Scooter Libby isn't the only Republican to try the faulty-memory defense.
Saturday, Nov. 5, 2005
Fool Me Twice: Last weekend, Scooter Libby's lawyers leaked that he would rely on a "faulty-memory defense." The Washington Post said Libby, who was shopping for new lawyers, would try to persuade the jury that he and Karl Rove "are guilty of memory lapses, not lies." Sources said Libby was too smart to perjure himself, just too busy to keep his story straight.
By Thursday, when Libby entered his plea of not guilty, his new legal team hinted that he might hide behind the First Amendment instead. Perhaps his new lawyers are too smart to buy the faulty-memory defense, or just so busy they forgot.
One prominent defense lawyer explained that rather than play the fool, Libby and his new defense team went shopping for a new defense: "It would be difficult now to say that you didn't recall certain things when you've already testified that you did remember them."
Moreover, Libby's lawyers may remember that in past political scandals, faulty memories have proved to be a faulty defense. Nixon only dug his hole deeper by telling aides, "You say, 'I don't remember.' You can say, 'I can't recall.' "
It's a time-honored tradition: Elephants never forget; rogue elephants never remember.
During Iran-Contra, even goody-two-shoes Colin Powell repeated the mantra "I don't recall" 56 times. But for most, the defense doesn't work with the public or the jury. The Poindexters and McFarlanes would have been better off stiffing their legal teams and going straight to shopping for presidential pardons.
Been There: Scooter Libby and Karl Rove aren't the only ones tempted by the faulty-memory defense. The American people are ready to invoke it as well. This year, they woke up and realized they're stuck with another failed Bush presidency. The son is every bit as unpopular and ineffective now as his father was in his day. Americans should have known better in 2000, but they forgot.
This Bush administration has been one memory lapse after another. The big-government conservative stew of supply-side tax cuts and spending growth added trillions to the debt in the 1980s and is doing exactly the same this time around. Like his father, this president has learned that the consistent failure to solve festering problems at home eventually makes it impossible to focus on problems around the world.
Scooter Libby is on trial because a Bush White House run by veterans of the Nixon-Ford administration seems to have forgotten the same three-decade-old lesson that Nixon and his White House forgot from the Alger Hiss trial three decades before that. "Hiss would be free today if he hadn't lied," Nixon told his aides. "If you are going to lie, you go to jail for the lie rather than the crime."
In a speech this week to the Heritage Foundation, Tom DeLay used the faulty-memory defense to explain runaway Republican spending. DeLay made this Congress sound like the dream sequence in "Dallas." Apparently, conservatives knew better than to lard the budget with pork and earmarks but were so busy wooing lobbyists and saving Terri Schiavo they just forgot. DeLay went on to promise, "No more distractions; no more diversions." He forgot to mention "no more mug shots."
Under the headline, "Some in GOP Regretting Pork-Stuffed Highway Bill," today's Washington Post reports that conservative groups are mobilizing to repeal it because "Republicans who assembled the record spending package are suffering buyer's remorse."
Memory Aides: Meanwhile, down at the White House, the president who forgot his promises to restore integrity and fire leakers now has a plan to refresh other people's memories. Yesterday, he ordered all White House staff to attend "refresher lectures on general ethics rules, including the rules of governing the protection of classified information."
You'd think that the historic, daily spectacle of a colleague on trial for perjury would be enough of a refresher course for most White House staffers. The chronically forgetful might try tying a string around their finger and writing reminders like "Don't obstruct justice" on the back of their hand.
Democrats forget sometimes, too. A year ago Monday, Democrats lost an election to a lousy president by getting tangled in knots over Iraq. Now the Republican Party is swan-diving toward oblivion. Yet instead of swinging at the easy targets—incompetence, cronyism, perjury—Democrats keep returning to the one Bush has screwed up so badly, it's the hardest to fix: Iraq.
Even the press, which is supposed to be the keeper of our objective memory, has a tendency to lapse. For example, all week long the American press corps has treated Prince Charles and Camilla like royalty, forgetting that the very reason our forefathers gave us the First Amendment was to escape such humiliation.
Of course, faulty memories may be a natural defense mechanism of the body politic, in the same way the pain of childbirth fades over time. If we remembered how much it hurts every time leaders like DeLay say one thing and do another, we'd lose hope altogether.
