July 21, 2005

Column 2005-7-21 Commentary

In Brooks's Thursday column, we learn that Brooks wants to have sex with John Roberts, Bush's Supreme Court nominee. (Wait a minute, that's not right). Correction: in the Rude Pundit's Thursday column, he says that he wants to have sex with John Roberts. Brooks is not actually in love with Roberts, merely his nomination. This is hardly surprising, as it is impossible to imagine Brooks being critical about any administration nominee to the Supreme Court, up to and including James Dobson. Brooks really gives himself away with two sentences: one from the beginning of the column -- "President Bush consulted widely, moved beyond the tokenism of identity politics and selected a nominee based on substance, brains, careful judgment and good character." -- and one from the end "And most important, [Bush has] shown that character and substance matter most." Note first that Bush has "moved beyond the tokenism of identity politics": that is, he picked a rich white male ("the face of today's governing conservatism", as Brooks so nicely puts it). What's more interesting, though, is the fact that "Bush accelerated his search for a Supreme Court nominee in part because of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into the leak of a CIA agent's name, according to Republicans familiar with administration strategy." Apparently Bush dumped the long-term advantage of playing identity politics in favor of the short-term advantage of trying to manipulate the media (which didn't even work very well). But maybe Brooks, Rove's indefatigable defender (more on that in the archives), thinks that this is merely another way for Bush to demonstrate how much character and substance matter to him. After all, Brooks never specified whose character and what substance.

As for Roberts himself, Brooks does a nice whitewash. Look! Roberts submitted his wedding notice to the New York Times (according to Saturday's New York Times, his wife grew up in the Bronx, which might have something to do with it)! His wife is a member of a culturally heterodox anti-abortion group! And he lives in the Maryland suburbs of D.C., not the the Virginia ones! Clearly, then, he's not some crazy ideologue! The only real substance backing Brooks's claim that Roberts is not an ideologue is the assertion that Roberts "has done pro bono work on behalf of the environment, parental rights [and that's a hot-button liberal topic-ed.] and minorities." Unsurprisingly, the word "abortion" does not appear in this column. Neither does the phrase "Roe v. Wade". How Brooks hopes to analyze Robert's record without once mentioning his views on this key issue is beyond me (of course, Brooks doesn't actually present Roberts's views on any issue, never getting beyond platitudes about how "principled" and "rich in practical knowledge" he is). As a side note, Brooks states approvingly that Roberts is "
a conservative practitioner, not a conservative theoretician", who is "skilled in the technical aspects of the law," but "doesn't think at the level of generality of, say, a Scalia." Exactly two columns ago, Brooks wrote that Bush should pick the candidate with the largest brain, a philosophical giant who would stun us all with the breadth and depth of his conservative theorizing (see below for more). So, in exactly one week, Brooks has completely abandoned every idea he set forth in that column without a peep of protest. Can you say "partisan hack"?

What is really fascinating, though, is the last part of the column, in which Brooks analyzes the effect of this nomination on the Democratic party, seeing a fight between the "Democratic elites" (for some reason, he refers to the centrists in this way) and the "liberal interest groups" (which appears to refer to the rest of the party). "The outside interest groups and donors . . . need this fight" Brooks says. They are "rolling out the old warhorse rhetoric" and "distorting Roberts's record . . . ." And to cap it all off, they insist that the balance of the court be maintained! How dare they insist that Bush nominate a non-crazy conservative like O'Connor, rather than a crazy one like Scalia! Brooks also makes the mistake of asserting that the balance of the court "never matters when a Democrat is president. This is a mistake because it invites a brief diversion down memory lane to the last time a Democratic president (one W. J. Clinton) got to nominate a Supreme Court Justice. Courtesy of Think Progress, we find that, amazingly enough, Clinton actually consulted with the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary committee, Orrin Hatch! Why, one might almost think that he took that "advice and consent" nonsense in the Constitution seriously! Furthermore, one of his nominees, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was pretty clearly a moderate (a study found that she voted with her Republican-appointed colleagues on the D.C. Court of Appeals more than with her fellow Democratic appointees). So much for balance, I guess. It goes without saying that Patrick Leahy, the current ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was never consulted on this nomination.

Who was consulted? Why, the crazy ideologues and holy warriors, naturally. And there lies the rub, for a day after Brooks attacked liberals who were making Roberts out to be an extreme conservative, the New York Times published an article detailing how the administration managed to convince its base on the lunatic Christian right that Roberts was one of them. Brooks does not assert in so many words that Roberts is no Scalia, but his claim that Roberts is not as broad a thinker as Scalia is undoubtedly intended to disassociate Roberts from Scalia. It is interesting, then, to find Leonard Leo, chairman of Catholic outreach for the Republican Party and someone "tapped by the White House to build the coalition for judicial confirmation battles", describing the process by which people came to realize that "'Roberts fit the president's standards as he set forth in his two campaigns' - a jurist in the mold of Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas . . . ." Brooks speaks of liberals "misrepresenting" Roberts's record, which makes one wonder what to think when Jay Sekulow, also picked to help sheperd the nominee through and "chief counsel of an evangelical Protestant legal center founded by Pat Robertson," who also worked with Roberts as a lawyer, says that he knows that "Roberts doesn't argue just to argue", and his heart was in all those cases he fought (including ones in which he argued that Roe v. Wade should be overturned). In fact, the Times article says that a central part of the case for Roberts was his record as a lawyer for Republican administrations. And no less a personage than James Dobson is quoted as saying "We believe the issues we care about will be handled carefully by this judge." So, either the administration has been baldly lying about Roberts's record and beliefs in an attempt to persuade Dobson, Robertson, and their minions to back him, or Brooks is simply casting baseless aspersions on liberals as part of an adminstration campaign to present Roberts as a moderate (with a wink to the Dobsonites) to make his confirmation easier. A tough call, admittedly, but given the loud outcries and veiled threats from the radical Christian right when the idea of an Alberto Gonzalez nomination was floated, I'm going to say that the second option is likely the correct one (after all, what is the name of this website?).

PS: Since Brooks didn't bother to actually address Roberts's record, I didn't either. However, if you're interested, you can download this pdf from the Alliance for Justice, or check out the always-good People for the American Way. Also, see this post for information about a recent and extremely disturbing Roberts decision. And don't forget that Roberts advised the Bushies during the whole Florida recount thing back in 2000.