A Triumph of Principle over Politics
In church life, it is an accepted axiom that “a mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew.” In other words, a lack of spiritual substance in the pew is often a symptom of something that’s wrong in the pulpit. In the same way, conservative critics of Harriet Miers saw a nominee whose conservative bona fides could not be verified by her record. In the last several weeks, her misty record has looked more and more like a fog in the nominee.
Just this week Miers’s speeches from the 1990’s have revealed a nominee who sounds more like a libertarian than a conservative. Addressing the Executive Women of Dallas in 1993 she said, “The ongoing debate continues surrounding the attempt to once again criminalize abortions or to once and for all guarantee the freedom of the individual women’s [sic] right to decide for herself whether she will have an abortion” (source). “Criminalizing abortions” is not the rhetoric of conservatism, and conservative opponents of Miers’s nomination have found this speech in particular to be “misty” to say the least.
This is not to say that conservatives have been clamoring all this time for a nominee who would be a rank political hack. As a matter of fact, the protest from the president’s base has not been that Harriet Miers lacks qualifications as a political or religious conservative. Indeed, the record has shown that she is both a loyal adviser to a very conservative President and an openly Evangelical Christian. But this was not the kind of conservatism that the base was looking for in a nominee.
What the president’s base has most desired in a nominee is not merely political or religious conservatism, but an open and identifiable commitment to judicial conservatism. That is, a thoroughgoing dedication to interpreting the United States Constitution according to the framers original intent. For this reason, Marvin Olasky’s reflections on this nomination are relevant: “I really want an originalist. If I could be assured that an atheist would be an originalist, that would be fine with me. If an evangelical nominee wanted to put in the Constitution what’s not there, I’d oppose him or her.”
In the absence of clear evidence of Miers’s commitment to originalism, to have allowed this nomination to go forward merely on the word of the President may have kept a political coalition together, but it would not have served the cause of conservative judicial reform. That is why the withdrawal of this nomination represents more than anything else the triumph of principle over politics.
The administration put the hard sell on the base (including evangelical Christians) to support this nomination. Their arguments, however, were not based on any clear record of Miers’s conservative judicial philosophy, but on the trust that conservatives should have in the President’s ability to make sound judicial appointments. In other words, the President asked his base to believe him and to stay loyal to him even though there really was nothing else for them to go on.
Christians who want to maintain a prophetic voice in the public square cannot make this kind of a faith commitment to any politician. This is not to say that President Bush is not trustworthy. As a matter of fact, I happen to think that he is. I am in the main a staunch supporter of President Bush in large part because of his proven commitment to appointing judicial conservatives to the federal bench. Nevertheless loyalty to principle must always trump loyalty to politicians. When the two come into conflict, the only way for Christians to remain salt and light is to let principle win out—no matter who the politician is.