Saturday, October 15, 2005

Double Game

Double Game
Regardless of whether Miers makes it to the Supreme Court, conservative anger over Bush’s choice could paralyze the rest of his presidency.

By Eleanor Clift

Oct. 14, 2005 - Democrats are doing what they do best, sitting on their rear ends, as the White House turns the venom on its own base, accusing conservatives of sexism because they don’t like President Bush's Supreme Court pick. For once, the Democrats have the right strategy. Watching the evangelists wrestle with the conservative intellegentsia is the political equivalent of Hulk Hogan taking on Jesse (the Body) Ventura.

It doesn’t matter who comes out on top, the moves are worth the price of admission. President Bush wouldn’t care either if it were just the pointy-headed neocons griping about Harriet Miers. But he’s scared of losing his religious base. The reason the religious right got involved in Republican politics was for this moment: when a pro-life president would reward their years of hard work with a Supreme Court that voted their way.

The religious right doesn’t care about affirmative action or antitrust issues or the reach of the court. All they care about is abortion, and Bush’s attempts to reassure them by stressing Miers’s evangelical faith is compounding his problems with the rest of the party, if not the country. Focus on the Family chairman James Dobson said he’d been assured by White House pointman Karl Rove that Miers attends a “very conservative” Texas church “which is almost universally pro-life.” That was good enough for Dobson, but a former Reagan aide involved in the nomination of Judge Anthony Kennedy to the Supreme Court recalled similar assurances that Kennedy was an ardent Roman Catholic who would vote right on abortion and other social issues. Kennedy voted to uphold Roe v. Wade.

Bush is playing a dangerous double game. He’s telling conservatives that because of her faith, Miers will vote the way they want. And he’s telling the rest of the country religion is irrelevant in choosing a Supreme Court nominee.

What about stem-cell research? Americans are close to unified on supporting federal funding on this research. Is Miers going to vote Dobson’s way on everything or only on abortion? On Capitol Hill, Republican senators were less impressed with Miers after meeting with her, noting that she avoided stating her views either out of an excess of caution or ignorance of constitutional law. GOP staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee were in open revolt, suggesting Miers should step down while she still has some dignity left.

Is it sexism? The president, First Lady and senior White House advisors said as much, further infuriating conservatives who’d heard enough of that over the years from Democrats. Miers’s gender isn’t the issue; it’s her credentials, or lack thereof. “A man with her credentials did get the same treatment--his name was Clarence Thomas,” says a former Republican Senate staffer, a woman. “Her shortcomings look worse because of those sappy, stupid notes. No man would ever write those notes.” Miers has a scant body of writing, but among the bursts of prose made public this week by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission were these gems: ”You are the best governor ever--deserving of great respect” on Bush’s 51st birthday. In another note, she pronounced him “cool.” Bush returned the compliments, thanking Miers for her “candor” and adding, “never hold back your sage advice.”

Miers spent most of her time at the White House shuffling papers. She was responsible for getting Bush his daily document minder, and it was always nice and neat. But the Supreme Court is not a patronage post. “It’s like putting your own personal accountant in charge of OMB [Office of Management and Budget],” says the former GOP staffer. “Nobody supports her. Who wants to defend someone with a record that’s nonexistent?”

The answer is the evangelical poohbahs--Dobson, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, who are all over the religious airways touting Miers. On his “700 Club” broadcast, Robertson threatened grass-roots retaliation: “These so-called movement conservatives don’t have much of a following, the ones that I’m aware of. And you just marvel, these are the senators, some of them who voted to confirm the general counsel of the ACLU [Ruth Bader Ginsburg] to the Supreme Court, and she was voted in almost unanimously. And you say, ‘Now they’re going to turn against a Christian who is a conservative picked by a conservative president and they’re going to vote against her for confirmation.’ Not on your sweet life, if they want to stay in office.”

Conservative Sen. Sam Brownback is not going to be cowed by Pat Robertson, and all it takes is one Republican senator to say he’s not going to vote for her and the cultural war will explode. “If you don’t hear that in a week or so, she’ll skate through,” guesses a GOP strategist. “It will be unpleasant for her, but she’ll get through.” If the nomination goes down, “There’s no overstating how bad this is. He has no ability to change the momentum. All he can hope for is an end to a downward spiral.” Whatever happens to Miers, the damage is done. Conservatives know how to carry a grudge. Just ask Bush's father. Bush is not up for re-election, but the right is vindictive, and they can paralyze his presidency.