Today, President Obama nominated a brilliant jurist who's won praise for his judicial knowledge, temperament and decisions from across the broad political spectrum of the Untied States, Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. A former federal prosecutor who brought Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh to justice and an 18-year member of the Appeals Court, Garland gave up a lucrative corporate law career in order to devote himself to public service, much like President Obama has.
Less than two and a half hours after President Obama's announcement ended, Markos Moulitsas, the head hancho and namesake of the self-styled "progressive" blog Daily Kos, came out with a slam on the decision, calling it a missed opportunity. I imagine he's channeling a lot of folk in the liberal blog establishment bubble. Markos' critic is a spectacular failure in both liberal politics and constitutional government.
Let's tackle the latter first, since I believe it to be the more important of the two.
Constitutional Government and a Democratic Republic
The role of the US Supreme Court is to preserve our Constitutional freedoms, stop the government from interfering with the rights of the citizen, and serve equal justice for all. The reason the Constitution allows for lifetime appointments of judges is that our Founders did not want judges - who were meant to be the safeguard against legislative, and yes, populist, overreaches - to be subject to political pressure of the moment.
The President's constitutional role is to pick a nominee who can serve in that role of a fierce defender of people's rights and of the rule of law and takes their role of being the arbiter of the law and the Constitution seriously. As a former prosecutor, Garland developed requirements for prosecutors to assess cases on an individual basis rather than charging the defendant with the most serious possible crime. As a judge, he's developed a reputation for details and consensus building. No one - not Democrats and not Republicans and not legal scholars - can find a reason to oppose this nomination other than on grounds of playing politics. As late as this past Saturday, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch challenged the President to nominate Judge Garland, and the President called his bluff.
It is not the President's job to satisfy ideologues when picking a Supreme Court nominee. It is his job to give the country a capable jurist who sees the law and the Constitution in the context of justice. And that is what President Obama has done. If enough Republicans break with their leadership and confirm this nominee pre-election, then that is good for the country, politics be damned.
While President Obama rose above the political rancor of Republicans demanding that Constitutional roles of the president be erased when a black Democrat is in the final year of his presidency and of liberal ideologues to pick an ideologue for the Court, to the extent that the Supreme Court vacancy will become an election issue - and it will should the Republicans continue their attempt to strip the President of his Constitutional role - the particular liberal outlandishness, or lack thereof, of the particular nominee, holds little significance.
Markos, in his rah rah critic of the President for not picking an ideologue for the Court - I imagine it might be a desperate attempt to hold onto the ideologue posse his site has become dependent on and which posse has threatented to abandon him because of his sensible idea that ad hominem attacks on the likely Democratic nominee will no longer be permitted starting today - makes critical rookie mistakes.
Markos believes in a unicorn. He calls it the "three headed presidential ticket" consisting of the presidential and vice presidential nominees and the blocked Supreme Court judge. Now that the nominee is not an ideologue, it will not "excite liberals", and we will no longer have that pony and Republicans who can't stand their eventual presidential nominee will still vote for Republicans in down-ballot races.
This is the problem with living in a bubble. The liberal and Democratic excitement factor was never going to come from the nominee being an ideologue; it was - and is - always to come from the very fact that Republicans are blocking the President's nominee in an effort to delegimize Barack Obama one last time. That's what most liberals, Democrats and even a lot of independents and sensible Republicans will be outraged about.
In other words, we were never going to be able to put the nominee on the ballot by proxy. The person who could be on the ballot by proxy because of Republican delegitimization efforts is President Obama himself. President Obama - and Republican demands that he not be fully president for the remainder of his term - is what will excite liberals and Democrats to come out and vote.
Even if the nominee could be on the ballot by proxy, the delegitmization of President Obama is a much more intense galvanizing force. Don't believe me? Watch liberal firebrand Elizabeth Warren's speech on the Senate floor where she tore up Republicans for that very thing.
In fact, picking an ideological nominee at this juncture would make it easier for Republicans to concentrate their attacks on the nominee, allowing them to reset the narrative to regular process and legitimate opposition instead of playing into the narrative that they are delegitimizing Barack Obama.
And that narrative is a far more potent political weapon than excitement around an ideologue as a nominee could ever be.
As usual, President Obama is way ahead in the game of chess while his detractors - on both the Right the Left - are trying to figure out checkers. "Liberal" commentators and blogmasters could learn a lot if they would just watch this president rather than itch to criticize his every move.
The President has once again chosen the best nominee at the best time. Brilliant is too modest a term for this man.