Why anti-Miers conservatives misjudge Bush's choice

There are plenty of reasons for conservatives in particular and supporters of President Bush in general to be unhappy with his selection of Harriet Miers to the current Supreme Court vacancy.

Ms. Miers has never been a judge. That in itself is not a deal breaker, but it means her paper trail is shorter than your average celebrity marriage. There are no opinions to illuminate her views on any issues and precious few articles and/or briefs.

She's another close friend of the president, making the cronyism charge easier to make. There are already too many jokes in this town about how candidates for jobs in this administration are measured not by years of experience, but feet from the door of the Oval Office.

And some, including Senate Judiciary chairman Arlen Specter, have suggested that Miers may have a less-than ideal grasp on constitutional law. That's an area of some importance for the position in question.

Any or all of these are legitimate points. They don't necessarily prohibit Miers from being confirmed or being an excellent justice, but they are issues to consider and question thoroughly when her hearing time comes.

What has been harder to grasp in the past week is the anger from the political right on Miers not being conservative enough. The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol was "disappointed, depressed and demoralized." Rush Limbaugh was uneasy on his radio show in an interview with Vice President Cheney. Many want her nomination withdrawn.

They want a more conservative nominee in the mold of Justice Scalia or Justice Thomas. They've been waiting a long time for this opportunity to get "their" court and they don't like the way this is unfolding.

That's reasonable, of course, if you are on the political right - to want a more conservative nominee, to want another Scalia or Thomas, to want to get what they've waited for so long. But wanting is about wishing, not reality. And the reality in Washington right now is that over the past few months the temperature has changed where the Bush administration is concerned.

Conservatives on the air, in print, and online, have for the last week repeatedly made the case for Bush to push forward a nominee who would rile the left, who would make Democrats seriously consider the filibuster. The fight, the thinking goes, would unite the right and show the president still cares about them while making the Democrats look like extremists.

That's not a bad line of thinking - for, say, two years ago.

But before they go plunging headfirst into that battle, they might want to take a look at the current public opinion polls where the president is sitting at or near all-time lows for his tenure. They might want to consider the shaky state of Iraq and how the president's fate is tied to it. They might want to look at the problems with scandals - from Karl Rove to Tom DeLay - knocking on the White House door. Then they might want to consider this possible outcome for that scenario.

It might be right to assume that another Scalia or Thomas would push the Democrats to filibuster, but any public outrage in response is unlikely for two reasons. The public isn't with the president right now and the majority of Americans don't want what many on the right are gunning for: the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

A filibuster fight would likely only leave the president in a more weakened political state, looking less able to win a hard battle and more out of touch with the rest of the country.

There's a lot of strong talk coming from the right wing of the GOP at the moment, especially the religious right, who seem convinced that they're the reason the president is back in the White House. They now want to call in their chits. How eager are they?

Last week, after he met with Miers, Sen. Sam Brownback (R) of Kansas told reporters he still had problems with Miers and that there was a "good chance" he would vote against Miers if she said Roe was "settled law." Justice Roberts essentially voiced that same opinion in his confirmation hearings, and yet he skated through the process - with Mr. Brownback's vote.

Brownback has been criticized by some for having suddenly developed a litmus test on abortion. That may be a problem, but to be honest, many Democrats have a litmus test when it comes to Roe that leans in the other direction.

The real problem for Brownback et al. is more basic. They can believe what they wish about who put the president in the White House and that they are due.

Without public support those chits may not be worth much.

Dante Chinni writes a twice monthly political column for the Monitor.

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