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Harriet Miers: A Sucker Punch

George Bush thinks everyone’s a sucker -- left, right and center -- and with his Supreme Court nominations, he’s proving it.

Imagine nominating a sycophantic nobody just when your poll numbers have given the mainstream media a by-your-leave to turn on the heat for your cronyism and machine politics. Imagine nominating a sycophantic nobody with a record thin and ambiguous enough to piss off suspicious activists of all stripes.

And imagine being smug in your knowledge that you'll get away with it. Bush's fellow Republicans will grumble -- the National Review will editorialize about how little regard you've shown towards those high-quality conservatives they've been cultivating at the Federalist Society and George Will might kvetch in the Washington Post, but at the end of the day they will buckle under and follow their Fearless Leader.

Harriet Miers -- and probably John Roberts, too -- will make suckers out of all of us by respecting the precedent (superprecedent!) of Roe v. Wade. Meaning the joke will be on ... everyone!

That's because the dirty secret is that the last thing the Republican leadership wants to do is overturn Roe. It would mark the beginning of the end for them and they know it.

Where would the GOP be without the specter of godless, baby-killing liberals keeping its base awake at night? Gone would be the their most potent organizing issue, the source of their passion advantage. Gone too would be the apathy of those on the left and center-left -- poof! It would be the end of their suburban "security moms." Young women would begin to realize that maybe, just maybe, thinking of oneself as a feminist isn't the worst thing in the world.

That wouldn't be good for the Conservative Revolution. Take it from anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, a master of the "fusionist" blend of social and economic conservatism. He told Reason Magazine:

My fear is that if [the religious right] get their main issues settled, they'll go home. The Christian Coalition represents a lot of white Southerners who used to be quasi-socialists. They used to buy into the whole Democratic Party's class warfare arguments. With a lot of those constituencies, we've brought them along so that they're as good on the tax issue as anyone else."
Would Karl Rove let those formerly quasi-socialist Christian Coalition white southerners just get their way and go home? Aren't we on the left supposed to live in hushed awe of his evil, Machiavellian genius? Or are we to imagine that Rove and the rest of the GOP's top strategists care more about fetuses than winning elections?

The question then becomes: why would they overturn Roe? I asked People For the American Way's Ralph Neas that question some time ago, and he argued that the right takes a long view of its goals, and would tolerate some electoral damage in the short- and medium-term in order to stack the court with conservative judicial activists for a generation to come.

But the administration can have their cake and eat it too by picking the right conservatives. Conservatism means little when it comes to judicial philosophies -- the right comes in different stripes. As the Washington Post put it, business has been "pushing its own brand of justice," one that doesn't always jibe with the goals of the right-wing Jesus set:
Business has tended to seek an expansive interpretation of the law and Constitution to impose national, as opposed to state, standards on a number of regulatory and liability matters. Conversely, religious conservatives have sought to diminish or eliminate the federal role, especially in the case of the key 1973 abortion decision, Roe v. Wade.
What's more, social conservatives are doing a bang-up job of restricting reproductive rights with Roe in place, toiling away under the radar. According to the National Abortion Rights Action League, 714 anti-abortion measures were considered by state legislatures in 2004, almost a third more than in 2003. Eighty-seven percent of American counties have no abortion providers. Why stir up a debate when you're doing just fine restricting choice on the QT?

If I'm correct, the religious right will find themselves, yet again, having been played for suckers. Again they get plenty of wagging gums from their favorite Republican politicians, especially around election time, but as usual that doesn't mean anyone's going to spend real political capital on their issues once the votes are cast.

They should be used to it, but I doubt that'll be much comfort. After the 2004 election, I caught up with right-wing direct mail guru and Moral Majority co-founder Richard Viguerie. I was struck by how much resentment he said his "traditional conservatives" had for the corporate wing of the GOP.

Viguerie told me to keep in mind that "these corporations propped up the Soviet Union for years." He recounted a story about a White House reporter asking a senior Reagan aide what the new administration would do for "the Moral Majority types" just after the 1984 election. Viguerie paused in the telling before saying: "symbolism, and that's all social conservatives have ever gotten. They felt they were good troopers; they worked hard for that administration." He then added matter-of-factly: "The corporate wing could care less about social issues."

And that corporate wing always gets what it wants in the end. Despite having a flimsy record on those hot-button social issues, Miers -- along with new Chief Justice John Roberts -- are what business writer Lorraine Woellert described as "legal wonks who have packed a powerful punch in the corporate world," and who now stand poised to be part of a "CEO's dream team."

In the near future, we can expect a flurry of comforting words from the big business right to their socially concerned base. Senior White House personnel will continue to make personal calls to people like Rush Limbaugh and Paul Weyrich urging them to get with the program, and billionaires of the religious right like James Dobson will assure his followers with a wink and a nudge that although he's "not at liberty to talk about" everything he knows, he has reason to be confident in Miers' anti-choice activism. And the Wall Street Journal's editorial writers will continue to uncover new evidence that proves beyond a doubt that Miers will shoot down Roe.

Meanwhile, with so little attention being paid to the installation of a corporate "dream team" on the Supreme Court, the left will ultimately be suckers as well, although we can at least console ourselves in the fact that we didn't vote for this administration.

But years from now the progressive movement will find itself sitting on the porch of its collective sharecropper's shack, reproductive rights as strong -- or as flimsy -- as they are today and wonder how it got so thoroughly railroaded. How did it become such a single-minded group of inverse "values voters" that it would sink all that time, energy and money into the battle over Roe and plum forget to find out how Miers might rule on the big questions of corporate rights and responsibilities, as well as on labor issues, the separation of powers, consumer rights, the environment and all the rest.

And we'll wonder how we got so thoroughly suckered into this Culture War moment that we forgot to even ask about that corporate dream team Bush was installing on the Supreme Court.

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