High Court politics

Posted: Oct 05, 2005 12:00 AM

 Washington politics is a contrary business right at the moment. Republicans -- and particularly conservatives -- are somewhere between despondent and furious. While Democrats -- and particularly liberals -- are failing to come up with the reciprocal happy sentiments that usually provide the emotional yin and yang of a Washington political moment.

 I have in mind, of course, the curious case of the unloved spinster just launched on the rocket docket to the Supreme Court. As a card-carrying member of the conservative conclave, I would not have made Miss Miers my first choice … or my thousandth. In fact, I would associate myself with Brother-in-Christ Patrick Buchanan's searing preachment at Monday's services concerning her wane qualifications for the high bench.

 Of course, we conservatives were hoping for -- and had justifiable reasons to expect -- that President Bush would nominate any one of the many brilliant conservative legal intellectuals who our movement has been carefully nurturing and advancing these past 30 years. We raised them from precocious pups. We gave them succor when they presented themselves in the political jungle. We advanced them carefully through the training grounds of high office. And the deepness of their thoughts and the deftness of their words made them beloved of the tribe.

 And now this president, who we with our own millions of arms raised on high, has spurned our best and chosen one of his lackluster own.

 But despite our admiration for sapience, as a species we humans are better at biting than thinking -- which is understandable as we have aspired to thought only for a few hundred thousand years, while we have been biting and slashing since our DNA shared space in the crocodile.

 And I confess I was doing a fair bit of snapping and snarling myself on Monday. But after my reptilian aggression subsided, it dawned on me that I needed to distinguish between the desirable and the necessary. In politics, we are well ahead of the game if we gain 50 percent of our goals. I have spent whole decades in politics where we accomplished almost nothing except a hard-fought-for continued existence.

 Of course I would have vastly and justifiably preferred President Bush to have chosen a certain, proven, intellectually formidable legal warrior (of whom he had an abundant choice). But I have to admit on reflection that even with the dull, dutiful Dallas evangel, it is much more likely than not, that 10 years from now she will be voting quite reliably with Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and the one or two more generally conservative justices who George Bush will probably have the chance to place on the court in the remaining three and a third years of his presidency.

 It could have been so much more. But it is probably enough. And in politics, when we probably get enough -- we should be thankful.

 Which is why the Democrats this week do not share in glee proportionally with our despond. First, they feared to bite the seemingly guileless, yet cunning, Adonis who Bush first sent up for confirmation. Now they are uncertain how to get their yawning mandibles to grab and hold the hard but slight bones of the president's meager offering the second time around.

 It is often observed that each new president seems the opposite personality of the one he follows (Washington and Adams, Buchanan and Lincoln, Wilson and Harding, FDR and Truman, Eisenhower and JFK, Nixon and Carter -- (Ford doesn't count) Reagan and GHW Bush). And so it is with Clinton and W.

 Where Clinton had an uncontrollable need to be loved (yes, that way as well as politically), GW Bush seems to be preternaturally a rock and an island unto himself. He is not only comfortable in his own skin -- as we used to say admiringly, he is positively ornery in it. One might go so far as to say he enjoys infuriating both friend and foe. If Clinton's weakness was unmanly; W's self-possession is too manly. As Barbara Walters might say: He is not being gentle with us.

 As in life, so in politics, if one seeks disappointment, one will surely find it. And conservatives have not had to look hard this week to find the gloom.  But it is the disappointment of an unrequited ardor, of a not yet fully consummated passion. Such youthful vigor inevitably finds its satisfaction.

 Consider, in the alternative, the deeper disappointment that liberals contemplate in this dreary autumn of their aspirations. The last remaining champions of their principles sit aged and infirm on the high bench -- their former brilliance now brittle and susceptible to being chiseled and crumbled by even the most modest conservative laborers.

 Victory may not be heroic, but it will be ours.