Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Could James Dobson Be Telling the Truth About Miers?


Just kidding. (Well, I'm not really kidding. In fact, it's both impossible that Focus on the Family founder James Dobson is telling the truth, and highly plausible that he is telling the truth; but I'll get to that in a minute).

It's being widely reported that Dobson will discuss on the radio tomorrow and Thursday exactly what he knew, when he knew it and from whom he knew it. (Though it's likely he won't discuss the truly important issue -- how he knew he knew it -- but, again, more on that later). Specifically, according to The Rocky Mountain News (thanks to HuffingtonPost for the link), Dobson will "clarify what information he got from the White House or other sources about U.S. Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers."

What's raised eyebrows -- and the prospect of a Democratic inquiry into the matter -- is Dobson's implication to his listeners that he got inside information that suggests Miers will rule the way Dobson and his listeners want her to. Notably, Dobson said, "When you know some of the things I know - that I probably shouldn't know - that take me in this direction, you'll know why I've said with fear and trepidation I believe Harriet Miers will be a good justice."

So, what does Dobson know (and, more importantly, did he actually know it)? Well, he's apparently had private calls with Karl Rove about Miers. And he shared his subsequent impressions in a conspiracy-theorist's-wet-dream conference call that also included White House Political Director Sara Taylor, White House liaison Tim Goeglein, RNC Chair Ken Mehlman, and Christian-right staples Charles Colson, Richard Land and Jay Sekulow.

But Dobson has never claimed he got a yes-or-Roe answer from the White House on abortion. In fact, according to the Dallas Morning News, the White House says he never asked:

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Sunday that...Mr. Rove has spoken with Mr. Dobson "and many others" in a series of "outreach calls" to garner support for Ms. Miers' nomination.

"In those conversations [including those with Mr. Dobson], he was not asked, nor did Karl offer any insight into how Harriet Miers would vote on any particular case."
And People for the American Way apparently got access to that aforementioned conference call, posting a summary of the remarks, including Dobson's, which I've excerpted here:

  • HM will be an excellent justice - but of course you never know until they are on the court and have the power
  • And sometimes power corrupts
  • GWB made two promises during election that he has kept
  1. Promised to reform the judiciary and appoint judges that don’t legislate
    from the bench
  2. He has a commitment to the pro-life movement and believes in it personally,
    philosophically, and theologically.
    • This Prez believes in the pro-life movement, he's proven it by:
      • Signing the partial birth abortion bill
      • Mexico City policy; and
      • He's fought against embryonic stem cell research
    • I've done my own research on Miers; I've talked to people in Dallas; People that have know [sic] her for 10 years, 20 years, 25 years and they all believe in her
    • We've got [to] believe the Prez has done the right thing in nominating HM

    Conclusion? Dobson has to be lying (or, to be charitable, he must at least be self-delusional in this instance). Why? Either Dobson got inside information, as he claimed, suggesting Miers will rule against Roe v. Wade, or he is being forced (by the lack of such information) to scramble, as he also claims, for the same sketchy, fact-based evidence the rest of the Christian right is scrutinizing.

    Dobson is caught in two quandaries; a semantic one and an epistemological one. Semantically, he obviously didn't realize that the codewords of previous nominations might carry solely their literal meaning -- i.e., the meaningless assurance that Miers won't legislate from the bench -- rather than the previously applicable coded meaning -- i.e., that Miers will rule against Roe v. Wade, Griswold v. Connecticut and any other underpinning of reproductive choice.

    More interestingly, epistemologically, Dobson is foundering with his forced reliance on empirical evidence to bolster a matter of faith. For years, the Christian right has worked to create a Manichaean bloc of "good," simple, faith-based unrealpolitik that rejects causality and relies on faith. Bush built his base on the faith religious leaders had in him, and the votes produced by the faith their followers have in them. But now, with Miers, Bush has turned their own epistemology against them. And all they have left to turn to is...empiricism. The same people who glibly spread the slur that there are no atheists in foxholes have now, with metaphorical bombs bursting overhead, put down their prayerbooks and begun searching frantically for political cover and documented ammunition.

    Dobson is either lying when he implies he knows how she'll vote, or he's lying when he says he hasn't been told. He can't know AND not have been told. In fact, the only way he could possibly know and not have been told, is if he came to this knowledge supernaturally. That's why it's not lying to him: Because Dobson has built his life on knowing what can not be known. This impossibility is the defining essence of every word he speaks.

