Batty about Harriet

Jonah Goldberg

10/14/2005 12:05:00 AM - Jonah Goldberg

This is my last column on Harriet Miers until her confirmation hearings begin - or until her press conference announcing that for the good of her (insert "country," "president," "family," "party," "faith" or "sanity") she's withdrawing from consideration for the Supreme Court.

Such resolutions are necessary because Miers Mental Dementia Obsessive Hysteria (Mm'Doh!) is becoming a huge problem in conservative circles. Ground zero of the outbreak is the White House. The syndrome seems to cause disorientation, sudden irrelevant or counter-productive outbursts - about religion or loyalty, for example - and even strange paranoid delusions in which a perfidious cabal of right-wing "elitists" at the Federalist Society - as opposed to the Cheez Wiz-sucking Joe Six-Packs who really make up its rank and file - are secretly trying to prevent female corporate lawyers of the evangelical faith from being anything but moms, schoolmarms or, uh, White House counsels. "This far and no farther!" declare the Federalist phantasms, "keep 'em barefoot and in the West Wing."

Word is that former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie made a brief visit to the Oval Office and accidentally drank some of the tap water. Shortly thereafter, he showed up at National Review (my employer) in a tie-dyed muumuu, set fire to a very sensible bra, and chided editors for opposing such an admirable American womyn. Fortunately, I wasn't there, but I'm told he then pointed to the Xerox machine and shouted, "Look! Cows!" and collapsed to the floor. Like I said, the dementia is getting out of hand. (In other news, the Secret Service stopped George Will as he tried to barge into the White House, reportedly to explain the Constitutional Convention to the president with hand puppets.)

I myself have a touch of the fever. When the nomination was first announced, I hurled myself onto my computer keyboard like the Phantom of the Opera to bang out an evil melody about the president's folly, Miers' lack of qualifications, and my abiding love for constitutional niceties and nuance.

Even now, ice pack on my brow, I remain convinced Miers was a very, very bad pick. Even if Bush is 100 percent right about Miers, he's done serious damage to his standing in the eyes of his base. Perhaps not so much in "Red America" - though his job approval numbers are at historic lows, which means he must have lost some conservatives. Such doldrums are probably equally attributable to Iraq and Katrina, but Miers didn't help - which is the same thing as hurting in politics.

Regardless, even if his electoral base sticks with him, much of his "professional conservative" base is deeply vexed. Republican Congressional staffers are grumbling about Miers like convicts in the prison cafeteria who just heard tonight's screening of "The Longest Yard" has been cancelled - and there's no more peach cobbler! And, while groups like the Federalist Society and magazines like National Review and the Weekly Standard may not carry states into the GOP column on election day, they do make up the intellectual and institutional machinery of the permanent conservative movement.

By picking Miers, Bush threw sand in that machinery. He got into this mess in no small part by insisting on appointing a woman. He made the choice in no small part because he admired Miers' character, not her constitutional philosophy. And now we know that some part of the decision was driven by the fact that she's an evangelical Christian. And when people complain she's not qualified, some Mm'Doh! sufferers respond: "But she's a decent woman of sound character who is an evangelical Christian! What? You have a problem with those things? For shame!"

Nonetheless. Now that my fever's subsiding, I don't care so much. No criticism remains unspoken, no gripe unexpressed. The hearings will reveal what they'll reveal.

And, it should be noted, the movement was overdue for a bout of St. Vitus' dance. Conservatives have tolerated a lot from this White House - not least the sort of spending we normally associate with Saudi royal concubines at the mall.

There's much panic and wishful thinking about what all this means for the Right in America. Howard Fineman of Newsweek declares that the conservative movement is "falling apart at the seams." This, too, is delirium. Such spats come with being a majority party. Recall that another president made a vastly more divisive Supreme Court play once. FDR tried to pack the Court with a whole herd of cronies. His party went batty. Insults were hurled in all directions. The scheme ended in a humiliating loss for FDR. And yet: The Democrats were re-elected three more times.

Take plenty of fluids, wait for the hearings, this fever will pass.