EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the August 8, 2005, issue of National Review.
It was late in the evening–actually, late in the early morning–on the National Review British Isles cruise, and in the piano bar I’d just finished up my rendition of “Hey, Big Spender!” I’m not saying this was a trenchant ideological taunt of George W. Bush, but by this stage of the voyage NR writers and readers were getting more than a little touchy about the various unsatisfactory elements of “compassionate conservatism.” At one question-and-answer session, Jonah Goldberg delivered a magnificent laundry list of differences with the Bush administration that filled most of the 36-hour sailing time between Belfast and Edinburgh. It was “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” of Bush denunciations: On and on rolled the grievances–immigration, farm subsidies, prescription drugs. You waited for the “but,” but the “but” it cameth not.
Until the early hours of the final day, that is, when–after my “Hey, Big Spender!”–a brave band of NR cruisers trooped in to the room next door. We were there to watch the president announce his Supreme Court pick live from the White House at 9 p.m. Eastern, 2 a.m. local time (BST–that’s the laughably misnamed British Summer Time, not Bovine Spongiform Time, as one reader suggested). Much gloom had settled on the ship in the days before–we’d done the whole Gonzales-is-Spanish-for-Souter routine, and then gone in for a lot of identity-group psephology, taking for granted the soundness of John Derbyshire’s line that one thing you can guarantee is it won’t be a white male. We mused on how the politics of Swingin’ Sandra’s retirement demanded a woman replacement, and so that meant Bush would probably want to pick the first Hispanic-American female, and then the legal experts aboard airily threw around likely candidates whose jurisprudence the rest of us pretended to be familiar with: Conchita Rosalita Alcantara Cortez, Carmelita Juanita Suarez Angarita, etc. (I quote from memory.) After a couple of days of being berated by NR readers furious about illegal immigration, it occurred to me the president might want to start the amnesty with a splash and nominate the first Undocumented-American to serve on the Supreme Court.
And then in the hours before the decision word began to leak out that it was a judge called Edith. Which one we weren’t sure: At sea no one can hear you scream, for 24-hour cable-speculation channels. But the experts prowling the decks agreed there was a sound Edith and a wobbly Edith. Whichever one it was, Bush apparently wanted to nominate the first Edith to serve on the Supreme Court.
And so we went next door and gathered round the TV set, and it was a guy called “John Roberts.” What kind of cockamamie handle is that for a Supreme Court justice?
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