    Bush's cardio-meritocracy ("I know her heart") has this same quality; he knows things without having been told. What's happened now is that Bush's methodology has become too attenuated. For Dobson's followers to have faith, they must have faith not in God or even in Bush. They've been asked to have faith in Dobson's faith in Rove's faith in Bush's faith in Miers' faith. Bush has just charted the limits of trickle-down faith and the transitive property of cardio-meritocracy. To his surprise, this supernatural world of his really is flat, and he's just fallen off the edge.

    Furthermore, this rebellion of faith has been fueled by Bush's empirical failings. The Christian right knows full well that Roe v. Wade is not a one-case, one-vote issue. Dobson knows full well that plenty of Christians -- possibly including Miers -- find abortion awful, tragic and even morally reprehensible, without endorsing law-enforcement prevention of it. More to the point, as pro-life Miers friend Justice Hecht freely allows, in any given case, even a "pro-life" lawyer or jurist might be obliged -- by slavish adherence to the law, the Constitution and to precedent -- to uphold the right to privacy and the reproductive freedoms it implies.

    In other words, the Christian right may have realized that they picked the last guy anyone would want for thorough, thoughtful execution on a complicated issue, rife with grey legalese and nuance in a vast web of contextual precedent. Because Bush's simple-minded, faith-based opposition to abortion won't matter unless in nominating Miers he was smart enough, thoughtful enough, scholarly enough and informed enough to think thoroughly and rigorously about this complicated, legalistic, nuanced issue. And even if he did probe Miers thoroughly, would he have pressed her to commit to overturning Roe v. Wade, when even he won't say publicly whether he thinks it should be overturned? With Bush denying (remember, we're stipulating truth here), or at least appearing to deny, any substantive discussion on abortion, Dobson may now suspect that Bush relied on the same evidence we all have: Miers' sketchy and unsatisfying record on abortion. And that's not enough, because faith isn't enough.

    (A side note: Because Bush is so uninterested in quantifiable, empirical facts and data, and so uninterested in debating issues on the basis of facts, his response instincts are almost always ad hominem. That's may have been enjoyable to the Christian right so far. But now that response mechanism has been turned on them. Critics of Miers have been labeled sexist and elitist just for asking for some evidence of her qualifications.)

    The best way to understand Dobson -- and (if we're going to get all empirical, let's go balls-out) to predict what he'll say -- is to stipulate that he and the White House are, essentially, telling the truth. In that case:

    • Dobson was not told Miers will rule consistently against Roe.
    • Dobson believed she will because he has faith in Bush and because the Bush White House (i.e., Rove) and its proxies used the right code words.
    • Dobson is now genuinely concerned about the emergence of countervailing evidence.

    Faced with this real-world evidence (such as Hecht's comments) that Bush either failed to meet Dobson's standards of certitude or simply pulled a fast one on Dobson, Dobson now has to secure the faith his followers still have in him, without appearing to abandon the president. I predict he'll do that on the air this week by reiterating his personal faith in the president, while calling on the White House to provide reassurances to "the American people" that this faith is warranted. In other words: Trust, but verify. Even though the punditocracy will read this as a sign of conditional solidarity with Bush, it will actually represent a stunning, bellwether loss for Bush. Verification -- i.e., the application of logical criteria based on quantifiable phenomena -- is pure anathema to Bush. It is the system in which he fails -- and now one of his staunchest backers will ask the very core of Bush's base to apply it to him. (If I'm right, that is!)

    If you want to see how I think Dobson's narrative will play out, take a look at the exact words he reportedly used in that conference call, clearly ill at ease trying to reconcile his intuitive faith with his cognitive doubt. And for some insight into the road Dobson is taking, take a look at how ally Rick Scarborough detailed his epistemological anguish in familiar terms and, I'm predicting, with a similar outcome. Here's how Scarborough, the leader of the War on the Judiciary, related his struggle in his e-mails, some of which are available online, to followers (emphasis added for juxtaposition of faith and fact):

    Sept. 29:

    WILL THE PRESIDENT NOW GIVE US A THOMAS OR A SCALIA? ...President Bush must be true to his word. He must keep faith with the folks who elected him twice. I am praying that he will. He did not promise us that he'd nominate candidates without a paper trail...He promised to give us justices who were constitutionalists. He promised us justices who were committed, body and soul, to reading the Constitution in the light of the Founders' intent. In other words, he promised us Supreme Court nominees like Scalia and Thomas...