But it is impossible to make progress in politics or any other endeavor unless we make an effort to remember where we're going and where we've been. "To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle," George Orwell wrote 60 years ago. "Otherwise, when some particularly absurd belief is exploded by events, one may simply forget that one ever held it." ... 10:01 A.M. (link)
Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2005
Ça Ne Fait Rien, Ol' Man: As David Ignatius points out, desperate times have turned Bush from self-hating Yalie into born-again snob. The same man who campaigned against people who "think they're all of a sudden smarter than the average person because they happen to have an Ivy League degree" suddenly won't nominate anybody without one.
For years, Bush scorned the elitist old-boy network of his father's day in favor of a more egalitarian approach: nouveau cronyism. Bush 41 surrounded himself with out-of-touch sycophants from Yale, Princeton, and Harvard. The younger Bush had a higher dream: that in America, anyone can grow up to be a yes-man, not just the privileged few. Bush filled his administration with sycophants from Oklahoma State, Central State, and S. M. U.
With the new cronies in disgrace, the president has been forced back into the Ivy League fold. Roberts, Bernanke, Alito—soon Bush will start reminding us that he's always a winner in the Harvard-Yale game. At long last, our president-from-Andover embodies his Yale classmate Gary Trudeau's famed cartoon of a placekicker who slinks back to his eating club after losing the Princeton-Yale game, only to be welcomed with open arms because "we all prepped together."
So, like Chatterbox, I knew better than to look for the real Sam Alito in his dry judicial opinions and turned to his college newspapers instead. Under the headline "Law Alum May Serve on Court," the Yale Daily News went straight to the point: "President George W. Bush '68 nominated U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Samuel Alito LAW '75 to the nation's highest court Monday."
The paper made no effort to recount whether Alito ever saw Hillary Clinton LAW '73 in the library or double-dated with Clarence Thomas LAW '74. One classmate called Alito "a lawyer's lawyer," apparently confusing him with John Roberts.
The Yale Daily News also made this shocking discovery: "Several Yale Law School professors and experts said they did not dispute Alito's academic credentials." Translation: "We all prepped him together."
The Daily Princetonian, by contrast, interrupted its weeklong fall break to dish like crazy. (Full Disclosure: Decades before I began writing pointless, self-important drivel for Slate, I wrote pointless, self-important drivel for the Prince.) In college, Alito was "shy," "tee-totalling," "early-to-bed and early-to-rise," and as they say in every boyhood profile of a serial killer: "a very quiet guy."
Classmates only lapsed into incomprehensible Reunionesque spin when they tried to describe Alito's current philosophy. One said, "Sam Alito is just what George Bush is looking for: a big government conservative who will almost always side with the government against the individual, and the federal government against the state." Another called Alito "a judge's judge."
Query: If John Roberts is a "lawyer's lawyer" and Sam Alito is a "judge's judge," is either a judge's lawyer, or worse, a lawyer's judge?
To his credit, Alito doesn't set off most of the snob alarms that come with the territory at Princeton. He didn't join an eating club. He didn't oppose co-education—unlike Chief Justice Roberts and George W. Bush, who reportedly once said Yale "went downhill since they admitted women" and seems to feel the same way about the Supreme Court.
Missing Link: As Chatterbox, The Plank, Reliable Source, and the Prince have reported, the most interesting question about Alito's time at Princeton is what happened to his senior thesis, which is missing from the university library.
Nothing sparks a journalistic manhunt like a missing document. In fact, liberals have been hot on the trail of Alito's missing thesis for months, asking the obvious question: "Did the White House borrow it for the vetting process?"
Conspiracy theorists will be disappointed, at first, to learn that the thesis went missing in 1976, along with 18 others in the A-B stacks. Still, Alito's thesis is one of only 263 listed as missing in a collection of 55,000 theses. The odds are 200 to 1 against a thesis disappearing—and this may be the first Princeton thesis anyone has ever wanted to read. (My wife has spent two decades coming up with new reasons not to read mine.)
In light of such remarkable coincidence, conspiracy theorists must persevere. Who was running the country in 1976? Dick Cheney was White House Chief of Staff. George H. W. Bush was head of the CIA. And the man in charge of the Pentagon and telling Cheney how to do his old job was Donald Rumsfeld, Princeton Class of 1954.
