WASHINGTON — For most men who hold the office of America’s president, government is serious business. For George W. Bush it apparently is a hobby. That’s the only explanation for his “trust me” nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Miers appears to be a good attorney and competent presidential counsel. But nothing in her career suggests that she is among those most qualified to serve on America’s highest court.
Indeed, there’s no evidence that she has done anything to prepare herself for such a role. Has she ever thought about constitutional jurisprudence? Seriously considered controversial political issues? Studied the historical and philosophical context of American government?
She might be a quick learner, but beginning her sixth decade is rather late to prepare for such a dramatic career change. And there’s nothing about her, other than the personal confidence of the president, that speaks for her nomination.
Ask 10, 100, or 1,000 legal scholars to name the top prospects for the high court, and her name would not appear. Bush might have suppressed his telltale smirk when claiming that she was “the best person I could find,” but none of his listeners could avoid smirking.
The appointment is simple cronyism.
Of course, not all cronyism is created equal. Personal rapport matters for an official likely to work closely with the president, such as the White House Counsel. And Miers at least possesses a basic competence, in contrast to, for instance, one-time presidential favorite Michael Brown at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
But a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court is different. Friendship with the chief executive should not be considered a qualification to sit on the nation’s highest judicial tribunal. Indeed, it is cause for concern when a putative Supreme Court Justice reportedly has described the president whose conduct she would judge as the most “brilliant” man she has ever met.
At issue is less corruption and more frivolity. Bush simply doesn’t take government seriously. Which is why Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is so wrong to say that conservatives “ought to take him at his word” in vouching for Miers’ qualifications.
Bush’s judgment cannot be trusted.
Consider his response to Hurricane Katrina. Positions were filled by friends and loyalists — “Brownie” in the case of FEMA, despite its particularly important role in the post-9/11 world.
Nor was performance measured. Just showing up for work meant that Brownie was “doing a heck of a job,” as the president put it. Until the political explosion that occurred in Katrina’s aftermath, no one had been held accountable for anything in this administration.
Iraq is an even more spectacular example.
Decide on a policy of war, while discouraging anyone offering evidence contradicting the existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Fail to plan for the most obvious contingencies, such as an insurgency.
Ignore the most basic details, such as outfitting troops with body armor and armored vehicles. Refuse to acknowledge mistakes and promote the people who committed the most blunders.
Finally, when challenged, dig in and play the old tape with the old rhetoric. It’s almost as if the president believes that taking the U.S. into war, the most serious decision any chief executive can make, is akin to a big video game.
Similarly warped has been administration budget policy. Bush pushes tax relief for Americans while engaging in an orgy of spending that makes him the Republican Lyndon Johnson. He calls for spending restraint while refusing to veto a single bill.
With the new Medicare drug benefit for retirees he helped implement the greatest expansion of the welfare state in 40 years, but took no interest in the measure’s specifics, including its cost. He apparently saw no contradiction between talking conservative and promising benefits worth trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities.
Bush is not a bad person. But he’s a bad decision-maker: Intellectually uncurious and seriously unread.
Emotionally he remains a cocky collegiate jock, sure of his own decisions and quick to consider opposition the equivalent of disloyalty. Finally, he is unwilling to reflect on past decisions, acknowledge mistakes, or hold people accountable.
The subject is irrelevant. He doesn’t have good information, choose good people, recognize why he might be making a bad decision, and reconsider obvious mistakes in the light of experience.
Which is why a presidential “trust me” cannot justify elevating Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court. Bush has repeatedly proved that his judgment is suspect. It’s up to the U.S. Senate to insist that he treat seriously a presidential decision as important as this one.