I've Been Dissed:

Harold Myerson criticizes my naivete on the Editorial Page of the Washington Post this morning as one of "The Right's Dissed Intellectuals," leading with an extended quote from my post on "The Court and the Legal Culture":

Bypassing all manner of stellar Scalia look-alikes, the president settled on his own in-house lawyer, whose chief virtue seems to be that she's been the least visible lawyer in America this side of Judge Joseph Crater. Miers has authored no legal opinions that can be dissected, no Supreme Court briefs that can be parsed, no law review articles that can be torn apart.

Which, I suspect, is why her selection cuts so deep in right-wing circles. The problem isn't only that Miers is not openly a movement conservative but that she's as far from a public intellectual as anyone could possibly be. In one fell swoop, Bush flouted both his supporters' ideology and their sense of meritocracy.

Worse, he bypassed the opportunity to demonstrate their intellectual seriousness — conservatism's intellectual seriousness.

Consider the following from George Mason University law professor Todd Zywicki, writing on a right-wing legal-affairs blog on Monday: "There are two possible ways to think about appointments: one is to appoint those who will simply 'vote right' on the Court, the other is to be more far-reaching and to try to change the legal culture. Individuals such as Brandeis, Holmes, Warren, all changed both the Court and the legal culture, by providing intellectual heft and credibility to a certain intellectual view of the law. . . . Bush's back-to-back appointments of [Chief Justice John] Roberts and Miers is a clear indication that his goal is at best to change the voting pattern of the Court. . . . Neither of them appears to be suited by background or temperament to provide intellectual leadership that will move the legal culture."

Note Zywicki's trio of legal heavyweights: Louis Brandeis, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Earl Warren, all figures in the liberal pantheon (though Holmes was less a liberal than a dissenter from his era's conservatism). Now, after three decades of a legal counterrevolution against the egalitarianism of the mid-20th century, the right had developed its own pantheon, its Brandeises-in-waiting. And Bush ignored them all.

But the conservative intellectuals have misread their president and misread their country. Four and a half years into the presidency of George W. Bush, how could they still entertain the idea that the president takes merit, much less intellectual seriousness, seriously? The one in-house White House intellectual, John DiIulio, ran screaming from the premises after a few months on the job. Bush has long since banished all those, such as Army chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, who accurately predicted the price of taking over Iraq. Yet Donald Rumsfeld — with Bush, the author of the Iraqi disaster — remains, as do scores of lesser lights whose sole virtue has been a dogged loyalty to Bush and his blunders. Loyalty and familiarity count for more with this president than brilliance (or even competence) and conviction.

I must confess, the man has a point.

Harriet Miers is like George Bush's poodle. She adores him so much she said he was the most brilliant man she'd ever met.

It's not that she isn't a public intellectual. Who needs a pompous intellect anyway? It's that she's so defined by her role as Bush's crony.
10.5.2005 11:27am
Justin (mail):
Errr, as a liberal, can I argue that Warren was a lightweight?

Heavyweights, INTELLECTUAL heavyweights, on the left of the Court in the last 100 years include Brandies, Marshall, and Douglas. But Warren? Ew.
10.5.2005 11:33am
AK (mail):
Justin, if Marshall was an "intellectual heavyweight," then the Volokh Conspiracy is a "right-wing legal-affairs blog."
10.5.2005 11:39am
The Shinseki thing was debunked AGES ago. How is it that columnists continue to get away with writing demonstrably false things like that?

Alas, though, the rest of the excerpt are dead on.
10.5.2005 11:45am
Goober (mail):
We should all be dissed like that. Not bad!
10.5.2005 12:05pm
Goober (mail):
I mean, the shout-out in the Post. Not... not to suggest we should all have our favorite nominees passed over by the president or whatnot.
10.5.2005 12:07pm
Brian24 (mail):
Honest question: I hate to be the ignoramus, but what about the Shinseki "thing" was debunked ages ago? IIRC, he said in testimony before Congress that it would take up to 450,000 troops to occupy Iraq effectively? Or is it the "banished" part that's been debunked?
10.5.2005 12:14pm
P.B. (mail):
Political Teen video of Rush Limbaugh on the Greta Show

