I don't much like to flack for the Times new behind-the-curtain content. But Sunday's Frank Rich column is really good, as all of his stuff has been of late on the unravelling of the Bush presidency.
Two points grabbed my attention.
He hits on the tight connection in everything we're seeing between incompetence, state mendacity and incipient authoritarianism. They're not paradoxically or counter-intuitively combined. The connection is natural and self-reinforcing.
Also on the point of Harriet Miers. Something has happened here on the right that cannot be explained simply by Miers' unfitness for the job. Not after all we've seen over going on five years. The president has lost his credibility with them too.
On Friday I asked who would put down odds on whether Miers would ever make it on to the court. It wasn't a rhetorical question. I asked in genuine curiosity. But many readers wrote in shocked that I would even seriously suggest the possibility that this may prove a failed nomination.
I have no idea whether Miers will be seated. If I had to bet I guess I'd bet on her squeaking through. But for me it's like one of those questions or future unknowns where I really have a difficult time imagining either possibility, though one must happen.
As the US has trundled down into the status of fiscal basket case over the last few years, that much-vaunted Republican fiscal discipline has been the dog which has never barked. A few meaningless remarks, the occasional hand-wringing from a conservative columnist. At the end of the day though every part of American conservatism has saluted and enabled the infamy.
But something is different here. Besides James Dobson this nomination has no supporters outside of the senate and the White House. And the conservative opposition isn't just opposing, it's contemptuous -- and critical in ways that mimic the long-expressed criticism from the other side of the aisle.
Nominations can have dynamics similar to those of political scandals.
We tend to think that the real key to a scandalee's fate is how many mobilize against him or her. Usually, though, the key issue is whether and how quickly they can find some committed group to mount a defense. If that happens, and quickly, a scandal equilibrium can be reached, and an embattled pol can often withstand merciless attacks and revelations. With no true base of support, however, a career can rapidly collapse even if the opposition itself isn't all that intense.
Miers' nomination could fail in a similar way.
Sure, only a few Republican senators have expressed serious misgivings. But who is it exactly, either in or out of the senate, who is going to fight hard for this nominee? What argument are those senators going to make on the floor? That the country needs Harriet Miers on the Court? That the criticisms of her nomination are frivolous?
John Bolton is a revealing counterpoint. Democrats were universally opposed. Privately, a great number of Republican senators would have preferred the nomination had never been made. But the nomination had a core of zealous supporters on and off the Hill. The misgivings of the moderates and the institutionalists in the senate paled in comparison to the intensity of his supporters.
Once again, I'm not saying Miers' nomination will fail. I'm not predicting it. I am simply saying that her bid could be defeated, not because opposition is so widespread or intense, but because I have real doubts that she or the White House will be able to find forces to mobilize a spirited defense.