Tuesday :: Jul 5, 2005

What A Bush Selection of Gonzales Would Mean


by Steve

There have already been volumes written about whom Bush may choose to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court, and whether or not he will end up picking his close pal Alberto Gonzales when all is said and done. Let me offer some thoughts on what a Gonzales pick would mean.

First, to get an insight into what may happen, we know from this piece over the weekend in the New York Times that Bush may in fact go with Gonzales; that at least is the conclusion of a guy who may know the situation from the inside, former Assistant Attorney General John Yoo.

"I think O'Connor's leaving makes Bush's job easier," Professor Yoo says. "He's now free to replace O'Connor with a like-minded pragmatist like Gonzales who will win political points with Hispanics but upset his base. Since Bush is likely to have a chance to replace Chief Justice Rehnquist, too, he could reassure social conservatives that they'll get a reliable originalist for the chief's slot."

And note that in this piece from today’s Times, it is noted that while Bush’s first priority with his judicial selections has been picking conservative jurists, his second priority has been diversity. And with Gonzales, Bush gets a man categorized as a “pragmatic” conservative, when he is rated along the spectrum of other possible nominees.

Second, Bush has already put the word out to his American Taliban base that his friendship with Gonzales counts for more than pleasing them. In this piece last night from USA Today, Bush scolded his conservative base for attacking Gonzales, which raises the possibility that despite the rhetoric about not making his mind up, Bush may already have done so, and may also be telling his base that despite the work they did in getting him reelected, their concerns are secondary when he is faced with the opportunity of installing a friend on the highest court in the land.

But what would such a decision say politically about Bush and his position right now? The conventional wisdom as expressed by Yoo is that Bush may go with Gonzales now and then come back when Rehnquist retires and at that time name a far-right nominee to please the base, probably timed just before the 2006 midterms to mobilize the American Taliban once again, and frankly use them again for Bush and the GOP’s own political purposes. But I think a Gonzales pick now instead of a far right pick would be in reality be a tacit acknowledgement by Bush and Rove of their declining political capital, and would signal that Bush feels he has only one all-out battle left in the bank and has decided to use it for his buddy Gonzales and not to please his base.

Sure, it would be another signal that when it comes down to it, Bush is more interested in taking care of friends and putting them in places to do himself and others close to him good than he is in fighting the Religious Right’s wars for them. Bush has used the Religious Right his entire career, and most recently in 2004, but will they be there for him if he goes with Gonzales this time and tells them to wait once again for the next time? Will they let him use them again?

And let’s be honest here: having Gonzales on the federal bench may be more important to the Bush crime family down the road for personal reasons and for a replay of Bush v. Gore in 2008 or 2012 for Jeb than pleasing the American Taliban now.

As for Democrats, the temptation will be there to take a pass on fighting Gonzales too forcefully, and to not employ the filibuster in stopping him, because as compared to other possible choices, Gonzales is definitely not on the American Taliban’s short list of acceptable choices. A Gonzales pick would set off a battle within the GOP that given the rhetoric from Tony Perkins, James Dobson, and Grover Norquist would strain intra-party relationships and demonstrate to the Religious Right that they have been used again.

Having said that, should Democrats give a pass to the man who crafted the legal justification for Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and to the man who has lied in the past for Bush, withheld information from him on capital cases, participated in the Valerie Plame whitewash, botched the Bernard Kerik background investigation, and may have been less than forthcoming at his recent confirmation hearing for Attorney General?

And Democrats should fight like hell the expected attempt by the GOP and the White House to limit what can be asked of any nominee, or limit what the Democrats can see from the FBI background check of that nominee.

And even under the strictly limited definition of “extraordinary circumstances” that the GOP is now using to limit the filibuster of Bush nominees, ethics and character concerns definitely meet that test. So the Democrats should make Bush work for this one, if only to expose Gonzales background and to let the American Taliban have the opportunity to scold Bush for not using his further-dwindling capital on a true believer. That would be the real benefit of putting Gonzales and Bush through the wringer, because a real fight now for a Bush crony like Gonzales makes it certain that the American Taliban has no chance of seeing one of theirs get through the next time, and that will cause major problems for Bush not only with his base next year, but with the public at large.

But pay close attention to the Democrats who gave Gonzales a pass on his confirmation vote to be Attorney General, and ask yourself if these same folks would give Gonzales a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land:

Mary Landrieu
Joe Lieberman
Bill Nelson-FL
Ben Nelson-NE
Mark Pryor
Ken Salazar

The Nelson boys may vote for Gonzales because of 2006 reelection battles. Landrieu may also do so, and Salazar would vote for a Hispanic sock puppet. My point is that short of a damaging revelation at his confirmation hearings, there will be enough votes for a Gonzales confirmation to the Supreme Court. Bush and Rove know this, and may have decided that now is the time to take care of their friend before the capital is all gone. However, the Democrats should still make Bush expend it and then incur the wrath of his Taliban base for dissing them again.

Steve :: 8:44 AM :: Comments (32) :: TrackBack (1) :: Digg It!