“Surely this is a pick from weakness,” opined William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, who proclaimed himself “disappointed, depressed, and demoralized” by Bush’s choice of Miers. Echoed columnist E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post: “The Miers pick risks looking like a sign of weakness.” Analyzing the Miers selection on this last Sunday’s edition of Meet the Press, TV commentator and former GOP presidential candidate Pat Buchanan complained that “We had an outstanding bench of conservatives, of traditionalists who had the right judicial philosophy and President Bush ducked the fight.” Even arch right-wing blowhard and Bush apologist Rush Limbaugh declared that Dubya had made his choice “out of weakness.”
Los Angeles Times political correspondent Ronald Brownstein suggests, though, that such assumptions about Bush’s motives are “not entirely persuasive.” He proposes, as an alternative, that the prez’s decision to nominate White House counsel Miers to the Supreme Court was born of the same arrogance that’s already spawned a war, caused international suspicion of U.S. candor and motives, and brought about a weakening of the country’s economic strength. “Bush picked Miers because he felt strong, not weak,” Brownstein theorizes.
Remember that Bush, throughout his presidency, has repeatedly demonstrated that he believes leadership is more about following his personal convictions, regardless of outside opinion, than building consensus. When he has the power to implement his ideas, he usually does, no matter how much critics complain.The problem with this approach, of course, is that over the last few months, we’ve seen just how skeptical American conservatives are that Dubya really is one of them. Conservatives, as well as other Republicans, have split with their nominal leader over the exorbitant cost of Gulf Coast rebuilding in Katrina’s wake, Bush’s disregard for fiscal discipline, and his indifference to the runaway growth of the federal government. They’re even now suspicious of his commitment to overturn Roe v. Wade, given Miers’ squishy history of opposing abortion and the prez’s interpretable contention that he never asked his nominee for her views on abortion. Addressing that subject on Meet the Press, Buchanan said, “I am not sure the president the United States wants to see Roe v. Wade overturned. His wife does not, his mother does not. He refuses to say whether he wants ... to see Roe v. Wade overturned. There are a number of Republicans, moderate Republicans, who say, ‘Well this would be a political disaster.’ I’m not sure the president of the United States wants the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
After his victories in earlier judicial skirmishes, Bush may have calculated that nearly all Senate Republicans (and even many red state Senate Democrats) would feel compelled to support any but the most ideologically aggressive choices available to him (such as [Janice Rogers] Brown). That probably convinced him he could make a selection he knew would please him more than it pleased almost anyone else (including some of his own advisors).
To select Miers, Bush bypassed a long list of prominent federal judges who are known quantities to the conservative movement, but just names on a page to him. Instead, he picked someone who is a known quantity to him, but barely a name on the page to them. He placed so much weight on the factors important to him (personal chemistry and trust) that he ignored the factors important to them (principally a tangible record on constitutional issues).
When the right recoiled at Miers’ selection, Bush’s aides and defenders argued that conservatives should put their trust not in her, but in him. In effect, they maintained that if Miers was good enough for Bush, she should be good enough for all conservatives.
That smacks less of weakness than of self-confidence so unrestrained it verges on hubris. Louis XIV supposedly declared, “I am the state.” Bush with this pick seemed to declare, “I am the conservative movement.”
All of which might make it harder for conservatives to take Bush’s word when he remarks, as he did in relation to the Miers nomination, “Trust me.”
ADDENDUM: According to a survey by The Washington Times, “Nearly half of Senate Republicans say they remain unconvinced that Harriet Miers is worthy of being confirmed to the Supreme Court ...” Already, the right-leaning paper reports, “27 Republican senators--almost half of [Bush’s] party’s members in the chamber--have publicly expressed specific doubts about Miss Miers or said they must withhold any support whatsoever for her nomination until after the hearings.”
READ MORE: “Honest Conservatives Awaken,” by Michael Tomasky (The American Prospect); “Harriet’s Man: The Texas Judge Who Is Vouching for Miers on Roe,” by Emily Bazelon (Slate); “Senators Question Rove’s Role in Miers Pick” (The Seattle Times); “Miers Remorse: Conservatives Are Right to Be Skeptical,” by John Fund (The Wall Street Journal); “Culture of Litmus: Don’t You Dare Judge Harriet Miers on Abortion,” by William Saletan (Slate); “Bush: The Ultimate Crony” (The Anonymous Liberal); “Harriet Gave to Hillary in 2000” (WorldNet Daily); “Will Bush Deliver?” by Paul Krugman (The New York Times).