President George W. Bush's baffling nomination of Harriet Miers, an inexperienced jurist and relatively unknown lawyer, to the U.S. Supreme Court has nearly everyone stumped. What was he thinking?
Of course that's the wrong verb. Thinking. When Bush has an important decision to make, he doesn't rely so much on intellectual skills as he does instinct. Like a shaman examining entrails for clues to the future, he prefers to divine a person's interior.
He was convinced four years ago, for example, that he and Russian leader Vladimir Putin were on the same page after the two cut a few wheelies around Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch in the presidential pickup. Afterwards, Bush gave a thumbs-up to future Russia-U.S. relations, saying he and Putin were kindred spirits on Democratic principles.
"I was able to get a sense of his soul," Bush said.
When Putin later began concentrating the Kremlin's power and seizing control of the mass media, Bush might have reconsidered those shared values. As Richard Perle remarked: "When you gaze into souls, it's something you should update periodically, because souls can change."
Now, in nominating Miers to the Supreme Court, Bush says, "I know her heart."
"Trust me," he says.
Bush the First said, "Read my lips." Bush II effectively says, "Read my mind."
As Americans grapple with that prospect, pundits have shifted into overdrive. Constituents of Bush's Christian base are furious. Or so they say. The secular branch of the GOP, hoping for someone with more intellectual heft, feels sideswiped by his bullheaded arrogance. Democrats are suspicious, while Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family is talking to God.
On his radio broadcast a few days ago, Dobson - who mysteriously claims to know things about Miers that no one else knows - invoked God's guidance, begging the ultimate Judge to speak to him.
"If this is not the person you want on that Supreme Court, all you have to do is tell me so, and do it through any means you want to."
No Word yet, but we'll stay tuned. Meanwhile, I prefer to invoke the words and wisdom of a Southern politician for insight. Advising his older brother, the notorious Louisiana Gov. Huey Long, Earl Long, who also served as governor, reputedly said:
"Don't write anything you can phone. Don't phone anything you can talk. Don't talk anything you can whisper. Don't whisper anything you can smile. Don't smile anything you can nod. Don't nod anything you can wink."
Therein, I think, lies the key to Bush's modus operandi. He doesn't phone, talk or whisper his intentions, but he does give a little smile, a nod, a wink now and then - especially to his base. Are they not paying attention? Or is their feigned aggravation part of the game, a red herring to distract from their secret glee?
Bush, in fact, has a record of communicating in code to his base, often leaving the rest of the world flummoxed. During the Oct. 8, 2004, debate in the run-up to his re-election, when asked about whether he would apply a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees, Bush demurred with what seemed at the time like a head-swiveling non sequitur by invoking Dred Scott. No litmus test, he said, but he would not nominate anyone who would condone Dred Scott.
"Huh?" everyone said.
Subsequent deconstructions of Bush's comments revealed that "Dred Scott" is code for "Roe v. Wade" among pro-lifers. Dred Scott, of course, was the slave who in 1857 sought freedom after his master's death. The courts ruled against him, saying that even freed slaves couldn't be citizens and reinforcing the subhuman status of blacks in the U.S.
Pro-life advocates often refer to Dred Scott as a way of arguing against the inhumanity of Roe V. Wade and the sins of judicial activism. If constitutional amendments (13 and 14) nullified the Dred Scott ruling, why not a constitutional amendment to protect the unborn? So the thinking goes.
A strict constructionist, in the law's reformed view, would not condone the Dred Scott decision. In Bush's view, a strict constructionist also would not condone Roe v. Wade. When Bush asserts that Miers will be a strict constructionist, you can be almost certain he's delivering a Dred Scott wink.
Likewise, when Bush says he knows Miers' heart, he means her born-again heart, the one that mirrors his own. They are cut from the same evangelical cloth.
"Trust me," in other words, means: "Relax, I've kept my word." To know Miers' heart may be to know her mind as well. Then again, with Bush, who knows?
Sometimes a wink is just a wink.