Thursday, October 13, 2005

Anatomy of the Miers Blunder

As the furor over the Harriet Miers nomination has grown, I've been wondering when somebody would finally produce an insider account of how, mechanically, the choice was made. Sure, there are plenty of theories, but not much in the way of actual information.

That changed today. While it's not exactly a tick-tock account, John Fund in the Wall Street Journal provides a peek behind the veil, and in particular helps us understand why the White House seemed to be blind-sided by the powerfully negative reaction.

Read it yourself, but the basic story line is this: the moment John Roberts was nominated to become Chief Justice, Bush and his staff decided O'Connor's replacement would be a woman. Miers started the usual intensive vetting process for the women on the short list. Andy Card suggested to Bush that Miers herself be considered. Bush agreed. Card ordered Miers' deputy, William Kelley (who had just been hired) to carry out a quiet vetting of Miers "behind her back." Kelley soon came back with a green light. Card formally proposed her nomination to Bush; POTUS signed off; Laura Bush jumped on board. Card told the rest of the staff, and angrily overrode objections. Total secrecy about the pick was imposed. It was announced according to a rigid schedule, and then all hell broke loose.

The two things that really stand out about this account are:

(1) Where was the Helmsman, Karl Rove in all this? Fund doesn't say, though there's a lot of circumstantial evidence kicking around that the post-decision political vetting of Miers was even more haphazard than the vetting of her qualifications for the Court. Is this because Rove was distracted by other tasks (e.g., overseeing Katrina recovery and trying to avoid an indictment)? Or was it because nobody, even Rove, wanted to raise objections about an appointment to which Bush was very committed personally? Or, worse yet, did Rove simply think he could quickly sell Miers to conservatives on grounds of the usual Machine loyalty, underestimating the growing unhappiness of the Right with W.'s overall performance? All of these factors may have come into play.

(2) Card's back-door vetting of Miers by her own deputy almost guaranteed a sloppy process. As Fund points out, the conflicts-of-interest this step imposed on Kelley were formidable--investigating his own boss behind her back for a position that might pave the way to his own promotion, knowing all the while the risks of becoming the messenger who would be shot for bearing bad news about Bush's close friend. And presumably, Kelley had to do a lot of this on his own, without the resources or time available to Miers in her own, official vetting process. That's the big irony here: the famously process-obsessed perfectionist Miers got her big break from a process that glaringly diverged from her own standards.

And the price she and the White House are paying for that lapse in discipline grows higher every day.

I normally wouldn't quote from one of those columns now sequestered by the New York Times as "premium content," but David Brooks today penned a pitiless dissection of Miers' columns for the Texas Bar Journal in the early '90s that illustrates the kind of material a serious vetting of her would have revealed. He supplies paragraph after paragraph of samplings from "the largest body of public writing we have from her," and even aside from Miers' mangled syntax and a fatal addiction to passive verb constructions, it's not a pretty sight. (My own favorite: "When consensus of diverse leadership can be achieved on issues of importance, the greatest impact can be achieved." Word up.)

As Brooks himself concludes: "I don't know if by mere quotation I can fully convey the relentless march of vapid abstractions that mark Miers' prose. Nearly every idea is vague and depersonalized. Nearly every debatable point is elided."

And so it goes, another predictably negative revelation about a nominee whose main distinguising features are her work habits, a genial personality, and a devotion to church, family and most of all W.

My gut feeling is that Bush let her down by exposing her to this ridicule. And though it's hard to tell at this point, he may be exposing Harriet Miers and himself to a humiliating experience in the Senate.
-- Posted at 5:38 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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