Rumsfeld had the Special Forces at his command, and knew where the theses were buried—because he'd done one himself.
Bonus Conspiracy: Sen. Bill Frist '74 was two years behind Alito in the Woodrow Wilson School. Although every senior has to write a thesis in order to graduate from Princeton, Frist's thesis not only doesn't show up on the list as missing—it's not listed at all. The Princeton University Board of Trustees may have to go into surprise emergency secret session in the new Frist Campus Center to find out what really happened.
Of course, you don't have to be Oliver Stone's thesis adviser to want to read Sam Alito's thesis. Unless, like Scooter Libby, Alito has penned a racy sex novel we don't know about, his senior thesis is probably the longest work he has ever written without clerks. It could be the Rosetta Stone into his soul, not to mention his philosophy of grammar, style, and punctuation.
Does Alito measure up to the exacting standards of the Roberts Court? The New York Times hedged its bets yesterday by describing his paper trail as "methodical," "dry," and "lucid"—recalling George Bernard Shaw's famous line, "She had lost the art of conversation, but not, unfortunately, the power of speech."
The real reason Alito's thesis is worth finding is that it's a Portrait of the Jurist as a Young Man. Almost every senior thesis reveals one essential secret: what the author wants to be when he or she grows up.
Al Gore wrote his Harvard thesis on the impact of television on the presidency. That subject has defined his entire career, from the presidential debates that (along with the Supreme Court) helped cost him the job he deserved, to his new cable venture, Current TV. "We have to take our country back," Gore said last week. "And we're going to start by taking television back."
Brooke Shields '87 wrote her Princeton thesis on the initiation into adolescence in Pretty Baby, the film in which she played a pre-teen prostitute. Bill Bradley '65 wrote his thesis on Harry Truman's Senate race; only later did Bradley decide to run in New Jersey instead of Missouri. New York Times political correspondent Todd Purdum '82 wrote his thesis on "The Politics of Security." Mine was about Orwell's synthesis of economic liberalism and cultural conservatism.
Paper Tigre: So, even without the text, the subject of Alito's thesis is quite revealing: "The Italian Constitutional Court." From this, we can infer the young Princetonian's grand life ambition: to serve on Italy's Supreme Court.
Congratulations, Sam—you're halfway there! Italy's Supreme Court has a solid Catholic majority. If Alito is confirmed, so will ours. Italy's Supreme Court is made up of one woman and a bunch of white guys. After Alito takes O'Connor's place, ours will be, too.
According to the garbled English translation on the Italian Court's home page, "The main duty of the Constitutional Court is to ensure the respect of the rigidity of the Constitution." If Scalia and Scalito have their way, young conservatives will no longer have to dream of going abroad to realize their ambitions. We'll have a Supreme Court dedicated to respecting rigidity here at home. ... 12:27 P.M. (link)
Monday, Oct. 31, 2005
Weak Day: President Bush spent the last Monday in October the same way he spent the first Mondays in September and October, standing in the Oval Office alongside another candidate for the Supreme Court. If it's Monday, it's "Meet the Nominee."
With each retake, Bush looks more like a TV pitch man retaping a Corn Flakes commercial, trying to feign enthusiasm for the product as he downs his umpteenth mouthful.
Bush has managed to make Supreme Court nominations as routine a ritual as his weekly radio address—and like his radio address, the script is a revealing barometer of White House angst. Oval Office statements are the President's blog, an unedited opportunity to address his deepest fears. And as Bush understands now more than ever, if you want a friend in Washington, get a blog.
Today's entry touched on the inevitable anxieties of a man who has just gone through the worst week of his presidency. The subject was Judge Sam Alito Jr., but the subtext was Libby, Rove, and Miers:
What Bush said: "As a Justice Department official, federal prosecutor and judge on the United States Court of Appeals, Sam Alito has shown a mastery of the law, a deep commitment of justice, and he is a man of enormous character."
What he meant: Alito is optimistic that he will not be charged in the Special Prosecutor's investigation.
What Bush said: "Judge Alito showed great promise from the beginning in studies at Princeton and Yale Law School, as editor of the Yale Law Journal, as a clerk for a federal court of appeals judge."