When I saw this video, I thought of your post, because Rush's main point seems to be the same: that these nominations appear to have been picked because they will vote right, when what we really needed was to change the culture.
10.5.2005 12:29pm
William Spieler (mail) (www):
"If all that's required is a reliable vote, National Review and the Heritage Foundation have plenty of interns who will do just fine."

from Jonah Goldberg
10.5.2005 12:41pm
chris (mail):
The main dissing was that he didn't mention what blog it was.
10.5.2005 12:50pm
Abe Delnore (mail):
If I were on the Senate Judiciary Committee, my one question to Miers would be whether she is willing to repeat, under oath, her contention that the current president is the most brilliant man she has ever met.

Let's keep in mind that we can prove that Miers met a number of men commonly considered to be more brilliant.

This would distinguish mere cronyism--with which we all have to put up under this administration--from dangerous sycophancy.

--Abe Delnore

10.5.2005 1:11pm
Zed (mail) (www):

Because if journalists were penalized for being inaccurate, Fox News would go out of business by the end of the year. The rest would go out of business by the end of the year after that. Then the eyes would turn towards the bloggers, and we'd all be broke within a decade as well.

That said, however, what was specifically debunked was that Shinseki was canned for his *public* statements (which came after his successor's name was leaked). This article doesn't claim that, however -- only that he was an intellectual grounded in realism, and Bush had him canned while retaining people who were markedly wrong, and that much is, in fact, true. It is also entirely possible and plausible that his replacement was arranged because of the views he expressed privately, and that he made his statements public because of it. Since one can assume that what he said in public he would have said repeatedly to those who could make a difference well before the fact, that does in fact make his disagreement the proximate cause of his being shoved aside, absent any evidence to the contrary, making the 'debunking' rather less so than it might seem at first glance.
10.5.2005 1:16pm
A Blogger:
Other conservatives are also having this "andrew sullivan moment":

My Andrew Sullivan Moment
10.5.2005 1:16pm
Brian24: I don't want to get off too much on a tangent. What has been debunked is the claim (made by John Kerry in the Presidential debate, among others) that Shinseki was forced to retire as Army Chief of Staff because he publicly told the Senate Armed Services Committee that more troops would be needed. Shinkseki's retirement was announced almost a year before his testimony to the committee (his testimony was on 2/25/03, and the Washington Times published a leak of his retirement and successor on 4/19/02), thus disproving the claim. You can see more here.

Zed brings up that he could have been forced to retire because of private statements (rather than his public testimony to the Senate). Obviously a possibility, although one that is impossible to know and thus complete speculation. I tend to doubt it, since his retirement was announced so far before the war started (instead, I think he was forced to retire because of his public support of the Crusader missle system, over which Don Rumsfeld had a battle royale with the Army).

To be fair, Myerson didn't actually say that Shinseki was cashiered BECAUSE of his claim about troop levels; rather, Myerson just said (a) Shinseki was cashiered and (b) Shinseki advocated more troops. Maybe Myerson was making two completely unrelated points, and he was not implying that (a) occurred because of (b). But I don't think so.
10.5.2005 1:38pm
Ken Willis (mail):
In his interview on Rush's radio show Cheney talked of Mier's qualifications by emphasizing that she is extremely loyal to Bush. He said that over and over and it was always the first thing out of his mouth. It made me wonder why Bush didn't nominate his dog.
10.5.2005 1:45pm
Tom952 (mail):
I've never figured out which of the Bush-Rice-Cheney-Rove brains is calling which shots. The Roberts nomination was as brilliant as the Miers nomination was stupid. How could the same person make those two decisions?
10.5.2005 3:31pm
ChuckL (mail):
I think the most interesting part of Meyerson's piece was the last part:

"Most of the right wing's legal agenda commands minority support in the country and provokes majority opposition. How many battles of ideas can Bush afford to lose?

With the Miers nomination, the counterrevolution proceeds again by stealth. It is, on the fundamental issues, the only way it can proceed."

