Republicans Battling Over Miers
The war that
has broken out in Republican ranks after the nomination of Harriet
Miers is an unwelcome sign of the times: any evidence of moderation
is regarded as ideological betrayal.
of Harriet Miers is not the ideological slam dunk conservatives
had long hoped would tip the balance of the court from the center
to the right. They feel their revolution has been betrayed. On
Press" this weekend, Patrick Buchanan said the president
"has retreated from Reaganism into the old politics of compromise
Only in today's
twisted politics could the classic democratic virtues of compromise
and consensus be dismissed with little comment or consequence.
These are not signs of weakness but signs of the democratic process
of Reagan is often invoked by conservatives, but it is conveniently
forgotten that he nominated the centrist votes of Justices O'Connor
and Kennedy to the Court, as well as Scalia. In this spirit, it
is also worth remembering that seven of the nine justices of the
current Supreme Court are Republican appointees. If they have
been more moderate than some conservatives had hoped, that is
a function of the liberating effect of lifetime appointment rather
than any intentional ideological betrayal.
For all the
conservative fury being directed at Harriet Miers, however, there
is very little to evidence to suggest that she is secretly centrist.
She is the White House counsel of the most self-identified conservative
administration since Reagan and a quarter-century convert to an
evangelical church in Dallas that explicitly opposes abortion
as a matter of faith.
As a member
of the Dallas City Council in the late 1980s, she donated to an
anti-abortion fundraiser, and encouraged the local Bar Association
of which she was president to consider holding a membership vote
on the subject, opening doors for dissent against Roe v. Wade.
Most significantly, her campaign manager for the 1989 City Council
race, Lorlee Bartos, was interviewed by the Associated Press and
said that Ms. Miers was pro-choice in her youth, but shifted her
beliefs after her evangelical experience and is now "on the
extreme end of the anti-choice movement." There is ample
reason to doubt her support for Roe v. Wade.
It is true
that she was a registered Democrat in the 1980s, but a conservative
Texas Democrat in the John Connally rather than Michael Dukakis
mold. At the time, the shift of the South toward registering Republican
was still ongoing, and Miers's own political evolution is emblematic
of this trend. Conservative critics for whom this is heresy forget
that Reagan himself was a registered Democrat until middle age.
to influential aggregators like the Drudge Report was the news
that Ms. Miers had donated $1000 to Al Gore's 1988 presidential
campaign. But as tough as it may be to remember or believe, 38-year
old Senator Gore was campaigning as the comparative conservative
in that year's Democratic primary pack, a self-described "raging
moderate" whose wife was busy attacking the excesses of rock
music. In addition, Ms. Miers gave more than $16,000 to Republican
can rightly complain that with control of the Congress and the
White House this is a rare opportunity to run the table with a
demonstrably conservative nominee, but the American people are
less hungry for ideological battle.
of the stealth candidate strategy - where less judicial experience
is an asset for Supreme Court nomination - is symptom of the ruthlessly
partisan atmosphere that permeates Senate hearings today. If accepted
as a wholesale strategy, it has the absurd effect barring the
most qualified justices from the highest court. But President
Clinton nominated Justice Breyer - a judicial moderate with extensive
experience on the bench - and he was handily confirmed by a Republican-controlled
Congress. President Bush has no effective Democratic congressional
check on his influence, so the reason for his strategy is unclear
unless he rightly gauged that the American people are not ready
to support an overt overthrow of abortion rights under federal
law. The stealth game then sets up both sides to feel betrayed
at different times.
another reason this pick has been a political disaster to date.
The president - either defiant or tone deaf - walked straight
into the prevailing winds of a news-cycle concerning the cronyism
of high appointments in his administration. Just weeks after "Heckuva
Job Brownie" bungled the immediate Hurricane Katrina response
and was found to have no previous disaster response experience
other than being buddies with Joe Allbaugh, the president picked
his personal lawyer for the Supreme Court despite the fact that
she had no previous judicial experience. As a result, the worst
stereotypes of his administration - secretive, cliquish, and unserious
- appear to be confirmed. The key difference is this time the
critics are conservatives.
have been lying back for the past week, enjoying the spectacle
of the Republicans at war with one another. In their partisan
delight, they may be ignoring the reality that in the end, they
may have the more substantive grounds on which to oppose the nomination,
especially as it concerns preserving the federally protected right
of a woman to choose.
reason to oppose the Miers nomination is not reflexive application
of any litmus test of left or right, but the inherent arrogance
of the stealth pick process and credible accusations of cronyism.
The odd nominee and the intra-party fight about her ideological
fitness to serve are symptoms of our distracted and divided time.
Avlon is a columnist for the New
York Sun and the author