Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who is supposed to help pick a replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, says he's "not a candidate" for the job. I don't believe him, and hardly anyone else in Washington does either. There's precedent for such doubt. As you may recall, Dick Cheney wasn't a candidate for the job of vice president, either, when he ran George W. Bush's search committee to find a running mate in 2000.
But that sort of subterfuge I can handle. What I can't handle - and I think I speak for a lot of my friends on the right - is the deceit that Gonzales would make a great Supreme Court justice simply because he's good friends with President Bush. Last week Bush mounted a shockingly personal defense of Gonzales, in effect whining that he didn't like the "attacks" on his friend. He sent out White House spinners to make the case for Gonzales as well. (Full disclosure: My wife works for Gonzales, and - duh - I do not speak for her).
There are a number of problems here.
First, and most important, friendship is not a qualification for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. Period. For a while, when they were working on education policy together, Bush referred to Sen. Edward Kennedy as his great friend. Surely, such encomiums, nice as they were, didn't make Teddy one fraction of a scintilla more qualified to be on the Supreme Court. Either you're a good pick or you're not, and personalities should have nothing to do with it. Oliver Wendell Holmes was a real jerk. But he was a great justice.
Second, President Bush says that he values loyalty and that this is why he's defending Gonzales personally. Bully for him. But the "attacks" on Gonzales have not been personal for the most part. They've been measured and respectful. Nonetheless, Bush's previous - and very loyal - AG, John Ashcroft, was attacked constantly and repeatedly in profoundly personal terms. And Bush never rose to defend Ashcroft. Indeed, the White House brilliantly used Ashcroft in a good-cop bad-cop routine for the entire first term. If I may mangle a metaphor beyond all recognition, Ashcroft was a Medusa's head which Bush could pull out of his bag to petrify the opposition. Or more accurately, to make the opposition go batty in its hysterical Ashcroft phobia.
Of course, Bush and Ashcroft are not close personal friends. But that's sort of the point. Ashcroft would make a far better appointment to the court than Gonzales - but, again, they're not buddies (and the entire Democratic side of the aisle would spontaneously combust if Bush nominated Ashcroft).