"Trust me," says President Bush in defense of his nomination of the virtually unknown Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Those two words are cause for a quick mental accounting when almost anyone says them. When said by someone from the federal government, the proper response is a spit-take.
"I know her," were the President's actual words. "I know her heart. I know what she believes. . . . She knows exactly the kind of judge I'm looking for. And I know exactly the kind of judge she'll be, which is an excellent judge." The theme of the President's talk in support of Ms. Miers has been "trust" from the beginning. The actual words, "Trust me," came from the VP, however, on Rush Limbaugh's show: "You'll be proud of Harriet's record Rush, uh, trust me." Apparently, assertion is nine tenths of the law.
Most rational people are careful about trusting. There are people I've come to trust enough that from them these words would not be so disconcerting: my wife and parents, siblings, close friends, longtime business partners, these are all on my list. Add my daughter, too — surely she's right to say that a penguin is not a mammal and a bat is.
Notice that President Bush is nowhere on that list. I've checked it twice.
Let's give George W his due, though. He has indeed picked better judges than a President Gore or a President Kerry would have. (Boy, just the thought kick-starts your heart rate, eh?) In fact, W's federal judges have been, on average, far better in their constitutional interpretation than Mr. Bush himself.
Which is why his "trust me" falls so flat. We don't want a Supreme Court justice just like George W. Bush. We can do better.
Take the incredible federal spending spree by the President — with ample help from the Republican Congress. No, it is not specifically unconstitutional to spend the country into bankruptcy. But it is flat-out wrong.
(I have this recurring nightmare wherein my wife, looking strikingly like W, leaves for the mall with a wink, whispering "Trust me.")
Though deficit spending isn't unconstitutional per se, the extent of the federal government's splurging — with its tentacles reaching into every corner of our lives, a government that attempts to be and do everything imaginable — lies well beyond the scope of the limited government spelled out in the Constitution. How can the President and congressmen possibly create such a leviathan, while still claiming to believe in a government of constitutionally limited powers?
Thankfully, some of Mr. Bush's judges do question the laws passed by Congress and the extent of federal powers. The new Chief Justice comes to mind with his extraordinarily narrow view that the commerce clause actually means just what it says.
But when has the President ever vetoed a bill, or even questioned one, because he feared Congress might have overstepped its bounds?
Remember the President's breach of trust on the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Act?
Freedom of speech is essential to citizen control of government, the very foundation of political freedom. The First Amendment guarantees this freedom. But incumbent politicians in Congress, pretending to respond to public revulsion at the corrupt culture of Washington, passed "campaign finance reform" to supposedly take big money out of politics.
The McCain-Feingold Act banned many independent groups from saying anything about incumbents in television and radio ads, in the mail, and on the Internet in the crucial time leading up to the election. This regulation of speech flies in the face of the First Grade-understandable meaning of the First Amendment, that "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech."
During the 2000 campaign, Bush opposed the legislation, promising a veto. But when Congress passed the bill, the President caved in to big media's hoopla and signed it. Bush admitted he had constitutional reservations, but still he flipped it to the Supreme Court to resolve.
Trust me? Mr. President, you took an oath to uphold the Constitution. That meant vetoing any unconstitutional bill, not shrugging your shoulders and tossing it into the Supreme Court's lap. Especially a Supreme Court in which seven of the nine justices — though chosen by supposedly conservative Republican presidents — somehow end up, case after case, as a six to three liberal majority. When lucky, five to four.
Trust is not the emotion that rushes through me when I look at the powers sought by the Bush Administration to wage the War on Terror. We want government to protect us from terrorists, yes, but our strength rests ultimately in being a nation of laws, a nation of due process, a nation where individual liberty is protected from a powerful government security apparatus.
As conservative icon Paul Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Foundation, wrote recently in a series dedicated to the future of conservatism, "The most important of those new realities is the fact that, because of the War on Terrorism, America may be on the verge of becoming a national security state. . . ."
Will Harriet Miers give judicial approval to some of the Bush Administration's short-sighted legal maneuvers, such as arguing that American citizens may be held indefinitely without being charged, without due process, without even judicial review of their status as prisoners?
Poor Harriet Miers! Her nomination has been poorly received. But the hisses and boos aren't really about her; they are about the President. And the importance of restoring our government to constitutional limits. When Mr. Bush says we should trust him, that Harriet Miers will protect the Constitution in the same manner he has . . . well, it's a bit scary.