What he meant: I have never met this man before in my life, and no strings were used to perform this trick.
What Bush said: "Judge Alito has served with distinction on that court for 15 years, and now has more prior judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in more than 70 years. … He has participated in thousands of appeals and authored hundreds of opinions."
What he meant: I never knew the judicial monastery had such fine, right-wing monks.
Left Out: Perhaps the most revealing aspect of today's statement was what Bush didn't say. On both previous occasions, when he nominated John Roberts and Harriet Miers, Bush stressed his trademark promise that they wouldn't legislate from the bench.
"He will strictly apply the Constitution in laws, not legislate from the bench," Bush said of Roberts. "A Justice must strictly apply the Constitution and laws of the United States, and not legislate from the bench," he said the next time. "Harriet Miers will strictly interpret our Constitution and laws. She will not legislate from the bench."
Today, in nominating Alito, the President offered a much more limited view of the limits of judicial activism: "He understands that judges are to interpret the laws, not to impose their preferences or priorities on the people." No mention of the Constitution or strict constructionism. No false judicial modesty that the new guy will sit quietly and behave himself on that bench.
What happened to Bush's old mantra? First, while we may not know Alito's shoe size, we know that shoe doesn't fit. Nobody who tried to overturn the Family and Medical Leave Act can claim that his philosophy is judge-modestly-and-carry-a-blank-slate.
The other reason Bush threw his judicial activism talking points out the window is that he doesn't need them anymore. On the contrary, he wants the right wing—and the left—to know that this nominee is the conservative judicial activist they've been waiting for all along. Bush's new message: Bring it on.
Forget all that mumbo-jumbo about umpires and judicial restraint, Bush seems to be saying. The fans don't come out to watch everybody sit on the bench—they want to see a brawl that clears it. ... 10:32 A.M. (link)
Friday, Oct. 28, 2005
Know When To Fold 'Em, Part One: It's a sure sign of how far the Bush White House has fallen that it's considered a good day when only one top aide gets a criminal indictment. Soon they'll be breaking glass and pulling out the last, desperate spin: Better than Nixon.
Meanwhile, Republican sages around Washington are dusting off time-tested search-and-recovery plans from past disasters. The details vary in one respect—James Baker or Howard Baker?—but share a common theme: Bring in ancient, unindicted wise men to give your administration a whole new look. In addition to their wisdom and experience, these men bring along another important characteristic: In our criminal justice system, the older you get, the less likely you are to commit a crime.
Bush could certainly benefit from better advice. But those sages have read enough polls and played enough poker to know that when you're holding a three and a nine, you'd be better off throwing in the whole hand.
At this point, the one way Bush can salvage his administration isn't to bring new people in—it's to fire some of the crowd he's got. In that respect, Fitzgerald has done Bush an enormous favor by providing Karl Rove with a stay of execution. If Bush wants to stop the bleeding, he will get out of his defensive crouch and say to Rove: For the sake of the country and the Presidency, it's time for you to go.
If Bush starts holding his White House to the highest possible standard, he might withstand blows that may await him down the road. If the president's standard is more like unindicted co-conspirator, all the Bakers in the world will find even "better than Nixon" to be a stretch. ... 10:43 A.M. (link)
Know When To Fold 'Em, Part Two: It's Hari-Kari Week at the White House, as Bush aides—loyal to the last—line up to take the fall. Give Harriet Miers credit: She wasn't Supreme Court material, but she could proofread the writing on the wall.
Democrats, already fighting the next war, blame the far right for making Miers a victim of human sacrifice. Miers' catty colleagues in the administration are already blaming her for not having what it takes.
But if Miers is a victim, it's at the hand of President Bush. Dick Cheney may well have picked himself as Vice President in 2000, but Miers didn't orchestrate the Supreme Court selection process to her own advantage. Her only sin was to tell Bush yes.
Exit, Stage Right: Her withdrawal is rich with irony. In a turgid letter to Bush, Miers wrote, "Protection of the prerogatives of the Executive Branch and continued pursuit of my confirmation are in tension. I have decided that seeking my confirmation should yield."
That was Bush's excuse—to preserve the office of the presidency, he refused to allow "disclosures that would undermine a president's ability to receive candid counsel." Yet isn't that what doomed Miers from the start—the sense that any president willing to pick her wasn't getting candid counsel?
