Loyalty Has Its Costs

My friend Agi. T. Prop writes today:

Harriet Miers will forever be known as the Michael Brown of the federal judiciary. If Michael Brown epitomized Bush-era cronyism in the executive branch, Miers--who has no judicial experience whatsoever--will be the holy beacon of cronyism in the judiciary. By nominating his own personal lawyer to the highest court in the land, Bush has proved that he still has some cojones.

Balls indeed.

While some are speculating that Miers is almost surely to be struck down and thus is merely a sacrificial lamb, others have pointed out that Bush simply has no respect for the intellectual standards of the Court.

Either way, the Miers nomination is a blow to ideological conservatives and George Bush's base, and that, we can only hope, will leave the Republican party demoralized as the 2006 elections approach.

In Slate, Fred Kaplan blasted Karen Hughes' "outreach" efforts in the Middle East, and yearned for the good old days of effective public diplomacy during the Cold War:

Back in the days of the Cold War, the U.S. Information Agency ran a vast, independent public-diplomacy program in embassies all over the world—libraries, speakers' bureaus, concert tours by famous jazz musicians, and broadcasts of news and music on the Voice of America. Together, they conveyed an appealing image of a free, even boisterous, America in the face of an implacable, totalitarian Communist foe.

I'm not sure this is the best analogy. The main difference here is that during the Cold War, those on the other side of the Iron Curtain were largely closed off from Western culture, and the U.S. Information Agency merely had the task of bringing that culture to a largely receptive, albeit shuttered, audience. Radio broadcasts wafting into Eastern Europe acted, as Russian novelist Vassily Aksyonov put it, as "America's secret weapon number one."

Today, by contrast, the Islamic world can already, and very easily, receive its dose of Western culture—they can see it on TV, or on the internet, or read about it in magazines—and the problem is that many simply don't like what they see. To some extent Islamic anger towards the West comes as a result of opposition to the libertine, over-sexed Western programming they see on the air, rather than as a result of not seeing enough of it. As Egyptian journalist Abdel Wahab E. Elmessiri, recently quoted in the Wilson Quarterly, put it, "To know which direction we are heading, one should simply watch MTV." He didn't mean it in a good way. Ultimately, it's hard to think that the United States' current efforts at public and cultural diplomacy can make much headway here. Hughes' most important task, one would think, might well be to actually listen to—and not lecture—people in the Middle East and figure out what their grievances against the West actually are, rather than try to rehash the Cold War "hearts and minds" campaign.

Why Miers?

So Harriet Miers is the new Supreme Court nominee. Conservatives seem wholly unhappy with this pick. So what was the rationale? Given that she's currently White House counsel, I'm guessing Bush wanted someone who agrees with his own dictatorial view of presidential powers in wartime. I suggested a few weeks ago that Bush would never pick Gonzales for this spot, because then both he and Roberts would have to recuse themselves in an upcoming and fairly crucial case on detainee matters, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which would leave the fate of Bush's "war on terror" powers in the hands of a pseudo-liberal majority. Nuh-uh. Hence Miers. This seems like an awfully bizarre reason to choose Miers—who is otherwise fairly unqualified—but I can't really see any other. Unless Bush just likes Texans.

Meanwhile, David Frum makes a pretty persuasive point here:

But here is what we do know: the pressures on a Supreme Court justice to shift leftward are intense. There is the negative pressure of the vicious, hostile press that legal conservatives must endure. And there are the sweet little inducements - the flattery, the invitations to conferences in Austria and Italy, the lectureships at Yale and Harvard - that come to judges who soften and crumble. Harriet Miers is a taut, nervous, anxious personality. It is impossible to me to imagine that she can endure the anger and abuse - or resist the blandishments - that transformed, say, Anthony Kennedy into the judge he is today.

Well I don't think that's conspiratorial at all; read Jeffrey Toobin's old profile of Anthony Kennedy in the New Yorker and you get a sense that something like that really does go on. But hey, if the last few bastions of pseudo-liberalism—the press, the universities, the foreigners—can't influence American public opinion, at least they can influence the judges. Still, whatever leftward shifts may come, it does seem that Miers could do lasting damage to the Constitution in her first few years by giving the president the ability to declare whoever he feels like an "enemy combatant," and hold 'em without trial. Also, the elite "pressures on a Supreme Court justice to shift leftward" usually don't include pressure to shift leftward on economic and worker issues: the so-called "liberals" on the court, like Stephen Breyer, are still remarkably business-friendly. That's not to say anyone should be happy with Miers, least of all liberals, but it does seem like Bush isn't pushing this court as far to the right as he, in theory, could have.