Monday, October 10, 2005

As "Miers Fatigue" Sets In, Here Are Some Questions I'd Like to See Answered

The object of all this conservative displeasure.

1. Why did President Bush make a nomination that infuriates the base? This one's been nagging me from the beginning. There are several possible reasons, and only one of them is even arguably good:

  • Maybe Bush did not realize how angry his base would be over the the Miers selection. If true, this is bad news about the White House's political "tin ear." This is worrisome. The GOP simply cannot afford for its base to stay home during the 2006 elections.
  • Maybe Bush knew the decision would infuriate and disappoint the base, but didn't care because he wanted to do what he wanted to do. There is a little of this stubbornness in the president's character (usually manifested as tenacity, which is a good thing). I hope this is not the reason for the Miers nomination.
  • Now for the one explanation that, although it makes some sense, leaves me cold: Maybe Bush knew that nominating Miers would infuriate and disappoint the base, but decided to accept that outcome based on political considerations. Maybe Karl Rove has polling data showing that another nasty fight would risk serious negative consequence for the administration's other priorities. The Democrats won't (or can't) mount the vitriolic, over-the-top battle that everyone expected, and Bush gets onto the Court someone he trusts, and who will consistently vote with Scalia and Thomas. Not a star, but someone who will reliably vote along conservative, non-activist lines.
2. But then, how upset is the base really? If all you do is read conservative bloggers and pundits, you think the base is in an uproar. But look at this Washington Times "survey," which concludes otherwise. (HT: Hugh Hewitt.)

3. How will Miers perform in her confirmation hearings? This will be very interesting, especially after the pounding she has taken from conservatives. For the first time the MSM and the conservative blogosphere will be allies, in a grotesque irony. They will all be watching for the tiniest misstep on Miers' part and will be prepared to pounce. If she can hold up under that onslaught, she is someone really special.

UPDATE: This afternoon Hugh Hewitt once again displayed questionable judgment by allowing me to be on his show, during the John Fund segment. (Thanks, Hugh.) As I noted then, Miers has to be the most ticked-off woman in America right now. After all she has accomplished (and it is a heck of a lot) she has been forced to sit by and watch while a bunch of people who don't know her argue strenuously that she lacks that certain something that SCOTUS justices need. I don't know Miers either but a woman with her achievements may well be quite energized by all of this. If so, when the hearings start she will be loaded for bear, and many of her conservative critics may well be left looking pretty sheepish (and trying to recover their lost credibility).

4. Will she be confirmed? There appears to be growing doubt about this. The conservative front that has formed against her (Krauthammer, Ingraham, Will, Fund, and others) is certainly pushing opinion that way. Just look at Laura Ingraham's website and see the campaign she has going.

5. If she is not confirmed, what will be the effect? Will that simply be a blip on the political radar screen (Laura thinks so), or will it leave the president weaker? I don't know. This question deserves more honest and sober analysis than it is getting from Miers' critics. I find Hugh Hewitt's take compelling:

President Bush has made a different calculation. It isn't the one I would have made, but that's no excuse to wage a campaign of self-destructive (to the GOP coalition) recrimination that endangers the Senate majority in the long term by endangering gains that might be made in 2006.
6. If Miers is indeed confirmed, will conservative pundits regain their focus? I've posted below how so many of them are making emotional arguments that cannot stand scrutiny. My much-esteemed Laura Ingraham said today that prior to serving on the Supreme Court, William Rehnquist may have been apracticing lawyer like Miers, but spent his career "immersed in constitutional issues." Really? It doesn't look that way on this bio. Laura also spent half her show today running clips from Pat Buchanan's statements over the weekend on the talk show circuit. Last time I checked Buchanan had achieved borderline crackpot status. Now Laura's quoting him as a tribune of the conservative masses. On the other hand, it looks like Power Line is beginning to take a more measured and responsible approach.

This fiasco comes at a time when the last thing the GOP needs is a disillusioned, angry base that feels betrayed. History has shown that Republicans who feel that way don't defect; they just stay home. All this leaves me thinking that the Miers nomination is either a colossal political blunder by the White House, or a misstep that the party will eventually get over once the ruffled feathers are smoothed down. I cannot see it as a brilliant master stroke, and I find it terribly hard to explain. I also find the responses of many of my conservative brethren embarrassing and disappointing.

UPDATE II: It just gets better and better. James Taranto of Opinion Journal's Best of the Web Today is alarmed that Antonin Scalia has never met Harriet Miers:

The gregarious Scalia is a fixture on Washington's social circuit, especially among conservative lawyers. If Miers has never met him, that is an indication of how much of an outsider she is, and it helps explain why those who have labored for decades in the service of restoring constitutional jurisprudence to something resembling the actual Constitution--building both an intellectual foundation and a community of prospective judges who adhere to this approach--are so demoralized and angry at the selection.
Oh, please. Is Taranto serious, or is he trying to write a parody of inside-the-beltway thinking?


