Editorial When a Fella Needs a Friend: The Real Reason Bush Chose Miers By BECKY O'MALLEY

Friday October 14, 2005

There’s only one word for the flap on the right about the nomination of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court: delicious. And as Dubya tries ever harder to dig himself out of this one, it looks ever more delicious.  

Why are the Cons, neo and otherwise, so upset about Harriet? Well, first and foremost, there’s their assiduously cultivated myth that there’s something in the United States like a conservative intellectual. In Europe there are real conservative intellectuals, the ones with the monarchist leanings, but in the U.S. conservatives are mostly wannabes, mostly intellectually second-rate despite their pretensions.  

There’s a little group of guys and a few gals on the Boston-Washington axis who have always thought that it was unfair that the smartest people in their law school classes, by and large, turned out to be some form of liberal. These people—mostly from the bottom third of the class—have been working all these years to change the image of conservatives. They’ve tried everything—well-endowed “think” tanks, glossy student magazines which parody academic style, Sunday morning television shout-fests conducted by people who misuse long words—in other words, the best intellectual image-builders money could buy. But with one stroke of a pen young George has re-asserted some of the old paleo-conservative doctrines.  

To wit: It’s not what you know (and it doesn’t matter if you learned it at Yale or SMU), it’s who you know. And it’s not what you think, it’s what you believe. Even though it is no longer fatal to your qualifications for a job if you “happen” to be Catholic or Jewish, it’s still deeply relevant to your eligibility if you’ve had the good sense to “choose Christ” as a born-again evangelical Protestant Christian. Not, of course, that those sincere Jews and Catholics aren’t free, really at any time, to make the same important decision which born-Catholic Miers did. Some non-EPC’s are now considered reliably conservative, but not many outside of Boston-Washington. That “neo” in neo-con still counts against you.  

Harriet Miers has made all the right friends in her perfectly respectable legal career, even though she’s never managed to snag a judgeship. She’s been the go-to gal when the Texas Bar looked for a hard worker to organize meetings. She’s carried briefcases for the best Texas has to offer. She’s been the managing partner in a big law firm undoubtedly loaded with big egos, a thankless task if ever there was one, and the kind women have traditionally been stuck with. There is no particular reason to believe that her Supreme Court opinions will be any worse from a legal standpoint than those of Scalia and Thomas just because they went to more prestigious law schools.  

All those defensive gyno-American conservatives (as Ann Coulter likes to describe herself) are writhing in pain at the idea that Miers’ nomination might have had something to do with her being a woman. But if the triangulation on the choice for this seat is “lawyer-crony-woman,” there are not many other names that pop up. If the criteria were only “lawyer-crony,” a dozen people might have had a shot at the job.  

A case could be made that the Roberts-Miers play was an elaborately orchestrated set-up, with Justices O’Connor and Rehnquist, before his death, in on the deal. O’Connor has shown herself to be something of a closet feminist. Roberts was a favorite Rehnquist protégé. One could imagine some sort of quid-pro-quo whereby O’Connor agreed to announce her retirement in time for Rehnquist to see his boy confirmed before he died, in return for a Bush promise to appoint a woman after Rehnquist was gone. If Bush needed therefore to find a woman, Miers was handy and congenial. He could trust her in a way he couldn’t trust any of the several flashier female judges whose names have been advanced by the right.  

The abortion issue in this discussion is a red herring. It carries the presupposition that George Bush is deeply and sincerely committed to the anti-abortion sentiments which have been useful to him in previous elections. Garry Wills in the New York Review of Books recently pointed out that the cynical Rove/Bush election strategy has been to put together a coalition of outsiders, especially fringe Catholics and evangelicals. Their beliefs on abortion don’t represent the views of the majority of American Christians, Catholic or Protestant, if you believe the polls, but they’ve added up to enough electoral votes to grab the presidency in the last two elections.  

But now it’s a new ball game. What Bush and his controllers now need to be worried about is not the next election, but what might be a whole string of indictments for crimes and misdemeanors that could make Watergate look like Sunday School. In the context of all the legal problems that could lie ahead for them, there’s no reason they should be obsessing about how the Supreme Court will rule on abortion. What they are likely to need in the future is not an electoral college majority, but a crony-controlled Supreme Court which will make sure that they stay out of jail. And if that’s the game plan, Harriet Miers, the go-to gal who can be trusted to take on the messy jobs, is a smart choice. Ideology has nothing to do with it.