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Absolute Power

Monday, October 24, 2005, 19:21 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Frequent readers of this site know that I am hardly a George W. Bush basher. I have been a strong supporter of his decision to go to war in Iraq (though not always the way it’s been executed) and a vocal critic, especially lately, of the pathetic mess the Democratic Party has become. (Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean? That’s the best they can do?) But none of that renders me blind to the Republicans’ many faults, and those faults are magnified after five years of total Republican control of Washington and the way President Bush appears to have taken advantage of it.

What has me on a roll today is the Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination. Knowing nothing about Ms. Miers, I have no reason to criticize her—but nor do I have reason to feel good about her nomination. That is no fault of hers; she has not yet had a chance to show her mettle via confirmation hearings, and in any event I don’t believe it is up to her (or any other nominee, for that matter) to make a case for herself in the media. The confirmation process is the proper forum for her to put forth her qualifications.

What I would like to hear before then is something more from Bush about why he thinks she will be a good justice. So far, he has given only general platitudes, which may be fine when a nominee has a paper trail but don’t quite fit the bill otherwise. No, I don’t believe Bush needs to prove the worthiness of his nominee before the hearings. But since most of us won’t be able to sit at home and watch the confirmation hearings, it might be nice of him to give us some substantive statement of what he thinks makes this person qualified to sit on the Supreme Court.

So what does Harriet Miers have to do with the title of this entry? Simply this: I wonder if Bush has failed to make the most basic case for his nominee because he thinks it isn’t necessary—the Republican-controlled Senate will go ahead and confirm her, regardless of what the public thinks. If it sounds like I am accusing Bush of arrogance… I am. It’s the same arrogance Democrats used to exhibit when they were in charge of everything. It’s why I thought Jimmy Carter should be defeated in his re-election bid in 1980 (even though I wasn’t yet old enough to vote) and why I voted for George H.W. Bush in 1988 and 1992. OK, I also voted for Bush in ’88 because Mike Dukakis was a pathetic alternative. And I voted for Mondale in ’84, when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, but only because I knew he didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning.

The Democrats proved the adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I didn’t trust them to run the White House and the House and the Senate, because when they did, they lost any sense that there might be another way of doing things from their way. Compromise and consensus became a part of their lexicon only after they fell solidly into the minority, and only then to mean "do things our way".

What is happening to the Republicans is in some ways worse. Not only do they seem to have lost any sense of competing ideas, but they haven’t even stuck to their own ideas (opposition to same-sex marriage excepted, unfortunately). Spending discipline—one of the few conservative issues with which I fairly consistently agree—is a thing of the past, with the only difference between the two parties now being whether that they’re throwing money at conservative pork rather than liberal pork. The idea that Americans might have to cut back to fund the important wars in which we are engaged (anyone ever heard of wartime rationing?) is as foreign to today’s Republican leaders as the notion that the politicians themselves should forego their particular pet projects for the good of the country.

None of which means I’ll be rejoining the Democrats any time soon. As disillusioned as I feel right now with the Republicans, today’s Dems aren’t any better. A recent Pew Research Center poll shows that I am not alone in that opinion: while only 32% of the public approves of the Republican leaders of Congress, the identical low level of approval befalls the Democratic leaders of Congress. (You have to scroll waaaaay down to the bottom of the page to get to this, which may explain why none of the major news organizations included it in their reports, she said cynically.)

This may be an opportunity for Democrats to get their act together and improve their own plight while their opponents are down. If you want to win back me and others like me, a good start would be to abandon the gloom-and-doom, cut-and-run approach to Iraq and instead start contributing constructively to the discussion about how we can most effectively help the Iraqis transition to democratic self-sufficiency. I know most of them don’t share my optimism that people in developing countries are as capable and deserving of self-governance as we privileged westerners, but they should try to put aside their racist and classist biases long enough to give the Iraqi people the benefit of the doubt.

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