Wednesday, July 06, 2005

In search of civility -- uh, yeah, good luck with that

On the surface, this looks promising, but is it?

In Copenhagen for a meeting with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen prior to the G8 meeting in Scotland, President Bush, as reported today in the Times, called for civility as the intensity over his upcoming nomination for the Supreme Court mounts:

I hope the United States Senate conducts themselves in a way that brings dignity to the process, and that the senators don't listen to the special interest groups, particularly those on the extremes that are trying to exploit this opportunity for not only their, what they might think is right, but also for their own fund-raising capabilities.

And he went on:

The Senate needs to conduct themselves in a dignified way and have a good, honest debate about the credentials of the person I put forward, no matter who he or she is, and then give the person an up or down vote.

And so this is a good opportunity for good public servants to exhibit a civil discourse on a very important matter, and not let these groups, these money raising groups, these special interest groups, these groups outside the process, dictate the rhetoric, the tone.

Sounds good, right? Who's against civility? (Oh, right, the extremes -- and they're going to make a lot of noise.)

But what was Bush really saying? Was he setting the stage for a Gonzales nomination, for which he would be attacked from the right? That is, was he warning his rabid base to back off and let him pick his relatively moderate attorney general? Or was he trying to lull his opponents into submission, and into the straight-jacket of civility, before nominating a fundamentally conservative judge and ramming him through the Senate, well, uncivilly? Or was it not a bit of both? After all, maybe he wants the right to back off, and refrain from aggravating the left, so that a conservative judge, one agreeable to the right, would pass more easily through the Senate's confirmation process. Who knows? Let's see what else Bush said:

First of all, as I said during both of my campaigns, there will be no litmus test. I'll pick people who, one, can do the job, people who are honest, people who are bright, and people who will strictly interpret the constitution and not use the bench to legislate from.

Okay, fine, no litmus test, but couldn't this mean that he doesn't want Democrats to question a pro-life nominee? If it looks like he is against litmus tests, then shouldn't Democrats also be against them? Ah, how tricky! He'll pretend that there's no litmus test so as to preempt a Democratic one. But, then, isn't there still a litmus test? After all, who is to decide what it means to interpret the constitution "strictly" and not to legislate from the bench? And just what are the meanings of constitutional interpretation and judicial legislation? Well, those are the big questions, but clearly it will be up to Bush to determine where a specific judge stands (or sits) on constitutional interpretation and judicial legislation before even nominating him or her, and then up to his allies in the Senate to ensure his or her confirmation.

In other words, Bush seems to be showing his good side and trying to set the tone of the debate before he either a) nominates Gonzales (or another acceptable moderate) and secures a quick and easy confirmation, or b) nominates a far less acceptable (to Democrats and their allies) conservative who would have to be rammed through the Senate over and against Democratic objections (and a possible filibuster, provoking the so-called nuclear option). Either way, it seems that he wants to take ideology (or judicial philosophy) out of it and to narrow the debate to character and experience.

Democrats likely won't bite -- why shouldn't they examine a nominee's ideology, or his or her views on certain controversial issues, especially if he or she is well out of the mainstream and may be an activist of the right? -- but Bush is clearly trying to look like the good guy, securely positioned above the nastiness and bitterness of partisan politics, of which we are likely to see a great deal in the coming days and weeks.

Do you buy it? I don't. Not entirely.

I still think that Bush wants to nominate Gonzales and he may very well to trying to negotiate a compromise with the right -- perhaps in return for an uncompromisingly conservative replacement for Rehnquist and/or the elevation of Scalia to chief justice upon Rehnquist's retirement. For now, though, he's just trying to set himself up for victory, either way.

On the surface, it all looks quite promising, but, deeper down, we're being manipulated. As usual. It's called politics.

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