Friday, July 01, 2005

A Modest Nomination

How might George W. Bush really flabbergast the Democrats, and, at the same time add some true intellectual distinction to the Supreme Court?

How about nominating someone who graduated first in his Harvard Law School class, voted twice for Bill Clinton, and in a 2002 conversation reasons thus:

The Washington Post and others bring us more on the mau-mauing of new Harvard President Lawrence Summers by Cornel West....

...Where did Summers—the former Clinton treasury secretary and Democratic economic policy guru known for his brusque manner and indisposition to suffer fools gladly—go wrong?

"His inaugural address emphasized the value of skepticism and denigrated slavish followers of orthodoxy," ....although the slavish following of orthodoxy is something to be denigrated at one's peril on today's campuses. But Summers had neglected to genuflect at the shrine of affirmative action, which has become synonymous (at least on campus) with preferential treatment of African-American and other favored minorities (including those who are children of wealth and privilege) over white people (including those who are children of coal miners, cops, and firefighters), especially males.

Summers crossed the line from the incorrect to the unforgiveable...when he met privately with West in October and questioned his recent scholarly activities. These include making an alleged rap CD (not rap, says West, who touts it with ego-deflating humility as "a watershed moment in musical history"), chairing the lying racist demagogue Al Sharpton's presidential exploratory committee, and contributing to the grade inflation that has made B-plus a below-average grade at Harvard.

West's account (denied by Summers) is that Summers "attacked and insulted" him and treated him with "disrespect." ...The harpies of political correctness have descended on poor Summers like avenging angels. Sharpton and the lying demagogue Jesse Jackson have volunteered their services to gin up a feast of victimology on behalf of the pampered professor.

....when current events prompt West to say, "I weep for Harvard," I can agree.

And that's just the warm-up. It was followed by:

I surely agree that it would be both unconstitutional and outrageous to prosecute a man for standing on a soapbox and shouting support for Osama Bin Laden. But I seriously doubt that President Bush intended to suggest any such plan when he said clumsily—this is not a man given to parsing with much care the meaning of words like "is," or of any other words, for that matter—that "if we find somebody who wants to harm America, who espouses a philosophy that's terrorist in bent [sic], I can assure you we will bring that person to justice."

While I share your suspicion that Bush is none too sensitive to civil liberties, I read his introductory reference to "somebody who wants to harm America" (which the New York Times omitted from its article) as implying that the "someone" is not a mere soapbox orator but rather a person planning acts of terrorist violence against Americans. ....

Indeed, I suspect that the freedom of speech is less in danger from Bush than from the student (and perhaps faculty) thugs who over the years have repeatedly shouted down, heckled, harassed, and otherwise prevented conservatives like Ward Connerly and Linda Chavez from speaking on campuses. Those episodes are not well known because newspapers like the New York Times routinely ignore them.

Even later we get:

...let's relitigate Paula Jones a bit. In my view, she was very far from being politically motivated, or even politically inclined. Sure, her cause attracted many motivated champions—and attackers. What scandal does not? Jones' champions were no more politically motivated than the people who so enthusiastically embraced Anita Hill's allegations that her boss Clarence Thomas had talked dirty and pestered her for dates—only to scoff, a few years later, at the less elegant Jones' more convincingly corroborated claims that her boss's boss Bill Clinton had demanded sex while exposing himself. The judge did not find Jones' allegations untrue. She ruled that even if true, the impact on Jones was not severe enough to warrant a legal remedy. This seemed reasonable—albeit contrary to some case law—to me. A similar ruling would, of course, have sent all of the Clinton-friendly feminists into orbit had the defendant been, say, Newt Gingrich, or Jack Welch.

What struck me most was the reflexive double standard applied by many liberals in rushing to judgment based almost entirely on ideological and cultural sympathies, not evidence.

And segues to:

You even seem right in tweaking me for ducking all of the Bush environmental policies you criticized yesterday. I confess that I have been too busy (or too lazy) to read up on them. I am inclined to agree with your view that most are probably bad environmental policy. On the other hand, I'll bet that if we dug into them, we would find that allowing more roads in national forests would create lots of new jobs, for people who need jobs, and would find no popular consensus that snowmobiles despoil national parks. For this reason I am usually hesitant to assume, when this or any other administration does something I don't like, that they must have done it as a favor for logging company fat cats (who employ lots of people) or other monied interests (ditto).

Returns to Affirmative Action:

I sympathize with the trial judge's impulse to tweak the process to avoid ending up with an all-black (or almost all black) jury—or an almost all-white jury, in some other case—in such an interracial murder case. Our diverse racial and ethnic communities are becoming so balkanized and polarized that more and more jurors see themselves as representatives of feuding racial factions even when the judges do everything right. And I see the obsession, in academia and among civil rights groups and many politicians, with emphasizing racial difference and racial grievance rather than with finding common ground as part of the problem. If it makes sense to apportion jobs, government contracts, seats in college, professorships, congressional districts, and Supreme Court clerkships on the basis of race, why not seats on juries? This seems to me a microcosm of how the increasing pervasiveness of the racial classifications that we call affirmative action (or diversity) is poisoning our civic discourse.

Visits nuclear warhead reductions:

As to the Bush plan to carry out the promised sharp reductions in nuclear weapons by storing warheads rather than destroying them, your eloquent letter and the Financial Times piece had me racing toward the conclusion that this plan seems so stupid that only boneheads could have devised it. Right-wing boneheads at that. I was diverted momentarily from this path when I noticed two things about the Washington Post story on the same subject today, by Walter Pincus, who knows his stuff in this area. He stressed the news that the Pentagon plans to reduce the number of operational warheads from 6,000 to 3,800 over the next five years. Not until the seventh paragraph did Pincus mention, without much excitement, the plan to store rather than destroy the warheads. He mentioned the critics in passing. He quoted a Pentagon official as saying, "I believe the Russians are doing a very similar thing." And he noted that "the Clinton Administration also stored warheads it reduced."

So, it seems, Bush is proposing to follow Bill Clinton's example here. Maybe you don't have to be a right-wing bonehead to support this plan. And maybe the Financial Times did not tell the whole story. .... The nuclear deterrence game has always struck me as a combination of chess, poker, and contract bridge, involving such complex if-we-do-X-then-they-do-Y calculations that I would not aggressively second-guess apparently bone-headed decisions until after hearing out the boneheads who support them.

And even opines on Supreme Court nominations:

I think you may be too quick to analogize appointing a Supreme Court justice to employment, college admission, etc. High-level appointments are always fundamentally arbitrary, political decisions. Merit matters, of course, but there is no objective way to measure qualifications for the court, and Sandra Day O'Connor's were pretty good. Nobody has a right to "fair" consideration for such a position. And politics always looms large. Dwight Eisenhower (to his subsequent regret) appointed Earl Warren because Warren had extracted a promise when he delivered California's delegates to Eisenhower at the 1952 Republican Convention. Reagan and Clinton had their political reasons for choosing distinguished women for the court. The first President Bush had his political reasons for choosing a black conservative. And the next justice—no matter who the appointing president—is very likely to be Hispanic. That's politics. But I don't think that ordinary jobs, government contracts, and seats in colleges should be awarded on the basis of politics.

The Court not only could do worse, it has at least six Justices right now who are. To find out who said all the above, click here.

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