problem was that they were 100 percenters.
By 100 percenters,
I mean that they were disinclined to settle for anything less
than 100 percent, whether in environmental legislation or tax
policy. It was in the era of liberalism that one of the most devastating
phrases about politics -- the perfect is the enemy of the
good -- gained wide popular currency.
been paying attention to American politics in the last fortnight,
you know exactly where this column is going. Conservatives, who
grudgingly but pragmatically accepted what little good they could
mine out of mid-20th-century American politics, suddenly have
adopted the liberals' outlook on life. They're in power now, and
they don't see why they should settle for anything less than the
think they're impractical; their supporters think they're principled.
Politics is practiced somewhere between the impractical and the
principled, which may be why this discipline is sometimes called
the art of the possible.
All of which
brings us to Harriet Miers, a pleasant enough, innocuous enough
cipher who has suddenly found herself in the center of a national
debate about the Supreme Court that raises all sorts of questions.
But the biggest question can be distilled down to whether, between
the Republicans who will follow their leader's admonitions and
Democrats who will embrace her because she could have been so
much worse, she can win 51 votes in the Senate and gain confirmation
to the high court.
notice that the biggest screechers in the Supreme Court nomination
game have suddenly lost their voice. A hush has fallen over them
-- a hush of relief, to be sure, but also a hush of strategy.
on the left is easy to explain; as Ms. Miers' skeptics on the
right are only too eager to point out, the president's nominee
is no Antonin Scalia, no Clarence Thomas. The strategy is a little
more complicated; some on the left clearly are holding back so
that it is the Republicans, and not the Democrats, who scuttle
the nomination -- not so wild a possibility. Meanwhile, others
are calculating that Ms. Miers is the best they can get (and a
whole lot better than they feared), so they might as well simply
keep quiet, confirm her and hope that she is David Souter in a
prim suit. Maybe they will find that she lives alone in a black
house and has nothing more adventurous than a cup of yogurt and
an apple for lunch.
But the yapping
on the right -- maybe it is yelping, not yapping -- is indicative
of a deep distrust conservatives have about politics even in an
era when conservatives dominate politics.
seem contradictory, but it is not. Pick up the phone and call
Phyllis Schlafly, whose role in American politics is almost always
underestimated on the right and just as often ridiculed on the
left. But she was, to use a phrase populated by Dean Acheson,
a one-time anti-hero of the right, present at the creation --
at the creation, that is, of the modern conservative movement.
she says: "Conservatives are very angry -- and we have a
right to be angry. We elected Bush to move the court away from
its ideas of judicial supremacy. We have nothing to go on to suggest
he's moved the bench one inch."
So far, so
good. But there is more, and it is telling. Faith may be the evidence
for things not seen, but conservatives feel they have seen so
little that there is little reason for faith. That may strike
you as a little self-pitying, but as a measure of the depth of
this feeling, listen to the last two sentences of my conversation
with Mrs. Schlafly:
now -- proof that even in our sanitized brand of politics there
is room for surprise -- the greatest danger for the president
lies not with his determined enemies on the left, who spare no
epithet for him. The danger is his friends on the right who are
in full-throated rebellion, and who feel duped and betrayed.
the 1960s has a president been in such a predicament. Forty years
ago, the liberals who had embraced Lyndon Johnson (the Southerner
who won passage of the 1958 Civil Rights bill and then pressed
for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, no easy things) abandoned LBJ
in droves, and with great passion, splitting the party and delivering
the presidency to the man they reviled the most (and the longest),
Richard Nixon. It took decades, and it came years after the death
of Johnson, but liberals, most forthrightly George S. McGovern
and John Kenneth Galbraith, have finally begun to offer public
praise for Johnson. Mr. McGovern even argued that, aside from
Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt, Johnson
was "the greatest president since Abraham Lincoln."
So Mr. Bush
may find himself in the awkward position of depending on Democrats
for the confirmation of his Supreme Court choice.
but maybe not so unusual. Bill Clinton, after all, depended on
Republicans in his successful battle to win approval of the North
American Free Trade Agreement; indeed, the treaty won more Republican
support than Democratic support in both the House and the Senate.
Among the Democrats who opposed NAFTA were former Sen. John Edwards,
the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004, and former Rep.
Richard A. Gephardt, then the House majority leader. But, almost
forgotten today, Clinton had an unlikely ally. It was President