Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Harriet the... Why?
I think Bush Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers is going down. Republican Senate staffers are essentially doing oppo research on her, Bush himself is speaking out both sides of his mouth--telling the theocracy brigade that her religion informs the pick, while maintaining that he hasn't spoken with her about abortion--and even Republican pundits, from George Will to Rich Lowry, are bemoaning her lack of accomplishments and gravitas.

(Will: "If 100 such people had been asked to list 100 individuals who have given evidence of the reflectiveness and excellence requisite in a justice, Miers's name probably would not have appeared in any of the 10,000 places on those lists." Lowry: "[T]o place so much weight on Miers's demographic profile, rather than her own merits and judicial philosophy, is noxious and un-American." One grim philosophical tenet, much loved by high-school stoners, is that we all become what we hate. Thus it seems the Republicans, already rife with the corruption and self-dealing they once deplored in the Democratic congressional majority, are now becoming the party of identity politics as well.)

Josh Marshall makes perhaps the key point: outside of the White House itself and those would-be theocrats who presumably have gotten assurances that she would "vote right," Miers isn't likely to find many vigorous defenders:

Besides James Dobson this nomination has no supporters outside of the senate and the White House. And the conservative opposition isn't just opposing, it's contemptuous -- and critical in ways that mimic the long-expressed criticism from the other side of the aisle.

Nominations can have dynamics similar to those of political scandals.

We tend to think that the real key to a scandalee's fate is how many mobilize against him or her. Usually, though, the key issue is whether and how quickly they can find some committed group to mount a defense. If that happens, and quickly, a scandal equilibrium can be reached, and an embattled pol can often withstand merciless attacks and revelations. With no true base of support, however, a career can rapidly collapse even if the opposition itself isn't all that intense.

Miers' nomination could fail in a similar way.

Sure, only a few Republican senators have expressed serious misgivings. But who is it exactly, either in or out of the senate, who is going to fight hard for this nominee? What argument are those senators going to make on the floor? That the country needs Harriet Miers on the Court? That the criticisms of her nomination are frivolous?

On the Democrats' side, there seems to be no consensus about how to respond to the nomination. Some argue that Dems should support it simply on the grounds that Miers doesn't seem like a fire-breathing righty with nut-job leanings, and that if she's defeated, Bush would likely just pick someone worse (and more formidable). Others argue--and I have to admit, I kind of like this one just on style grounds--that Democrats should simply abstain altogether when it comes time to vote on Miers. What I haven't seen much of, to my dismay, is the argument that Democrats should oppose Miers because... well, she's not really qualified, and the country simply deserves better from its most honored judges.

If there's one thing left and right should still be able to agree upon, it's that the highest public offices should be held by people of stature and talent. (Yes, the other side did nominate, and a slender majority of the voters subsequently elected, George W. Bush. So maybe I'm off-base from the jump here. But I'd rather believe that the public, however erroneously, saw merit in this obviously limited individual than accept that they just figured it didn't matter, or that campaign-filtered "likability" was the key criterion.) While G. Harold Carswell might not have ruled any differently than Antonin Scalia if he'd been confirmed, in terms of outcomes, I'm still happier to have Scalia, with his irascible brilliance, on the bench. Mediocrity need not have "representation" at that level.

At the same time, the nomination of a non-entity like Miers is perhaps the ultimate result of a political philosophy that amounts in large part to "the government sucks, and it can't help you, and only losers pursue public service." She did win first place in The New Republic's very funny and very upsetting piece ranking the top 15 Bush-appointee cronies. Perhaps the rejection of this sub-optimal candidate might signal a new willingness to demand more of our high officials than that they know the right people--and who knows where that might lead?

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