October 5, 2005
Touching a nerveBy Thomas Lifson
Something about the nomination of Harriet Miers touched a nerve among many conservatives, especially those who write in public. Although I support the President's choice, I will concede that there are legitimate grounds to question his actions, and looked forward to finding out more about her via the confirmation process. But I have been taken aback by the ferocity and indignation of much of the opposition I have found among my allies.
So far, the meatiest opposition I have been able to find is the argument for her lack of experience in academic law or the judiciary. George Will sums it up:
Strip away the disdain, and Will is stating that he doesn't know if she is smart enough and knows enough about the Constitution. Fair enough. I don't know either, and we will both find out soon. So why dump on her right out of the starting box?
It is always hazardous at best to look for psychological explanations, but since the strongest argument of the scornful right is that they don't yet know enough about her and are not willing to wait for more data before looking down their noses, it seems to me something else might be going on here.
It has been a tough month or so for those of us on the right. Face it, the media storm in New Orleans made the President look bad, and he has not risen to the occasion with the sort of rhetoric that came to his lips in the immediate aftermath of 9—11. His palliative spending plans have also caused many to blanch, especially as the prospect of tax hikes looms to pay some of the bills for empty cruise ships, and the quarter trillion dollars demanded by Louisiana's Congressional delegation from the other 49 states.
Like many of the most acerbic critics of the Miers nomination, I live in one of the bluest locations in America, so I know exactly what it is like to be surrounded by people, some of them very intelligent, who will use any excuse to triumphantly proclaim that the President and conservatives are evil and stupid. We are forced to defend ourselves constantly. And over the last years, we have done a pretty good job of it, reinforced by strong economic growth, electoral victories, and a serious war against the fascists who threaten world civilization.
I confess that I take both pride and solace in the intellectual superiority of contemporary conservatism. The left, in large part, has been reduced to arguing on the basis of feelings, not thinking. The new media have given us hitherto inconceivable opportunities to make our case, and it has been very sweet indeed to deconstruct the lies, evasions, faulty reasoning, and other flaws in the case of the establishment left.
In the midst of hurricane—generated bleak times on the media front, along came John Roberts and his smashing performance in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, followed by a confirmation vote splitting the Democrat Senators neatly in half. Who among us did not thrill to the sight of him answering questions without reference to notes, speaking in grammatical sentences, and embodying Sweet Reason. The contrast with the stumbling and embarrassing performances of Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden could not have been starker. Even Chuck Schumer could not work up a convincing sneer.
Aha! We are smarter, better prepared, and nicer than our antagonists. John Roberts proved it. Even some of those conservatives who worried early on the Roberts might be another stealthy David Souter were encouraged by his performace.
So, I, along with many others on my side of the great debate, expected President Bush to follow up his debut Supreme Court nominee with a remake: Roberts II: Revenge of the Right. Supreme Courth Justice as conservative super—hero, foiling Captain Oldsmobile's plots and wiping the sneer off the face of Chuck Schumer.
Michael Luttig looked awfully good for a starring role reprising the winning formula. We know how to win, so let's win again. The insightful Peter J. Mulhern, today making his debut on this site, puts it very well:
Whatever her other virtues, Harriet Miers has not demonstrated in public her verbal facility, her Con Law erudition, or an ability to sneer convincingly. In fact all so far available evidence suggests that sneering is not part of her behavioral repertoire. David Frum and others have noted that if you asked leading conservatives to make a list of their 100 smartest possible nominees, Harriet Miers would not appear on any list.
So our hopes for further brilliant bloodying of the left are at best to be held in abeyance. At worst, some fear that charges of cronyism may have merit, that we may be embarrassed by her time spent at the hearing room witness table. In other words, too often presumed by our neighbors to be intellectually and morally deficient, proud conservatives, the type who write elegant essays, are worried that their President may have sold them out with a figure awaiting ridicule by those very neighbors.
I expect John Roberts to be a superb Chief Justice, in no small part based on his intellectual and verbal skill set. Those are skills which mean a great deal to me, too. But they are far from the only valuable skills for use in the deliberations among nine prideful individuals. Those who build their careers on that same skill set all too often fail to appreciate other valuable skills, including in particular the socially—based ability to get people to work together on shared goals. If brilliance were all that were required to influence the Court in a conservative direction, then Antonin Scalia would have sufficed to prevent outrages like the Kelo decision.
That appreciation for the importance of diverse skills is why I am eager to allow Harriet Miers the opportunity to demonstrate her merits to the Senate and the rest of us, too. The Supreme Court needs a majority—builder. Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Chief Justice Roberts will provide as much brilliance as ever could be required. Justice Miers might add a slightly different contribution, one that is euqally valuable, if less showy and satisfying to the blood lust of battered intellectual conservatives.
Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker.