Friday, October 14, 2005

The Danger of Harriet Miers

Or rather, the danger Miers poses for President Bush. Gerard Baker argues that Miers worries conservatives because her nomination "has given us a depressing glimpse into the vast open space that now appears to be the Bush political mind." He's on to something.

The real political danger for Bush is that Miers could become a synecdoche for the secret fears his supporters have long harbored: that he's little more than a corporatist who values personal loyalty above ideology or thought. In short, Miers has the potential to crystalize very specific fears about Bush's shortcomings in the same way that Dan Quayle's misspelling of "potato" was particularly damaging because people were already worried that he wasn't smart enough to be vice president.

(Mind you, I'm talking purely about political danger. The substantive--and more important--danger is that Miers may not be a very good Supreme Court justice.)

The great political danger for Bush is that Miers forces people who were marginal supporters to reassess past incidents on which they may have given him a pass. For example, incidents such as this one, reported by Joseph Bessette, about the Bush administration's attack on Lawrence Greenfeld and the Bureau of Justice Statistics:
IN AUGUST THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION fired its director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics in a dispute over a press release about a report on racial profiling. Newspaper editorialists and Democrats in Congress charged the administration with suppressing painful truths. In response, Republican officials apparently spread the word to sympathetic commentators that this was a battle between the administration and the anti-Bush permanent bureaucracy. As one commentator told National Public Radio, "Bush finally clamped down on this guy."

"This guy" was President Bush's own appointee to the directorship of BJS, Lawrence A. Greenfeld, a career criminal justice statistician and longtime deputy director of the agency, a unit of the Department of Justice. Happy as the principal deputy, Greenfeld had not sought the top job, which had always gone to a political appointee serving at the pleasure of the president. Yet, when the directorship opened up after Bush's election in 2000, Greenfeld's stellar reputation within the criminal justice community brought him to the attention of the White House. President Bush nominated him to serve as director, and he was confirmed by the Senate. At his swearing-in ceremony, former Attorney General Edwin Meese praised the accomplishments of Greenfeld and the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

So what are we to make of this incident? Has the administration won a battle against a hostile bureaucracy, or has it suppressed the truth about racial profiling in the United States? A review of the facts compels four conclusions. First, the administration did not try to suppress or manipulate data, though it did seek to deny publicity to uncomfortable facts. Second, its ham-handedness backfired by attracting infinitely more attention to the sensitive racial profiling data than would otherwise have been the case. Third, it cashiered Greenfeld for doing his job in a responsible and, indeed, exemplary way. Finally, not content simply with firing a dedicated public servant, it maligned him and his agency in a way that was deeply unjust, that undermined morale at a model federal agency, and that jeopardized its good work and its reputation within the criminal justice community.

In light of Harriet Miers, this behavior becomes even more egregious.


Anonymous said...

Synecdoche? I guess I better stop reading this blog. The average reader has got to be a lot smarter than I am.

arrScott said...

It's as if conservatives are waking up from hypnosis. Bush campaigned on a neoDukakasian platform in 2000—higher spending, greater federal paternalism, big-government solutions to national or even local problems, slow-growth deficit financing, less military spending than even Democrats proposed—and he delivered on his promises. He did the same in 2004, and now he is again delivering on his promises. Other than a lot of Jesus talk when he thinks non-evangelicals aren't listening, Bush has never even pretended very hard to be a principled conservative. JVL complains about people putting partisan team loyalty above conservative principle in supporting the Miers nomination, but supporting Bush has always meant putting Republicanism above conservatism.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, can someone please post a definition of "synecdoche"? My dicshunary is missing.

Anonymous said...

Describing something by substituting a part for the whole. For example, he was the president's eyes, meaning he was an informant for the president.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading about the justice statistics thing at the time (though I missed the Weekly Standard piece -- nice to see you guys weren't drinking the White House Kool-Aid on that one). I remember wondering at the time how anyone could be so brazen about trying to eliminate or supress any facts that agreed with their worldview.

Whatever you think about environmental issues and what we should be doing about them, there have been a number of reports about pressure on government environmental scientists as well. Mostly they get reported in liberal publications, so I can't vouch for the truth of the allegations, but when you see things like this, it certainly lends plausibility to them.

The left often caricatures the right as being faith-based anti-rationalists who believe that they have no need to live in the "reality based community." This caricature is rarely any more accurate than the caricature of liberals as pacificists even in the face of direct attacks who look forward to the fall of the United States.

Still, incidents like this and like the cheap attacks the White House has turned on their own side in the Miers fight have given the left that much more ammunition to use against the White House. Someone there needs to get a clue about what's going on and do some house cleaning.

Anonymous said...

I am convinced that many, many of this White House's problems stem from an inability to clearly, forcefully, and articulately defend itself.

From the excerpt posted by JVL:

First, the administration did not try to suppress or manipulate data,

If the White House could simply have made this point articulately, nothing else would have been needed. But they can't, so they ham-handedly fire some guy. Duh.

Lastango said...

I've long been amazed that heavy-hitting pundits on the Right have time and again ripped into Bush's triangulations on the likes of Fallujah, Campaign Finance Reform, open borders/amnesty and Michigan preferences - without concluding that Bush is not and never was a conservative.

Lately, though, there's been progress. David Frum wrote:

"We who supported Bolton supported him not because he was 'charming,' but because we shared his principles and believed they were in the American interest. As Scully's oped makes clear, the Bush White House has ceased to think in such terms, if indeed it ever did."

...and Peggy Noonan wrote

"Maybe (George Bush) isn't all that conservative a fellow, or at least all that conservative in the old, usual ways, and has been waiting for someone to notice. Maybe he has decided the era of hoping for small government is over. Maybe he is a big-government Republican who has a shrewder and more deeply informed sense of the right than his father did, but who ultimately sees the right not as a thing he is of but a thing he must appease, defy, please or manipulate. Maybe after five years he is fully revealing himself."

Anonymous said...

A few words for you African Killer Bees.

a)The Constitution clearly says: "...the President...shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, ...and he shall nominate, ...judges of the Supreme Court...

b)As far as I know, none of you bloggers or other critics have been elected President.

c)Advice and consent of the Senate does not, in my view, include minority activist groups, or friends of Senators, or any other big mouths.

We would all be better off if everyone not directly involved just let the process play itself out.

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