Commentary Magazine


Topic: Harriet Miers

Americans Not Thrilled with Kagan

Gallup reports that Elena Kagan is rated a good or excellent choice by 40 percent of Americans, lower than John Roberts, Sam Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and even Harriet Miers. In large part this is because 24 percent of Americans have no opinion of her at all, which seems appropriate for a stealth nominee who has not served on the bench or written anything that would give us a strong indication of what sort of justice she’d be.

Maybe she’ll wow the Senate and the public, give us plenty of indication as to her constitutional philosophy, and show mastery of the many areas of the law that will soon command her attention. But I sort of doubt it. Kagan got this far by not tipping her hand; she’s not about to now.

Gallup reports that Elena Kagan is rated a good or excellent choice by 40 percent of Americans, lower than John Roberts, Sam Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and even Harriet Miers. In large part this is because 24 percent of Americans have no opinion of her at all, which seems appropriate for a stealth nominee who has not served on the bench or written anything that would give us a strong indication of what sort of justice she’d be.

Maybe she’ll wow the Senate and the public, give us plenty of indication as to her constitutional philosophy, and show mastery of the many areas of the law that will soon command her attention. But I sort of doubt it. Kagan got this far by not tipping her hand; she’s not about to now.

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Hamsher Strikes Again

Jane Hamsher and I agree on very little. But she was an honest voice on the left railing against ObamaCare, which forces people to buy insurance they don’t want and possibly can’t afford from Big Insurance. Now she sounds, well, eminently reasonable once again:

Like Harriet Miers, she doesn’t have a record to tell us how she would adjudicate from the bench. They led a rebellion against the executive branch and the same thing should happen here. I object to appointment somebody that has no track record. … Accepting Kagan just because people like Obama is wrong. That’s appropriate for American Idol, not the Supreme Court. Nobody knows what she stands for but him. It’s just a cult of personality with Obama. This is the Supreme Court.

Harriet Miers was dumped not only because she had no track record, of course. But why shouldn’t the left take Hamsher’s view? Everyone thinks she’s a liberal, but who knows? And why should the left settle for someone who’s been a squish all her career, trimming and shading to ingratiate herself with both sides and never really showing her hand? (I know, there’s an eerie resemblance there.) I suppose the left could just trust Obama, but he’s the one who disappointed them on the public option. And the Patriot Act. And the release of the detainee-abuse photos. Just saying.

Jane Hamsher and I agree on very little. But she was an honest voice on the left railing against ObamaCare, which forces people to buy insurance they don’t want and possibly can’t afford from Big Insurance. Now she sounds, well, eminently reasonable once again:

Like Harriet Miers, she doesn’t have a record to tell us how she would adjudicate from the bench. They led a rebellion against the executive branch and the same thing should happen here. I object to appointment somebody that has no track record. … Accepting Kagan just because people like Obama is wrong. That’s appropriate for American Idol, not the Supreme Court. Nobody knows what she stands for but him. It’s just a cult of personality with Obama. This is the Supreme Court.

Harriet Miers was dumped not only because she had no track record, of course. But why shouldn’t the left take Hamsher’s view? Everyone thinks she’s a liberal, but who knows? And why should the left settle for someone who’s been a squish all her career, trimming and shading to ingratiate herself with both sides and never really showing her hand? (I know, there’s an eerie resemblance there.) I suppose the left could just trust Obama, but he’s the one who disappointed them on the public option. And the Patriot Act. And the release of the detainee-abuse photos. Just saying.

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Specter’s Latest Problem

The Pennsylvania Senate race has had its share of accusations of political shenanigans, if not illegal behavior. First, there was the suggestion that the White House was offering Rep. Joe Sestak a job to get out of the race. Now this:

Rep. Joe Sestak’s Senate campaign seized on a statement by former GOP Sen. Rick Santorum Saturday that he traded his 2004 endorsement of Sen. Arlen Specter for a promise that the senior senator would support President Bush’s judicial nominees.

“The reason I endorsed Arlen Specter is because we were going to have two Supreme Court nominees coming up,” said Santorum, responding to a question at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. “I got a commitment from Arlen Specter that no matter who George W. Bush would nominate, he would support that nominee,” he added.

Sestak’s campaign called it “one of the most glaring red flags” that has come to light about Specter to date.

Is Santorum describing a quid pro quo — a deal in which Specter was to ignore his obligation to examine Supreme Court justices? (Recall that this would have applied to Harriet Miers had she not withdrawn.) Specter denies there was any deal, and there is no way in the he-said-he-said tussle to discern whether it is Santorum or Specter who is telling the truth. Santorum has every reason to try to sink Specter; Specter has every reason to deny the allegation.

It does, however, point to the greatest problem Specter may face — the obvious lack of principle and loyalty, the infinite flexibility. The only fixed principle is, apparently, “do whatever benefits Arlen Specter.” This time around, his opportunism may backfire. It may turn out that he picked the wrong time to run as a Democrat. It would be a fitting lesson in the limits of political expediency.

