Disappointing Behavior by Disappointed Conservatives
In my initial Miers-related post below, as well as here, here, and here, I expressed surprise and strong disappointment about Harriet Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court. Since then, I have decided (not without difficulty) that President Bush's pick deserves support-- at least until hearings can be held to learn more about her. So for now I am ready to give the president the benefit of the doubt, despite my disappointment in his choice.
That disappointment has been replaced by a more profound disappointment in some of my personal conservative heroes, who are not exactly covering themselves with glory in their reaction (I daresay overreaction) to Miers' nomination. Examples:
Bill Kristol, who has done so much for conservatism, descends into snide smugness in his Weekly Standard piece today. First, the self-satisfied smugness:
[T]he reaction of conservatives to this deeply disheartening move by a president they otherwise support and admire has been impressive. There has been an extraordinarily energetic and vigorous debate among conservatives as to what stance to take towards the Miers nomination, a debate that does the conservative movement proud. The stern critics of the nomination have, in my admittedly biased judgment, pretty much routed the half-hearted defenders. In the vigor of their arguments, and in their willingness to speak uncomfortable truths, conservatives have shown that they remain a morally serious and intellectually credible force in American politics.I am glad Kristol is so pleased with the "vigor of [his own] arguments" and his "willingness to speak uncomfortable truths." I think he's so unhappy with the Miers nomination, however, that his usual intellectual discipline is slipping a little. I don't think the performance of Kristol's side of the debate is anything to write home about.
Consider George Will, another of my heroes, who sniffs that "constitutional reasoning is a talent -- a skill acquired, as intellectual skills are, by years of practice sustained by intense interest. It is not usually acquired in the normal course of even a fine lawyer's career."
This is neither the "vigorous argument" nor the "uncomfortable truth" Kristol admires so much. It is rubbish. Joseph Story, Robert Jackson, Byron White, William Rehnquist, Clarence Thomas -- especially Clarence Thomas-- are all outstanding justices who did not acquire their "talent" for constitutional reasoning after "years of practice sustained by intense interest." They were practicing lawyers, like Miers.
Let's turn to Kristol's claim of "intellectual credibility." While smugly declaring victory for his side, Kristol quotes this anecdote as an example of the "spirited" defense attempted by the president's supporters, who "really were not given all that much to work with by the White House:"
Harriet used to keep a humidor full of M&M's in her West Wing office. It wasn't a huge secret. She'd stash some boxes of the coveted red, white, and blue M&M's in specially made boxes bearing George W. Bush's reprinted signature. Her door was always open and the M&M's were always available. I dared ask one time why they were there. Her answer: "I like M&M's, and I like sharing."While chuckling over this silly little story Kristol might have taken a moment to glance at Hugh Hewitt's blog, where he might have come across this comment from Betsy's Page:
What does irritate me is those conservatives who basically want to take their marbles and go home since they're disappointed in Bush's nomination. Fine, stay home next election. I hope your sanctimonious conservative purity is warm comfort through the years of Hillary's presidency. Remember that our choice is rarely between the perfect candidate and some other person. Mostly, we have to deal with two imperfect candidates and figure out which one would be less bad for the country. If you're lucky, there might even be a candidate you can like. My experience is that such politicians are rare.Does that little bit of serious thinking seem a tad more compelling to you than a lame anecdote about Harriet Miers' willingness to share M&Ms? Yet Kristol chose the M&M story as representative of the pro-Miers camp's views. "Intellectually credible" and "morally serious," my eye!
How about one more "uncomfortable truth?" Several times on her show yesterday Laura Ingraham noted with incredulity that Miers had reportedly never discussed abortion with President Bush. Laura wondered, How do you get to the age of 60 in this day and age, as a serious person, and not discuss abortion? Well, Laura, the justice you clerked for, Clarence Thomas, testified in his confirmation hearings that he had not discussed Roe v. Wade (or abortion, I believe) with anyone. He was widely criticized for that scarcely credible claim, yet conservatives rushed to his defense. Is that bit of Supreme Court history an "uncomfortable truth" Kristol and Ingraham have forgotten about?
Power Line is also giving no quarter. I hate to criticize those folks, whose blog I read several times a day, but they seem to have lost their grip on intellectual rigor and fairness as well. And I do not say that lightly! They have been unrelenting in their arguments that Miers does not deserve nomination. Yesterday, Scott Johnson went on and on about something Miers was supposed to have said to Patrick Leahy about previous Supreme Court justices she admired. There's a bunch of back-and-forth about whether she meant Warren Burger or Earl Warren, and at the end it appears that Miers was expressing admiration for Warren Burger's administrative skills.
To which I respond, big deal-- that's just small talk between Miers and a Democrat senator who's looking for ammunition to use against her. But Scott could not let even that statement go:
I think that this anecdote reflects poorly on Ms. Miers as well. Judicial administration is the province of the chief justice; Burger reputedly devoted great care to his supervisory responsibilities in the federal judicial system. Miers is nominated to serve as an associate justice; the position entails minimal concerns regarding judicial administration. Whether or not Warren Burger was in fact a great judicial administrator, any admiration she may harbor for Warren Burger's work in judicial administration is almost completely irrelevant to her prospective service.
But I find it almost unbelievable that, if asked which Supreme Court justice she most admires, Miers's train of thought would have run to Warren Burger and judicial administration. Surely this version of the story bespeaks the limited nature of Miers's exposure to, or reflection on, constitutional law and history. It seems to me that the K-Lo clarification reflects poorly on Miers in a different but equally important way than the Post version of the anecdote.
Oh, my goodness. The distinguished Power Line commentator devoted all those words, and all that effort, to this? Such are the statements of a person whose mind is made up and who is looking for flaws in Miers.
I think this is what is going on among the elite conservative intelligentsia (maybe I should call them the Commentariat): They felt entitled to have Bush nominate a justice from among the stable of conservative legal titans they felt had been developed over the last 20 years. When he didn't do their bidding they felt personally betrayed, and they are reacting emotionally. Their resulting intellectual sloppiness is typical of what we see when smart people let their emotions rule their thinking.
It's time to get over this. We can't afford to see smart conservatives take their marbles and go home. There's too much at stake. Besides, these people should know better.
UPDATE: Confirmation Whoppers is a fine new blog, just discovered. The blogger's name is Gary Gross and he's got a broad collection of comments from everywhere about the Miers confirmation process, along with his own well-written commentary. Go visit!
UPDATE II: Welcome, Radioblogger and Hugh Hewitt readers. I was on Hugh's show yesterday but had no idea my interview with him would be transcribed. Here it is, for those interested. I remain both flattered and honored. By the way, speaking of hewitt-inspired blogs, don't miss Okie on The Lam's thoughts from today.