Monday, October 31, 2005

Recipe for Failure: Add 1 Helping of Michael Brown

You write a column ahead of deadline, and then get up in the morning and find out that you not only lost your bet, but you have to rewrite really, really quickly. But it's nice to see that former FEMA director Michael Brown found new work, isn't it?

Miers' withdrawal means that we really can't trust Bush when he claimed that she was the Woman Most Deserving (WMD), right?

East Valley Tribune, Oct. 30, 2005

When did it stop being true that every presidential nominee deserves an up-or-down vote?

The one time I depend on Bush sticking to his guns -- I bet one of my law partners a dinner that the Harriet Miers nomination wouldn’t be withdrawn before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings began -- Bush caves. That’s what I get for listening to people like the committee chair, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), as quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“Despite an outcry among some conservatives over the nomination, Specter said yesterday [Oct. 17] that he doubted Miers would withdraw from consideration or that Bush would ask her to. ‘It would be seen as a tremendous sign of weakness to have her withdraw,’ Specter said.”

Weakness! Can’t have that. But then Bush folded like the Astros and went down without taking a single game. (Yes, I was rooting for the White Sox. We couldn’t let Houston win the World Series. Hasn’t Texas made the rest of the country suffer enough already?)

We Democrats had a response to the Miers nomination, what one wag called the “popcorn strategy”: Watch as Republicans argue with each other, and pass the popcorn, please. It was working pretty well, no?

I really enjoyed seeing being given over to a debate over whether a Bush nomination should be withdrawn. Conservatives could sign up with, where you could list yourself as favoring withdrawal, “deeply concerned,” or (for senators only) “have expressed reservations.” That “deeply concerned” group sure looked like the place to be; where else would The New York Times, Rush Limbaugh, and Robert Novak hang out together?

Apparently it’s no longer true that we should, in now-inoperable words uttered by Sen. Jon Kyl in 2003, “take the politics out of the confirmation process, give nominees the up or down vote they deserve, and move the orderly process of justice forward.” That was then; this is now.

Just like how perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges were incredibly important, vital, and impeachable in six years ago (Kyl again, in 1999: “John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States, said ‘there is no crime more extensively pernicious to society’ than perjury, precisely because it ‘discolors and poisons the streams of justice”) but now perjury is just, well, not worth bothering about.

Now, the administration that brought us Michael D. Brown as head of FEMA (and which continues to pay him as a consultant, at $148,000 annually, to “help review the agency’s response to Hurricane Katrina”) is hardly likely to nominate anybody all that good.

At this point, I can hear some readers complaining about the unfairness of linking Harriet Miers to Michael Brown. But it’s a valid connection, because I immediately asked if I could retract my bet when I learned that the day before Miers withdrew, The Washington Times reported that Brown was part of the team working for her confirmation (thanks to The Corner and Josh Marshall for the link).

Describing him as a “conservative activist,” The Times had Brown citing internal GOP polling showing strong support for Miers by “ordinary Republicans beyond the Washington Beltway”: “The administration is ‘disappointed that conservatives inside the Beltway are fighting among ourselves over this nomination, and it fuels the fires for our enemies, for Democrats,’ said Mr. Brown, the former Federal Emergency Management Agency director.”

I guess Brown’s FEMA consulting gig is only part time; he’s able to work on judicial confirmation efforts, too. But why rely on Michael Brown, of all people, to make the case for Miers? What, was Enron's Kenneth Lay too busy?

With friends like Brown, Harriet Miers certainly didn’t need any enemies. And maybe Democrats will catch a case of “Miers remorse” when Bush nominates somebody worse, either more ideological or more of a crony. But just as the doomed Social Security privatization removed the administration’s veneer of self-applied triumphalism, this bell can’t be unrung, either.

The next time we’re all just supposed to trust President Bush’s judgment, which anti-Miers conservative should I quote?

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