Or the guy that selected her at this particular moment, quite frankly. But it’s time to move beyond that and figure out what this all means for the administration and Conservatism.
First, a few things about President Bush and his administration: His leadership on the war on terror has been impressive. He has recognized the hard work that has had to be done (namely transform the Middle East and at the very least neutralize radical Islam) and has gone about it in a necessarily bull-headed manner. Most politicians and indeed most presidents would have performed some version of “cut and run” long before now in order to placate the Gods of flash opinion polls. The nation is not at this writing grateful to the president for his leadership in this regard; someday it will be.
But it doesn’t take an unusually subtle mind to realize that the domestic Bush and the foreign Bush have been two very different creatures. On domestic affairs, this president has been at best reliably indifferent to conservative ideals, ever-willing to cut a deal with the likes of Ted Kennedy or holier-than-thou McCain/Feingold goo-goo types. One could defend this recurring pattern as a political stratagem meant to assure that the war on terror wouldn’t be interrupted, but with Bush having long since secured a second term another three years of the equivalent of steel tariffs or No Child Left Behind or runaway pork-barrel spending or mealy-mouthed rhetoric are clearly unnecessary.
The Miers nomination thunders home a fundamental point that many of us like yours truly (but certainly not all – see Kristol, William or Last, Jonathan) have been slow to comprehend. When it comes to being a true conservative, George W. Bush is not one of us.
I THINK THE UNRAVELING ALL STARTED IN THE KATRINA AFTERMATH. It wasn’t so much the hideous guitar strumming and post catastrophe lack of leadership that left their marks on us. It was the subsequent policy directives.
First there was the speech in an empty New Orleans that practically vowed a war on poverty. Conservatives know that an individual who declares a war on his own poverty will often enjoy a significant measure of success. Societies, unfortunately, have less luck in such a regard. This is not news. Why it seemed to be news to our president was puzzling.
Of course, we knew the answer. This was a version of steel tariffs writ large and particularly obtuse. It was a politically oriented effort to insulate himself from present and future critics. The president’s policy response to Katrina, namely to throw a quarter trillion dollars at the problem with absolutely no accountability, was as callow a political move in memory. And considering 8 years of Bill Clinton’s leadership are still fresh in mind, that’s saying something.
As if that weren’t dispiriting enough, more depressing news followed. Republican congressional leadership and the president himself showed absolutely no appetite for getting rid of the federal budget’s immense quantity of pork. Tom Delay inveighed that there was no pork in the federal budget – true conservatives screamed into their collective pillow and took a measure of shaedenfreude when he was indicted a short while later. (True, the indictments appear to be a load of hooey perpetrated by an unhinged and particularly venal prosecutor, but no one ever said shaedenfreude was a wise or discerning emotional response.)
And other stuff began happening as a Category 4 storm of shattered illusions gathered. The Wall Street Journal pointed out that President Bush has used fewer budgetary rescission requests (whereby the president suggests to congress certain egregiously porcine elements of the budget that should be cut) far less often than any of his predecessors. Actually, it’s worse than that – during his time in office, the President has requested a grand total of $0 be cut out of the budget. That’s right – zero, zilch, nada.
For purposes of comparison, Bill Clinton used his rescission request powers to target $6,628,000,000 of pork. This is approximately $6,628,000,000 more than President Bush has requested. At his current rate, at the end of his term, Bush will fall $6,628,000,000 behind Bill Clinton’s standard who, by the way, requested about 85% less budget trimming than Ronald Reagan did.
More disturbing still, the pork was put in the budget by a Republican congress. And perhaps worst of all, even Nancy Pelosi has been able to position herself to the responsible right of the power-drunk spendthrifts currently running congress. While Delay was saying that the budget was a lean mean machine that could not be trimmed without endangering the Republic and Bush was offering (and still offers) his silent assent to that notion, Pelosi was identifying $70 million of the latest highway bill atrocity that was targeted for her district that she would cut out of the bill to “help the victims of Katrina.”
BUT BACK TO MIERS. Let’s pronounce a couple of Conservative principles that I think most people who call themselves modern Conservatives would agree with. First, when possible, a meritocracy is desirable. Second, activist judges who legislate from the bench are a scourge upon the land.
Regarding the issue of whether Miers is the choice of a man or a party who believes in a meritocracy, let me say this: Miers is a solid and accomplished professional who should not be gratuitously disparaged. But there is absolutely nothing to suggest that she is the one American most deserving of filling a slot on the Supreme Court. Nothing.
Let’s give Miers the benefit of the doubt for the moment. Let’s say that she is a stealth Scalia. Better still, let’s say that twenty years from now her body of jurisprudence turns out to compare favorably with that of Oliver Wendell Holmes. Even so, could anyone possibly argue that she is the American who as of this writing has earned
a spot on the Supreme Court? A believer in a meritocracy would want the person who deserved the post to get it. Harriet Miers ain’t that person. A logical contrary position is simply impossible. (A personal note to those who claim I sometimes succumb to the vapors of East Coast elitism: Wasn’t it cool how I handled that issue without a single derogatory reference to SMU or suggesting that Eric Dickerson run the Department of Transportation since he surely couldn’t do any worse than Norm Minetta?)
Second, we have to consider whether Miers will be the kind of judge that we like, one who votes like Scalia or at least like Rehnquist. On that issue, she’s a blank slate and we’re left with this – we have to trust the president. The problem with that is this is the president who signed McCain/Feingold, turned FEMA over to Brownie, and just declared a war on poverty that was redolent of LBJ-style rhetoric.
Trust is earned, and sometimes it’s squandered. If you’re a conservative and sanguine about just trusting the president on a critical domestic issue, you’re a more forgiving man than I.
Or maybe you’re just an even bigger sap.
SO HERE’S THE POSITIVE AS I SEE IT. A few years ago, a friend of mine went for his yearly physical and his doctor saw something that alarmed him. He ordered some tests, and the tests revealed cancer. Obviously my friend didn’t think of his day of diagnosis as a particularly red-letter day; indeed, he considered it one of the worst days of his life.
But now that he’s healthy, a different perspective has emerged. The day of diagnosis wasn’t a dark day. The dark day was when he developed the cancer that later threatened his life. The day of diagnosis was in fact a great day – it gave him an awareness of the problem and a fighting chance to lick it.
That’s something like what the Miers selection can mean for conservatives. On domestic issues, this president and particularly this congress have long been problematic. Now we have our day of diagnosis – between the Katrina aftermath and the Miers selection, denial is no longer a possibility.
These are politicians who cannot be trusted with the conservative agenda. It’s that simple. The treatment for the diagnosis may be rough. I hate to say it, but the liberal blogs may actually be right – 2006 might well be a bloodbath for a Republican party that find itself as rudderless as its perennially pathetic opponents.
But the time has come to admit the truth. We support this president on the war on terror. We admire his courageous stances related to pursuing victory in that struggle.
But this president and the Republican mandarins running congress have shortcomings that can no longer be denied. So let’s at least assess the issue honestly, and figure out how a conservative agenda can be pursued with these detriments on our side.
The truth is out there, friends. Denying the obvious won’t help.
Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org