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More Bush Insults


Everybody is good at something, and George Bush is good at insulting our intelligence.

As if he hasn’t provided enough evidence, he recently obliged with two more demonstrations.

First came his nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court. By picking Miers he is telling the American people she is the most qualified person in the country to join the court. Oh really?

“I know her heart. I know her character,” the president said of his one-time personal attorney. But what does “heart” mean in this context? She’s a good person? What’s that got to do with ruling on big constitutional questions? And character, while a necessary condition for a good nominee, is hardly a sufficient condition.

Bush threw in the obligatory boilerplate: she has an “unwavering devotion to the Constitution and laws of our country” (hmm, all of them?) and will not “legislate from the bench.” Yeah, yeah, that’s what they all say. But where’s the evidence? There is none because Miers has apparently devoted her legal career to everything but contemplation of the Constitution.

Bush insists that Miers is a good constitutionalist. But consider the source. This is the same man who gave us No Child Left Behind, who signed McCain-Feingold, and who claims the power to imprison American citizens indefinitely without charge just by branding them, without appeal, enemy combatants.

Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention and a Bush and Miers supporter said, “If Harriet Miers didn’t rule the way George W. Bush thought she would, he would see that as an act of betrayal and so would she.” That is not comforting.

A constitutional debate has been raging in this country for many years, with at least three sides going at it. In general the Left sees the Constitution as a fluid license for judges to interfere with people’s peaceful activities in the name of “social justice.” (The Left essentially read property rights out of the Constitution 70 years ago.) The Right sees it as a virtual blank check for Congress and the state legislatures to do anything, constrained only by the narrowest reading of the Bill of Rights. (The Ninth Amendment protection of unenumerated rights doesn’t exist for the Right.) Finally, libertarians see the Constitution as Jefferson saw it, as a way to cage all branches of government and let individual freedom — including property rights — flourish.

No one expected Bush to nominate a libertarian, but at least a thoughtful conservative legal scholar would have stimulated an open discussion of some vital issues. It won’t happen with Miers.

Bush’s second insult to our intelligence came in his big speech seeking to jump-start support for his “war on terror.” He said, “Some have also argued that extremism has been strengthened by the actions of our coalition in Iraq, claiming that our presence in that country has somehow caused or triggered the rage of radicals. I would remind them that we were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001 — and al-Qaeda attacked us anyway. The hatred of the radicals existed before Iraq was an issue, and it will exist after Iraq is no longer an excuse.”

To be fair, we can’t be sure if Bush presumes we are morons or if he is sincerely ignorant. For Muslims, Arabs, and many Americans, U.S. intervention in Iraq had been an issue for 10 years before September 11, 2001. The U.S. air force routinely bombed the country and killed innocent people, while a U.S.-led embargo took hundreds of thousands of children’s lives and created great hardship.

Whether insult or ignorance, this really has to stop.

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.