David Brooks, the designated conservative on both the New York Times op-ed page and the PBS NewsHour, knows which way the wind blows. “After a while you get sick of the DeLays of the right and the Deans of the left,” he wrote in the Times on Sunday. Unlike other conservative commentators who have been busy repositioning themselves — Bill Kristol, George Will, Charles Krauthammer — Brooks did not mention Harriet Miers, although he did cite Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Alexander Hamilton. When he turns away from the “push and shove of today’s weary political titans” and gets “back to basics,” Brooks said, he finds himself “invigorated.”
And that’s fine; and that’s also how you get to be a designated conservative: You take the high ground. In this case it was clearly marked: between DeLay and Dean. The high ground is usually not that easy to define; but its distinguishing quality is that to stand there you must join hands with liberals.
Consider now some recent history. The deficit widened, while the national debt grew, and Iraq kept getting bloodier. Brownie mishandled FEMA, and Karen (“I’m a working mom”) Hughes looked silly in Saudi Arabia. Many conservative commentators no doubt were uncomfortable, but they were reluctant to criticize the White House. That’s not how they play the game, especially when they play it in Washington.
But then came the Miers’ nomination, and it was clear Bush had gone too far. It’s entirely possible Ms. Miers would be a fine Supreme Court justice, but Bush’s claim that she was better equipped than anyone else for the job was absurd and otherworldly. This provided a wonderful opportunity for the conservative commentators and columnists to redeem themselves and recover their lost honor. They could also make a career move. The Miers nomination stiffened their spines, and allowed them to join hands with liberals.
Bill Kristol was first out of the box in denouncing the nomination. Will, Krauthammer, and others followed. It is now open season of sorts on the White House. Windy evangelicals join in on one side or the other, while politicians look for cover. Virginia’s Senator George Allen was priceless. People he has a “great deal of admiration for” were unhappy with the Miers nomination, he said, but he wasn’t sure how he felt about it himself.
Meanwhile pay attention now to what Pat Buchanan said on Sunday’s Meet the Press. He said Bush did not really want to overturn Roe v. Wade, and it’s likely he was right. Momma Bush and Laura would like to keep Roe v. Wade; Condi and Karen no doubt would, too. In a face-off with Bush, I think the ladies would win.
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