At the beginning of the day, I said I didn't know much about Harriet Miers. I still don't know much, but I do know not many conservatives are happy about her.
Responses seem to boil down to:
1) What the HECK was Bush thinking???
2) Bush doesn't want to fight
3) This is deep strategery
While I share the skepticism of my conservative friends, some things aren’t quite adding up here. We know that President Bush is not an intellectual genius, but that he does surround himself with genuinely smart people (whether smart people necessarily mean smart decisions is another question). We know that loyalty is extremely important to him. We know that George Bush isn’t shy about doing what he thinks is right and damning the torpedoes. We also know that the Bush team has accomplished an extraordinary amount of efforts in the last five years, and that they, and specifically Bush, have been frequently underestimated by pretty much everyone. Remember all the stories and rumors about how dumb he was, when he was first running and first elected? I can’t remember what the conventional wisdom was about his tax cut proposals, but I know I didn’t expect him to get those passed, and I certainly didn’t think he’d get Congress to approve the use of force against Iraq. In other words, this president is smarter and politically more astute than most people think, and he (or his team) have a tendency to surprise.
Such as with John Roberts. It wasn’t a complete surprise, but the conventional wisdom said that Bush wanted to nominate Alberto Gonzales, and liberals and conservatives alike were geared up to oppose him. Roberts, on the other hand, turned out to have a relatively small paper trail, which made him hard to oppose on his past record, and he also proved to be extremely intelligent, likeable, and gifted in people skills (I consider dealing with the Senate Judiciary Committee to be one of the most demanding tests of people skills, if not the most demanding).
We’re five years into the Bush presidency, therefore, and we should have a pretty good handle on what to expect from him. We should expect intelligent decisions (note for people who want to argue about Iraq: intelligent doesn’t mean right, it just means a conclusion that can be solidly argued), we should expect the unexpected, and we should expect that the President has a better-than-even chance of succeeding.
The nomination of Harriet Miers does not seem to be particularly intelligent, given that her legal credentials are quite weak by comparison to Roberts. It is true that many other justices in the past had likewise not served on the bench, but I think Roberts is the correct standard here simply because that is who Bush picked first. Miers’ nomination is also weak because there is little about her that will excite conservative activists. On the other hand, it is unexpected and contrary to the conventional wisdom. On two of three points, Miers is an out-of-the-ordinary choice by President Bush.
Is it cronyism? Is the president so impressed by Miers’ loyalty that he wants to reward her with a seat on the Supreme Court, a reward that will likely last for decades? Or is the president playing into the tendency of people to underestimate him before?
It doesn’t seem likely that the President, after making a highly controversial nomination in John Bolton and a strong nomination in John Roberts (not to mention all the previous controversial nominees of Janice Rogers Brown, Miguel Estrada, Priscilla Owens, etc etc.) has suddenly caved and decided to appoint a mild, colorless, offensive-to-no-one nobody to the Supreme Court of the United States. That isn’t his style. It’s also not his style to decide that he needs to save his ammunition for other issues, and avoid a fight over this nomination. He certainly wasn’t trying to do that when he originally nominated John Roberts.
Which leads me to conclude that something else is going on. Perhaps he expects the Democrats (especially the MoveOn.org types) to shoot at anything, and Miers is the hat-on-a-stick (incidentally, you’d need someone very loyal to you to be a hat that’s about to get shot full of holes). Perhaps he expects the Democrats (and some conservatives too) to badly discredit themselves in the eyes of the public during the nomination fight. Perhaps he wants them to play into his hands, and then he’ll withdraw Miers’ nomination (or she will quit, as Estrada did) and put up a strong conservative of the Scalia/Thomas/Roberts type. Having made fools of themselves, they won’t be able to mount an effective attack on that nominee.
My theory (which was not original to me; a former professor suggested it) hasn’t convinced me, yet, but the other alternative explanations make even less sense. Something else is going on, behind the scenes, of that I’m sure.