Sunday, October 09, 2005

Mad Politicking

[[S T R A T E G I E S]] * Like many children who grew up in the 1960s and ’70s, I was a MAD magazine reader. And one of my favorite regular features of that satirical monthly was Spy vs. Spy, a wordless cartoon inspired by the Cold War principle of mutually assured destruction and drawn by Cuban Antonio Prohias. The theme of that comic was always the same: the Black Spy and the White Spy plotted incessantly to kill each other, but in every instance, their elaborate schemes would rebound against them.

To read some of the coverage of the Harriet Miers nomination, I get the feeling that Democrats and Republicans are engaged in a similar scenario. After being deceived into a war on Iraq; hoodwinked by propaganda about weapons of mass destruction, the economic benefits of repeated tax cuts, and the efficacy of legislation such as the No Child Left Behind Act; and betrayed by a White House that promised to protect Americans, but then failed utterly to look after the poorest among us in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the United States has reached a point of pervasive distrust. The result is that as the country’s two major political parties strategize over the Miers confirmation, each suspects the other of positioning the cheese in a well-designed trap.

Over at The Corner, National Review magazine’s online forum, FOX News contributor and New York Post columnist John Podhoretz theorizes that there’s subterfuge in the fact that some prominent Capitol Hill Democrats are defending Miers’ bid for a U.S. Supreme Court seat. Here’s how he sees the Democrats’ Senate scheme unrolling:

Democrats will welcome Miers with open arms in their preliminary meetings with them. They will be all lovey-dovey, and there will be public talk of how nice and good and kind and decent she is. The liberal interest groups will not go haywire. Then the hearings will begin--and at that time and only at that time, the liberal attack-dogs will pounce. They will throw out Con Law questions of wildly obscure origin. [Charles] Schumer will ask her this, and [Edward] Kennedy will ask her that, and if [Joe] Biden can shut up long enough to actually ask a question, he will ask a third thing.

Now mark this well. Harriet Miers has never been through a confirmation hearing. They are very unpleasant experiences, and these judicial hearings are especially rough. She may get the sense from the pre-hearing chatter that she’s going to have an easy time of it--until a boom is lowered on her head. One false move, one bad answer, one serious slip of the tongue, and then the head-hunting will commence. Shock will be expressed at her incapacity to answer Question A, or her inarticulate handling of Question B.

The media will do the work of the Democrats and raise all sorts of alarm bells. And suddenly the nicey-nicey stuff will turn not nicey-nicey at all. At this point the leftie groups will start to go berserk, and Dem Senators will turn on her.

In the meantime, at the left-leaning Carpetbagger Report, a poster identified only as “Morbo” suggests that it’s Republicans, instead, who are trying to bamboozle Democrats with their allegedly widespread opposition to Miers.

Despite the headlines, not all conservatives are angry over Miers’ nomination. Some very important conservatives are quite happy with it--chiefly James Dobson, Pat Robertson and the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)--and that makes me nervous.

Nothing I have heard about Miers gives me any cause for hope that she’ll turn out to be a moderate. She attends a fundamentalist church and
claims to be born again. She donated money to an anti-abortion group and opposed gay rights while on the Dallas City Council. She was once more liberal but became a conservative after her religious transformation. I’ve known people like this. It’s not good news. Mid-life converts like this are often the
most zealous. ...

I fear that
Karl Rove or whoever persuaded Bush to put Miers on the court has outmaneuvered the left once again. Whining marginalized right-wingers, the faction that is never happy and apparently expected the seat to go to some nut like Roy Moore, provide cover for the administration. Meanwhile, the kook right faction the administration really cares about--Dobson, Robertson and the SBC--are assured that Miers is all right. ...

So are we being set up? Maybe. At the end of the day, the Bush administration does not have to placate interest groups to get Miers on the court. It must merely win the support of 51 senators. Right now, with so many Democrats making nice over her, that should not be hard to do. So what if 10 or 12 hard-right senators jump ship? Who cares if
Paul Weyrich [co-founder of the conservative Heritage Foundation] grumbles for a month? That actually helps the administration by making Miers look moderate.

Notice that all of this alleged infighting has distracted the country from the more compelling issue that I’m sure Bush would rather not discuss:
Is Miers qualified? I say she’s not. Her record is unremarkable. It’s as if Bush had named his gardener Secretary of Interior.
My own suspicion is that paranoia rages across the minds of both camps. Yet there’s undoubtedly some calculation in how the GOP and Democrats are positioning themselves for the coming Senate hearings on Harriet Miers. Republicans who are thinking about a White House run in 2008 might want to create some distance between themselves and the increasingly unpopular Bush by questioning Miers’ selection, even if they don’t ultimately vote against her nomination. Senate Democrats find themselves in what seems a unique and comfortable position, able to let Republicans clobber each other over the wisdom of Bush’s pick. They can drive the right-wingers crazy for now by vocally supporting the prez’s nominee, and turn thumbs up or down on her later, after they’ve decided whether Miers is as moderate a judicial candidate as they’re able to get from a conservative ideologue such as Dubya. The only risk for the Dems, it seems to me, is that they don’t want to make too “nicey-nicey” with Miers, lest she be shown at some juncture to be truly unqualified for a spot with the Supremes; then Republicans could use the Democrats’ support of her as “proof” that progressives are willing to accept unqualified jurists on the country’s highest bench.

As Spy vs. Spy taught us, being too clever about trying to outgun your enemies can boomerang back on you.

READ MORE:Two Knocks on Miers,” by Nancy Gibbs (Time); “The Faith-Based President Defrocked,” by Frank Rich (The New York Times); “The Amazing Shrinking President,” by Joan Vennochi (The Boston Globe); “Bush the Conservative v. Bush the Pragmatist,” by Michael A. Fletcher (The Washington Post); “Interpreting Harriet Miers,” by Robert Reich (; “Bush Works to Reassure GOP Over Nominee for Supreme Court,” by Sheryl Gay Stolberg (The New York Times); “Dodging a Fight May Fuel a Fight,” by Dick Pohlman (The Philadelphia Inquirer); “The Crisis of the Bush Code,” by David K. Kirkpatrick (The New York Times); “Dobson Spiritual Empire Wields Political Clout,” by Brian MacQuarrie (The Boston Globe).

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