The continuing rancor among Republicans and the nomination of Harriet Miers to the United States Supreme Court displays an unfortunate lack of understanding amongst Conservatives about the condition and reality of modern American politics. Certainly the Democrats have demonstrated that they do not comprehend how much things have changed since the heyday of the New Deal and the Great Society, to such a degree that the long-term survival of the Democrats is in grave doubt. But the present inability of many Conservatives to understand the situation they face with the Miers selection also presents evidence that the Right is also going to have trouble making the most of their opportunity.
The most common complaint I hear regarding Miers, is that the SCOTUS is somehow not going to be Conservative “enough” to suit the Right. It has been said before, by Lorie and others, but it needs to be said again, quite clearly, that such talk is a wrongful insult to Judge Miers, and certainly is an unacceptable arrogance taken towards President Bush. It seems to me that Conservatives sometimes fail to keep their support firm for Dubya, even to the point that some groups and individuals act as if the President owes them the first call on his own nominations. This has certainly happened before, with Conservatives decrying the selection of Dick Cheney as his running mate in 2000, or the recent selection of Gonzales as Attorney General, or his staunch defense of Donald Rumsfeld during any number of MSM attacks. The fact that Dubya makes decisions carefully, then sticks by them, should have long ago warned people that Bush is neither conventional nor a popularity lapdog.
But a lot of people continue to forget the deeper lessons as well. When George W. Bush decided to run for Governor of Texas, he knew Ann Richards was a well-established icon of the Democratic Party, who never expected the former “frat boy” to understand the game of politics better than she did. It’s a great irony that the rising star of the Democratic Party who hoped to become the first woman President of the United States and the next President to come from Texas, instead saw her little-known rival displace her first in the Governor’s mansion, then take the White House twice. The simple fact is, George W. Bush had done his homework, and put up a poker face when it counted. We saw the same thing happen over and over again, as many Democrats ended up voting for the same Iraq War they later tried to make an election issue, and in the 2002 Mid-Term elections, when instead of losing seats as expected, the GOP made gains, directly due to Bush’s personal involvement in a number of close races. It’s frankly amazing to me, how many times Dubya has played the Left with a ruse, and accomplished everything he meant to gain, yet the Lefrt never seems to remember the trick the next time they come up against him; the juke always works.
With all this in mind, we turn to the largest stakes in the present debate; the lifetime appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court. Contrary to some people’s beliefs, being “more” Conservative than someone else in appearance does not mean that you will make better decisions on the high court, for a number of reasons. For one thing, a reputation for being a Conservative judge may not mean anything when that judge becomes a SCOTUS Justice; ask Nixon and Reagan if they were surprised by how some of their picks turned out. To know how a potential Justice is really going to think when presented with key decisions down the road a number of years, the President choosing the person must be able to see who they have worked with, how their mind has developed, and ideally should have some personal contact with them as well. In short, just what we see with Harriet Miers. It is not necessary for Miers to hold an NRA card to support 2nd Amendment rights. It is not necessary for her to oppose all abortions as a matter of principle, to agree that the Federal Government should not rule on the practice and deny States their own jurisdiction. It is not necessary for Miers to condemn homosexuality, for her to oppose the notion that sexual orientation deserves special rights or protections. I do not mean to say that Miers has any personal opinions which Conservatives should find objectionable, but rather that we should want a justice who rules on the basis of the Constitution, not how they feel about something. The problem with Souter, as an example, was that he seemed to approve personally of the same things the elder Bush liked, but when it came time to rule, Souter applied his preferences in exactly the same method as Ginsberg or Kennedy, and that is the reason we now see him as a threat to the Constitution, rather than its defender. The record available on Miers is that of a Constructionist, and that, when we get to the bottom of the decision, is what we need.
President Bush certainly has his limitations, and there are issues and topics where Conservatives may reasonably disagree with his position. But then, that was true even of Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater; the simple fact is that George W. Bush is far better for Conservatives than most of the available choices we’ve seen in my lifetime, and yes, that does mean that Conservatives owe this guy a certain margin of deference. For that matter, most of the columnists and commenting hairpieces on the Right owe Harriet Miers and the President an apology for the manner in which they have portrayed his decisioning process, and their rather rude assumption that just because they didn’t get the Conservative they expected, that the one they got is somehow inferior. The only “damage” that has been done to the Conservative cause in this matter, did not come from the White House but from the brittle egos of malcontents who are unwilling to set aside pettiness in the interest of greater ideals. They demonstrated to Kos and Soros and every back-biting Leftist in the field, that unity on the Right can be shattered by a simple bruised ego here and there, or the notion that the President of the United States is not allowed to exercise his personal discretion, without the permission of selected newspaper columnists. Nice going, to broadcast an Achilles heel for them to use against us...
Harriet Miers is not the problem. Peggy Noonan, George Will, and every Conservative whose loyalty to the nation and party depends on their personal approval of every decision are the problem. The oh-so-quick assumption by many that a name or two that they have heard in conversation or essay, but whose actual judicial temperment they do not personally know, is superior to a jurist known by the President, whose mind and character he knows, is appalling on its face, all the worse that it should be given such ready currency simply out of pique. It is not common for the average person to give a great deal of thought to SCOTUS nominations; except for recent events, we seldom hear of the community of judges. But given the ages of the Justices on the extant Court, and the strategic and tactical measures necessary to get confirmation and establish the appropriate atmosphere, it is completely in character for President Bush to have developed his working list a long time ago, even as he held it close to his vest. In other words, President Bush not only knows his personal choice far better in detail than most commenters can say for their choice, he has been thinking about this decision far longer than most of the people barking about it now.
Why not Brown, or Luttig, or Owen? Since I am writing this from Houston and not Washington D.C., I would have to say there are points in that decision to which I am not privy but then, that same disadvantage is true for everyone else as well. Certainly we should understand and accept that the President knew these judges well, and has considered their qualifications. If we can do that, then we are forced to concede that there is something else to the decision, that the President has more information and a deeper comprehension of this issue than the general public - what a concept!
Moving ahead, as adults invariably have to do sooner or later, there are two takeaways from this debate. One, is that Conservatives will have to decide for themselves whether or not they are willing to accept the choice of the most Conservative President in memory, and if not, to understand that they would be giving unwarranted influence and power back to the Liberals they claim to oppose in principle. The other lesson, sad to say, is that a great many Conservative figureheads have proven themselves to be as fighty, venal, and narcisstist, as any Liberal they have countered in the past. We are not the party we pretend to be, not yet, and there is much work to be done to mature the leadership of the Republican Party to handle such decisions in better fashion.
Somewhere, Ronnie is not happy.