Saturday, October 22, 2005

... and here comes the swing

I admit it. Harriet Miers had me bumfuzzled. I wasn't the only one -- her nomination to the Supreme Court surprised and confused pretty much everyone, and enraged quite a few to boot. In the two-and-a-half weeks intervening between then and now, however, things have fallen into a pattern that may begin to help us make sense of it all:

- An important Republican Senator whose support she desperately needs says she acknowledged a "right to privacy" in the Constitution per Griswold v. Connecticut in a private interview; she says he must have been high or something.

- An important Democratic Senator whose support she desperately needs says the answers on her returned Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire range from "incomplete to insulting."

- The leaks and fortuitous discoveries begin ... and each one damages her with constituencies which had been inclined to support her. Democrats who thought they might have a supportable "moderate" are told that conservatives were told she would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Conservatives who thought that Bush was just being stealthy and trying to sneak Clarence Thomas with a vagina onto the court learn that she contributed to Al Gore's 1988 presidential campaign.

That the Miers nomination is failing is no secret. What's surprising is that nobody seems to be able to add two and two together and come up with the obvious conclusion: The Miers nomination is failing by design. She's a sacrifice fly. She's the first handoff in a flea-flicker play. She is the nominee before the real nominee.

The conservative rebellion against George W. Bush -- which has been brewing for a couple of years now -- is gaining momentum. It's going to go somewhere, and wherever it goes it will leave Katrina-like destruction in its wake. President Bush has decided to let a Supreme Court nomination (something he can bend, or even give way completely, on) play the role of New Orleans. By doing so, he hopes to keep that rebellion from manifesting itself on issues he'd have a harder time retrenching on (Iraq, for instance, or his already-savaged budget proposals).

At the same time, Bush is looking for a fight with the Democrats on favorable ground. He out-maneuvered them with the John Roberts nomination (they'd voted unanimously to confirm the guy to the federal bench in 2003 -- it's not like they could reverse themselves without severe self-damage), but between now and the 2006 mid-term elections, he wants a knock-down, drag-out to buoy GOP prospects.

Enter Miers: Conservatives don't like her. Liberals don't like her. Moderates don't like her. As a matter of fact, to all appearances, the only person in these here United States who does like her is George W. Bush. Simplistic? Yes. But I have no doubt that Miers knows her role and is playing it to the hilt to produce precisely this impression. Her long-time friend, her boss, her President asked her to. She's a trooper (and at the end of the day, there will be book deals and speech honoraria, outcome notwithstanding).

When Miers withdraws her name from consideration, or when Bush does it for her, he'll be in a position to get two things he's looking for: Republicans lined up behind him and Democrats lined up opposite him. Just the way things are supposed to be.

To Republicans, the message will be "Okay -- you took me to the woodshed. I learned my lesson. Now let's go kick some Democrat ass together."

To Democrats, the message will be "let's take the gloves off."

In next nominating Priscilla Owen, Janet Rogers Brown or some other reliably conservative jurist, Bush will have two defensible claims: That his conservative base demanded a real conservative, and that since Democrats rejected the non-ideologue he tried to appoint, they were looking for a fight ... so he might as well fight them for what he wants instead of for another compromise candidate.

That will put Bush right back where he wants to be. The conservative rebellion will have spent its energy, the partisan poles will start polarizing again, and he'll have the Armageddon he's seeking on the Senate floor, complete with Democratic "obstructionism," possible filibuster and even a shot at breaking up the compromise faction of Senators who kept the "nuclear option" from being exercised last time around.

Democrats, and even Republicans, have consistently misunderestimated Bush's intelligence and political acumen. I could be wrong, but in my view, the scheme above is an accurate representation of what's transpiring before us -- and in my view, Machiavelli himself couldn't have pulled it off with more panache.

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