    Oct. 3:


    President Bush has named White House Counsel Harriet Miers, age 60, to be the next associate justice of the United States Supreme Court...

    Miers has no prior judicial experience.

    Stay tuned.

    Our analysis and reaction will follow later today.

    But Scarborough's "analysis and reaction" did not follow later that day. Oct. 4: Also nothing.

    Oct. 5, 10:56 am:

    We are pleased Harriet Miers appears to be a woman of strong Christian faith. However, there is not a track record that her faith has impacted her world view on the great social issues of our day. We are hopeful members of the Senate will treat the hearings as an opportunity to learn the philosophy of Ms. Miers on these matters so important to the future of our nation.


    Oct. 5, 5:41 pm

    Like many of you, I have agonized over the appointment of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court of the United States of America...

    I have sat through several hours of discussions by teleconference and private communications with key leaders from the White House and leaders of some of the largest pro-life, pro-family organizations in the country. I have voiced my own lament that the President seemed to be unwilling to pick a fight with liberal Democrats who certainly would have cried foul over a known conservative with a written record to validate their conservative ideals.

    But one thing about Harriet Miers has given me pause since I first heard her name in connection with the Supreme Court---her faith. The moment I mention that some of my more politically astute friends may laugh or mock me, but I have discovered that with Ms. Miers, her faith is more than a passing fancy. Marvin Olasky's blog posted on October 3, 2005, tells of the profound influence her conversion to Christ has had on her life and her belief in the originality of Scripture and the Constitution. That she served on her church's Mission's Committee and regularly tithes to her church, which is strongly pro-life, tells me that her faith is a serious matter to her.

    And then today, I heard James Dobson devote a full program to explaining why he is embracing her appointment and supporting the President, while he is monitoring the hearings and the unfolding drama. He stated that at some point we must trust the President to do what he said he will do...

    Dr. Dobson next spoke of private conversations which he participated in over the past couple of days that had convinced him that this was a solid pro-life appointee...

    ...It is just like God to take the power out of our feeble and inadequate hands and make us depend on Him to grant the revival we are working toward and praying for.

    Soon enough we will know whether or not Harriet Miers is the conservative
    judge we are being told she will be. For now, we must trust the President, but
    more importantly, we must trust God. I am glad to know that with this candidate,
    He will have open access to her heart
    . I think we Christian conservatives must
    concentrate on three things:

    1) Placing our hope and trust in the Lord who alone can save this great Republic.

    2) Giving the President the benefit of a doubt that he is a man of his word.

    3) Paying attention to the hearings. Senator Brownback, a member of the Judicial Committee, has stated that we should; "Trust, but verify." He is right.

    ...I will support the President on this nomination, but I will also be urging Senator Brownback to verify that she believes the law of the land, including "Roe v Wade," is what the Constitution says it is....not what the judges say it is.

    What point is faith in God "alone," if the fallback is to lobby U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback? The Christian right's position is absurdly untenable, precisely because it pits their faith in faith against their need for works. Claiming to rely on faith while calling for evidence to back it up may expose their theological paradox, but it's the only politically plausible course, which is why I fully expect Dobson to take it later this week.

    I'm curious enough about Miers -- and in sufficient dread of whomever Bush might nominate in her stead -- to want to see her confirmed. But I think that the nomination's lasting impact on Bush will stem not from future rulings, but from the fact that it's forced Bush's religious patrons -- and their millions of followers -- not merely to doubt him, but to start applying real-world, cause-and-effect, evidence-based, empirical thinking to his actions. The imperviousness of Bush's base to this kind of thinking is what's maintained his poll "floor" so far, which explains why only now has that bottom begun to erode.

    The true test of that floor, though, will come when Bush's diminishing base realizes that -- just as with Roberts -- the Miers hearings will provide no further clues as to the nominee's legal positions. That's when their faith will really be tested.

    1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    I'm delighted to see someone at last attacking the central confusion in all the discussion of Miers, "no legislating from the bench." Thanks and a tip o the hatlo hat. --Beel at http slash slash redclayramblers dot tripod dot com slash bill slash snappy slash (no www)

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