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Eminence or Preeminence?

October 13th, 2005 by dk

President Bush doesn’t choose eminent candidates because he prefers preeminence for himself. His father did no better. Harriet Miers is only the most recent example, but the trend goes back almost 20 years.

The Bush family famously values loyalty, but that mother’s milk of political ambition has curdled into something much less mutual. The loyal friend can give as well as get; the obsequious acknowledge they have nothing to offer in return for their patron’s generosity.

Obsequious: (adj) servilely attentive; compliant to excess; fawning

Bush senior’s first comment as his party’s presidential candidate now looks weirdly prescient. When asked who he’d be choosing as a running mate, he quipped, “Just watch me.” The choice of Dan Quayle shocked the nation. Four years in the West Wing later and even to this day, Mr. Quayle remains a laugh line.

Only appointments to the judiciary are designed to last beyond a president’s term in office. George H. W. Bush made two. Justice Clarence Thomas, whom Bush called “the most qualified person for the job” has been on the bench since 1991 and he still seems to be learning on the job. He rarely speaks. Justice David Souter, on the other hand, has become a distinct and distinguished voice, but for the other side. Even the most ardent supporter of the first Bush presidency would deem these two appointments as, well, missed opportunities.

The apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

GOP candidate George W. Bush became quickly bored with the tedious process of vetting a running mate, so he turned to the man presiding over the ritual and said, “If this is so important, why don’t you do it?” With Dick Cheney came a raft of retreads from days gone by, like a supergroup of heavy metal rock stars in an age of rap and hiphop.

Forgotten now is the distant past of September 10th, when Dick Cheney was seen as the man running the country because his boss couldn’t be bothered. The terrorist attacks gave the backroom boys a convenient way to dramatically lower his profile, insisting he remain in “undisclosed locations,” out of sight but not out of touch.

The limelight isn’t kind to Dick Cheney, who looks old and mean — a hack or a has-been. The public hasn’t warmed to him in five years. Bush appointments seldom get better with age.

A notable exception appears to be Karl Rove, a protege of Lee Atwater, who does earn praise (however grudgingly) from all quarters for brilliance. But Rove is clear on this matter: he chose Dubya, not the other way around.

John Roberts may show himself to be a strong choice, but only time will tell whether, and for whose side, he’ll become an eminent figure. Harriet Miers looks to be more in the Clarence Thomas mold: a quota-filling choice wryly billed as what basketball teams at draft time call “the best athlete available.” Roberts sailed through, as Souter did in 1990. Harriet Miers may not muster the scant 52 votes Clarence Thomas got.

God bless the religious right for crying foul.

The two sides mirror each other in this ritualized Kabuki dance of powerlessness-as-power. These Christians claim to be drawn to their leader because of his willingness to forsake power, refusing repeated opportunities to build a kingdom on earth. Likewise, the far-right politically claim to favor smaller government, and states rights — vowing their allegiance to Ronald Reagan, who famously claimed that government is not the solution; government is the problem.

This brand of Christians and this brand of conservatives claim to forsake worldly power, yet they are feuding over Harriet Miers, who claims to belong to both groups. Why? The religious right isn’t satisfied being given the power that comes with a sympathetic ear on the Supreme Court. They believe this nomination, with its attendant wink and nod, falls short of what they were promised: a public acknowledgment of their power.

George W. Bush has offered to be faithful to his most important political base. But what they want him to be is obsequious.

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