Politics & Policy

Friendly Advice

A necessary letter to Harriet Miers.

Dear Harriet,

You have no doubt heard the old advice that if you want a friend in Washington, you should buy a dog. With the ridiculous hours you work a dog was out of the question in any case, but canine friendship is not your only option. Many of us here have fine, loyal friends we would be lost without. You could use one such friend now. Your Texas friends–like Judge Nathan Hecht–are letting you down.

Understandably, the good judge and others have aggressively defended your qualifications and views. They attest to your impressive work ethic and admirable integrity. The surprise announcement preempted the good advice they might have given you: Thank the president for his trust and confidence and tell him you don’t want the nomination.

That was reportedly your answer in June when you were asked if you wanted to be considered for the O’Connor vacancy. Harriet, you should trust that earlier judgment. It seems the only thing that has changed since then is John Roberts’s dazzling performance in the Senate and his relatively easy confirmation. You might have figured that another “stealth” nominee without a lengthy judicial record or provocative academic writings would be similarly successful. A real friend would tell you that you figured wrong. A real friend would tell you the hard truths. So, here goes.

Senators are being cordial because they are personable politicians, but your meetings are going poorly. They think that you are in over your head and your discussions with them are reinforcing that impression. You are now in the “bubble” and surrounded by people who sympathize with the tough chore you have and want to encourage you. “That went fine,” you’re told, while scornful senators trade stories about their disappointing visits with you.

Your handlers might even be telling you that the bar has been lowered for your hearings, so your “crash course in the Constitution” will arm you to deal with what you can expect. Don’t believe them. Although questions about your lack of experience with constitutional jurisprudence might have been expected to lower expectations for you, they haven’t. You face an extremely high bar. I haven’t spoken to a single lawyer who thinks he or she could clear it. (Bob Bork told me he would need longer than a few weeks to prepare).

John Roberts could have admitted that he was unable to recall a certain case or appear unfamiliar with some dispute. You can’t.

Harriet, the hearings are going to be an embarrassing disaster. You’re being asked to do something you can’t reasonably be expected to do. You are not protected by a sterling resume or years of experience that put gaps in your knowledge or mistakes about cases in proportion. The smart money is betting you won’t be confirmed. (Are you being told that?)

Your decision to accept the nomination was ill-considered. If you accepted owing to your desire to help the president, you should know that nomination has only damaged him. That is the last thing a loyalist like you would ever want to be responsible for. It’s not your fault. As the ads say, even the best of presidents can make mistakes and your boss was poorly served by others on his staff. Someone should have insisted that you be put through the vetting wringer. Your paper trail should have been thoroughly reviewed by veteran screeners who don’t work directly for you. The negative reaction should have been foreseen and you should have been told about the angry opponents your nomination would generate.

Maybe the past three weeks have taught you something. Maybe you love your current job, your current boss, and your supportive colleagues. Maybe this ordeal is too unpleasant, personal, and divisive to persevere with for a job you have never had any interest in.

A friend only concerned with your well-being would tell you to withdraw. Issue a simple statement about the divisiveness among the president’s fellow loyal supporters and explain that you enjoy your current life. You’re grateful for the support you have received and trust it will be there for another nominee you will do everything in your power to assist.

Then resolve to work less and spend more time with your caring friends. We all need them.


Your Friend


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