Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Wiley Harry Reid

Although Ayn Rand is far from my favorite writer, I still come back to something from "Atlas Shrugged" when I'm confronted with a conundrum. When Dagny and Frisco are in school, they have a philosophy professor that frequently tells them there is no such thing as a paradox. When confronted with a seeming paradox they should "check their premises."

Lately, I've been checking my premises on the seeming paradox of Senate Minority leader Harry Reid, and not just because, like me, he is a Mormon Democrat. Commentators tend to describe him as "bland," "charisma-free" and even "politically tone deaf." Some hold him as an example of the Democrats' leadership vacuum, and cite his "lack of vision." By contrast, his colleagues in the senate use words like "shrewd," "formidable" and "ruthless." They hold him up as a master parliamentarian with a taste for vengeance who inspires fear on both sides of the aisle. After seeing how he handled the Harriet Miers nomination, I would have to side with the senators. His effectiveness is of a type that eludes the chattering classes, but he's got Bush on the ropes.

People forget that in early 2001, it was Reid who talked Jim Jeffords into switching parties, throwing the senate back to the Democrats for a time. He'd worked on Jeffords for months; other Democratic senators called him the "Jim Whisperer."

People also forget that three weeks ago, Reid praised the nomination of Miers. Several newspapers reported that Miers had been on the short list of non-objectionable nominees Reid had given Bush. Reid's response to her withdrawl today leads me to believe that he planned for the Republican infighting that ensued, and is now using her withdrawal to his utmost advantage. Two hours after the announcement, he issued this statement:


“The radical right wing of the Republican Party killed the Harriet Miers nomination. Apparently, Ms. Miers did not satisfy those who want to pack the Supreme Court with rigid ideologues. I had recommended that the President consider nominating Ms. Miers because I was impressed with her record of achievement as the managing partner of a major Texas law firm and the first woman president of the Texas Bar Association. In those roles she was a strong supporter of law firm diversity policies and a leader in promoting legal services for the poor. But these credentials are not good enough for the right wing: they want a nominee with a proven record of supporting their skewed goals.
“In choosing a replacement for Ms. Miers, President Bush should not reward the bad behavior of his right wing base. He should reject the demands of a few extremists and choose a justice who will protect the constitutional rights of all Americans.”

This statement is brilliant. First, it appears to throw Bush a bone. Second it's a wake-up call to all Republicans who don't want their party high-jacked by the Christian Right. Finally, and most importantly, it exploits the ever-present rift between Jesus Republicans and Country Club Republicans. Bush's success thus far has been due to his peculiar ability to appeal to both sets, as an old money conservative who is also a "born again" Christian. Miers' nomination caused a tear between these two factions, and Reid's statement is tearing it wider.

The statement preemptively makes Bush look like a patsy of the Christian Right if he chooses Jancie Rogers Brown or Priscilla Owen. Before Miers, choosing one of those two wagadoo idealogues would support his cultivated image of a man who goes with his gut. Now, he'd have to do a lot of explaining to the moderates in his party. You can bet the "gang of 14" will not try to stop a fillibuster of Brown or Owen now they they've had a taste of a moderate nominee. McCain is not comfortable with extremests like Brown or Owen, and I'll bet neither is Lieberman. Moreover, Reid is probably working with that gang right now to make sure they stay united.

Here's how I think it went down: Reid gave Bush a list that included Miers knowing that, as much as he wanted to appease the far right, he wanted even more to reward a loyal crony. He took the bait and Reid stood down. If he'd really wanted Meiers, Reid would have twisted a few arms, but he didn't. He watched and waited and smiled.

The fillibuster, and with it, the Constitution was hanging by a thread, and Reid, the Mormon Democrat, saved it.