Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Revenge of the establishment

For the first time in memory, Bush defied easy prediction yesterday. John Roberts is not an in-your-face choice for the Supreme Court. The decision was calibrated, not over-the-top – designed to disarm the Democrats, not offend them, and to satisfy the right if not to thrill it. He’ll be confirmed pretty easily. Democrats would need to uncover a hidden cache of documents spewing bile over Roe and the 10 Commandments or some Bolton- or Thomas-like temperamental oddity to sway the general public against him. But Roberts' whole demeanor shouts respectability, probity, caution. He’s skillfully plied the hallways of the Republican establishment his whole life.

Indeed, that’s one of the striking things about the nomination. Bush tends to tolerate, if not outright dislike, people with CVs like Roberts’s – people who followed established paths to success, covering their walls with Ivy League diplomas, Phi Beta Kappa keys and the like. Bush has all but shut them out of the upper levels of the executive branch, surrounding himself instead with killer political operatives, loyalists and movement conservatives.

Bush has always been viscerally at odds with the Republican wing of the Eastern Establishment embodied by his father and grandfather. Roberts is one those guys that Bush would have resented in college and mistrusted afterward: the kind of man his family wanted him to be, when of course he wasn't. That's the psychodramatic explanation for the entire Bush 43 presidency.

Cliched as it may be, that explanation has been a pretty reliable predictor of Bush behavior - up to now. So what’s the deal here? Why is Bush acting reasonably rather than provocatively, and seemingly going against his own instincts – both his yen for confrontation and his disdain for the establishment? Could the long-term necessities involved in establishing a legacy finally be trumping Bush's gut?