Do you think this is correct? Would any candidate having known views on constitutional issues (Does the Second Amendment grant an individual right to bear arms? Does the Court's overextension of the Commerce Clause need to be rolled back? Is the Ninth Amendment under-appreciated?) stand any chance of confirmation? Would a candidate with a public history of thinking deeply about these and other issues generate a valuable public dialog ... or, like Bork, simply be the target of distortion and villification, making discussion of the ideas impossible? On the other hand, could we expect anything more from a stealth candidate than, at best, to be a follower but not a leader in any major changes of judicial philosophy on the Court?
10.5.2005 3:39pm
fling93 (www):
Not to mention that John Snow is Treasury Secretary.
10.5.2005 4:13pm
lucia (mail) (www):
The main dissing was that he didn't mention what blog it was.

I agree this is dissing. I also think failure to precisely cite sources is the type of poor practice that harms the reputation of newspapers.

When will editors at places like the Washington post learn that readers will think less of them everytime they demonstrate lower standards than the average blogger?
10.5.2005 6:08pm
Unnamed Co-Conspirator:
Tom952, well, maybe Harriet herself had something to do with the Roberts' pick, but someone else (maybe the President himself?) suggested she should take the next available seat. This doesn't seem that farfetched. W's rep is that he's not afraid of making a decision and he sticks to the decisions he makes, so if he thinks Miers is the one he wants, then it would probably take a lot to talk him out of it. If Miers sticks close to Scalia, all will be well. If she's the source of the administration's positions on McCain-Feingold and Grutter v. Bollinger and she asserts herself on the Court, then picking her will be unforgivable -- far worse than the Souter pick, if for no other reason than so much was expected.
10.5.2005 6:16pm
All I have to say is "freedom of liberty." That's a quote from an article by HM in Texas Lawer. Most advanced High-school students could have written better articles than this woman.
10.5.2005 7:32pm
SteveMG (mail):
Well, I recall an anecdote from Moynihan stating that he had attended something on the order of more than a thousand cabinet meetings and not once was any "grand" idea or thought ever discussed.

Instead, he said, the goal was just to make it through the day.
10.5.2005 8:46pm
dsmith (mail):
OT: I ought to let this go, but Gen. Shinseki was neither "canned" nor "banished." He served a full four-year term as Army chief of staff - the term prescribed by law - and then retired, after 38 years in the Army. This myth has been debunked before, but it keeps coming back to life. Pardon the digression...
10.6.2005 12:08am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
The 450,000 troops required was another way of saying don't go to war.

Rummy has a better appreciation. You go to war with the army you have. You make do.

Fortunately our army in Iraq is up to 330,000. And the language defficiencies are being remidied. 200,000 speak the local language.

As to Miers. Dump her and let us get JR Brown.
10.6.2005 2:38am
big dirigible (mail) (www):
"The Roberts nomination was as brilliant as the Miers nomination was stupid. How could the same person make those two decisions?"

Once one understands how that is possible - perhaps even inevitable - one starts to have some grasp of the President's tactics. If one doesn't understand his tactics, one lacks any convincing authority when whining about them. "I don't understand the reason, therefore there isn't a reason, therefore Bush is dumb, therefore Miers is daffy for claiming that he's brilliant." The serial fallacies should be obvious. Miers knows Bush better than any of the commentators here, and she doesn't think he's dumb. She might, just possibly, have some insight into that. But hey, no problem - she must be a sycophant! Now I think I might agree that any politician who consistently runs rings around his opponents and, at the end of the day, always seems to get what he really wants, is indeed brilliant - at least so far as the Washington scene is concerned. "Scintillating," now, perhaps not .... but she didn't claim that.
10.6.2005 2:42am
Smitty (www):
M. Simon,

200,000 of our soldiers speak Arabic? Excuse me? To what source do we owe this remarkable fact?
Being able to say "hello" and "thank you" and "where's the bathroom" does not equal speaking the local language. Does the Army claim to have a fifth of a million competent Arabic speakers? If so, I've never seen it. Please do elaborate.
10.6.2005 2:31pm
We have 330,000 American troops in Iraq? That's news to me.
10.13.2005 10:57am