The Miers/WMD Connection: Hugh Hewitt has introduced a new argument for the defense of the Miers nomination: Opposing the nomination of Harriet Miers may lead to the deaths of millions of Americans at the hands of terrorists. As best I can tell, the argument is that a Miers defeat would hurt the Republican Party, and hurting the GOP would limit the nation's ability to fight terrorist threats and place millions of American lives at risk:
  With a nomination made, I prefer to press to the desired outcome, and support the president and recognize that the defeat of a nominee is a calamitous political consequence, no matter what other people say.
  It may come as a shock to people, but I am a Republican, who believes that the care and nurturing of governing majorities of the GOP in the Senate and the House in time of war, and the preparation for a monumental struggle with Hillary in 2008, are crucial --indeed the most important-- goals on the table.
  We can lose the war. We can suffer terrorist attacks far more devastating than 9/11. Iran is not being deterred, and North Korea continues to be run by an unbalanced dictator with nukes. There are at least hundreds of thousands and probably millions of Islamofascists who would gladly bring WMD to this country and use them in our major cities. I would have preferred a different nominee, and I hope that my short list is the president's short list the next time a vacancy occurs.
  But the field is large, [and there are] many forces are at work on it only a few of which I glimpse . . .
  Wow. Am I misreading Hewitt, or is he really saying what I think he is saying? If the former, I'll correct it immediately; if the latter, I am just speechless.
Party Discipline:

It seems to me that the "new argument" (Orin's words in this post) that Hugh Hewitt is introducing into the Miers debate is actually an old argument -- one of the standard arguments for party discipline. Say that you believe the following:

  1. One of the parties' programs is much better for the country than the other's on subjects A, B, and C.
  2. A political defeat for the party on the quite different subject D might substantially weaken the party's ability to get the rest of its program implemented.
  3. The party's proposal as to the somewhat less important matter D isn't what you'd have wanted the party to do, but isn't that bad.
It then makes good sense for you to swallow your objections to D, rather than fighting the party on D and thereby weakening the party and making it harder for the party to implement its good policies on A, B, C, and D. And the same applies if you substitute "the current Administration" (or the portion of the party embodied in the Administration) for "the party."

Here, Hugh is arguing that fighting the Administration on Miers would politically weaken the Administration more generally, and thus make it harder for the Administration to pursue its foreign policy (which Hugh thinks is sound); this, he suggests, is good reason for people who generally support the Administration's foreign policy to accede to the Miers nomination. Some Democrats could equally argue that fighting the Democratic Party on some issue (e.g., race-based affirmative action) would politically weaken the party more generally, and thus make it harder for the party to protect abortion rights or the environment or social services programs (positions that the arguers think are sound); this, they would suggest, is good reason for people who generally support the Democrats' abortion rights / environmental / social services programs to accede to the party's position on race-based affirmative action. Both strike me as legitimate arguments.

Of course, if one disagrees with any of the three assumptions I identified above, one won't be persuaded by the argument that flow from those assumptions. If one thinks that the Republicans' (or the Administration's) positions on important issues are wrong, then you may want the party to be weakened. If one thinks that the success or failure of the Miers nomination won't affect the Republicans' / the Administration's political success more broadly, then one can focus solely on the merits of the Miers nomination and not worry about the indirect political consequences. And if one thinks that the Miers nomination is a very bad idea, then one may well choose to oppose it despite the harm that the indirect political consequences may do to Republican / Administration initiatives that one endorses.

But I take it that Hugh agrees with those three assumptions, and thinks some of his readers agree with them. And to those who agree with the assumptions, Hugh's argument may well be properly persuasive. Is there something I'm missing here? Is there some reason why Hugh's argument should indeed leave us "speechless"?

Form Versus Substance -- A Response to Eugene: In his post below, Eugene asks why I am speechless in reaction to Hewitt's use of the Party Discipline argument, which, as Eugene notes, is an old type of argument. The reason is that I am reacting to the substance of Hewitt's position, not its form. I'm not surprised by the logical structure of the argument, but by the chain of causal relationships that Hewitt strings together. Eugene may be right that some readers of Hewitt's blog believe in that chain -- it's hard to tell, as no one has made this particular argument until Hewitt did this morning -- but I'm not sure why that makes the argument any less remarkable.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Form Versus Substance -- A Response to Eugene:
  2. Party Discipline:
  3. The Miers/WMD Connection: