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Friday, October 28, 2005

Are they bullshit or just lies?

Matt's post correctly punctures two popular stories out there being spun about Miers.  Here are two more memes, which are both false.  The hard part is figuring out whether, to use Harry Frankfurt's distinction, they are lies or bullshit.

1) Yesterday, the Democrat from Nevada, Senator Harry Reid said: "The radical right wing of the Republican Party killed the Harriet Miers' nomination."  Reid also said:  "In choosing a replacement for Ms. Miers, President Bush should not reward the bad behavior of his right-wing base." 

As to cause, Reid is clearly mistaken.  The nomination was vigorously opposed by an overlapping cluster (not quite a consensus) of principled (and perhaps pointy-headed) conservatives and liberals who wanted to see someone sufficiently competent in the seat, and preferably not a crony.  Miers may also have been opposed by the radical right wing of the Republican Party but she was also supported by groups who fit that label.  So, lies or bullshit?

2) After Miers' withdrawal yesterday, John Cornyn, the Republican Senator from Texas, said that the withdrawal of the nomination only proves this "was was a fundamentally unfair process."  Not true. There was little to nothing unfair about this process.  Some Senators were Miers' champions right away, and some opposed her on grounds of cronyism and qualifications.  The vast majority waited to see information about her trickle in.  It wasn't impressive.  The answers to her question sheets submitted were "inadequate," "insufficient" and "insulting."  Senators weren't impressed upon meeting her in terms of her ability to do a good job.  Indeed, after meeting her, the Republican Senator Arlen Specter suggested she needed a crash course in constitutional law.  Moreover, the alleged unfairness of the process, which Cornyn also called "poisonous" should be studied in juxtaposition with how "unfair" the process was just this August and September, when Roberts was being screened.  Most reasonable Democratic Senators recognized that Roberts was an outstanding nominee (for a Republican) and many confirmed him.  The atmosphere about Roberts, in the mainstream, was not "poisonous."  While good Senators may have reasonably wanted more information about Roberts' views, and viewed that as a sufficient reason to oppose Roberts, the process towards Roberts was not unfair.  In short, while Miers may not have had the chance to speak to the Senators in an open hearing, it cannot be said -- with fidelity to the truth -- that the process was unfair in her case.  Nobody from the White House forced her to withdraw; it was her choice, influenced no doubt because of an emerging and overlapping opposition to her based on a variety of factors.  The process, far from being unfair or poisonous as Cornyn called it, worked well.  So, lies or bullshit?

Posted by Administrators on October 28, 2005 at 08:56 AM in Law and Politics | Permalink


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» Blog Round-Up - Friday, October 28th from SCOTUSblog
On Miers: On ThinkProgress John Podesta has this post on whether or not the "right" holds female Supreme Court nominees to a different standard than male nominees. PrawfsBlawg has this post by Matt Bodie on "Miers Myths," debunking some of... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 28, 2005 9:31:36 AM

» Blog Round-Up - Friday, October 28th from SCOTUSblog
On Miers: On ThinkProgress John Podesta has this post on whether or not the "right" holds female Supreme Court nominees to a different standard than male nominees. PrawfsBlawg has this post by Matt Bodie on "Miers Myths," debunking some of... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 28, 2005 1:34:43 PM


#1. Lie
#2. Bullshit


1.Harry Reid's statement is untrue, self-serving, and lays the foundation for the next, now unknown SCOUTS nominee. Certainly, members of the "radical right" probably opposed the Miers nomination. But I think that, on the whole, the people Ried would characterize as "radical" and "right wing" were probably more in favor of the nomination than many other (hopefully) principled conservatives.

How so? Right wing support for Miers seemed mostly centered among the religiously conservative and results-oriented crowd. Those not so much concerned about her qualifications as they were about getting Roe overturned, etc.

More "principled" (or pointy-headed) conservatives were apt to be lawyers, law prof.s, and other intellectual types who opposed her because 1) she was not qualified, 2) given her position, the appointment was unseemly, and 3) being pleasant, sympathetic, and "evangelical" is not enought when Luttigs and Alitos are around.

That's not radical, right wing criticism.

Harry Reid is telegraphing the Democratic strategy for the next nominee (who may very well be the aforementioned Luttig or Alito): namely, this is a candidate whose supporters (right wing nuts) are beyond the pale of American political life. Ergo, lie.

2. That's such utter nonsense that it's difficult not to simply dismiss it with a cynical "bullshit."

Posted by: BSA | Oct 28, 2005 4:13:52 PM

#1. True, then BS (Meant, as suggested, as setup for the coming nomination Ragnarok). One can tell that the initial statement is true, rather than lies or b.s., because of what the President *also* did... near-simultaneously coming out in favor of a fiscal restraint which has been utterly alien to his administration in the past. This is an all-hands bulletin for trying to soothe and placate the conservative base.

#2. Is a lie, not BS. Cornyn has nothing to gain by spinning this out, he's simply bitter and willing to engage in "wishful memory" in order to reconstruct events in a way that flatters his position.

Posted by: Russ Mitchell | Oct 28, 2005 2:56:55 PM


The other meaning of "radical right" tends to be "very well armed post-hippies living in the mountains". I doubt he meant them.

