Some years ago, during an impassioned debate on a proposed term-limits amendment, then ranking Republican House member Henry Hyde of Illinois lent his rhetoric and his influence, both considerable, to the opposition. Leaders, Hyde thundered convincingly, have to be developed over time. They can't be found in the phone book!
But Supreme Court justices, it would seem, can be. First, there was President Bush's appointment of the little-known appellate judge John Roberts, not just to join the court but to serve as its chief justice. The 50-year-old Roberts is clearly a man of ability, but his answers during congressional hearings to any and all questions about his judicial philosophy were so evasive and unrevealing that they offered no clue about the potentially decades-long judicial era to come. Now, to fill another High Court vacancy, comes -- Harriet Miers? If the public knew next to nothing about Roberts, it literally knows nothing -- nil, nichts, nunca -- about Miers, except that the name of this previously obscure White House counsel is probably to be found somewhere near the middle of the District of Columbia phone book.
Miers is a cipher. In nominating her, Bush has at last managed to unite liberals and conservatives -- both of whom are concerned that Miers may ultimately betray their interests if she is confirmed.
As a woman, Miers fills President Bush's pre-designated gender slot, but she is an unknown quantity compared to the other female jurists, some controversial, some not, whom the president was known to be considering. She was once president of the Texas Bar Association, and she has been a longtime crony ... er, associate of the president during his various political and governmental circumstances. That's pretty much it.
But wait. Here is Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who, in view of his position, surely knows something. Meeting the press on Monday, Specter laid it on the line: "I do not know a great deal about her professional activities or her academic standing or her work," he said. "But many of us have called for a nominee who comes from a background other than one of being a jurist. And now we have a person who is like that."
That little epiphany, to the effect that no background is arguably better than a background, may have been topped by an endorsement of sorts from Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid of Nevada: Miers was a nice person, he said, one who returned his phone calls. Perfect. What else do we need to know?
What mattered, President Bush told baffled media questioners at a rare press conference on Tuesday, were Miers' "intangibles." Well, those we've got, in spades. And not much else.