For the most part, the legal issues were debated more on the opinion pages of the newspaper than they were around kitchen tables, where the reflexive attitude was, maybe if we'd been doing this all along, 9/11 might not have happened. Confirmation hearings won't change that dynamic. Hayden will still be speaking of the necessity and effectiveness of the program and can't be expected to answer arcane legal arguments about presidential authority.
Even though the president's poll numbers continue to slip, with USA Today's most recent survey showing him at only 31 percent approval, the one area in which Bush continues to show strength is fighting terrorism. In the USA Today/Gallup poll taken April 28-30, Americans were almost evenly split on whether the president was doing a decent job on terrorism. With congressional elections just months away -- and prospects for the GOP not looking particularly cheery -- the White House should be trying to play to its strengths, and Gen. Hayden's nomination does just that.
Of course it would be good if Congress fulfilled its obligation to advise and consent by actually voting based on the nominee's qualifications for the job. But in a bitterly partisan Congress, and among an equally divided public, merit doesn't carry the weight it should. It's all about politics.
In this instance, however, the politics line up favorably for the president. Gen. Hayden is likely to get a tough grilling, but the Democrats have shown no stomach for a real fight on the NSA program, and the Republicans can hardly lead the charge against an extraordinarily well-qualified presidential pick. The general may have to give up his stars to take the job, despite ample precedent for an active-duty military head of intelligence, but the president will win the day.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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