Posted by: Barry | Oct 28, 2005 2:34:21 PM

Well, Dan, I think it's important to note the difference between "from the right" and "from the radical right."

The "right" can mean anything, especially given Reid's Senate votes, which, according to the only comprehensive ratings I've seen, place him a bit to the left of Ted Kennedy. By some measures, he's farther left than Dianne Feinstein.

But the "radical right" has a more specific meaning, and tends to refer to religious social conservatives, though it need not necessarily. She had support from them.

If by "radical" Reid means "people who believe that the Constitution should protect individual rights, not government power", well, that's not such a small group, though of course there is much debate over the exact meaning of "individual rights", especially when it comes to fetuses. But opposition to Kelo, though, was found to be what what, in the general population, around 80%? And support for medical marijuana being beyond the reach of the Commerce Clause? Not 80%, but definitely a majority, I recall.

So, I'd say this is, in fact, bullshit. It's understandable that Reid wouldn't bluster about opposition to Meirs among Constitutionalist intellectuals, academics, and pundits, though. It doesn't have the same ring to it. :-)

Posted by: Barry | Oct 28, 2005 2:27:01 PM

Dan M: then make that case, i.e., show us how opposition from any of the various interest groups would have been sufficient to derail the nomination (the definition of an "overdetermined" outcome is, IIRAC, the convergence of multiple and independently sufficient causes). Otherwise, be less cavalier about "lies or bullshit" accusations.

In fact, I would suggest that you'd be on stronger ground if you argued that Mier's withdrawal was not overdetermined, i.e., in this case that opposition from the religious right was not sufficient to derail the nomination and that only the conjunction of multiple sources of opposition and tactical errors by the administration led to the withdrawal.

On a lighter note: did I know you in college? Your name is familiar :-).

Posted by: Dan Nexon | Oct 28, 2005 2:24:50 PM

To Dan N.,
my point was that the nomination was opposed by many people from very different backgrounds and thus the ascription of a single cause is incorrect b/c to my mind the withdrawal was overdetermined--there were multiple causes, and Reid's singling out the "radical right" seems, as Matt Bodie contends too, strategic BS.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Oct 28, 2005 2:04:21 PM

"So, lies or bullshit?"

Who the heck knows? But your "rejoinder" is irrelevant to the question. Reid claims that the cause of Mier's withdrawal was opposition from the radical right. You "refute" the argument by pointing out that many different sorts opposed the nomination. Pot.kettle.black?

Posted by: Dan Nexon | Oct 28, 2005 1:48:13 PM


Reid approves of Miers because Reid was the one to suggest Miers to Bush.

Posted by: ed | Oct 28, 2005 12:35:38 PM

What look like "principled conservatives" to you most likely look like ideologues and right-wing radicals from the perspective of Harry Reid, just like Harry Reid's "principled progressives" would likely look like loony lefties to you. So neiter a lie nor bullshit, but simply your failure to step outside your own ideological frame.

Posted by: Stan | Oct 28, 2005 12:33:53 PM

I agree with most of what you say, Dan. I question, however, whether "[n]obody from the White House forced her to withdraw; it was her choice". That's the story we're fed; I don't buy it. I don't think Miers is imaginative enough to offer to withdraw on her own. The Hotline also suggests she didn't make the call.

Posted by: Shelby | Oct 28, 2005 12:31:20 PM

Of course, the explanations could false but be honest mistakes: you say yourself that Reid was "mistaken." Why do you think that Cornyn doesn't believe what he's saying? The process wasn't so obviously fair that no one could believe otherwise, was it?

Posted by: Chris | Oct 28, 2005 11:56:05 AM

Chief factors (for me) in determining Miers to be a poor choice:
1. She had never been a judge, thus I had no means of reviewing her rulings/writing, which often reveal a nominee's constituional and leagl attitudes;
2. The "writng samples" I saw (from her tenure as Tx Bar President) were obtuse, turgid and full of "process-speak";
3. There were so many other highly qualified and obvious candidates with clearly expressed convictions about the Constitution and legal interpretation;
4. Her staus as counsel to the President (without more distinguished accomplishments) lent the air of cronyism to her nomination;
5. EarlWarren, Harry Blackmun, and most particularly, David Souter;
6. (and the factor which more than all others) Harry Reid and Arlen Specter championed her from the outset.

Posted by: jumbo | Oct 28, 2005 11:52:08 AM

And Sen. Cornyn is upset because a fellow Texan didn't make it to the USSC. The simple fact is that Miers was a poor nominee.

Posted by: RandMan | Oct 28, 2005 11:37:08 AM

I think the Reid comments are mostly strategic BS. He's setting up arguments against a more conservative follow-up nominee. He probably, of all the Dems, was the most in favor of Miers' nomination; he may have even given the White House his support for her. But this whole thing (in fact, most Supreme Court nominations) is just kabuki theater where everything is strategic BS. (Justice Thomas's comments about Roe being an older example.) I hope that blogs will play a role in cutting through some of this haze in future nominations.

Posted by: Matt Bodie | Oct 28, 2005 10:05:43 AM

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