Who elected George Will?

The conservative punditocracy is spittin' mad at the President for nominating Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court. I've never seen anything like it ——— rioting pundits! Ranting constitutionalists! All the big names, it seems, are agin' Ms. Miers in a unified towering rage. We've learned to expect this sort of outburst from Ted Kennedy and Moveon.org, but not the level—headed thinkers of the Right.

In fact, what's really going on may resemble the rantings of the Left. It has the same quality of narcissistic entitlement. We know that Ted Kennedy always felt entitled to be President, and is still enraged at his own failure every time he denounces George W. Bush. We know Moveon.org believes with passionate intensity that it is the vanguard of the working class, or the feminist movement, or the gay rights coalition, or some other self—satisfied group of narcissists who  know with all the certainty of divine revelation that they are the answer to all our problems. It is disappointing, to say the least, to see the conservative elite reacting in the same overwrought way to its sense of lost power in the Harriet Miers case.

The elite of conservative opinion feels entitled to control President Bush's Supreme Court nominations. In their minds they own the short list of candidates, because they have worked and slaved and argued for a true conservative jurisprudence for three decades. Well, bless them for their dedication to a good cause. But who elected them? Last time I looked, the Constitution gives the power of nomination to Presidents, with "advice and consent" to the Senate. None of the pundits have won an election.

In fact, every single conservative commentator owes his or her success to somebody's intuitive judgment. George Will owes his influence not just to his talent and insight, formidable as they are. He owes his job to Katharine Graham, or whoever else it was at the Washington Post that made the decision to hire and keep him. And their decision was outstanding, even though they could not predict the future George Will any more than we can predict the future John Roberts or Harriet Miers.

How do I know this? Having sat on my share of graduate admissions
committees, I know darned well that no one can predict, based on GRE scores, recommendations, essays, or any other known bit of information, who will succeed in graduate school and who will not. That question has been studied for a century since Alfred Binet created the first IQ test, and we still don't know how to do it. Even less can we predict who will make a wonderful scholar after graduate school, or who will make a great lawyer or judge. This is a simple statistical fact: At the upper end of the distribution there are no provable differences between talented people.

If we can't do that in the case of admissions to competitive graduate
schools, how likely is it that we can do it at the Supreme Court level,
several career leaps beyond any graduate school?  Maybe John Roberts is one nose ahead of Harriet Miers in the statistical horse race. I'll bet that on any objective measure of intelligence or achievement the difference is statistically close to zero.

What we do know is that lifelong habits and beliefs predict future actions. Harriet Miers directed the reviews of all of George W. Bush's judicial appointments. If we want to guess at the future, we cannot do better than to look at all those appointments, and ask, "What kind of woman would vet so many judges with a consistent judicial philosophy and habit of mind? How likely is that to shape her view of future Supreme Court cases?"

I'm sorry to say that my heroes, George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Bill
Kristol, and my heroines like Ann Coulter are now committing exactly the same rationalistic fallacy for which they justly criticize the Left. They believe they know the answer, when in fact they have merely fallen in love with their own intellectual image.

James Lewis is a frequent contributor.

The conservative punditocracy is spittin' mad at the President for nominating Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court. I've never seen anything like it ——— rioting pundits! Ranting constitutionalists! All the big names, it seems, are agin' Ms. Miers in a unified towering rage. We've learned to expect this sort of outburst from Ted Kennedy and Moveon.org, but not the level—headed thinkers of the Right.

In fact, what's really going on may resemble the rantings of the Left. It has the same quality of narcissistic entitlement. We know that Ted Kennedy always felt entitled to be President, and is still enraged at his own failure every time he denounces George W. Bush. We know Moveon.org believes with passionate intensity that it is the vanguard of the working class, or the feminist movement, or the gay rights coalition, or some other self—satisfied group of narcissists who  know with all the certainty of divine revelation that they are the answer to all our problems. It is disappointing, to say the least, to see the conservative elite reacting in the same overwrought way to its sense of lost power in the Harriet Miers case.

The elite of conservative opinion feels entitled to control President Bush's Supreme Court nominations. In their minds they own the short list of candidates, because they have worked and slaved and argued for a true conservative jurisprudence for three decades. Well, bless them for their dedication to a good cause. But who elected them? Last time I looked, the Constitution gives the power of nomination to Presidents, with "advice and consent" to the Senate. None of the pundits have won an election.

In fact, every single conservative commentator owes his or her success to somebody's intuitive judgment. George Will owes his influence not just to his talent and insight, formidable as they are. He owes his job to Katharine Graham, or whoever else it was at the Washington Post that made the decision to hire and keep him. And their decision was outstanding, even though they could not predict the future George Will any more than we can predict the future John Roberts or Harriet Miers.

How do I know this? Having sat on my share of graduate admissions
committees, I know darned well that no one can predict, based on GRE scores, recommendations, essays, or any other known bit of information, who will succeed in graduate school and who will not. That question has been studied for a century since Alfred Binet created the first IQ test, and we still don't know how to do it. Even less can we predict who will make a wonderful scholar after graduate school, or who will make a great lawyer or judge. This is a simple statistical fact: At the upper end of the distribution there are no provable differences between talented people.

If we can't do that in the case of admissions to competitive graduate
schools, how likely is it that we can do it at the Supreme Court level,
several career leaps beyond any graduate school?  Maybe John Roberts is one nose ahead of Harriet Miers in the statistical horse race. I'll bet that on any objective measure of intelligence or achievement the difference is statistically close to zero.

What we do know is that lifelong habits and beliefs predict future actions. Harriet Miers directed the reviews of all of George W. Bush's judicial appointments. If we want to guess at the future, we cannot do better than to look at all those appointments, and ask, "What kind of woman would vet so many judges with a consistent judicial philosophy and habit of mind? How likely is that to shape her view of future Supreme Court cases?"

I'm sorry to say that my heroes, George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Bill
Kristol, and my heroines like Ann Coulter are now committing exactly the same rationalistic fallacy for which they justly criticize the Left. They believe they know the answer, when in fact they have merely fallen in love with their own intellectual image.

James Lewis is a frequent contributor.