Monday, October 03, 2005

Curveball, low and outside?

I wasn't really sure what to expect from George W. Bush in the matter of filling Sandra Day O'Connor's seat on the Supreme Court ... but I can tell you one thing. I didn't expect this. And, frankly, I don't know what the hell to think about it.

One route Bush could have taken was to appoint someone known as a staunch conservative, pleasing his base and setting up the Mother of All Judicial Appointment Battles with Senate Democrats. I considered this his most likely course of action. The Republicans are in deep trouble -- their only chance to come out of next year's elections in reasonably good shape would seem to be to locate, close with and destroy the Democrats in a good, hard fight. I don't know that I was expecting Albert Gonzales, but he was on my mental "short list" of likely picks.

Another way would have been to follow the Roberts route: Pick a judge with an established, but fairly non-controversial, record and then let the Democrats indulge their addiction to partisan pettifoggery to their own detriment again. That wouldn't have been the strongest approach to take, but it would have made sense -- it worked last time, right?

But Harriet Miers ... well, the opinions are coming in fast and furious. Conservative and neoconservative Republicans are outraged:

"If this is President Bush's bright idea to buck up his sagging popularity--among conservatives as well as the nation at large -- one wonders whom he would have picked in rosier times. Shudder." -- Michelle Malkin

"This is a chance that may never occur again: a decisive vacancy on the court, a conservative president, a 55-seat Republican majority, a large bench of brilliant and superbly credentialed conservative jurists ... and what has been done with the opportunity?" -- David Frum

"I'm disappointed because I expected President Bush to nominate someone with a visible and distinguished constitutionalist track record -- someone like Maura Corrigan, Alice Batchelder, Edith Jones, Priscilla Owen, or Janice Rogers Brown -- to say nothing of Michael Luttig, Michael McConnell, or Samuel Alito. Harriet Miers has an impressive record as a corporate attorney and Bush administration official. She has no constitutionalist credentials that I know of." -- William Kristol

On the left, I usually take Kos as a starting point, then look for holes in the argument:

"[M]y early sense is that this is already a victory -- both politically and judicially -- for Democrats. In fact, it should be great fun watching conservatives go after Bush."

... and here's where I start to think that I'm seeing the outlines of the Bush strategy. I think this is a sacrifice appointment. The administration is counting on conervative opposition and Democratic obstructionism to combine and send Miers packing ... after which the former will be forgotten and the latter touted as evidence that the Dems aren't going to be reasonable about his appointments. Bush wants his battle with the Democrats without the battle part.

Yes, the Democrats look like they're on board for the moment ... but we know better. The usual suspects are going to oppose any Republican nominee; combined with conservative opposition, that's enough to sink Miers's nomination.

Her record, non-judicial as it is, is controversial enough that it's going to make waves. We're going to hear -- correctly or incorrectly -- that while serving as chair of the Texas Lottery Commission, Miers helped direct a sweetheart contract renewal to former lieutenant governer Ben Barnes to keep him quiet about his role in getting George W. Bush a safe billet in the Texas Air National Guard during Vietnam. We're going to hear from both sides of the aisle (as a matter of fact, we are already hearing it) that her nomination is pure, unadulterated cronyism and that her only qualification is enduring and absolute loyalty to George W. Bush.

So, Miers goes down in scandal ... and months later, nobody remembers that it was 40 Republicans and 20 Democrats who brought her down. Her defeat will be laid at the feet of the Democrats ... if Bush can pull it off. Instead of seeking a congressional Ragnarok, with Democrats filibustering and the GOP pulling the trigger on the "nuclear option," he wants to play a hit-and-run game. He's not willing to risk all-out battle; he wants to create space in which the GOP can maneuver without bringing on a general engagement.

Or maybe he's just paying off a supporter with patronage. Who knows?

Something is just not right here.

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