About a month ago I made my prediction for who President Bush would nominate to fill Justice O'Connor's Supreme Court seat. I predicted that Bush would do one of two things, based on his demonstrated personality traits. He would either nominate Alberto Gonzales (loyalty) or some right-wingnut, such as Michael Luttig or Janice Rogers Brown (ballsiness). Turns out I was wrong on both counts.
Bush's nomination of John Roberts took most pundits by surprise. It's actually a fairly good choice, on two different fronts. Politically, Roberts' lack of a paper trail makes it difficult to mount much of an opposition to him. And practically, Roberts is very well qualified. He's a choice that's hard to argue with.
Not that the left-wingnuts aren't arguing, of course. Bush could have nominated Bill Clinton to the post and the radical lefties would have still found something to scream about. That's the problem with wingnuts, on either side of the aisle; they're too caught up in their own positions (and in trashing the opposition) to look objectively at any single issue. Whatever the other side does must be bad, because it's the other side doing it. I hate this sort of knee-jerk reactionary behavior; it's one of the main things wrong with American politics today.
One of the reasons the party-line ideologues behave the way they do is that by polarizing the electorate they can raise more money for their own organizations. Fire up the lefties about Roberts' nomination and they'll write a bunch of checks to help fight it. Fire up the righties about abortion (or gay rights or flag burning or whatever) and they'll write a bunch of checks to help fight it. If everybody's getting along, nobody's writing checks. To raise big bucks, you have to fire up the base by creating some sort of threat or conflict.
This is why, by the way, that savvy Republican leaders actually don't want a Supreme Court nominee that will overturn Roe v. Wade. As long as abortion is something they can complain about, they can fire up the far-right evangelical part of the their base for some big contributions. If the Court were to ever actually make abortion illegal again, that part of their base won't have anything to rally against, and the funds will dry up. (Plus, women voters will quit hiding behind soccer-mom security issues and fire up the Democratic side of things, like they did back in the 1960s and 1970s; if abortion is ever outlawed, Republicans won't be able to win a major office again for at least twenty years.)
In choosing John Roberts for the post, Bush made a very savvy decision. This is not something his administration is known for, which is why everyone was so blindsided by the choice. Bush (and Rove and Cheney) typically makes choices with a big "fuck you" in mind, as he's done with the recess appointment of John Bolton to the U.N. There's absolutely no good reason to push someone like Bolton, who so pisses everyone off that he'll be totally ineffective in the job. Going ahead with the appointment after so much protest is nothing but a "fuck you" to the Bushies' many critics; it's a frat boy middle-finger response to legitimate adult criticism.
Why Bush chose Roberts is open for speculation. According to some reports, Bush liked the fact that he exercised regularly. Wouldn't be first on my list of qualifications for the highest court in the land, but they didn't ask me. (And what's with Bush and exercise, anyway? The big lug spends more time exercising than he does governing. Whenever something big happens, he's always off riding his bike...) I suppose it's possible that wiser heads prevailed in this instance, and someone somewhere in the West Wing decided to avoid a bloody ideological fight and make a politically expedient choice. Who knows?
But back to Roberts himself. The guy is a consummate Washington insider, a very intelligent guy, a guy who appears to be a minimalist when it comes to change. He does not appear to be an activist right-wing extremist, or someone who wants to overturn 200 years of legal precedent via a strict originalist interpretation of the Constitution. Nope, he appears to be a smart guy who recognizes precedent and prefers to let change happen slowly, at its own pace. Yeah, he's a conservative, but what did you expect? Hell, O'Connor was a conservative, too. Bush was going to nominate a conservative of some sort no matter what, and he could have done a lot worse.
So unless something startling comes up in the confirmation process (which is why we have the confirmation process), I say let's welcome John Roberts on board. As I said, Bush could have chosen someone a whole lot worse. As is, Roberts could be a fine addition to the court -- not a liberal activist, but not a right-wing conservative activist, either. There's a place for judicial pragmatism.
But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.