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The Ponzi Victims Catch On

(cross-posted at tpmcafe.com...)

The reaction from the right to the Miers nomination should be a reminder of just why the Rove strategy of playing to the hard-right base is such a dangerous and unwise political choice: There's no turning back from it. It's like a Ponzi scheme, you have to continually borrow new money/enthusiasm to pay off the old, and you can never turn back. You can never decide to turn your Ponzi scheme into an ordinary business, because you're in too deep. And that's exactly what's happening on the right: they have been continually promised that the big payoff would come with a Supreme Court nominee to replace O'Connor, and instead they get a giant, "Trust me, it'll work out," at just the moment when "trust me" won't work anymore.

And like any Ponzi scheme, when it collapses, the collapse is total, and absolute. (By the way, I had written this before Ed Kilgore weighed in with his "balloon-mortgage" metaphor. Choose the metaphor that works for you.)

It's too early to make predictions about how this will play out in the Senate. This is someone who's never held a Senate-confirmed position and has no judicial record whatsoever. I'll get to Democrats in a minute, but there have to be some real questions about what Republicans will do. Remember, the 2008 presidential campaign has already begun. If you're a potential candidate like Senator Brownback, and you see this anger in the base, it is a golden opportunity to make some allies. And if Brownback turns on Miers, what are George Allen and Rick Santorum supposed to do? You could see the beginnings of significant bipartisan opposition to Miers, in which case the nomination would have to be withdrawn, even if it's not clear that the opposition would reach the 40-vote level.

On to what Democrats should do: Long before Harry Reid, I made the case for a politician on the Court. Hugo Black, Earl Warren, William Brennan -- many of the great 20th Century Justices had a background in the give-and-take, compromise, listening, and coalition-building of politics. I have always thought it was a great tragedy that Clinton did not take a chance and nominate Bruce Babbitt to the Court, despite the opposition of Orrin Hatch. But one term on the Dallas City Council is not what I had in mind. And the rest of her not-a-judge career has been as a corporate lawyer or an ultra-loyal Bush staffer. And take it from a staffer, carrying the garment bag -- literally or figuratively -- is just a very different political role than being in the arena oneself, and requires different skills. As David Frum wrote recently, "In the White House that hero worshipped the president, Miers was distinguished by the intensity of her zeal: She once told me that the president was the most brilliant man she had ever met." (That last bit alone should be disqualifying.)

In this respect, Miers would once again be a trailblazer: the first Justice to be characterized by strong personal loyalty to the president since another Texan, LBJ, gave the middle finger to his own congressional allies by appointing Abe Fortas, first to the Court and then to Chief Justice. And, as the Right never tired of reminding us during the debate over the Nuclear Option, that didn't work out so well. Nonetheless, Fortas was probably 100 times better qualified to serve on the Court -- he had, for example, argued Gideon v. Wainwright -- than Miers is, and he was in many ways a good Justice although compromised by his continued personal alliegance to Johnson. Miers is Fortas without qualifications -- a very bad model for the Court.

I don't really understand Harry Reid's earlier comments about Miers, quoted by Sam Rosenfeld: "The reason I like her is that she?s the first woman to be president of the very, very large Texas bar association, she was a partner in a law firm, she?s actually tried cases, she was a trial lawyer, and she?s had experience here. I could accept that. And if that fits into the cronyism argument, I will include everybody as a crony, but not her, when I make my case." Essentially what Reid was saying here is that he's so interested in non-judicial real world experience (anyone who thinks big Texas law firms are the real world, raise your hands) that he thinks that outweighs the crony problem. But it seems to me exactly the opposite: the crony problem ("the most brilliant man she had ever met") vastly outweighs this thin and perfectly ordinary legal experience. There are a thousand Harriett Mierses in the law firms of America, and at this point even a good number of them who are women.

But maybe Reid is cleverer even than I gave him credit for, and just lured Bush into the room with his angry, defrauded investors.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on October 3, 2005 | Permalink


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re: "She once told me that the president was the most brilliant man she had ever met."

Maybe it's true.

Posted by: Nilda | Oct 3, 2005 5:09:35 PM

Another great article - I wish you'd post more often.

Posted by: obsessed | Oct 3, 2005 7:34:17 PM

It seems to me that this appointment illustrates several of Bush's personal characteristics. First, a tendency to put trust in his personal, gut instincts about people/things: he knew that Putin was a good man because he wore a cross around his neck; he knew that the Iraq war was the right thing to do because Sadam was dangerous, etc. Second, he is willing to take enormous risks on not very much evidence.: war in Iraq; tax cuts, etc.

What we're seeing here, I think, is that he's willing to take those risks when it comes to conservative causes.

That is, he has become as incompetent in advancing conservative causes as he is in advancing the interests of the US generally.

Posted by: buckets | Oct 3, 2005 9:59:02 PM

I'm thinking that Reid played W. like a violin on this one. I loved listening to Reid on the radio this morning, praising Miers for being a "trial lawyer." I almost drove off the road, I was laughing so hard.

Posted by: Kenneth Fair | Oct 4, 2005 11:44:03 AM

E&P just published an article strongly suggesting that Miers was involved with the famous pre-911 briefing "Bin Laden Dtermined To Strike US". This would open her to questioning about the briefing, Bush's reaction,etc. This could get interesting.

Posted by: Bill | Oct 4, 2005 2:28:52 PM

I hope you're right about Reid luring w into his trap. I'm thinking the same thing.

Posted by: Marley | Oct 4, 2005 3:35:38 PM

I also thought that something must be going on with Reid. Maybe I'm just ignorant of some facts, but his comments seemed quite odd, all things considered.
My initial thought was that by supporting the nomination, he would instantly turn some republicans against her. But that could easily backfire. Your supposition is much more crafty and less likely to bite him in the proverbial butt.

Posted by: Cole | Oct 5, 2005 12:21:17 AM

Nice site, thanks!

Posted by: Mike James | May 15, 2006 2:44:06 AM

Good luck!

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