The Pennsylvania Senate race has had its share of accusations of political shenanigans, if not illegal behavior. First, there was the suggestion that the White House was offering Rep. Joe Sestak a job to get out of the race. Now this:

Rep. Joe Sestak’s Senate campaign seized on a statement by former GOP Sen. Rick Santorum Saturday that he traded his 2004 endorsement of Sen. Arlen Specter for a promise that the senior senator would support President Bush’s judicial nominees.

“The reason I endorsed Arlen Specter is because we were going to have two Supreme Court nominees coming up,” said Santorum, responding to a question at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. “I got a commitment from Arlen Specter that no matter who George W. Bush would nominate, he would support that nominee,” he added.

Sestak’s campaign called it “one of the most glaring red flags” that has come to light about Specter to date.

Is Santorum describing a quid pro quo — a deal in which Specter was to ignore his obligation to examine Supreme Court justices? (Recall that this would have applied to Harriet Miers had she not withdrawn.) Specter denies there was any deal, and there is no way in the he-said-he-said tussle to discern whether it is Santorum or Specter who is telling the truth. Santorum has every reason to try to sink Specter; Specter has every reason to deny the allegation.

It does, however, point to the greatest problem Specter may face — the obvious lack of principle and loyalty, the infinite flexibility. The only fixed principle is, apparently, “do whatever benefits Arlen Specter.” This time around, his opportunism may backfire. It may turn out that he picked the wrong time to run as a Democrat. It would be a fitting lesson in the limits of political expediency.

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Bayh Has His Challenger

Republicans have landed a serious challenger to incumbent Sen. Evan Bayh: former senator Dan Coates. Coates will join a field of lesser known GOP contenders, but I suspect will soon clear the field. In addition to his time in the House and in the U.S. Senate (he filled Dan Quayle’s seat when Quayle became VP), Coates served as ambassador to Germany under George W. Bush. (He also was the “sherpa” for  Supreme Court nominees Harriet Miers and Sam Alito. The former couldn’t be helped, the later needed little assistance, but assigning the task to Coates was some indication of his standing among former colleagues.) Charlie Cook moves the race from “Solid Democratic” to “Leans Democratic” with Coates’s appearance in the race.

It’s not likely that in an ordinary election year Coates would venture back into electoral politics. But this is no ordinary year. Coates no doubt sees what other Republicans (as well as neutral observers) do in an increasingly long list of states: the chance for a solid conservative to take out a Democratic incumbent laboring under the burden of an unpopular ultra-liberal agenda in a state far more moderate than the Beltway Democratic leadership. In the short term, Coates’s candidacy will, one suspects, act to restrain Bayh from adhering too closely to his party’s liberal agenda. Indeed, in recent weeks, as high profile Republicans’ names were tossed about for the race, Bayh has been voicing more vocal opposition to the Obama agenda on everything from health-care reform to terrorism policy.

The problem for Bayh, however, are his votes. He was one of the 60 votes (the Democrats all are the 60th vote, remember) to jam through ObamaCare last Christmas. He also voted for the 2009 stimulus bill, which most voters consider to be a bust. He’ll have more opportunities this year to demonstrate whether he really is a fiscal conservative or just talks like one when viable challengers appear back home.

Republicans have landed a serious challenger to incumbent Sen. Evan Bayh: former senator Dan Coates. Coates will join a field of lesser known GOP contenders, but I suspect will soon clear the field. In addition to his time in the House and in the U.S. Senate (he filled Dan Quayle’s seat when Quayle became VP), Coates served as ambassador to Germany under George W. Bush. (He also was the “sherpa” for  Supreme Court nominees Harriet Miers and Sam Alito. The former couldn’t be helped, the later needed little assistance, but assigning the task to Coates was some indication of his standing among former colleagues.) Charlie Cook moves the race from “Solid Democratic” to “Leans Democratic” with Coates’s appearance in the race.

It’s not likely that in an ordinary election year Coates would venture back into electoral politics. But this is no ordinary year. Coates no doubt sees what other Republicans (as well as neutral observers) do in an increasingly long list of states: the chance for a solid conservative to take out a Democratic incumbent laboring under the burden of an unpopular ultra-liberal agenda in a state far more moderate than the Beltway Democratic leadership. In the short term, Coates’s candidacy will, one suspects, act to restrain Bayh from adhering too closely to his party’s liberal agenda. Indeed, in recent weeks, as high profile Republicans’ names were tossed about for the race, Bayh has been voicing more vocal opposition to the Obama agenda on everything from health-care reform to terrorism policy.

The problem for Bayh, however, are his votes. He was one of the 60 votes (the Democrats all are the 60th vote, remember) to jam through ObamaCare last Christmas. He also voted for the 2009 stimulus bill, which most voters consider to be a bust. He’ll have more opportunities this year to demonstrate whether he really is a fiscal conservative or just talks like one when viable challengers appear back home.

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