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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Message: I Don’t Care

In response to my last post suggesting that the Miers nomination saga might have taken another strange turn with the revelation of her 1989 support for the Human Life Amendment, I was put in my place by a number of friends and correspondents who reminded me how remarkably uncontroversial support for the HLA used to be in conservative circles; so uncontroversial, indeed, that it didn’t seem odd for a city council candidate to embrace it to get a local endorsement.And in fact, yesterday’s revelation didn’t seem to much impress Miers’ conservative opponents; they’re not even talking about it. Indeed, the only discussion of the material released by the Senate about Miers yesterday on sites like The Corner and Red State involves derisive comments about her answer to the Judiciary Committee question about “judicial activism.” (BTW, the constant use of passive verb constructions indicates that Miers herself, or someone immersed in her Collected Works, filled the thing out).What many conservatives have been talking about, from the very beginning, is a point that Jonathan Chait riffs on brilliantly today at the New Republic site: how little political capital the White House seemed willing to spend on a crucial Supreme Court nomination.There’s an almost universal conviction among conservative Miers-o-phobes that Bush could have rammed a qualified and unambiguously Scalia/Thomas-type jurist through the Senate (probably anybody to the left of Janice Rogers Brown) if he had really wanted to. Sure, it might have required some serious arm-twisting, and maybe a resort to the Nuclear Option, but the deal about Supreme Court nominations is that it requires just 50 of 55 Republican votes to put somebody on the Court for a lifetime. And Bush wouldn’t do it. He came to the eve of the long-awaited Armaggedon, and flinched.As Chait points out, what galls cultural conservatives most about this decision is that it was diametrically opposed to the White House M.O. on economic issues:

When it comes to tax cuts, regulation, or other controversial budget changes, Bush’s Republicans usually muscle their legislation through both Houses of Congress without any votes to spare. (Last week’s House vote to ease oil refinement restrictions-during which the GOP leadership extended a five-minute vote to 45 minutes while they twisted enough arms to prevail 212 to 210–is a typical display). The goal is always to win as many benefits as possible for the party’s business and donor base.

Actually, as Mark Schmitt likes to point out, the GOP often seems determined to win votes without any significant Democratic support, in part because they don’t want to compromise, but also because they deeply believe that maximum partisan polarization is in their party’s long-term interest.So why, ask cultural conservatives, isn’t that the case with their own most important priority? And all the rationalizations the White House has been providing for the Miers choice–Bush’s loyalty to his friend, her “stealth credentials” as an evangelical Christian, Karl Rove’s distractions, Andy Card’s sponsorship, Bush’s low poll numbers, etc., etc.–add insult to injury. On something this big, how was it possible for Bush to stray so far from the obvious course of giving the Right what it wanted and what he had the power to give? That’s a hard question to answer without quickly concluding that Bush just didn’t care enough to get it Right.

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