Last week the president admonished conservatives for daring to suggest that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would be an unacceptable Supreme Court nominee because of an opinion he wrote in a Texas parental-notification case while serving on the Texas supreme court, and because of his role as White House counsel in watering down the administration’s brief against reverse discrimination in admissions policies at University of Michigan. Keep in mind, conservatives have been respectful in their criticism of Gonzales. There have been no personal attacks or false accusations. And these are the same conservatives who went to bat for Gonzales when the president nominated him for attorney general.
Meanwhile, this morning, President Bush had breakfast with, among others, Senators Harry Reid and Patrick Leahy–both of whom voted against Gonzales’s confirmation and who led efforts to tie him to torture–for the purpose of consulting with them about his nomination to the Court. And, of course, Reid famously called the president a “loser” and a “liar.” And Leahy has conspired with leftwing groups in an effort to derail the president’s appellate-court nominees for the last four years, including through the use of unprecedented and unconstitutional filibusters.
What’s wrong with this picture? President Bush was quick to slap his conservative base, yet he has shown an inexhaustible supply of sensitivity to those who plot to derail his presidency. Early on, the president was solicitous of Senator Ted Kennedy, inviting him to the White House residence to watch a movie and share popcorn. He even named the main Department of Justice building after Robert Kennedy. In return, Kennedy has never missed an opportunity to stick a knife between the president’s ribs.
The president named Bill Clinton, along with his father, to head-up the tsunami-relief effort. Bush 41 has taken the relationship a step further, hosting Clinton at his summer home in Maine, among other things. President Bush even brought Clinton along to attend Pope John Paul II’s funeral. And in return, Clinton has traveled the world undermining the president in public statements. So, too, have Hillary Clinton and numerous former Clinton administration officials.
Despite Bush’s efforts–and there are countless other examples–the animus and vitriol leveled against him by his political opponents are beyond anything I have witnessed in my lifetime. And I served in the Justice Department during the Iran-Contra matter.
And as I write this, the same people with whom the president is breaking bread want to break Karl Rove’s political neck. Is the disparate treatment of friend and foe not bizarre?
President Bush is at an historic crossroads. His supporters–who defended him through the 2000 election court battle, the attacks on his cabinet members, the attempts to undermine the war effort at home, and, yes, the blocking of his appellate-court nominees–deserve better. It’s one thing to be demeaned by the liberal media, the Democratic party, and the Inside the Beltway crowd. But it’s another thing entirely for the president himself to treat his base like the crazy aunt in the attic when legitimate concerns are raised about something so important as the next Supreme Court nominee.
It is critical that the White House understand how passionate conservatives are about the Supreme Court’s abuse of power. Since Dwight Eisenhower, Republican presidents have promised to appoint individuals to the Court who would uphold the Constitution. They’ve done a miserable job. Yes, there have been occasions when nominees have changed philosophies after confirmation. But too many times Republican presidents have chosen nominees for reasons that have nothing to do with their judicial philosophy but rather with political calculations to appease liberal demands. Among them are William Brennan, Lewis Powell, John Paul Stevens, and Sandra Day O’Connor.
I understand why Democratic presidents aren’t sensitive to the conservative base, but not President Bush. The Supreme Court is out of control and President Bush has the chance to do something about it. And, indeed, he promised to do something about it–i.e., appoint justices who share the judicial philosophies of Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. So, of course, the president’s base is nervous when he embraces his adversaries and takes swipes at his friends.
And if political calculations are part of the process, as they undoubtedly they are, surely the White House must know that nothing will be more dispiriting and debilitating to the Republican base then yet another fumbled Supreme Court appointment. The consequences to the Republican party and the nation could be devastating. President Bush–please listen to your supporters, not Harry Reid.
–Mark R. Levin is author of the bestselling Men In Black, president of Landmark Legal Foundation, and a radio talk-show host on WABC in New York.