The White House tried to sell Miers as the loyal Staff Secretary made good, who would bring the Court expertise in areas the judicial monastery overlooks, like punctuation. But the administration never figured out how to punctuate her career. After three weeks as a question mark, then an ellipsis, Miers is at last what the British call a full-stop.
It's doubly ironic that a career built on abject loyalty and short on intellectual independence would come to an end over Miers' vague support a decade ago for "self-determination." For conservatives, that was the last straw: The whole point of the Miers nomination was the need for a woman who wouldn't think for herself, let alone encourage others.
So much for self-determination. For her sins, Miers was forced to carry out the one form of assisted suicide the right wing would embrace: hari-kari.
Harriet, We Hardly Knew Ye: Miers leaves behind many unanswered questions, including hundreds from Has-Been readers. Shortly before she withdrew, Jeff Johnson sent a prescient plea to publish the winning Stump Harriet entries. Alas, like all of Washington, I was too distracted by the Fitzgerald investigation to heed his warning.
The Washington Post says that Miers' "murder boards" were just that—and there's nothing like a murder to spoil a good punch line. But if readers' questions now seem bittersweet, they shouldn't be lost to history. As self-congratulatory conservative hack Manuel Miranda says, "It will be stamped across our foreheads for years: Which side were you on in the Miers fight?"
So, after a careful review, the Has-Been legal team has concluded that protection of the prerogatives of the Executive Branch and continued pursuit of these questions are not in tension. Winners earn the right to stamp "Has-Been" across their foreheads.
14. "If you were stranded on a desert island, which Warren would you take with
you?" (Frank X. Moffitt)
13. "When serving stare decisis for dinner, which is a better wine pairing, pinot noir or Zinfandel?" (Paul Ruschmann)
12. "Who is the second most intelligent man you have ever met?" (igotinker, Jonathan Potts, Chris Gallinari)
11. "Do you believe in a constitutional 'right to party,' and if such a right
does exist, which parts of the Constitution are applicable?" (Keith Ripley)
10. "Which character on the TV show Dallas most closely resembles President Bush and why?" (David Griffith)
9. "Have you ever discussed Marbury v. Madison?" (Lee Golden)
8. "Was there a second shooter on the grassy knoll, or did Oswald act alone?" (sipkinsr)
7. "Train A leaves Washington traveling North at 9 a.m. Train B leaves New York traveling South at 9:30 a.m. If both trains are going 45 mph, will you vote to overturn Roe v. Wade?"(Andrew LaFollette)
6. "Are you now or have you ever been?" (Jordan Deitcher)
5. "What was the best thing about Coach Tom Landry, other than his hat?" (Blaine Campbell)
4. "The President has called you a pit bull in size 6 shoes. If you could be any fierce animal you wanted, in any size shoes, which animal and what size would you choose, and why?" (Jeff Johnson)
3. "Which rejected nominee are you most like—Robert Bork or G. Harold Carswell?" (Gerald Glover)
2. "What are you wearing for Halloween?" (Madeleine Dulemba)
1. "If you could nominate one candidate to the United States Supreme Court, who would it be and what qualifications would you base that decision upon?" (Josh Loh) ... 7:46 A.M. (link)
Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2005
Bad Day: You wouldn't want to have been a White Sox fan at the White House staff meeting this morning. The boss and all the other Texans were already grumpy from staying up till 2:20 a.m. to watch the Astros lose the longest World Series game in history. Now they have to spend the rest of the day watching some suit from Chicago serve up indictments.
This morning's split-screen highlights of the president's mother suffering through last night's loss and the president's staff suffering through this week's waiting game raise the uncomfortable question: Is Texas cursed?
Texas is the second-largest state in the nation. Yet in its entire storied history, the state has produced two presidents, both of whom crashed and burned after five years in office, and two baseball teams, neither of which had even made the World Series until this year. Now the Astros are one game away from elimination, and Bush is one indictment away from a similar fate. (Quibblers: Bush 41 was a Connecticut Yankee who vacationed in Maine; Ike was born in Texas but grew up in Kansas.)
