With his choice of Miers, Bush gave some allies a wedgie. Let them squirm.
Harriet Miers is the kind of easy target normally found sitting above county fairs’ dunking tanks. Even Barney Bush knows how to submerge her. Will Miers survive this constant dousing by liberals, conservatives, even angry investors?
I mean, you know she’s in trouble when another easy target — David Brooks, former cabin boy to buccaneer Bill Buckley and now the conservative op-ed columnist of the New York Times — hits the bullseye and dunks her.
This morning, Brooks culled some deliciously, deliriously dog-shit doggerel from her published writings during her time as president of the State Bar of Texas. (Thanks to colleague Jarrett Murphy for making me read Brooks’s column — I’ll get even with Murphy later.) Here’s how Brooks started his op-ed piece:
Of all the words written about Harriet Miers, none are more disturbing than the ones she wrote herself. In the early 90’s, while she was president of the Texas bar association, Miers wrote a column called “President’s Opinion” for the Texas Bar Journal. It is the largest body of public writing we have from her, and sad to say, the quality of thought and writing doesn’t even rise to the level of pedestrian.
Of course, we have to make allowances for the fact that the first job of any association president is to not offend her members. Still, nothing excuses sentences like this:
“More and more, the intractable problems in our society have one answer: broad-based intolerance of unacceptable conditions and a commitment by many to fix problems.”
Brooks is right, for a change: Miers is so pedestrian that even a 4-year-old on a tricycle could run over her.
But Brooks succumbs to his usual illogic. He goes on:
Throw aside ideology. Surely the threshold skill required of a Supreme Court justice is the ability to write clearly and argue incisively. Miers’s columns provide no evidence of that.
The Miers nomination has reopened the rift between conservatives and establishment Republicans.
So far, OK. But Brooks himself doesn’t throw aside ideology. He goes on:
The conservative movement was founded upon the supposition that ideas have consequences. Conservatives have founded so many think tanks, magazines and organizations, like the Federalist Society, because they believe that you have to win arguments to win political power. They dream of Supreme Court justices capable of writing brilliant opinions that will reshape the battle of ideas.
Republicans, who these days are as likely to be members of the corporate establishment as the evangelical establishment, are more suspicious of intellectuals and ideas, and more likely to believe that politics is about deal-making, loyalty and power. You know you are in establishment Republican circles when the conversation is bland but unifying. You know you are in conservative circles when it is interesting but divisive. Conservatives err by becoming irresponsible. Republicans tend to be blown about haplessly by forces they cannot understand.
For the first years of his presidency, George Bush healed the division between Republicans and conservatives by pursuing big conservative goals with ruthless Republican discipline. But Harriet Miers has shown no loyalty to conservative institutions like the Federalist Society. Her loyalty has been to the person of the president, and her mental style seems to be Republicanism on stilts.
Let’s go back to that statement of his that “ideas have consequences.” Forget the twaddle that the conservative movement was “founded upon” that “supposition.” And just ignore Brooks’s contention that it’s the Republicans who are “hapless.” But remember that the National Review, where Brooks learned his ideology and journalism, recently turned 50 years old. George W. Bush just celebrated the millstone with the magazine’s founder, eminence grease Bill “William F. Buckley Jr.” Buckley. (Dick Cheney didn’t make the party; he must have had other things to do.)
Bush said he “appreciates” Buckley, but to me William F. Buckley Jr.’s just another nattering nabob of Negro-baiting, a pecksniffian patrician who is more recondite than erudite, if you get my fucking meaning.
Plain and simple, the National Review was founded half a century ago to give voice to polite, well-educated segregationists. You think I oversimplify and exaggerate? Well, I’m oversimplifying, but I’m not exaggerating.
Brooks tries this morning to riff on his fellow conservatives. My advice to Brooks: Don’t go there. Or, maybe he should start talking about what he thinks “conservatives” and his precious “movement” stand for.
For instance, Buckley’s ideas from his early days are lovingly preserved by the Occidental Quarterly, a proudly “white racialist” magazine of current vintage. In “Two Models of White Racialism,” Gil Caldwell notes:
Surprising as it may seem today, William F. Buckley Jr. himself advocated the old, racialist morality at length in Up from Liberalism, calling for depriving Southern blacks of the right to vote.
No, that’s not surprising. Calling “racialism” a “morality,” instead of a lack thereof, is in addition offensive, but that’s also no surprise. Caldwell continues:
Basing his conclusions upon “the statistics evidencing median cultural advancement of white over Negro,” Buckley reasons that the issue is whether “the claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage.”
He also argued that blacks would, if given the vote, “use it to levy even further (Negro facilities are for the most part paid for by dollars taxed from whites) against the propertied classes, which is [largely] composed of whites. I believe it is a man’s right to use his political influence to protect his property.”
As I’ve pointed out regarding the whitening that continues to devastate New Orleans, such ideas are not old-school. They inform and animate powerful leaders like Tom DeLay and Bill Frist and their many, many followers in Congress, who, as the dominant branch of the modern-day Republican Party, still control the legislative branch and have found willing allies in the Bush regime.
Bill Buckley hasn’t changed much from his Up from Liberalism days. And those ideas have consequences.
So, I have to agree with Brooks on one thing: Let’s have a full-on debate about whether Harriet Miers is “worthy” of being called a conservative.
In fact, let’s let it all hang out. Let’s talk more about some of those old “conservative” values that propel many of today’s right-wingers. Maybe then, some of the Americans who have been blindly trusting of these pols will see what today’s dominant branch of the GOP — the diseased limb of Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms, Trent Lott, DeLay, and Frist — is about.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 13, 2005