Blogger steveegg said...

A very interesting and pertinent set of questions. I certainly can't answer them all, and some of the answers I can come up with are troubling, but answer them I must:

1. I can't see how, after 6 years of success national campaigning, President Bush or his closest advisors suddenly developed a "tin ear". With that said, I can't decide whether he sees a "contradictory stealth" candidate as the only way to get a conservative past their own party (this after Roberts had more than enough support to replace O'Connor and after his replacing Rehnquist left the Dems, not the Pubbies, split), or whether he has written off the conservatives and is replacing "like with like" (arguing against that, the fact that Roberts was originally going to replace O'Connor).

2. That is really a question of whether one asks conservatives who ally themselves with Republicans or Republicans who self-identify as conservatives.

3. I honestly don't know how Miers will perform, but I do know that Specter and the Democrats will work together to see how liberal she is. As for the conservative blogosphere working with the MSM (really, the LeftStreamMedia), they may ask some of the same questions, but they will be looking for diametrically-opposite answers.

4. Miers will be confirmed; who votes for/against her depends on the results of #3. If nothing new is learned, most of the Senators will swallow hard and hope that Miers turns out the way they want. If solid conservative indicators come out, look for most of the support to come from Republicans. If she comes across as the second coming of O'Connor or Souter, look for enough Dem support to overcome no votes from the few conservative Pubbie Senators.

5. If, in the unlikely event, Miers does get defeated, a lot depends on what the answer to #1 is. If it is to get a conservative through, look for conservative candidates for the Senate to get a healthy amount of RNC support in 2006. If it is to get a younger O'Connor, look for more of what happened in the 2004 Pennsylvania primary (RNC/Presidential support of Specter in favor of Pat Toomey).

6. In a word, yes. The question is whether the conservative pundits gets refocused onto the Dems or that focus remains spread out to include the moderate-to-liberal Republicans, and that depends on what Miers really is. 

Posted by steveegg

Monday, October 10, 2005 10:45:00 AM  
Anonymous BlueBuffoon (the Original) said...

Great questions (and concerns), Hedgehog! One angle you didn't hit was that of Thomas Sowell --pointing to the weakness in the Senate, not at the White House. What with Specter as chair, the Republican 7 part of the Gang of 14, etc., this is also plausible. However, I still get the nagging feeling that Bush decided this wasn't an issue he was willing to fight on and, listening to Rove, thought the furor from the right would quickly subside. A colossal "misunderestimation" from my view. 

Posted by BlueBuffoon (the Original)

Monday, October 10, 2005 1:00:00 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

I have to say I'm mystified by the argument that the disapproval of Miers is confined to the "Beltway elites" or the "intellectual priesthood." It goes way further than that. I'm thinking about the people I heard from a week ago--a pastor from North Carolina, a professor from California, a business owner from Tennessee, and me out here in Arizona. We all hated the pick, not from a sense of pouting that we weren't heard, but that we were watching yet another in a long line of missed opportunities. The disagreement does reach the base (and polling state party chairs really doesn't answer that question), and the implications for 2006 are both real and grim. 

Posted by Bob

Monday, October 10, 2005 1:41:00 PM  
Blogger oldefogey said...

You're one of the few to highlight what I think is the probable answer as to why W did it. I just can't see why that leaves you cold.

W wanted to tilt the SCOTUS right and do it without the knockdown fight the "party faithful" want. I think he knows that one tiny misstep in that fight could disgust us middle Americans with the whole bunch. When we get disgusted with all politicians (and those so-wise pundits), it's the party in power that suffers.

It's smart politics and it gets the job done. And yes, she will be confirmed. 

Posted by oldefogey

Tuesday, October 11, 2005 9:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too was disappointed with the nomination because I knew little about Miers and wanted someone like Roberts. However, not having a closed mind I surfed a lot web sites and learned a lot about Miers. I came to admire her accomplishments in life and disagree heartily with Judge Bork about there not being a glass ceiling. There certainly is one even to this day especially in the South. For her to accomplish all she has in Texas, of all places land of the good old boys' club is amazing.

I think it would be detremental to Bush for either one to withdraw this nomination. And if she is not confirmed it will be a victory for the left not the right.

I noticed that David Frum was essentially the leader of this pack of anti-Miers. I am troubled by his outright animousity. I have wondered if this is in any way personal. For him to say she will not be good enough for SCOTUS under any circumstances makes me wonder if when he was in the white house there was personal friction and this is his way of getting even. I hope this is not true.

I don't see how Thomas or Ginsburg have better qualifications than Miers. 

Posted by barbara humber

Thursday, October 13, 2005 2:18:00 PM  

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