Sunday, October 09, 2005

What Does Harriet Miers Know?

President Bush threw the Senate a curveball last week. He looked at the long list of qualified candidates for the Supreme Court, and then he made it into a paper airplane and flew it out the Oval Office window. White House Counsel Harriet Miers picked it up off the lawn on her way into work. When she stopped by Bush's office to ask the boss if maybe he needed the list, he told her she was his choice for the nation's highest court. Just imagine if Barney, his Scottish terrier, had fetched it!

Everyone is talking about the obvious cronyism in this selection, even some Republicans. It is bad timing on Bush's part, considering the mess that political crony Michael Brown made of FEMA's Katrina response. The best comment I saw was from Steve Chapman, who said that this selection shows that the best bet to replace Alan Greenspan in January is the acccountant who does Bush's taxes.

As most people now know, Miers has never been a judge. In that respect, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is much more qualified, but the fundamentalist right would never support him because they want a strong anti-abortionist. However illogical it sounds, though, judicial experience is not essential for the Supreme Court, just as proven leadership ability is not a prerequisite for the presidency (a string of failed businesses and a figurehead governorship do not count). Still, the evangelicals are concerned that Miers hasn't demonstrated sufficient fealty to the anti-abortion cause. Maybe she should blow up a clinic or two; that would surely please them. Bush has tried to assure his "Christian" pals that there is nothing to worry about. In an encore to his dimwitted remark about Vladimir Putin, Bush said, "I know her heart. Her philosophy won't change." That's the silliest thing I've heard since I learned that Nancy Reagan used a psychic to schedule her husband's appointments, but in Bush's mind, that should be enough to satisfy his holy backers. Too bad Bush didn't know Miers' heart in 1988 when she gave money to Al Gore's presidential campaign. See, sometimes people do change philosophies. We can only hope she returns from the dark side when she dons that black robe.

The experience that Miers does have is more troubling. She has been the consummate corporate lawyer, defender of the powerful. That gives us faint hope that she will ever take the side of the "little people" on the bench. If a case challenging Bush's idea of "tort reform" (suppressing lawsuits from consumers, patients, etc. to "protect" corporations) ever comes to the Supreme Court, she will be there to affirm its constitutionality. And as a White House insider, she probably will defend and uphold the administration's controversial legal positions, such as those condoning torture. Unfortunately, Bush would not nominate anyone who doesn't wholly embrace his skewed legal philosophy, so criticism along these lines is irrelevant.

Most of us progressives were astounded to hear that Miers called Bush the most brilliant man she had ever met. Her poor judgement of intellect could be forgiven--she clearly bet on the right horse years ago in Texas and feels compeled to lavish praise as she rides that pony to the top. Plus her contrarian viewpoint was good for a guffaw or two. Whether she was being sincere or patronizing, I'm sure Ms. Miers will change her statement soon: I am inviting her to have lunch with me. Give me a call, Harriet!

What troubles me most about this nomination is not the cronyism rampant in this administration, nor is it Miers' lack of judicial experience. It is not her background as a corporate defender or her ridiculous praise of Bush's diabolical mind. The biggest question for me is, what does Miers know? When he ran for governor of Texas, Bush hired Miers to investigate his past to determine whether anything would cause him trouble in his political career. If he has anything to hide, she knows exactly where the bodies are buried. In fact, given Bush's previous bouts with the bottle, Miers probably has more knowledge of his past than he himself can recall. As a White House insider, Miers also knows exactly what lines Bush has crossed from a legal standpoint. And just to toss a bone to conspiracy theorists, Miers was accompanying Bush in Florida as staff secretary on September 11, 2001. With this nomination, Bush has bought Miers' eternal loyalty. Whatever she has in her head, she will carry it to the grave. She will not write a tell-all book after Bush leaves office. She won't sit down with Barbara Walters to explain how she worked around the legal system to further the administration's pernicious objectives. Plus, I'm sure her presence will come in handy when the inevitable criminal cases against administration officials begin.

What can the Democrats do about it? Alas, nothing. I am in the camp with those who grudgingly accept that anyone else Bush could pick would be worse. Someone with a heinous record a la Priscilla Owen (talk about judicial activism!) is undoubtedly a more dangerous choice than Miers, who at least has a remote chance of occasionally taking a moderate position. Scalia and Thomas are Bush's favorite justices, and if we do not accept Miers, Bush may nominate one of their proteges instead. The Katrina fiasco may tempt some Democrats to try to ride the wave of Bush opposition and fight Miers, but I think their limited leverage could be better used elsewhere.


Anonymous said...

There is one possibility you missed: that she's the sacrificial lamb. For once, I have to give the administration credit -- the left was saying they gave Roberts a free ride, and would challenge the next one ... well, here's someone who's ripe for challenge, but like you said, anyone else may be worse! So if she squeaks by, they win, and if not, who cares? It's like the real estate agent showing you the "fixer-upper" before moving on to the mansion ...

David Johnsen said...

True. The Dems could use a lot of energy to fight her, and the Repubs will crank up the noise machine to make them look bad in the process (as they do every time the Democrats dare to go against anything the administration wants). The Dems could easily win the battle but lose the war.

Actually, if her confirmation seems likely, I could imagine the White House "leaking" some memos that would paint her in an unfavorable light to sabotage her. Miers could even be in on the game and play her part perfectly. Then Bush could deliver the judge that his religious/conservative base really wants, and the Dems would be too spent politically to oppose him/her. You really have to get into a Machiavellian mindset to understand this administration, don't you?

My only reservation about this scenario is that Bush doesn't normally hang his loyalists out to dry, and it would look very bad to the others who weren't in on the ruse.

Anonymous said...

True, but what does he care? He's a lame duck, with no VP looking for the top spot in a few years. He's in legacy mode, full-on ... besides, you give him the credit for this strategy? What makes you think she didn't initiate it? What has she got to look forward to? A future as a Bush-family legal counsel, either way ...

David Johnsen said...

What does he care? It's only 2005--a little too soon to alienate his true believers. His legacy thus far is abysmal, and he needs friends to rescue it over the next three years. Besides, legacy building has to continue after he leaves office a la Saint Ronald. Though Randi Rhodes (Air America) can be shrill at times, I agree with her recent assessment on MSNBC that Bush's legacy will be the way he divided the nation, both electorally (the red vs. blue mentality) and ideologically. Actually, that is more forgiving than the legacy of his actual policies--the ballooning deficit, the quagmire of an unnecessary war, etc.

As for credit, I don't give Bush credit for anything. Rove pulls most of the strings, and Cheney's gang of merry NeoCons pulls the rest. Something few have pointed out is that Bush did the same thing with Miers that he did with Cheney: he sent her out to find SCOTUS candidates and decided to pick her just like he sent Cheney to find a VP in 2000 and decided to pick him. When he announced Cheney as his VP, I figured that was his (or Rove's) plan all along, and I assume it was the same with Miers. Maybe she did think of it, maybe not. Aside from the fame and esteem, who would want to be a Supreme at her age anyway? Surely she has the cash stashed away to retire, and she'll be 63 when Bush leaves office. She doesn't have any kids either, so she has no need to worry about securing their futures either financially or politically. Maybe she's afraid she'll get bored?