Not even Oliver Stone could have imagined the eerie parallel between Bush and LBJ. Both men overcame the soft bigotry of low expectations to enjoy surprising electoral success. Both brought Texas-sized ambitions to the White House and insisted that America could binge on both guns and butter. Both squandered their high-flying popularity by mismanaging foreign entanglements. In their fifth year in office, both watched their own party sour on cronies they nominated for the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Astros fans have every right to assume their team is cursed. When this season began, the four teams whose fans had waited the longest for their team to make the Series were from Chicago and Texas.
Both Chicago teams are famously cursed: The Cubs haven't won the Series in nearly a century; the Sox haven't won in four score and seven years. Cubs fans blame the Curse of the Billy Goat; Sox fans blame the Black Sox scandal of 1919.
By contrast, if the Texas teams are cursed, nobody outside Texas has shown much sympathy, or even noticed. Both the Rangers (born in Washington in 1961 and transplanted to Arlington in 1972) and Astros (born in 1962) are expansion franchises—rather like Texas itself. So, even though neither had even made the Series until this year, both are still too young to tug at the heartstrings of America's most nostalgic pastime.
Texans no doubt seethe at this traditionalist bias of the baseball press corps. In its Series preview, the closest the Washington Post could come up to identifying a curse was that Houston's original Colt .45s logo included a "smoking gun." Down in Texas, fans must have rolled their eyes and scoffed that only liberal elite city boys would consider a smoking gun to be a curse.
Rain DeLay: After watching Astros relievers serve up not one, but two, game-winning home runs in Sunday night's thrilling White Sox victory, and another one last night, it's hard not to consider another uncomfortable question: Is Houston on the take?
Scrawny White Sox outfielder Scott Podsednik, who won Game 2 with a 400-foot blast, hadn't hit a home run in over 500 at-bats in the regular season. Last night's hero, Geoff Blum, hit only one other home run for the Sox this year, and his batting average for Chicago was right at the dreaded Mendoza line.
Here in Washington, we already had other reasons to suspect that Houston was on the take. Throughout the Abramoff scandal, conservatives have wondered why devout fundamentalist Tom DeLay led the fight to kill anti-gambling legislation. Perhaps Abramoff is DeLay's Arnold Rothstein, the man who cursed Chicago all these years by bribing the Black Sox to throw the 1919 Series.
Famed Texas partisan Paul Begala, a zealous convert from New Jersey, will be quick to offer a more compelling explanation—that the source of the Astros-Rove curse is Bush, not Texas. Karl Rove is a Bush creation (and vice versa). Astros owner Drayton McLane raised more than $100,000 as a Bush Pioneer in the 2004 campaign. He credits President Bush for encouraging him to buy the team.
The former President Bush and his wife are Astros regulars, and last night Bush 41's national security adviser Brent Scowcroft was in the stands cheering the team on—which is more than he will do for the Bush administration.
Under the Curse of the Bush theory, the Texas Rangers have never made the Series because the president used to run them. That could also explain the apparent curse upon former Rangers. Rafael Palmeiro, a Bush contributor who ruined his career by taking steroids and lying about it, holds the record for most games without ever playing in a World Series. Alex Rodriguez, a Bush contributor who has earned hundreds of millions popping out in clutch situations, may one day hold the record for most home runs by a player who has never reached the World Series. But first he will have to pass ex-Bush Rangers Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa, whose career has seen one curse after another: Texas to Chicago to Angelos.
It's not fair to curse a whole state for one man's handiwork. So, best of luck tonight to Houston and the Lone Star state. And here's today's survival tip for Sox fans in the Bush White House, and Democrats in Washington: Respect your opponent's pain, and keep your mouth shut. ... 11:57 A.M. (link)
Flight Plan: On Wall Street, times of uncertainty often spark a flight to quality. Washington usually has a simpler reaction: flight. When presidents are running scared, quality is the least of their worries. They want loyalists—and can end up with the likes of Harriet Miers as a result.
If Miers was a flight to mediocrity, Ben Bernanke, Bush's nominee to replace Alan Greenspan as chairman of the Federal Reserve, seems like a solid blue-chip choice. As Dan Gross points out, Bernanke has ample credentials, broad respect from within his field, and no political agenda—which is sometimes more than could be said for Greenspan himself.
Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal said of Bernanke: "Though a libertarian Republican, he displays few partisan leanings." Some economists say he's even less partisan than that.
