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Jewish World Review
Oct. 14, 2005
/ 11 Tishrei, 5765
Conservatives can teach even Jews about ingratitude
A stiff-necked people that's what the L-rd told poor Moses we were, and since we left the Sinai we've earned the honor again and again. But after listening to the complaints of conservative writers, bloggers and politicians about President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, I think we may be losing our exclusive claim to the title of World's Biggest Ingrates.
Despite "all the goodness which the L-rd had done to Israel" for having been led out of Egyptian bondage, been fed and clothed, and been given the Torah, our ancestors' ingratitude drove a tough customer like Moses almost to despair not just once, but over and over again. We're experts. Every Jewish son and daughter, it seems, at some point repeats the drama of ingratitude with mother and father.
But among the conservative intellectuals and the blogosphere, there are no dayenus for poor President Bush. Since he nominated Harriet Miers, nothing he has done no matter how unlikely or even miraculous has been enough. Not his improbable election victory in 2000. Not that he even more improbably increased the Republican majority in the off-year election of 2002. Not that he increased his majority in 2004 in 48 out of 50 states in Manhattan and New Jersey as well as in the "red states" despite a hostile and mendacious press. Did he act decisively against the terrorists after two administrations before his including his father's preferred to dither? Not enough. Did he press ahead with the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq, and give openings to democracy in Egypt and Lebanon. Not enough.
It wasn't enough that he listened to Terry Eastland and others and refrained from nominating his trusted friend Alberto Gonzales to the Supreme Court instead, giving us the most promising chief justice in a hundred years. It wasn't enough that something about his bearing and demeanor drives Democrats wild and prevents them from doing anything other than snarling and sneering all of which the President bears by himself with unenviable dignity. Yet according to Ann Coulter, it is not Bush, but others people like her, not him who have been "taking slings and arrows all these years," and whom, by his lèse-majesté in nominating Miers, he has 'casually spurned.'
It's not just Coulter. Among conservatism's pooh-bahs, the editors of National Review and the Weekly Standard have expressed their dismay that the President has wasted an opportunity to appoint a forthrightly conservative judge. More, they regret that the American public, which, they assure us, has been yearning for the spectacle, has been denied the edifying experience of a vicious confirmation fight. Speaking for American conservatism's Cliveden set, Pat Buchanan called Harriet Miers' qualifications for the Supreme Court "non-existent" (Buchanan, a TV commentator, opinion writer and occasional press secretary, has repeatedly offered himself for President). The estimable David Frum reminds himself of the even more estimable Duke La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt these days, passing the news of the street to a benighted White House. George Will, who thinks that the egregiously incompetent Bud Selig is the greatest baseball commissioner in the history of the game, has been lobbing one column after another at Harriet Miers for her lack of qualifications. Any one of his columns on the subject is about as interesting as the 2002 Baseball All-Star game, which thanks to Commissioner Selig ended in a tie.
None of these pundits has the slightest concern for reality or, more important, a proper sense of loyalty. Could Bush have proposed a more notoriously brilliant judicial conservative? Of course he could have named such a person. And then what?
Could Bill Kristol and Rich Lowry, together with Ann Coulter, go out to TGI Friday's with Senator Snowe and convince her to vote for such a candidate? If Senator Voinovich started to weep, could Pat Buchanan offer his hankie and assure him that Judges J. Harvie Wilkinson or Michael Luttig wouldn't send women to bleed to death in back alleys? Could David Frum go sailing with Senator Chaffee and convince him, while coming about, to support a brilliant and scholarly judge like Michael McConnell? Could half a hundred right-wing bloggers stiffen the spine of Arlen Spector? Could half a million?
And if the candidate were rejected? It would be March or May of 2006. Mid-term elections would beckon. The press would be telling nervous campaign managers across the country that the President was being too extreme, that America wanted to move back to the center. The result: no conservative on the court. No overt conservative. No stealth conservative. No "nuclear option" to block a minority from dictating policy because there would be no practical majority. No nothing. Just somewhere, floating in the blogosphere, a snazzy golden calf.
I respect and like many of the people so loudly complaining about Harriet Miers, and I sympathize with their feelings. I too can think of a much better candidate.
Ann Coulter suggests that it would have been wiser for President Bush to have appointed someone who went to a better law school than Southern Methodist's, from which Miers graduated (although it is fair to observe that Ann herself graduated from the very least selective of the Ivy League colleges). And although I, like Miers, have not been a judge, and, come to think of it, am not a lawyer, I did take the LSATs, and I can assure you that, had I troubled to apply, I would have been admitted to a better law school than SMU or even the University of Michigan (Ann Coulter's law school) based on my breathtaking score on the test.
I know I have a judicial temperament my wife can attest that I am in a happy mood no matter how early it is in the morning. And a paper trail? Mine is superb, including unimpeachable opinions about most everything and brilliant arguments to support them, but also a trail of unrealized business ideas and embarrassing relationships all of them easily discoverable (along with my credit score) by Senator Schumer's operatives. Above all, I can assure Nancy Pelosi that I am human. I have done those things which I ought not to have done and I have left undone those things which I ought to have done. What a superbly durable and reliable Associate Justice I would make the Schulmans tend to live well into their 90s and get sharper, meaner and more judicial-looking with age.
And yet let's face facts. In this benighted age I, like Judge Bork, could never be confirmed. So, like other more theoretically attractive candidates than Harriet Miers, I was passed over by the President for raisons d'etat. Perhaps it is my considerable personal disappointment that helps me realize as the conservative pundits cannot bring themselves to do that perfection is not attainable in this world. The President we have is the best we will get in a long time and the Supreme Court he will leave us if we can keep it will be better than we could ever have dreamed of on the morning of November 7, 2000.
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JWR contributor Sam Schulman, a New York writer, is formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University. To comment, please click here.
© 2005, Sam Schulman