations and has a long history of picking loyalists above more credentialed outsiders. Bush knows her "heart" and trusts that she reflects his views.

-She's a woman. Again, this is no theory either. But Mrs. Bush has stated that she thinks there should be another woman on the court, and many moderate Republicans and Democrats - including Senate Judiciary Chair Arlen Specter - have indicated that they'd be inclined to vote for a woman.

-She's an evangelical Christian who's been a member of the Valley View Christian Church in Dallas for 25 years. Marvin Olasky and James Dobson, two leaders of the conservative evangelical community, came out early to endorse her. Not only does this suggest that they believe she's a cultural conservative with settled views similar to the president's about church-state issues and abortion, but it offers an opportunity to have this important political constituency represented on the court. Identity politics isn't just for Latinos, blacks and women anymore.


Goldberg's is a fairly calm voice in this otherwise overwrought debate. He doesn't decide which reason he believes motivated Bush and he acknowledges that none of the reasons are bad ones. He does question the selection of Miers because Bush is calling on conservatives to trust him even though he picked somebody they didn't recommend and don't know. As Goldberg puts it,
But President Bush has put himself in the awkward position of asking his base to trust him at precisely the moment the base was expecting Bush to demonstrate their trust was well-founded in the first place.


The unspoken fear is that Miers will not be a reliable conservative vote. It's the fear of David Souter. It's also the fear of Anthony Kennedy who has begun to "evolve" on the bench and move away from the right. To combat that fear the right had their list of candidates whose known conservatism suggested they'd be reliable conservative justices. The President seems to share that fear so he did the same thing the pundits did, it's just that he had a different list than the pundits had. So he picked Miers, whom he knows well enough that he is assured she won't turn out to be a Souter or a Kennedy. Instead of speculating on why Bush might have chosen Miers perhaps the conservative pundits should listen to Bush explain his reasons. It might calm them down.

Here's what he said at his press conference (transcript here).
Secondly, she knows the kind of judge I'm looking for -- after all, she was a part of the process that selected John Roberts. I don't want somebody to go on the bench to try to supplant the legislative process. I'm interested in people that will be strict constructionists, so we -- and I've told that to the American people ever since I started running for office. I said, vote for me, this is the kind of judges I'll put on the bench. And there should be no doubt in anybody's mind what I believe a judge -- the philosophy of a judge. And Harriet Miers shares that philosophy.

Thirdly, I know her well enough to be able to say that she's not going to change, that 20 years from now she'll be the same person with the same philosophy that she is today. She'll have more experience, she'll have been a judge, but, nevertheless, her philosophy won't change. And that's important to me. It was important to me when I picked Chief Justice Roberts; it's important for me in picking Harriet Miers.


Goldberg is right that this pick requires the conservative punditry to trust that Bush is correct in his assessment of Miers. So what. If Bush can't be trusted to know a colleague he's worked with for as long as he's worked with Miers then what can he be trusted with? If the base is going to abandon Bush on this selection because they don't trust his judgment then they might as well go all the way and just abandon Bush entirely. Given the commentary by some pundits in recent weeks the thought has probably crossed their minds. (See this astounding piece by Peggy Noonan here recommending a conservative revolt over spending prompted by Bush's promises to spend whatever it takes to rebuild New Orleans, for instance.)

Here's something else the President said that demonstrates he is more aware of political realities than his conservative critics who want him to go to war over his judicial picks.
Finally, I got some interesting suggestions. I actually listen to the senators when they bring forth ideas. And they brought forth some really interesting ideas during the course of our conversations, some told me directly, many brought to me by people on my staff. And one of the most interesting ideas I heard was, why don't you pick somebody who hasn't been a judge? Why don't you reach outside the -- I think one senator said, the "judicial monastery."

I thought it was an interesting idea. And I thought long and hard about it. I obviously looked at whether or not other Presidents had done -- made that decision; they had. And so, recognizing that Harriet will bring not only expertise, but a fresh approach, I nominated her. And she'll be a really good judge. And as I said, I appreciate the reception she's gotten at Capitol Hill. After all, they're going to -- they'll decide.


That last quote is a recognition of reality by the President.

First, Bush has to satisfy the Senate and at 55 Republicans his majority is not filibuster proof. The majority is also composed of several Republican Senators who do not share the conservative judicial philosophy of the President and his conservative base.

Second, Bush must reckon with the principles laid out in the Gang of 14's filibuster buster agreement. That agreement includes the stipulation that the President should consult with the Senate before he sends them a nominee. Bush goes along with that agreement by consulting with the Senate and by saying publicly that the consultation guided his selection. This makes it very hard for the 7 Democrats in the Gang of 14 to support any filibuster the other Democrats might launch against Miers and it also increases the likelihood that the 7 Democrats will vote for Miers.

It would be a huge mistake for Republicans to split their party over this selection. But if it comes to that and the conservative punditry decides they're better off leading a revolt against Bush, the question Republican voters should ask themselves is who do they want to follow into a political battle? Bush, Cheney, Rove, et al, who won two national elections and increased the Republican majority or the likes of Bill Kristol, David Frum, George Will, and the rest, who haven't won a single election anywhere so far as I know.

-tdr

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