Wall Street probably assured Bernanke's confirmation by responding to news of the appointment with a 170-point gain in the Dow. By contrast, Harriet Miers futures are trading at a third of what they were worth the day of her nomination.
The only remaining question is how conservatives will react. If the Laffer Curve is the Roe v. Wade of right-wing economic theory, Bernanke may have trouble convincing conservatives that he goes to the right church.
"A supply sider he is not," John Tamny wrote in August in a piece called "The Scary Side of Ben Bernanke" for National Review Online. Tamny gave Bernanke the dreaded label "Keynesian" and warned that picking him would cost Bush his chance to remake the Fed the way the right wants him to remake the Supreme Court. Tamny didn't even mention that Bernanke has been praised by Bush-hater Paul Krugman, or that as head of the economics department, Bernanke hired Krugman to come to Princeton.
Over at The Corner, Larry Kudlow quickly reassured conservatives about Bernanke, sounding a little like a highbrow James Dobson: "He has told me in the past that raising tax rates would only harm the economy."
But conservatives are in such a funk over Miers, they're hard-pressed to raise a fuss. "His bio at least sings 'qualified,' " writes Kathryn Jean Lopez.
As one clever conservative told me, "I'm just relieved the president didn't nominate his accountant."
In fact, President Bush now has a face-saving excuse to explain Miers in his memoirs: Her nomination was actually a shrewd, expectations-killing distraction to keep the right from demanding an ideologue at the Fed.
Brain Dump: For the past few months, Bernanke has served as chair of the president's Council of Economic Advisers. With a few exceptions, like conservative guru Glenn Hubbard, the CEA post is one of the most apolitical, hack-proof jobs in the White House. Every administration is divided into hacks and wonks, but CEA chairs generally fall into another elite category: nerds.
Harriet Miers has suffered badly because she doesn't fit into any of those established camps. She's too politically tone-deaf to be a hack. She's too obsessed with process to be a wonk. And apart from a promising stint in the Latin Club at Hillcrest High, she doesn't have the numbing credentials to be a nerd.
Washington worships the evil genius; CEA chairs tend to be the ordinary kind. While they try to be loyal team players, they're like Spock on the starship Enterprise, struggling to make sense of a political world that defies logic. Their analytical work can be quite useful, if the White House finds the time to listen. But most White House pols notice the CEA only when it wanders off message, as when Bernanke's predecessor Gregory Mankiw caused a campaign firestorm by praising the outsourcing of American jobs.
If nerdiness is an occupational hazard at the White House, it's almost a prerequisite for chairing the Fed. Alan Greenspan served in the Ford administration with Rumsfeld and Cheney, who served as chief of staff, and who have since gone on to become political lightning rods. Greenspan was CEA chair and for two decades has been America's Nerd. His biggest blunder came when he tried to play politics in 2001, giving intellectual cover to Bush's tax cuts with the politically improbable argument that budget surpluses posed a long-term risk.
I don't know whether Bernanke is a real nerd or just posing as one. A quick review of recent speeches showed that he can match Greenspan in at least one respect: After a few pages, I had no idea what he was talking about and figured it was all my fault.
If Roberts was Latin for Rehnquist, Bernanke might be econo-babble for Roberts. According to U.S. News, one of Bernanke's greatest disappointments in life came in a sixth-grade spelling bee. John Roberts claims he never lost a local spelling bee; Bernanke was spelling champion for the whole state of South Carolina.
But when he put too many "i"'s in "edelweiss," Bernanke lost the national championship and the chance to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show. In his new job, he won't have to worry: There's no 'i" in "nerd." ... 7:46 P.M. (link)
Update: My choice for the Fed would have been Vice-Chair Roger Ferguson, who has three degrees from Harvard, experience in managing financial crises like 9/11, and a keen understanding of Washington. I assumed that as a Clinton appointee, he never had a chance. But the Post reports that Ferguson was in the running until the Miers fiasco made it impossible for Bush to take a chance. Conservative economist Bruce Bartlett attempts to explain the White House strategy: "When your team is on a losing streak, you schedule a game with a cream-puff opponent. Then you go with the hot hand." But that's all the more reason to look outside your team. If you had any hot hands, you wouldn't be losing.