Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

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Thursday, October 06, 2005
At long last, a betrayal
I'm neither a Republican nor a Christian rightist (these days I'm feeling more and more like a political agnostic) but I sympathise with the right's complaint on the Miers nomination for two reasons:

The first is that I recognize that while a right-wing Supreme Court is not necessarily what I would want, it is what was promised to movement conservatives not only by this president, but by preceding Republican presidents going back to Ronald Reagan (and if you ask them, even before that). The bargain has been: just work to get us elected, and we will undo the things you loathe: social degradation, welfare, sexual liberalization and most especially, the legalization of abortion, which to evangelical rightists, is murder. This is a promise always made at election time, but never, ever kept after the swearing in (mostly because keeping the promises, especially on outlawing abortion, would be politically disastrous for the GOP). Evangelical Christians have been drawn into politics by a promise that in my opinion, Republican politicians and their political operatives never really meant to keep. And while they can be unbearably harsh people, condemning the very act of being a Democrat as tantamount to being the tool of Satan, I feel badly for the right wing base -- not the jerks on radio or the Internet who lead them, but the ordinary Joes and Janes in churches across the U.S. who worked their asses off for the opposite team from me in the last election -- being outright lied to.

The second reason is that I agree with George Will, David Frum and others that by shrinking from the fight over ideology and the courts, the president has squandered the second big moment of his presidency (the first being 9/11). This fight could have been bloody -- dragging in questinos of Senate prerogatives (the nuclear option?), the meaning of advise and consent, and most importantly, the proper role of the judiciary in American life. We will now have to settle for a battle over whether Ms. Miers went to a snooty enough law school.

Two big quotes from today's papers. First, the Washington Times:
"This was a teaching moment, a chance for the debate on the role of the court and precisely how we want to bring it back to respecting the Constitution," Christopher C. Horner, an attorney with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told Mr. Gillespie. "Instead, the president punted, on one issue where we least want to guess [about the outcome]."

At one point, Mr. Gillespie said criticism of Miss Miers was "sexist," but that remark only angered conservatives, who accused Mr. Gillespie of using a false argument against critics, because no one at either meeting addressed Miss Miers' sex as an issue.

"Conservatives have waited nearly 20 years to undo the damage done to [rejected 1987 Supreme Court nominee] Robert Bork and the politicizing of the confirmation process by the Democrats," said lobbyist Richard Lessner. "Real people have paid a real price in this fight, from Judge Bork to Clarence Thomas, Miguel Estrada, Janice Rogers Brown and others. Their sacrifices now have been rendered meaningless.

"By selecting a stealth candidate, an unknown quantity, President Bush has sought to avoid a confirmation fight that was vitally important to preserving our constitutional system," Mr. Lessner told Mr. Gillespie.

Mr. Weyrich said he has been through "five trust me's" beginning with President Nixon, recalling how, in 1990, a White House emissary had assured him conservatives would "absolutely love" David H. Souter, the senior President Bush's nominee for the Supreme Court. Justice Souter is now a reliably liberal vote on most of the court's cases.
And the second, which captures the dangerous gulf now separating the president from his base, as reported in the Washington Post:
"The message of the meetings was the president consulted with 80 United States senators but didn't consult with the people who elected him," said Manuel A. Miranda, a former nominations counsel for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who attended both private meetings.

...Another conservative captured the mood, according to a witness, by scorning Miers. "She's the president's nominee," he said. "She's not ours."
Actually there's a third reason I take the Frum/Kristol/Will et.al. side on this: by picking a female candidate so clearly inferior to his first pick, John Roberts, on the qualifications scale, Mr. Bush insults, rather than bolsters, women lawyers. He has also put one hell of a straight jacket on any lawyer who hopes to be a judge one day but who now might think twice about developing a strong judicial or ideological philosophy -- or at least about putting that philosophy down on paper where some future Senate panel might one day subpoena it. And that, which may be fitting for this most anti-intellectual of presidents, will ultimately lead to more politically savvy, but less useful and dimensional, judicial candidates -- at least from the right. And I think both sides will agree that we need strong, well developed intellects from both camps, right and left, to have a highly effective Court.

Am I saying I would have liked to see two fire-breathing Borks seated on the Supreme Court by Bush? No. But had he tried, the Democrats would surely have thrown everything in their arsenal at those nominees, and the country would have been better for the fight. I somehow doubt that a Judge Bork could get onto the Supreme Court at this stage, given the number of moderate Republicans in the Senate (ever heard of the Gang of 14?) Either way, Bush owed his base at least one battle. He got a rightful pass from the right on Roberts -- because Roberts was such an outstanding intellect. He has no right to a pass from anyone on Miers, who may be a perfectly wonderful human being, but who clearly was not the best pick Mr. Bush could have found (Like father -- Clarence Thomas -- like son).

Tags: , , Politics, SCOTUS, Law, News,
posted by JReid @ 12:36 PM  
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