Evasion is a hallowed political tradition, sometimes so skillfully executed as to be art. But President Bush cannot be viewed as an artful dodger. His equivocation is clumsy and obvious, never more so than his ducking of fair questions about his latest Supreme Court nominee.
On Monday, Bush nominated Harriet E. Miers to be the next justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Almost universally, that announcement generated an exclamatory question: “Who?”
Miers is the president’s White House counsel. More importantly, she is the president’s friend, another crony. Her professional record, while noteworthy, gives little indication of Miers’ constitutional philosophy.
This is distressing to those across the political spectrum. Indeed, some of the toughest criticism of the Miers nomination has come from the right. William Kristol of the Weekly Standard said the choice of Miers left him “disappointed, depressed and demoralized.”
The Wall Street Journal lambasted the president’s preference for stealth nominees: “The lesson this nomination in particular will send to younger lawyers is to keep your opinions to yourself, don’t join the Federalist Society, and, heaven forbid, never write an op-ed piece. This isn’t healthy in a democracy.”
Mike Krempasky, a fiercely pro-Bush blogger at redstate.org, said, “Mr. President, you’ve got some explaining to do. And please remember, we’ve been defending you these five years because of this moment.” The “moment” is when Bush could elevate a justice who would tip the scales against legal abortion.
On Tuesday, Bush met the press. He insisted that Miers was the best person for the job, and he denied that her appointment reflected cronyism. “People know we’re close,” Bush said. “But you got to understand, because of our closeness, I know the character of the person.”
Thus claiming to know Miers’ “heart” and “character,” Bush left himself open to the obvious question: What does she think of the constitutional right to privacy and, hence, abortion?
Irrelevantly, Bush responded, “I have no litmus test. It’s also something I’ve consistently said: There is no litmus test. What matters to me is her judicial philosophy.”
That non-response preceded the following exchange.
Reporter: “Sir, you’ve already said there was no litmus test …”
Bush: “Correct. And I’ll say it again: There is no litmus test.”
Reporter: “But she is not someone you interviewed for the job that you didn’t know. You’ve known her a long time. Have you never discussed abortion with her?”
Bush: “In my interviews with any judge, I never ask their personal opinion on the subject of abortion.”
Reporter: “In your friendship with her, you’ve never discussed abortion?”
Bush: “Not to my recollection have I ever sat down with her _ what I have done is understand the type of person she is and the type of judge she will be.”
What does the president know? “I know her heart. I know what she believes,” he said Tuesday. So why not just answer the abortion question? It’s the same motivation, obviously, that drives Bush himself to duck the question of whether he’d like to see Roe v. Wade overturned.
“I’m not going to interject that kind of issue in the midst of these hearings,” he said. But a moment later, the president effectively answered the question, saying, “I’m a pro-life president.”
So the president again asks us to trust him. Congress did that in Iraq, and what a smashing success that has been. Of course, Bush has the power to help the American people judge whether Harriet Miers is right for the job. He could release documents she’s generated in the White House.
But, of course, he won’t. “I just can’t tell you how important it is for us to guard executive privilege in order for there to be crisp decision-making in the White House.”
She has never been a judge, and she hasn’t generated the sort of “paper trail” that might illuminate her constitutional compass. One of the few things that might indicate her thinking is the collection of her White House writings. We should be able to see them.
Bush may claim not to know her views on abortion. That’s idiocy, mendacity or both. It’s quite another matter for him to claim, in essence, that the American people have no right to know. That flaunting of power and secrecy _ the flouting of the public’s right to know _ is an outrage. The sad thing is that the ploy will probably work.
(Clint Talbott is a columnist for the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)