A couple weeks ago I showed a picture of George W. Bush and asked would you buy a used car from this man? Today, I don't ask a rhetorical question, I issue a warning:
As you surely know by know, we won't have weird-looking Harriet Miers to kick around anymore; she's withdrawn her nomination to the Supreme Court. Apparently the tour of Republican Senators' offices was getting about as warm a reception as the Sex Pistols got on their 1978 tour of the South. So Harriet Miers will go back to serving as counsel to the smartest man she's ever met. [She really needs to get out of the house more often.] But she won't become a Supreme Court Justice. No matter what her ideological views may be, that's a good thing, because her qualifications for the Supreme Court were barely greater than the senatorial qualifications of Nero's horse.
Kagro X presciently discussed the administration's privilege dodge a few days ago, and it shouldn't surprise folks that Miers cited the need to preserve the President's prerogative to keep secrets as a reason for her withdrawal. Privilege, of course, had little to do with it; she withdrew because it was becoming clear that she would not be confirmed by the full Senate, and might not even have made it out of the judiciary committee.
Why was her nomination doomed? Well, Harry Reid has the answer:
"The radical right wing of the Republican Party killed the Harriet Miers nomination.
"Apparently, Ms. Miers did not satisfy those who want to pack the Supreme Court with rigid ideologues."
What's Harry Reid up to? Well, let's look back at his initial reaction to Miers' nomination:
I like Harriet Miers. As White House Counsel, she has worked with me in a courteous and professional manner. I am also impressed with the fact that she was a trailblazer for women as managing partner of a major Dallas law firm and as the first woman president of the Texas Bar Association.
In my view, the Supreme Court would benefit from the addition of a justice who has real experience as a practicing lawyer. The current justices have all been chosen from the lower federal courts. A nominee with relevant non-judicial experience would bring a different and useful perspective to the Court.
About twenty minutes before President Bush announced that John G. Roberts, Jr., was his choice to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court, he telephoned Harry Reid, of Nevada, the Senate Minority Leader. As Reid recalls the brief conversation, Bush said, “This guy is really smart, and you’ll like him.” Reid replied, “I hope so,” and added that, during the search, he had enjoyed working with the White House legal counsel, Harriet Miers. (A few days earlier, Reid had met with Miers and had suggested ways to avoid a divisive confirmation process.) Mentioning her name, Reid said, was a signal—his way of telling Bush, “Thanks for not giving us any of these crazies.” Or, as he put it a little later, the President “didn’t give us somebody who people like me were jumping up and down screaming the first time the name was uttered.”
Now maybe this was simply Reid innocently and guilelessly expressing his opinion. But who knows? He's been so masterful in dealing with the Republicans since becoming minority leader last November that it's hard to tell if he's manipulating the Republicans into chasing their tails, or just benefitting from their own screwups without contributing anything of his own. But let me suggest a theory, that Reid deliberately baited the Republicans, especially the far right, into rejecting Miers' nomination, thus further damaging an already damaged presidency.
I'm very fond of an old story about the radical community organizer Saul Alinsky. As I remember it, back in the sixties some young activists told Alinsky they planned to protest the public appearance of some guy they believed was a racist. Alinsky's reaction was something like "no, no, no, don't do that. Stand outside the event and give the guy a warm greeting and cheer him on. Just make sure you do it dressed as members of the Ku Klux Klan." [For a recent and hilarious example of such a "protest," check out this Daily Kos diary by Ben Masel, Stalinists for Sensenbrenner.]
I've been thinking about that Alinsky story ever since Reid made his statement. I doubt Reid ever suspected Bush would nominate Miers, but he's very adept at counterpunching and luring the adversary into a vulnerable position. His reaction was probably like almost everyone else's, that Miers was unqualified to be on the court, and wouldn't likely be confirmed. But by making supportive statements about Miers, Reid probably added to the suspicion of the radical right that Miers was too much of a squish on social issues, and possibly another Sandra Day O'Connor, or worse, a David Souter: a liberal. That would mean that Bush and the Republicans had betrayed the fundies and denied them victory in their 30 year quest to reshape the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade and return our country to an idealized past that never really was. If you've read much of the winger reaction since Miers' nomination, it's clear Reid's praise rattled the right, and it was often cited as a reason to distrust Miers and Bush's claims that she was a true conservative they should support.
Maybe this is all hooey. Maybe Reid actually screwed up by saying nice things about Miers, and was lucky that things turned out the way they did. But in poker, you need to be good, but you also need to be lucky. And if you're a good poker player, you try to never reveal when you know that you had been lucky. It's the same way in politics, so don't expect Reid to admit publicly whether this worked out the way he planned, or it was a welcome gift from the Republicans.
Whatever the case, just remember: do not play poker with Harry Reid.