Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Distinctions with a Difference

Richard Cohen asks why conservatives rejected Harriet Miers' nomination for the Supreme Court and backed Sarah Palin's vice-presidential candidacy. He gets the answer precisely wrong.

Mr. Cohen contends that conservatives back the second of two candidates he regards as incompetent solely because of the ideological purity of Gov. Palin. However, he misrepresents the reasons for Ms. Miers rejection and fails to note an important distinction with a difference. Regarding the former, Ms. Miers was not rejected for ideological reasons. In fact, President Bush assured conservatives that Ms. Miers would vote "correctly," and the sorts of conservatives that Mr. Cohen is writing about (those at National Review and The Weekly Standard) didn't care. They didn't want correct results: they wanted a credible and serious legal mind who could provide leadership on the court.

Second, Mr. Cohen ignores the different requirements of a Supreme Court justice and a political candidate or leader. The judiciary is a much more intellectually oriented enterprise. Political offices, including the vice-presidency, could always use thinkers (which are seemingly in short supply for both parties), but they are more suited for persons with other types of skills: visionary leadership, organizational skills, and so forth. Many CEO's would make lousy professors, and vice-versa. The differences in the skill sets of political and judicial leaders are roughly comparable.

Leaving aside ideology, it is no reach to be uncomfortable with Ms. Miers on the court and fully comfortable with Ms. Palin as vice-president.

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